What Matters: Uli Beutter Cohen On Bringing the Outside World In and Being Glorious AF

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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.

Uli Beutter Cohen is the creator of Subway Book Review and author of Between the Lines: Stories from the Underground. She explores belonging to a time and place through writing and photography. Her work has been featured by New York Magazine, Vogue, The Guardian, and many more. Uli lives in Brooklyn.

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

Swimming in the ocean (preferably in a bay) when the water temperature is just right, on a warm summer day with no clouds and little wind (no bikini top, ideally). On a fancy day, I jump into the water off a (friend’s) boat. On a less fancy but good day, a book and a glass of something delicious wait for me on a sandy beach. 

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

As a kid, I loved finding objects in the natural world and giving them a new life. I remember making a small hedgehog out of a chestnut and toothpicks. I kept him on my desk forever. I also remember making a print by dipping leaves into paint and pressing them onto fabrics. I loved bringing the outside world in, and I guess I still do it in my creative work today by collecting conversations on the subway and shaping them into colorful, intimate, relatable experiences.

What is your biggest regret?

Holding back.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

By getting a cat, Ray. He was the sweetest guy and my beloved companion for 18 years. 

I just had to say goodbye to him, and I’m grieving him so deeply because he was my constant friend through my 20s and 30s. With his passing, I feel like I also lost a part of myself which is a hard thing to wrap my mind around. Of course, Ray is not really gone, and his spirit is still with me. He’s leaving little signs that he’s not very far, which is what I try to focus on instead of his absence.

What makes you cry?

I’m a triple water sign—I’m completely ruled by my many emotions. Happiness can make me cry just as much as sadness. As I’m getting older, I’m getting better at separating which emotions are meant to be my private experience versus a public one, and I’m having a lot of fun with it (something only a Cancer Sun would say, I know). 

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

There’s a lot of work to be done, so I usually move right along to the next thing after I accomplish something. I’d like to experience fantastic moments that happen along the way more. I’m inspired by others that revel in their success, and I aim to celebrate more this year. 

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

What I know is that nothing is ever lost because energy can’t be destroyed. All of us have already lived a million lives, and we will continue to live a million times more. In past life regressions and on psychedelic trips, I’ve seen The Dome where energy is transformed, and I’ve seen that water is everything because everything is water. For me, death is about forgetting everything I think I know and opening my mind to possibilities of transformation.

What do you hate most about yourself?

I don’t like it when I’m not fully myself (I’m meant to be glorious af), but I don’t hate myself anymore. I gave that up when I turned 40 this summer.

What do you love most about yourself?

The fact that I get to live with an unafraid mind (most of the time) in such a pretty body that keeps moving (most of the time) despite any obstacles thrown my way. I love that, in spite of it all, I seem to be determined to thrive.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

The Seafood Bonanza—a buffet of fresh seafood (oysters, clams casino, shrimp cocktail, salmon dip, canned fishes, etc.) that my husband Alec and I prepare for our friends on New Year’s Eve at our apartment in Brooklyn. It’s a tradition and one of the most exciting meals of the year.