What Matters: Edel Rodriguez On Making Toys With Whatever Was Around and Getting Over Heartbreak

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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.

Edel Rodriguez is an award-winning Cuban-American artist and author whose work is published regularly by TIME, The New Yorker, Der Spiegel, and The New York Times. His illustrated memoir, WORM, will come out next year via Metropolitan Books.

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

Kissing and dancing. I guess I like doing things with other people, connecting.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

When I was a kid in Cuba, we made most of our toys out of whatever was around—wood, sticks, bottle caps, etc. It’s the first time I remember being creative. I didn’t think about it much, it was just what we did, but it taught me to work instinctively with my hands at an early age. I learned that making things gave them a sort of dignity and strength that didn’t come from stuff you purchased.

What is your biggest regret?

Not being able to spend enough time with family before they passed away. At times it wasn’t possible because there were restrictions on travel to Cuba, but I wish I would have made more time to visit them when I had the chance.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Lie in bed under a sheet until I get bored of lying in bed under a sheet. Making art has always helped me get over any sort of heartbreak. It’s like having a friend who helps you think of other things when times are tough.

What makes you cry?

When I think of my grandmother. I’ve been writing and illustrating a book, putting a lot of things down on paper. It’s very hard when I get to the parts that deal with her. It’s stopped me from working for a few days. She was like a mother to me.

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

I usually live in the present, so it’s a short time, maybe a day or two. One of the nice things about creating art for book and magazine covers is that I have a record of these accomplishments, moments that at times feel very fleeting. These objects I’ve designed and illustrated are like mementos.

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

I’m kind of a skeptic about a lot of things, so I don’t necessarily believe in an afterlife. I do hope there is something but have never seen much proof. I grew up with lots of beliefs, rituals, and ceremonies, but I always looked for facts and rarely found them. If there is an afterlife, I hope it would be a place where I am reunited with my friends and family. The best moments in my life have been when my large family and our friends were together—dancing, eating, partying. Politics and migration disrupted much of that.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I’m very goal-oriented. Not just with my art, but with house projects and other things. I want to get to the point and get it done. I’m not much of a talker. I go with instinct and figure out things as I go along. I think I could be a better listener. Take more time to chat, plan, listen and discuss random things that have nothing to do with the task at hand. If someone has a problem, I tend to jump in and try to find a way to fix it, when often someone just wants to talk about it. I think it makes people feel like I don’t care when the reverse is true.

What do you love most about yourself?

I’m reliable and solid, someone to count on. If I say I’m going to do something or be somewhere, I will do that and be there. I have friends from childhood that I have never forgotten. We still stay in touch, and I try to help them when I can. Coming through for someone is one of the most important things one can do for others.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Everything, which means tapas! A little taste of everything.