What Matters: Brian Singer on How His Brain Works and the Play Program That Started It All

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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.

Brian Singer, also known as Someguy, is a San Francisco-based fine artist whose studio practice and large-scale public projects address a variety of social issues.

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

Only one? It’s probably idea generation. My favorite moments are when there’s an idea that my brain is dancing around, poking at, or nurturing. I get into that “flow” that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about. I lose track of time, my mind can’t stop, and it’s just energizing (a close second might be laughing, it just feels sooo good).

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I think it was in 3rd or 4th grade. Our school was putting on a “History of America” play, or somesuch, and they invited the students to come up with program covers and chose mine.

I had zero interest in the play itself, but drawing the program cover, that was it. I’m sure I’d been creative plenty of times before, but this is my first memory linking creativity to positive external validation. I did something, and people liked it! I was important. I mattered. Of course, this shaped my lifelong journey of creative expression, but also the need and pursuit of external validation.

What is your biggest regret?

Not being better to people. Almost every bad memory I have (that I had control over) is regret in how I acted towards others. Not being compassionate enough, not treating them fairly, or not supporting them. It’s literally making me tear up right now.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Time and snacks, mostly. The last time I had my heart broken (crushed is a better word), I remember telling myself that I should appreciate how much it hurt and how hard it was because that just proved how strong the love was to begin with. It sucked losing it, but mostly, I consoled myself with the knowledge that I could feel that strongly. I began to lose hope that I could even feel that way (it happens so rarely), so my consolation prize was that sure, I’m crushed, but at least I’m capable of feeling.

What makes you cry?

Thinking about all the people I’ve hurt. Missing my mother. Despair. Seeing despair in others. About half of the Pixar movies.

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

I wish I knew how to hold onto those feelings, those emotions. I really do. But pride, joy, and a sense of accomplishment are fleeting. They’re gone in the blink of an eye. On paper, it may seem like I’ve done a lot in my life. But the pride and joy I should feel from that, it’s just not there. On my daily calendar, I literally have a reminder to be intentional about what I’m thankful for (and I have a lot to be thankful for). But any sense of accomplishment is overshadowed by my pursuit of…more.

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

I don’t. I wish I did. Death is so… scary and lonely. It might provide some comfort to believe, but I just haven’t gotten there. If it does exist, I’m sure it’s filled with puppies.

What do you hate most about yourself?

That deep down, I’m in it for me. I argue with myself about this all the time, but I’m selfish as fuck.

What do you love most about yourself?

What I appreciate most about myself is my mind (which, if you think about it, is basically just me). More specifically, I love how my mind operates. The paths it goes down and connections drawn between different things. I have no way of knowing, but I suspect it’s not the standard issue.

That can be challenging. Sometimes when someone asks me a question, my mind jumps to the answer. But before the clear, succinct words can come out of my mouth, my mind draws a line to something else. Then something else. And I begin answering the question in the most meandering and roundabout way. And as I’m trying to make a point, what’s really happening is a stream of consciousness free fall down the rabbit hole. And while that may not answer the question, the journey is fascinating to me. It’s like those word association games, except what pops into my head is in a different language and makes no sense.

I’ve wondered if we all do this, and I’m just missing some internal signposts that help direct coherent thought into language. Or perhaps it’s that I’m just bad at controlling the radius of exploration that my mind jumps into, so I end up on a tangent of a tangent. Not just way out in left field, but sitting on the docks two towns over watching the seagulls as they fight over a sandwich that someone didn’t finish. It’s probably a turkey sandwich. And I’m thankful there’s bread and mayo and pickles because if seagulls ever knew how good their flightless friends tasted, we might have a big problem. There’s a bird zombie apocalypse movie plot in there somewhere.

What was the question again?

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Anything with friends. Don’t get me wrong. I love food—good food, junk food, and everything in between. But bad pizza with good friends is better than Michelin star food eaten alone.