What Matters: Zoe Mendelson on Living More To the Point

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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: Zoe Mendelson is a writer, researcher, and content strategist living in Mexico City. Her first book, Pussypedia: A Comprehensive Guide, comes out 8/3 from Hachette.

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

Packing my house full of beautiful people that I love and like so much. And then smashing them together to make them be friends like a kid making their barbies make out.

Witnessing someone’s self-perception shift for the better.

Smoking spliffs in my bed.

Writing.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

In Kindergarten, I spent a lot of time pressing my closed eyes into the tops of my knees. If I had known how alarming this behavior looked to the adults around me, I would have explained that I was simply observing colors. By first grade, the adults had diagnosed me with Can’t Learn Good. But I was learning how different amounts of pressure on different parts of the eye produce different colors and patterns. I was busy trying very hard to see or imagine a color that I had never seen before. This quest consumed me for years, and when I learned about the visible light spectrum, I was disappointed. I tried asking my teacher if that applied to colors you can see in your mind.

What is your biggest regret?

Smoking, even though I love it so much.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Romantic heartbreaks? Good sex. Also friends. Death heartbreaks? Lie down and cry. Work heartbreaks? Do my own thing. Friendship heartbreaks? Not sure I’ve ever gotten over one.

Generally, with heartbreaks, resistance is futile. I try to be the Ali to grief’s Foreman—to lie on the ropes and let it beat me senseless until it wears itself out. Try not to pull away. Think of a Chinese finger trap. The metaphors themselves are helpful.

My Grampa says the only thing you can do in the wake of death is Live More to The Point. Grief comes with a big dose of perspective. Perspective does not provide solace from sadness, but it does silence minor grievances that lead us astray from The Point. This narrative itself is helpful.

What makes you cry?

Feeling held. Feeling not held. Remembering when I felt not held.

Feeling seen. Feeling not seen. Remembering when I felt not seen.

Yesterday I got out of my grandma’s car and walked halfway up the stairs to the train station and turned to look back, and she was sitting there waiting to make sure I got on the train. I mooned her, and she laughed, and I burst out crying because I love being waited for and her laugh and because she is getting very old.

It also makes me cry when my husband gives me that look and hand squeeze that says, “I see that you are in production mode and that you have forgotten that you are not responsible for the comfort, fun, and wellbeing of everyone around you and that you are not doing great. I would like to remind you that you are allowed to not be OK and that I will be here to hold you when you’re ready to stop.”

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

Institutional accomplishments? Tragically short. Maybe it doesn’t even happen. Success is an infinite treadmill. That’s why I left New York City.

Personal project accomplishments? A little longer, but they are still contaminated with something that has a short shelf life––probably ego and the need for external validation.

I am rarely satisfied with any “final” product, no matter how much others praise it. Joy comes in moments during the process when I can recognize that I have surpassed what I believed I was capable of or improved at something.

But there are certain things I have learned to do that have provided lasting joy and pride, like speaking Spanish, rolling beautiful joints, asserting my needs, and shutting the fuck up.

OK, I’m still working on that last one.

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

Yes, but I have no idea. The dreams I’ve had in which my dead ones visit have felt distinctly like visits.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I hate my desire for attention and validation, which often comes at the cost of learning. I also hate my forgetfulness. It is extremely inconvenient.

What do you love most about yourself?

I love my ferocity in both love and anger. I love my sensitivity, even or possibly most in the moments when it makes others uncomfortable.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Bagels and lox and whitefish salad and kippers with the whole works, not ordered from a deli, but rather on platters which are preferably atop my grandma’s credenza.