Vanity Fair meets Moonshiners: a real-life profile

August 15, 2013
From Vanity Fair

From Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair magazine claims to be “a cultural catalyst that drives popular dialogue globally.”  I have no idea what that means, but am pretty sure it’s not true.  I can’t remember ever hearing anyone I say “Hey, did you see that story in Vanity Fair?”

At the same time, I’m not sure exactly what Vanity Fair really is. It’s part of our celebrity-obsessed culture, true, and it’s been known to makes celebrities out of individuals only known for their wealth and self-centeredness. Vanity, indeed. Once a year the magazine does an environmentally-focused issue, its version of a public service, I suppose, but mostly it covers rich, famous people who are known best for their shallowness.

I’ve been a subscriber for decades.

One of my favorite features is My Stuff in Fanfair, a Q&A type profile of a sometimes famous and sometimes just rich and unknown individual that tells the reader about them by their answers to certain lifestyle questions.  Toothpaste? Sheets?  Watch?  Toothpaste is never Crest or or Colgate,  always Tom’s of Maine or some trendy, upscale brand I’ve never heard of.  Sheets are always Frette, which can go for $2,000 a set. And watches are usually some antique version of Patek Phillipe or the like.   “What’s your favorite food?” is never asked: these people don’t eat, unless it’s a tiny spoonful of caviar. One. These profiles fascinate me (and probably every other reader) by opening the curtain to how the half of one percent live. Or at least how they SAY they live.

So, I wondered, did I know any celebrities? And if so, what would it be like if they answered those same questions?  I ran through what used to be called “my Rolodex.”  It turns out, the closest thing to a celebrity I know is the author, Carolyn Jourdan. I met Carolyn in 1998 at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. She was a cool chick and a great writer. No surprise that of the two of us, she’s the only one that has published actual books. And ones I’ve enjoyed, too. We’ve stayed in touch all these years, even before Facebook made it easy to know what far-flung friends are up to.

Despite her “celebrity,” Carolyn’s a regular person. Well, not exactly regular. I mean, she was a practicing lawyer (counsel to a U.S. Senate committee, no less)  and a well-regarded documentarian. But after a high-powered career, she returned to her Tennessee roots and a tiny rural community in the Smoky Mountains, where she is definitely a local celeb as well as a regular person. Who better to answer Vanity Fair-esque questions?

I caught up with her while she was on a summer trip to New Orleans, where the heat index was 149º, she said, pointing out that the calculation was based on 97 degrees 84% humidity, something I rather doubt any of Vanity Fair’s subjects would have known.  She graciously agreed to complete a Vanity Fair-esque questionnaire when she returned. Well, she’s back, and here’s her questionnaire.

"I only wear the parasol when the heat index is over 147 degrees."

“I only wear the parasol when the heat index is over 147 degrees.”


OCCUPATION Writer who eavesdrops for material
RESIDENCES Strawberry Plains, TN, fast food drive-thrus, my car
FAVORITE ITEM OF CLOTHING T-shirts, linen tunics, men’s XXL shirts
FAVORITE ACCESSORY Colorful plastic Bic mechanical pencil
STYLE ICON Queen Elizabeth I and Jessye Norman (in dreams), Jane Goodall (in reality)

SHEETS Pink flannel

SOAP Tiny bars from nice hotels or fancy looking French bars

MOISTURIZER Never use it. I have oily skin

SHAMPOO Tiny bottles from nice hotels or Head & Shoulders

TOOTHPASTE Crest without whiteners

SCENT Try to keep good and bad scents to a minimum, leave no trace
JEANS Size 18 right now (sigh)
SHOE Comfortable stretchy sports shoes with no fasteners
THONG or BIKINI  Clean. You’re kidding about thongs, right?
WATCH Never owned one
EARRINGS Piercing is against my religion (for real), wore clips only when working at the Senate
HAIR ACCESSORY Plastic tortoiseshell clips from CVS or Walgreens
SUNGLASSES Largest possible
FOOD  Diet Coke and sweets (but trying to love juicing)

FAVORITE DISCOVERY Etsy, Ebay, Hotwire, Priceline, spring binder clips
INSPIRATION James Herriot, Dorothy Gilman (Mrs. Pollifax), Gregory McDonald, Leslie Thomas,
Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series), Bill Bryson (not Thunderbolt Kid)

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!!  Far more interesting than Vanity Fair profiles. This is the stuff of real life!

image-1Carolyn writes memoir and mystery and is extremely funny.

This memoir is my favorite of the three books she’s published, maybe because I got to read parts of it that summer in Iowa.

Her fourth book is coming out soon. Yes, she puts me to shame. But inspires me, too.

For more info about her and her books, which I highly recommend, visit her website at

5 comments on “Vanity Fair meets Moonshiners: a real-life profile
  1. Susan Cooper says:

    This is such a wonderful post. I love learning about people and real people are so much more interesting to me. Yes celebrities are popular but I love the person next door who is real with their answers. Carolyn is one funny person. 🙂

  2. rodalena says:

    Holy Toledo, this was so funny. I love that you’ve never owned a watch. That’s just really cool. 🙂

  3. admin says:

    You ought to read her books! She’s very funny, indeed.

  4. Brilliant idea Carol! And thanks for introducing us to Carolyn!

    (I have to say, I think the funniest line in this whole blog was, “I’ve been a subscriber for decades.”)

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