Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.
Michael Shirey is an award-winning designer and strategist with over ten years of experience working in many sectors across the country. He lives in New York and enjoys life drawing, traveling, trying new foods, and tormenting his three cats (don’t worry, they torment him back).
What is the thing you like doing most in the world?
Telling stories that resonate with people. That can manifest itself in many ways— drawing, writing, branding, even cooking— but storytelling is the throughline between the majority of the activities I love doing most.
What is the first memory you have of being creative?
I’ve always loved drawing cartoon characters, from Disney to Pokémon. I can remember being as young as five or six years old and showing my drawings to anyone who would humor me, explaining why I drew characters a certain way, or what new adventures I had concocted for them.
What is your biggest regret?
Regret is hard for me, since I am all too aware that I am who I am today as a result of everything that has happened to me thus far. Sure, I wish I had spent more time with my dad before he died, that I would have had more fun in college, and traveled more when I was younger. At the same time, I know all those decisions ultimately played a part in shaping me into who I am now, and I don’t want to give up who that is.
How have you gotten over heartbreak?
I’m a believer in letting the stages of heartbreak and grief play themselves out, and I try to experience them without necessarily being consumed by them. When it feels right, I take the energy from that grief and put it into another outlet: professional, creative, or otherwise.
Of course, all this is all easier said than done.
What makes you cry?
Queer joy and success. Those shouldn’t be radical notions in 2022 but alas, they are. Whenever I experience it myself or witness it in others, I tend to shed a tear or two.
How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?
I certainly experience that initial rush, which is as intoxicating as it is fleeting. Ideally, that accomplishment takes on a life of its own and— if I’ve done it correctly— continues to positively impact others. In those instances, pride and joy can stay with me for a long time.
Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?
I think so. I believe certain pieces of ourselves carry over to the next life. Not necessarily our soul, consciousness, or memories, but certain sensations that, in turn, help our next iteration, whatever that may be.
What do you hate most about yourself?
I never think I’m good enough, and I have to constantly push myself not to let that stop me from trying.
What do you love most about yourself?
My queerness. It sounds cliché, but something I really used to loathe about myself has become one of my greatest strengths.
What is your absolute favorite meal?
New Orleans-style crawfish boil. I find cooking for friends, family, and loved ones to be a borderline spiritual experience— on both a personal and communal level.
For crawfish specifically, I love the time, toil, and technique for preparing and cooking them. Then there is the ritual of eating them, which is so messy and carnal. Getting to share that experience with people I love? Perfection.