On the bus after attending an art fair for work, I looked through the bag of samples I’d been given and felt a certain kind of wistfulness. There was a 24-color set of acrylic paints and a beautiful spiral-bound notebook. I also found a pair of Pigma Micron drawing pens, and that’s when I kind of had to stop for a while and look out the window in an act of existential spiraling.
It had been such a long time since I’d drawn something.
I hadn’t touched my sketchbooks in years. The drawing pens — fineliners were my favorite — only served to remind me of this, and it was terrible to think that they might not be of any use to me now. I tried to imagine myself drawing again, but I just couldn’t. It was like I’d already forgotten how, like that part of me was long gone.
Earlier that week BTS had released Black Swan, a pensive song about how crushing it can be when you can no longer find any joy in what you were once passionate about, and it hit a little too close to home. How could I “do my thing” when I wasn’t even sure if it was still my thing anymore?
The older I’ve gotten, the more my “I used to’s” have begun to pile up. I used to keep a personal blog religiously, going on Tumblr to write 2,000 words about my day in like an hour — stream-of-consciousness, directly on the text box for new posts — then do it all over the next day. I used to make shrink plastic pins with Andrew VanWyngarden’s face or Swim Deep lyrics on them, using my own creations to decorate my backpacks and denim jackets. I used to take my bulky entry-level SLR everywhere and call it photography. I used to write fan fiction and poetry, I used to run a zine, I used to make collages in my journal, I used to have projects I started and actually finished.
I used to, I used to, I used to.
Not to be a Noah Baumbach character from the ‘90s, but everything shifted when I got a job and started working. Some things just seemed not to matter as much when I had deadlines to worry about and meetings to attend. The time I could have spent on personal projects went to long commutes instead. Writing for fun didn’t come as easily after I’d used up my mind’s capacity on the articles I had to work on now that I was a “real” writer. I’d tell myself I could always go back to them on my own time, but I never really did.
Writing for fun didn’t come as easily after I’d used up my mind’s capacity on the articles I had to work on now that I was a “real” writer. I’d tell myself I could always go back to them on my own time, but I never really did.
And that was fine, for a while. I pitched the essays I’d been meaning to write anyway and the deadlines were great at motivating me to see them through. I’d type a few lines or brief paragraphs on my Notes app about my feelings and experiences, and if I read them right, I could pretend they were poems. I made list upon list of ideas for short stories and alternate-universe plots, but I hardly got around to making them happen. I thought this was just the way things were, and how they would be from now on. I thought I accepted it.
Capitalism puts emphasis on productivity, and we’ve been led to believe that hobbies and creative pursuits aren’t really all that productive — or if they were, you had to be good at them and be able to make money out of them. When Man Repeller published a piece on why it’s not always necessary to give in to the pressure of monetizing your passions, I didn’t understand it at first. Wouldn’t you want to do something you enjoy and have it contribute to your net worth? But then I realized that hobbies are supposed to be fun, and they’re supposed to make you happy regardless of anybody else.
That moment on the bus with those Pigma Micron pens became the push I needed to want to reclaim the parts of me that I’ve let go and lost forever. I’m browsing Issuu and Etsy again for inspiration. I started trying to get better at cooking. (I have not been very successful.) Lately I’ve been getting back into making accessories — I ordered a bunch of adjustable craft ring bases, and I’ve been supergluing them onto oversize smiley-faced beads and flower charms to make silly, colorful rings.
Capitalism puts emphasis on productivity, and we’ve been led to believe that hobbies and creative pursuits aren’t really all that productive — or if they were, you had to be good at them and be able to make money out of them.
The one hobby I’ve really kept all these years has been taking pictures on a cheap plastic camera that uses 35mm film, and it’s just one of the things that never fails to make me happy, despite being slow-going and costly. My current pop culture obsessions constantly make me want to create, and I’ve found that it’s priceless to have friends who support me and share my interests. They cheer me on and encourage me, and when they check in and ask how a certain activity or project is going, it keeps me on my toes and drives me to keep going. I try to do the same for them.
Recently, BTS member J-Hope said that it’s been one of his goals to learn more about who he is. “I don’t really know exactly what I like or what my hobbies are,” he said. I found it hard to believe that someone whose identity and talents are so publicly well-defined would feel the need to discover what else there could be to himself. If even someone like him could still find fulfillment in small, seemingly inconsequential activities and interests, then that’s all we need to know about how important and illuminating it is to continue engaging in hobbies well into adulthood.
For a long time I think I was afraid — of failure, of having lost touch with what I loved, of having forgotten what I loved about it and how I did it. I was letting that fear get the better of me, and this was why it felt like such an impossible, monumental thing to let myself begin again. It’s always taking that first leap that’s the hardest.
For a long time I think I was afraid — of failure, of having lost touch with what I loved, of having forgotten what I loved about it and how I did it.
Hobbies are grounding and healthy. They remind you that you’re not just a cog in the machine, and they help you make sense of and reconcile who you are now with the you who was a bit more wide-eyed and idealistic. It’s all about learning and allowing yourself to make mistakes, and you don’t have to pursue them for any other reason than just because you like them.
Drawing was my first love, but as I grew up, I guess I kind of identified less with it. It’s strange to me to think now that I might not be all that bad at it, and even stranger to imagine that I can just sit down and do it, pick it back up like I never left it. The same goes for writing fiction, or making zines. It used to be such a scary thought; it still is. But now it’s also exciting: I can just do it! Nobody’s stopping me! I could end up creating something I’m proud of, or it could be horrific and embarrassing and I’d have to pull my hair out and do it all over again. Thing is, I’ll never know until I try — and one of these days, I think I just might.