What Matters to Sarah Fonder

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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.

Sarah Fonder is the new Managing Editor for PRINT. She’s a writer from Tulsa, OK who got her start in the early ‘10s new media boom and managed to survive its collapse relatively unscathed. She loves reading tarot, trying on perfume, and judging people who think Showgirls is bad.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?
Honestly, probably overthinking stuff. I love to really poke at the how and why of anything I find interesting. A lot of the happiest moments of my life have involved talking about big, unanswerable questions with people I love. Good conversation with good people is all I really need to feel content.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?
When I learned how to write, I’d write on anything and everything I could find. I’d just scrawl random thoughts and pictures onto tiny bits of paper without censoring myself. Anything that captured my momentary interest was worth keeping. I remember stuffing all these notes in a dresser at the front of my house that, for some reason, no one really ever looked in. I feel like my parents were freaked out by how full it was once they finally discovered my stash. Once I got a computer, it was much easier to keep everything in one place! I’d write screenplays, short stories, and magazine features to entertain myself. I’m not sure I ever actually finished anything.

What is your biggest regret?
I’ve gotten to see a lot of great shows, but there are so many now-defunct bands that I could’ve seen and didn’t. I spent most of my 20s in New York super worried about money, so I talked myself out of going out all the time. I’d be too tired for a show, or I’d tell myself I wasn’t a big enough fan of a specific band to go see them (which is never, ever true!). In early 2020, I was finally ready to remedy this, so I went on a tear of buying tickets for every concert I wanted to go to— which, uh, didn’t end well! COVID felt like an important reminder not to take those moments for granted.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?
Not sure I ever have, honestly! I have an elephant brain, so my most intense memories tend to leave scars. Heartbreak definitely hurts less with time, but I never rush through it. Sometimes you think you’re over something, then the memory hits like a sack of bricks ten years later. I’d like to think I’m pretty good friends with my demons though, so that process of seeing what shame boomerangs come back is often more fascinating than scary to me now.
I think the best approaches I’ve come up with are honesty, empathy, and patience. It takes a lot of courage to love openly, and it’s much more exciting than staying closed off, so I usually feel better when I remember that.

What makes you cry?
Movies make me cry all the time! Lately it’s been fairly random and generally happy, like the beginning of Velvet Goldmine, or the end of Flashdance. The last couple of years have been really tough, so there’s a part of me that’s gotten a bit numb to sad stuff. There’s been so much doom in the air that I think optimism is really what gets me these days. It’s so easy to feel like we’re screwed, and I can fall into the trap of thinking that, but we have no idea what the future looks like. It makes me super emotional when I can see even the slightest believable sliver of proof that things might change for the better. Like, oh, thank god! My favorite kind of crying is when I’m just grateful to be alive. There’s a lot you can do with that feeling.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?
I put a lot of thought into what I do, but my tendency towards overthinking means I’m not always great at follow through. The bright side is that when I finish something, just seeing it can be enough to make me feel happy about it.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?
I was raised in the Bible Belt, so my relationship to theology is complicated. But faith is so much more interesting to me than nihilism, and something about it just feels right. I think there’s something to the idea of eternal life— I just don’t think it’s quite as literal as people like to believe it is. I think that if we were to think about that concept through the perspective of respecting the life cycle at large, we’d be much better off. Our bodies feed the soil, new plants come out of it, animals eat the plants, the animals eat each other, they die, and so on. I think a lot of the damage we do as humans comes from this literalization of eternal life, which is ultimately a fear of death. The older I get, the less I understand that. Who wouldn’t want rest?
There is so little we know, despite what we tell ourselves. There are whole colors we can’t see, and we know more about space than we do about our own oceans. So I think it’s silly to be dogmatic about what happens when we die, though I do wish there was more space to openly talk about the thought. I’m not sure I’ll ever be married to any specific theory, but I don’t see why all this energy wouldn’t go somewhere else when it leaves us. I think the law of conservation is the perfect argument for an afterlife. If I had to guess where we go, I’d say whatever dies just zips on over to whatever corner of the universe just happens to be growing at that exact second. Just like the food chain, but bigger and weirder.

What do you hate most about yourself?
At my worst, I’m bitter and defensive. I have a terrible poker face, and I’m not great at establishing boundaries. I can never forget the things I’d like to forget.

What do you love most about yourself?
What you see is pretty much what you get with me. I’m genuinely fascinated in other people’s perspectives, so I can get along with most people. My willpower is somehow pretty ironclad, so I’m good at keeping promises to myself. I try to tell the people I love that they matter to me as often as I can. I can still see the world the way I saw it as a kid sometimes, so I try to soak up as much joy in those moments as I can. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

What is your absolute favorite meal?
Any at least moderately spicy, throat-clearing Asian food. I love Thai, Indian, and the kind of Chinese food that’s heavy on Szechuan peppercorns. There’s something very healing to me about food that burns or tingles a little. Most of the best meals I’ve had in that category have been in Queens.