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.
Jeff Fisher is the Engineer of Creative Identity for Jeff Fisher LogoMotives and speaks about identity design in conferences, schools, and books. He is the Portland Rose Festival clown Toots Caboose.
What is the thing you like doing most in the world?
After a design career of over 40 years, gardening is what I like doing most. Following the purchase of our home just over 25 years ago, I began to garden. However, in recent years— ten years into my diagnosis with CRPS [Complex Regional Pain Disorder] and through the COVID pandemic— gardening has become my passion and best therapy.
With my husband Ed Cunningham, we have created what others refer to as the Fishingham Garden. Our little Portland city lot of 50’ x 100’ has presented us the challenge of creating and maintaining something together. The Fishingham Garden has taken on a life of its own with garden magazine exposure, being featured on television programs, being written about in blogs, and having its own social media presence.
What is the first memory you have of being creative?
In second grade, I was diligently working on a painting of a bouquet of flowers when a paintbrush full of paint came flying from across the room and landed directly on my tempera image. Instead of being angry at the responsible classmate, I incorporated the new blob of paint into my interpretation of the still life. My teacher went on and on about my ability as an artist to adapt to any situation. The painting was entered into a citywide student exhibit and earned honors. With everyone saying I was an artist, I believed I was one. About that time, I told my father that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. His immediate response was, “You will never be able to make a living as an artist.”
What is your biggest regret?
I didn’t come bursting out of the closet until I was 28 years old. I struggled with being gay for over a decade before that time, largely due to how an older family member was treated by relatives. I didn’t want to deal with the same rejection, isolation, and derision. My own decision and path resulted in incredible hurt to some other individuals. That is my biggest regret. At the same time, I do realize that I would not have the life I have today if my life’s direction had been altered at all by changes in my past experiences and decisions.
How have you gotten over heartbreak?
Any heartbreaks I’ve expended have been quickly remedied by the fact I’m surrounded by incredible friends. I’ve never been allowed to wallow in self-pity. I also have never seriously minded being alone after a major breakup. In fact, the last time I was single, I was really enjoying the solo life. That was in 1990, when I met Ed. We were introduced by someone we had both dated. At that moment, I turned to another friend and said, “This is really going to fuck up my life.” Ed and I have been together for 33 years.
What makes you cry?
Freshly cut onions and the loss of incredibly close friends.
How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?
The length of pride and joy in an accomplishment tends to be different with the scale of the activity being remembered. In 1967, my entire family hike the 366-mile Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I was 11 years old. I still have immense pride in that accomplishment. The books I’ve written still bring a great deal of personal satisfaction. The garden Ed and I have created together is a source of constant pride and joy.
Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?
I have no reason to not believe in an afterlife and, with numerous “visitations” by deceased friends and family members over the years, I haven’t given much thought to what that might look like, but those visiting have always said that they are happy, well, and in a good place.
In our own house are the resident spirits of an old man, a little girl, and a cat. Most often, they have been seen by young children visiting our home. Several adults have also experienced the often invisible visitors. In recent months, I have finally seen the cat that many others have seen in the past. Ed and I have seen and sensed a number of spirits, who can be playful or annoying. We’ve been told that when we would prefer to not be bothered, we should simply say so out loud or yell “stop!” An intuitionist we once visited told us that many spirits do pass through our home— it is as if we have a big “welcome” sign over it.
What do you hate most about yourself?
Procrastination. I have it down to an art form.
What do you love most about yourself?
I feel— and I am often told— that my best quality is my positive attitude. Over the past 15 years, I have dealt with a number of chronic health issues. Feeling as I often do, it would be very easy to isolate myself and to be constantly bitchy. However, such an attitude is of no value to anyone, A life of negativity certainly is of no value to me as the individual battling health issues on a daily basis. Yes, it is frustrating that my tremors, unsteadiness, and sometimes exhaustion do what they do. But why would anyone I know want anything to do with me being nasty and irritable all the time?
What is your absolute favorite meal?
Wild-caught Pacific king salmon, steamed fresh Oregon asparagus, and garlic smashed potatoes served with J.K. Carriere Glass WV White Pinot Noir. German chocolate cake for dessert.