What Matters to Bernadette Jiwa

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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.

Bernadette Jiwa is an Irish-Australian author who was born into a house with no books, never went to college, became a writing apprentice in her mid-40s, and wrote ten non-fiction books in a decade. This year, she published her debut novel, The Making of Her.

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

Creating. Holding ideas and stories up to the light.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I remember being confined to bed with measles as a child. I was four or five years old. The best part was being allowed to spend the day propped up in my parents’ bed with paper and a tin of coloring pencils of every shade. I’d lick the end of the pencil to make the colors more vivid.

What is your biggest regret?

That I never learned to be a confident swimmer.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

By letting go, putting one foot in front of the other, and not looking back.

What makes you cry?

Movies and books. I’m a sucker for any story about an underdog succeeding against all the odds.

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

That’s an insightful question! I was raised in the good Catholic tradition where pride was a vice, not a virtue. So I tend to get most joy from the “act of creation,” rather than in the “big launch” day.

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

I’m not sure I believe in an afterlife, but I do believe that the people we’ve loved who have passed live on in our hearts.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Thinking about how to answer this question reminded me that, as a woman, I’ve been conditioned to hate some part of my body for as long as I can remember. But as I was typing the answer in my mid-50s, I couldn’t associate the word hate with any part of me. That feels like progress.

What do you love most about yourself?

My capacity for love and empathy.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

The bento box served at my local Japanese restaurant. Their soba noodle salad and okonomiyaki are to die for.