Well that was a toughie because the first three people who sprang to mind were all dead.
She assured me that was not a problem.
"Not a problem?" I wondered to myself. "Does she have access to some secret pipeline I don't know about?"
It turns out that it wasn't a problem because, in this case, it was one of those questions where the answer is supposed to reveal something highly significant about you. You know , like "What kind of tree would you be?"
Or all those quiz questions in magazines that - once you finish taking the quiz - promise to solve the rest of your life and all your relationships. Forever.
Guess all that money people spend on therapy is completely unnecessary. Cosmo has it taped.
Anyway, it turns out my answers where less than she hoped for. I didn't want to meet the President. Or Ghandi. Or Jesus. Or Queen Elizabeth I.
No, the three people I first thought of were all women and they were all writers. And on some level, each of them changed my life.
One taught me an infinite number of things I would need to know about people and living a life of creativity. One made me a more thoughtful voter and citizen. And one prepared me for the peanut butter and jelly covered roller coaster that is motherhood.
And they all made me laugh.
The first, and the one who had the biggest effect on me, is Agatha Christie.
I consider her tremendously underrated as an author. I think most people just see her as a writer of fluffy little detective stories.
But she was so much more. She wrote a number of novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Giant's Bread and Absent In The Spring, to name two, are both very powerful and insightful peeks into the human psyche. And it is that ability to put her finger right on the archetypes and personalities all around her that makes her writing resonate so firmly, even today almost 90 years after she wrote her first novel. As silly as it may sound, she was Miss Marple. A highly observant woman with a deep understanding of human nature.
Further, her autobiography, simply titled "An Autobiography", is not merely a recounting of her own life but a comprehensive diary of a life lived during extraordinary times. During her lifetime, 1890 - 1976 she saw the invention of the telephone, the airplane (her first husband was one of the first fliers in the fabled RAF), two world wars, a world abandoning monarchies, the invention of radio, television, and moving pictures - with and without sound - the automobile, and the fall of the Victorian Empire. Look up how much real estate England controlled in 1890 and compare it to a globe from 1976.
And she documents it all through the eyes of someone, not only living in extraordinary times, but understanding them.
She also had an entirely different second life as the wife of famed archeologist Max Mallowan and spend over 40 years on digs all over Syria and Iraq. She was not merely a visitor - she worked on those digs right along with the rest of the team.
But the parts of the book that have influenced me the most are those that deal with her life as a creative person, both the aspects of trying to be creative when one doesn't feel in the least creative, and the aspect of dealing with publishers and all the various people one must work with if your writing is to be marketed to the public and/or adapted into movies and plays. I think this book should almost be required reading for anyone who plans to make a living in a creative field.
Added to all this, is the fact that her writing is terribly charming, witty and humorous. Almost like A.A. Milne for grownups.
The second writer, and the one I probably miss the most nowadays, is Molly Ivins.
A political columnist with a wickedly satirical bent, Molly's newspaper columns crossed my path at a time when it would have been easy to lower my head into the demands of mothering young children. Instead, through my encounters with her wit and her dogged journalistic investigations into the sausage making process that is politics, I realized the importance of being an informed voter. No matter how busy one's life might be, if one is going to live in a democracy and vote, one should go to the trouble to be informed. You may not always have agreed with her point of view, but you couldn't read her column and keep your head in the sand.
And oh, was she funny! Her book "Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life Of George W. Bush" published in 2000 (before his presidency) remains a favorite of mine. She spent time working for both the Houston Chronicle and the Minneapolis Star Tribune - both papers who carry The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee - and it feels good to share papers with her.
Finally, I come to the writer who showed me writing didn't have to be stuffy and women can point out the absurdities of their lives without whining, Erma Bombeck.
For me, Erma Bombeck blazed the trail for women humorists of all types. She wrote about all the little joys and mishaps of motherhood, laying the trail for an entirely new type of standup comedy and new humor opportunities for women in general. She is the root to which I trace back Ellen Degeneres, Julia Sweeney, Rosanne Barr Lynn Johnston and Sandra Bell Lundy, to name just a few. While there were many funny women before her, her self depreciating humor seemed to be a truly original voice. No Henny Youngman type jokes like Phyllis Diller. Just funny everyday observances. I miss her terribly.
The bright spot is that, even though I can never meet any of these women for coffee and a good chin wag, as they say, I can meet them over and over again in their work. And my day is always a little brighter for it.
Thank you, ladies.