What Matters to Rob Walker

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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.

Rob Walker writes the newsletter The Art of Noticing. His latest book is LOST OBJECTS: 50 Stories About the Things We Miss and Why They Matter, co-edited with Joshua Glenn.

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

Laughing with my wife.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I don’t remember the details, but when I was I think around seven, I created a sort of hand-drawn, one-page mockup of a “newspaper” (or my idea of a newspaper?) titled The Walrus Street Journal. (My father subscribed to The Wall Street Journal; my effort was really just a dumb joke, but sometimes that’s a good starting point for creativity.) Anyway, my parents found it amusing.

What is your biggest regret?

Aside from poorly-handled breakups, my biggest regret that I think about these days is that I had every opportunity to take radio/audio production classes in college (30+ years ago). Even though I loved radio, I just thought the medium didn’t have much of a future, so it wasn’t practical stuff to learn. One of those head-over-heart decisions. Soooooooo dumb, on so many levels.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

I’m pretty sure the only true answer here is time. But I suppose finding someone/something better than who/whatever broke your heart is helpful. And that, of course, invariably comes with time.

What makes you cry?

Generally speaking, I’m not much of a full-on crier. The exceptions are obvious and unsurprising: most recently, losing my mother. That said, I find that as I’ve gotten older, I am way more susceptible to what I’ll just call getting emotional— choking up, or letting go of an involuntary tear or two— in more routine circumstances. Very often, this is a result of exposure to some art/music/creative expression. A recent example was the movie C’mon C’mon, which wasn’t in any way a tearjerker, and which I saw on a plane— exactly the kind of situation where it feels important not to be the guy sitting there crying about a movie… and yet, I was definitely making an effort to keep it together.

Another example: I went through a phase about a year ago where I was obsessed with the Sparks song “My Baby’s Taking Me Home,” and there’s one video of a live performance that always makes me shed tears. Partly it was about the artistic power of the song, which mostly consists of that one line repeated over and over, probably hundreds of times. This is more impressive to me every time I see/hear it— it’s hard to “get” it the first time (or even fifth time) around, but I find the artistic commitment is truly moving. But also partly it’s about the actual sentiment the song evokes. It’s possibly the best love song of all time. Honestly, I’m tearing up just writing this down! The point is, I’m tearier than I used to be, for reasons that aren’t clear.

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

Maybe one night, tops— and that’s assuming the accomplishment involves some sort of celebratory party.

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

No, I don’t. But I can believe there are things we do not understand about the border(s) between life and death. I just assume that whatever might be going on beyond our comprehension is… beyond our comprehension.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Lack of discipline.

What do you love most about yourself?

I’m pretty much never bored. Even into my 50s, the world fascinates me. Not always in a good way, but always nevertheless.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

A fried shrimp po’ boy (dressed, but no tomato) and a bowl of gumbo, plus an order of fries to be split with whoever I’m eating with at Liuzza’s By The Track in New Orleans.