What Matters to JR Miller

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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.

JR Miller is a Caribbean-American writer, designer, and idealist in the Bay Area. He’s worked on initiatives for companies such as Google, Netflix, NASA, and Grooveshark.

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

I love a good road trip. The happiest time in my life, bar none, is when I moved to California and drove across Middle of Nowhere, America, with two of my best friends. If I tried to find a runner-up memory, it would be a road trip I took across Spain with another friend, or a trip to the Texas/Mexico border on a camping excursion to Big Bend National Park.

Whereas most times, it feels like I am performing the tasks of living, there’s something about road trips where I feel like I’m properly paying attention to life. On those trips, my anxiety extends to as far as the next gas station, and my ambition is as grand as whatever is waiting for me in the next town I stop in to refill. My happiness is grounded in my community, and for the length of that trip, my community is whoever is with me in the vehicle.

At some point, without fail, usually when my friends are sleeping or lost in their own thoughts, I put on Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly.” I can’t help myself. It’s so corny. But I love it.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I went to what they call an “at-risk” middle school. While we weren’t provided with much extracurricular activities, I did have access to a computer lab. The teacher who managed the lab took a liking to me, and because of that, I had near limitless access.

It was after school in that lab where I first began experimenting with graphic design and editorial layouts using Microsoft Publisher. The teacher would have me mock up flyers and forms, but I ended up winning my first design award by creating a yearbook for my 30 classmates as a graduation present.

It was a flimsy paperback booklet with a clear pasting binding cover titled “Break Away.” I’d spend afternoons scanning in photos we had taken throughout the year on disposable cameras. I’d interview my classmates for content. I still remember how excited the class was to receive the booklets. I had bound nearly all the books myself, so the title of the publication became more appropriate than I had expected. The glue didn’t fully set in all the bindings and many of the booklets fell apart almost immediately upon being distributed.

The class still enjoyed it. And while my first run in print publication was an epic fail, I do have it to thank for what has been a multi-decade-long journey as a creative professional.

What is your biggest regret?

Absolutely none. I wish I could say I had one for the sake of having an answer. But alas, I am quite happy with the result of everything. #AmorFati

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I have journals filled with unsent letters to past lovers, friends, and employers. I have saved voice memos from my mother and my estranged father. I have photos and cards that I keep in a special box on my shelf that may never be thrown away. Every heartache and heartbreak I have ever experienced has been turned into a poem, a short story, or fodder for future pieces of art. And while for the sake of my heart, I wish I created less art, I do have to say that for the sake of art, I am looking forward to future heartbreak.

What makes you cry?

Forgiveness. I struggled finding the right word at first, but when I think the ability to forgive others, the ability to forgive oneself, and the liberation that comes with being able to forgive — it’s such a beautiful thing.

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

It’s fleeting. I can never truly feel pride or joy for very long after completing something because I am already on to the next project. But the joy is residual and it comes in unexpected waves. Primarily, it happens when I get acknowledgement or recognition for the impact of my work. The feeling of being stopped in your tracks by someone reflecting your work back at you and interpreting what it meant to them is a feeling much greater than the completion of the task itself ever could be.

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

Honestly— I’m not sure. But I live my life banking on there not necessarily being one.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I hate that I always feel like I’m failing someone. But I’m learning that it is truly impossible to make or keep everyone happy. And that’s okay.

What do you love most about yourself?

I love that I love life. I love that I have been lucky enough and wise enough to love both the life I’ve been given and the life I’ve crafted. And I love that my life is being spent allowing others to love life more as well.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Cookies. Always cookies.