What Matters: The Resilient Jessica Hische

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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: lettering artist and author Jessica Hische.

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

Making things that make people happy or help people solve a problem.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

This is maybe not my first memory, but it’s a really strong one—when I was a kid I used to draw “battle maps” of my house and then plot the movement of our dog throughout the day. I don’t really know what the end goal was, but it felt like I was being some sort of secret spy, and I cared deeply about getting the details of the house correct. I also have a very clear memory of winning a coloring contest in Kindergarten and then just kind of knowing I was going to be a professional artist when I grew up after that point. Yes, I am embarrassingly influenced by external validation.

What is your biggest regret?

Honestly, not involving my parents more in my wedding. I wasn’t looking forward to the wedding (yes to marriage, no to wedding) because of the tension in my family from divorce. I was so scared to have everyone in the same room for the first time in more than a decade. We had a big fight beforehand, which sent me spiraling into my first real panic attack. After, I decided to split my wedding into a private ceremony with just myself, my now-husband and a couple of lifelong friend-witnesses, and then a reception/party at the venue where we were originally planning to have the full wedding. All the guests had a great time, and they never really knew how sad and anxious it all made me. I couldn’t watch our wedding video for five years because I felt like I wasn’t ready to re-experience it.

I was being fed the “It’s Your Day” narrative a lot at the time, but in retrospect I realized that weddings are so much more for your family than they are for you. I wish I could do it all over and just make them the center of it, even with all the heartache and tension going on. It would have still been very stressful but I wouldn’t have felt the years-long guilt I’ve felt for tarnishing the experience for them.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

In relationships—by moving on too quickly. I was a rebounder in my 20s, big time. For other kinds of heartbreak, I do my best to try to actually work through the feelings and not push them down. I process heartbreak by talking about it, usually to a handful of close friends and my husband. The bigger the heartbreak, the more people I talk to, so I don’t put the burden of my feelings all on one or two people.

What makes you cry?

Most things. I’m a crier! My empathy muscle is a little too in-shape, so any remotely sad or touching story can set me off. If someone else cries in front of me, I’m a goner. I also cry when I get overwhelmed with happy emotions. And to music. There are certain note structures that just always seem to trigger me.

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

It really depends on the accomplishment—it can be hot and brief (an hour or two) or last a few days if there’s something keeping the accomplishment “relevant” (like other people reaching out to say “congrats”). After that initial period dies down, I can get flashes much later, but they’re fleeting and feel closer to nostalgia.

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

I would absolutely love if some form of afterlife existed—whatever that was—but I don’t strongly believe in one. I think not being a believer makes me appreciate this life so much more. If this is my only shot and it’s lights out at the end, I want to feel like I’ve made the most of it.

A lot of people get uncomfortable with the idea that there’s not something down the line that we’re working toward—if there isn’t an afterlife [in which we’ll be held accountable for our actions], what keeps us from being careless and unkind to one another? But I think there’s this physiological need to leave behind a legacy of some kind, something that lives on when you’re gone. It’s why many of us are compelled to have children but it’s still at work in those who choose not to. I would venture to say that people who believe in the afterlife and people who don’t both work hard to positively impact others and build that legacy, both consciously or unconsciously, seeking immortality in a way but through different means.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I’m way too “alpha” and self-centered sometimes. I have to actively work to be a better listener because I have a tendency to tune out others and just wait for my turn to speak or “re-center” a conversation around something I want to talk about or a story I want to tell.

What do you love most about yourself?

My resilience. I’ve just always been a very optimistic person who believes people are good at heart and are mostly trying to do good (even if their attempts are misguided). This gets me through most kinds of hardship and allows me to feel connected to others really easily.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

The “Big Brekkie” from Five Leaves in Brooklyn (scrambled eggs, cooked tomato, sautéed spinach, toast, and a little hash brown patty), sitting at a table in the sun on a nice spring day. And pancakes on the side “for the table,” but mostly just for me.