What Matters to Laura Holson

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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.

Laura Holson is an award-winning New York Times writer and founder of The Box Sessions, a series of immersive creative gatherings that celebrate and cultivate personal creativity. Laura has chronicled the intersection of money and power for the Times and is a gifted storyteller and keen observer of culture and human behavior.

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

Letterpress printing! I find illustrations from old books and make printing plates based on them, which I later use to make cards. Letterpress printing accesses all parts of the brain: from designing a motif and researching historical images to laying type by hand and exercising eye/hand coordination to operate the machine. It’s almost meditative, soothing. I can work for hours and feel like only 30 minutes have passed. And when I’m done, I have beautiful cards to send to my friends.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

When I was about six years old, my father would bring home giant rolls of brown paper, upon which I would draw cottages and gardens, villagers and forest scenes. I was really into creating imaginary worlds. The drawings resembled Japanese hand scrolls and, for me, it was an early exercise in storytelling. I would sit for hours at the kitchen table as my parents cooked or talked about the day. It was a way to be with them in their world, but in my own world too.

What is your biggest regret?

I don’t have many regrets. About 20 years ago, I came up with this idea that if I wanted to have good memories in the future, I needed to live well in the present. So I spent a year in New York City doing one new thing every week. The year was a revelation; I had so many fantastic experiences and memories because I actively sought to create them. And I have continued the practice ever since with varying degrees of intensity, interest, and curiosity. Still, I wish I had taken a year off after college to travel the world. Maybe that is a regret?

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

People usually think of heartbreak as romantic. I think it’s broader than that, from the disappointment of not getting a favored job to seeing someone struggle and not having the agency to help them. I try to understand why I’m heartbroken, see if I can do anything about it and, if so, take action. If I cannot, I just grieve and move on.

What makes you cry?

Knowing that there are people in the world who think no one wants or loves them.

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

In 2020, I started a creativity festival called The Box Sessions and held our first annual gathering a week before the world shut down because of Covid-19. Despite the gathering’s success, I was upset knowing it might be years before we would be able to hold another one. Late last year, I got a letter from an attendee who said the festival was the last time she remembered being happy, and that the memory got her through the worst days of the pandemic. It was a reminder to me that we have no idea what impact we have on others.

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

I don’t think I do. But if there is one, I hope it is pure peace.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Hate is a strong word! But if I could change anything, I’d like to be more of a morning person. And maybe lose a few pounds.

What do you love most about yourself?

My curiosity, perhaps. In 2017, I went hiking in a cave in southern Spain to see Paleolithic-era paintings: a mare and a large fish. A friend’s parents who lived in London had told me about the paintings only days before I arrived in Spain. So I ditched the winery tour I’d planned and drove to the cave to see if a guide would take me on a tour. It was pitch black inside and the rocks were slippery. We carried small handheld lamps and you could hear the flapping wings of 10,000 bats overhead. It was thrilling, scary, and fascinating all at once. I figured I could drink wine anytime. But how often would I get to see prehistoric cave art?

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Years ago, I met a friend in Paris and we happened upon a small restaurant, Bistrot Paul Bert, where we ordered steak frites and a gorgeous bottle of red wine. It wasn’t the fanciest place— our menu was written on a chalkboard— but the steaks were delicious, the fries were crisp and our conversation was lively and inviting. Oh, how I reveled in our good fortune! The best part was discovering something new and having a friend to share it with on a spectacular Parisian night.