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.
Devi Lockwood is the Commentary and Ideas editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the author of 1,001 Voices on Climate Change, a book published by Simon & Schuster. Previously she worked as an editor and writer at The New York Times Opinion section and launched the Ideas section at Rest of World.
What is the thing you like doing most in the world?
I love writing, editing, and being edited. I love gathering string for a story and building it into a narrative. I love asking questions. I love listening.
I love being physical and being outside: hiking, camping, running, swimming, dancing, riding my bicycle. I love learning something new. Most recently, it’s been swimming. I joined a master’s team here in Vermont after reading Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui (and after being vaccinated). Being a part of a community and incrementally improving has brought me so much joy.
What is the first memory you have of being creative?
It must have been fifth grade. My teacher, Mr. Partelow, assigned us spelling homework—to go home and write a sentence using the words on a list. One of the spelling words was “fisherman.”
I started with the intention of only writing a sentence, but a whole scene came out. I remember sitting at the dining room table while my dad was cooking. I remember the yellow legal pad and Ticonderoga pencil I used; #2. I remember slipping into the world that those words could create. I filled nearly half the page in tiny print.
A few days later, Mr. Partelow read my response out loud to the class without saying who had written it. The fisherman was sitting on the dock, and it was a misty morning (I was reading lots of Sharon Creech books at the time, so I’m sure I was inspired by Bloomability). The fisherman’s rod was dangling in the water, and he was waiting, but he wasn’t sure what for. Mr. Partelow loved the texture of the description. He stopped to unpack the details.
Hearing the words that I had strung together read aloud to the class gave me a kind of pride and sense of mystery that maybe I’m still chasing to this day. I loved the anonymity of it, too. The scene I created felt larger than myself. I could slip into that world and back out of it again. At their best, reading and writing do this for me. It is an escape hatch but also a place to create something new.
What is your biggest regret?
Parts of my childhood were splintered. Sometimes I wish that wasn’t true. I wish I could go back and comfort that younger version of myself. I want to tell her that she is stronger than she knows.
How have you gotten over heartbreak?
Coffee, poetry, routine. Learning something new. When I am heartbroken, I lose my appetite, so I do my best to schedule meals with people I love, people who really know me well. That always helps. I do my best to reclaim the parts of myself that I know are mine and mine alone. Who was I before? Who do I want to become? It’s a reset of sorts. I set goals. Movement helps, too. I dance it out. I run it out. Mostly, I’ve found that heartbreaks transform if given time. In pain, there is often a kernel of something beautiful, something new. As with most things, it’s a matter of paying close attention.
What makes you cry?
Knowing that I will lose those I love.
How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?
A fleeting moment. I don’t know that I let myself feel pride all that often. In work, there is always the next project. I like to keep moving. Joy is ephemeral, too, but something I can find in many places: outside, in conversations, in noticing flavors and textures and colors, and the way the light changes. Joy, for me, is about being fully present.
I do my best to accept joy without questioning it (I am, like anyone else, a work in progress).
Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?
I don’t. I believe that when I’m dead, I’m dead. That adds a sense of urgency to life: from doing everything I want to do to loving well.
I’m on the fence about reincarnation, though. I don’t think that our energy leaves the world after we die. It just transforms into something else.
What do you hate most about yourself?
Sometimes I am good at listening, and sometimes I am terrible at it. I’m trying to get better. It is hard. For all the listening that I have done and will continue to do, I sometimes fail.
What do you love most about yourself?
My ability to adapt to almost any situation. My creativity. My drive.
What is your absolute favorite meal?
Dolma—a kind of stuffed grape leaf found throughout the Middle East—paired with olives, lavash, labneh, and cucumbers. My taste buds are Armenian, through and through.