Even after moving home to Freeville, New York, in 2007 to care for your mother, you still commute to Chicago monthly to appear on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! What do you do here besides that?
I wrote a lot of [my memoir] in Chicago: Ironically, I had to leave my little house in the country to get some peace in the city. I have an apartment in Lincoln Park. My routine is to basically lead a quiet life of walking, jogging next to the lake, and lots of takeout meals from R.J. Grunts.
What’s the hardest part of being a Wait Wait panelist?
There’s the pressure of trying to win but also trying to be funny. The show was originally journalists who were funny, and now it’s standup comedians who read the newspaper. Being on with someone like Paula Poundstone is really a joy, but it’s hard work.
With your column, is it annoying to answer other people’s questions when you’re dealing with your own issues, like nursing a dying parent?
It was definitely hard to pick up people’s petty problems and take them seriously. I think people who read my column closely have noticed a change over the years. The questions I take are different. I have so much insight into caretaking, grieving, loss, and bereavement. I feel like I can really humanely help people who are incredibly sad, and that is only because I’ve been through it.
What do you wish people asked about more?
Very often I’ll leave an encounter and think, Wow, that person didn’t ask me anything. They will share their experience, and they forget to ask about me. Waah! That’s why I wrote a book.
In the book, you reveal your secret ambition to become a school bus driver. Why that job?
Every morning, I look out my kitchen window, and at 8:10 the bus goes up the road. Sometimes I’ll photograph it and put it on Instagram, the yellow bus coming through the snow. There’s something about that that is so basic, and I love it. I want to be that special driver who is a nice woman who picks up kids and knows all the kids’ names. That’s my version.