Brigid Schulte is a reporter covering social issues for The Washington Post and the author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time. Before talking about why Americans can’t lead balanced lives, she talked about her many childhood aspirations, why she won’t eat tongue, and her bad habits in the Zócalo green room.
What cheese best describes you?
The only thing that’s coming to mind is Irish cheddar. Because I had an Irish grandmother, so Irish is a big part of my identity growing up. It goes with everything. It can be firm. You can melt it. It has a little bit of sharpness. But not too sharp. A little bit of an edge. But also something that you can have any time of day.
What’s the last board game you played?
My son and I got into a massive Monopoly game—I think that was Christmastime. So it’s been a while.
If you didn’t live in or around Washington, D.C., where would you be?
Oh, no doubt about it, I’d be out West. I’d be in Oregon or somewhere in Wyoming or even California. I grew up in Oregon, I spent my summers in Wyoming, and I really, really miss living in the West.
Do you have a favorite T-shirt?
Yes. It’s a gray T-shirt with the Tetons stenciled on it. And I’ve had it for so long it’s gotten really soft. So I wear it to bed all the time.
What surprises you most about your life right now?
I guess just the fact that I am here talking to you. [Laughs.] And I’m about to go talk to potentially a whole lot of people. I’ve always been more introverted, more of a thinker, writer, and observer. I haven’t really seen myself as a very public person, so this is very surprising, but in a really exciting way. People are not necessarily coming to hear me, but they’re coming to hear what I learned and what I can share, and that’s really exciting.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
It depended upon how old I was when you asked me. I was very impressionable as a kid. So at one point we saw The Vienna Choir Boys, and I wanted to be a Vienna Choir Boy when I grew up. I wanted to be a professional ice skater at one point. I wanted to be a gymnast, a lawyer. But early on, and I think always, there was a real love of stories, and how I would get swept away in what I read. I grew up in Oregon, where it’s very rainy, so I read a lot as a kid. There had always been that stirring—wanting to be a writer, wanting to see if I could create that same kind of transporting experience. Or tell true stories, which is what you do as a journalist.
What’s your worst habit?
Oh, just one? I’ve got so many. I work too much. Even though I wrote a book about not working too much, it’s very hard to break that habit. And I don’t sleep enough. You only want one. I could go on.
What advice would you give to fellow journalists planning to write a book?
It’s the same advice I got from a friend and fellow journalist, Shankar Vedantam. I was very worried that I wasn’t writing early enough. He said, take time to think. Take time to really figure out what it is you want to say, and do all the reporting and research you need to try to figure out how to say that clearly, and then write. That helped enormously. Before I ever sat down and put a word on the page, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I just didn’t know how, so that took a while. But at least I had the clarity, whereas before I didn’t.
If you had one extra hour in the day, what would you do with it?
I suppose it would depend on the day, and what I needed and wanted to do. Today, if I had an extra hour, I would sleep. The cross-country flight left me very tired. Other days, wouldn’t it be fun to play the piano? Or read something for fun. I try to do that more, but it’d be great to have an hour to do that more regularly.
What food won’t you eat?
Tongue. My grandmother tried to make me eat it once. I opened up the lid, and I just saw this big purple slab curling around in the pot, and that vision has never left me.