What Matters: Steven Heller’s Biggest Regret, and the Restorative Nature of Russian Novels

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Debbie Millman has started a new project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an ongoing 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 10 identical questions, and submit a decidedly nonprofessional photograph.

Up next: Steven Heller, co-chair (with Lita Talarico) of the School of Visual Arts MFA Design/Designer as Entrepreneur program, and the author of more than 200 books. For years, he has written The Daily Heller on PRINT, which Wired dubbed a “must-follow feed in the world of design.”

Steven Heller, circa 1978 at The New York Times, where he worked for more than three decades.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Wallowing in a disingenuous state where, as Paul Simon sang, “I touch no one and no one touches me.”

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

My parents leaving me alone while they left for one of their many whirlwind travels. I had to amuse myself to stop from feeling sad. So I drew pictures and spoke made-up dialog as I drew.

What is your biggest regret?

I never had the chops to be a real artist. I have the wrong genes.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Lock myself in the bathroom and read Russian novels.

What makes you cry?

Sad memories of people lost and abandoned, triggered by music, visuals and words.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Used to be months, days—now it is minutes.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I hope there is an afterlife, where I can see “what might have been, if …”

What do you hate most about yourself?

Cowardice.

What do you love most about yourself?

Wit.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

When I was a kid it was Swanson’s fried chicken TV dinner. My tastes have expanded since then. There is nothing that rises to one absolute favorite, though I love anything with rice.