Brain Pickings

Love and Art: The Secret to a Romantic Relationship That’s Also a Creative Collaboration

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“Relationships are our greatest learning experiences.”

If you, like me, thought it wasn’t possible to admire the writer-illustrator battery of genius behind the recent gem Lost Cat any more, you’re about to be, like I was, promptly proven wrong. In a recent episode of her award-winning Design Matters radio show, interviewer extraordinaire and Renaissance woman Debbie Millman talks to the talented duo — writer Caroline Paul and friend-of-Brain-Pickings Wendy MacNaughton — about their individual creative evolution, their remarkable collaboration, and the secret of not merely balancing a romantic relationship with a professional one but actually making an art of both.

Here are some favorite highlights of the conversation about the intricacies of creative collaboration, our chronic compulsion for control, our capacity for self-transcendence, and the wonderful Lost Cat — a tender illustrated memoir about the quest to find out where Caroline’s 13-year-old tabby had gone and what it reveals about human relationships and the secret of love.

On mastering the balance of a creative collaboration and a romantic relationship, and the secret of how the two fuel each other:

It took a little while for us to figure out, like in any relationship, how to talk about [our creative differences] without taking it personally, and how to end up coming to the best creative conclusion. … We managed to figure out a system, with structure, and then stick to that — so it took the pressure off, so we could make collaborative decisions in an easier way.

On what Lost Cat teaches us about humanity:

The biggest thing I learned is that you cannot know everything about the creature that you love, and you also can’t control that relationship. And maybe that’s okay — because we can’t control relationships. In fact, if we did control them to the degree that we want, it would probably provide us with nothing. Relationships are probably our greatest learning experiences.

On one of my favorite illustrations from the book and how it captures the inner “Tibby” we all harbor:

On what Lost Cat teaches us about human relationships:

On what true love necessitates:

And what humans are capable of when in love, and what it takes to pull ourselves out of a depression:

Wendy, on designing for the first democratic election in Rwanda and why her ad agency dream job turned out not to be so existentially dreamy after all:

I thought that I could, in advertising, make people ask questions and make them think. And advertising is a fantastic thing where you come up with ideas, but it’s not as much about asking people to think than just telling them what to think.

Wendy on why drawing is like a muscle that bridges hand and brain, and needs constant stimulation to prevent atrophy:

Caroline, who spent several years as one of fifteen female firefighters on San Francisco’s 1,500-person Fire Department and wrote an extraordinary memoir about it, on gender differences in the experience of fear:

If you talk about being scared, you kind of become scared… If you’re a woman, and you’re one of the few, whatever you do reflects on all women.

Caroline on the allure of blending fiction and nonfiction in East Wind, Rain, her scintillating novel about the attack on Pearl Harbor, based on a fascinating true story:

The philosophical moral of the Lost Cat story, read in the world’s best voice:

You can never know anyone as completely as you want. But that’s okay, love is better.

Treat yourself to the soul-warmer that is Lost Cat, listen to the full interview below, and be sure to subscribe to Design Matters on iTunes or SoundCloud for more infinitely stimulating conversations at the intersection of creative culture and philosophy.

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