What Matters: Rick Griffith on Constructive and Destructive Mischief

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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: Rick Griffith, a designer, serial writer, letterpress printer, teacher and activist. He co-owns a design practice and bookstore with his partner, Debra Johnson, in Denver. He loves being a dad to some talented young adults. He makes collages.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?
Sharing. It makes me giddy to turn somebody on to new/old music, poetry, design, food. Sometimes it’s about what I know, but mostly it’s the invitation to share and exchange ideas. The best sharing will always be a potluck meal—I love to cook and I love to eat home-cooking with friends.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?
I was 8 years old when I first discovered screwdrivers and their ability to unlock and reveal. I disassembled my most favorite thing in the world: a blue portable cassette player with a white nylon 3cm non-adjustable strap. The little device played every cassette I could put my hands on. It also made field recordings with a tiny built-in, low-quality microphone that never fully recorded over the previous recording—as to layer sound and voices in a subtle cacophony over time. After I took it apart, I spent hours with the motor, helping it manipulate things outside of the device. The portable cassette player, the motor and rubber band became part of an elaborate LEGO construction. I tinkered with it nonstop until the batteries ran out—twice. I’ve always connected creativity to constructive and destructive mischief.

What is your biggest regret?
Leaving my mother and sibling behind after I fled from my abusive father.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?
When you say heartbreak, I think of the most terrible things—particularly harm done to young people and the capacity for human cruelty. These things, I don’t ever get over. I keep on getting my heart broken all the time; it has created the relentless version of me. But, maybe you mean more the love-ache. I’m OK with all of that. I’m very good at being fond of people who used to be close to my heart. I stay with the warmest memory of every relationship and love still flows out of it.

What makes you cry?
These words (from Yasiin Bey) every time: “I ain’t no perfect man, I try to do the best that I can with what it is I have.” “I hope you feel me.”

It has only been seven years since I started crying at all, really. I have learned how to sob uncontrollably. It’s very powerful and scary. I’m still figuring out how to do it right. During my young life, I had “the cry knocked (the fuck) out of me,” whether it was in high school by bullies or by my dad—it was stress-related and physical but not really emotional. It’s possible I was being trained to be a different kind of man.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?
It used to be longer. Now it’s minutes.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?
No, but I’ve been wrong before.

What do you hate most about yourself?
I hate this question. Worse, I hate that I can’t lie to you about it.

The Singular:
What I hate most is me—all of me. It’s pretty deep programming. I work very hard against that. When I’m successful, I just hate the petty, plural things.

The Plural:
I hate the seven or nine really thick and wiry hairs in the middle of my chest. I hate traces of dry, dead skin left behind on dark-colored socks. I hate my fragile cuticles that bleed when inflamed. I hate my fear.

What do you love most about yourself?
I hate this question, too. But less.

The Singular:
I love that I have an ability to love deeply and easily. I live with youthful enthusiasm.

The Plural:
I love my friends (that they are of-me). I love the part of me that is relentless. When it shows up. I love the part of me that is slipping away.

What is your absolute favorite meal?
It hasn’t happened yet.