get a life
My Dad, who had always been the most constant and calming presence in my life, died in a car accident two weeks before my college graduation. There’s probably some psychological explanation for it, but one of the immediate and lasting effects of his death was that I became extremely anxious and unable to relax for any length of time. I think, in the beginning, I was afraid to sit and do nothing, because if things got quiet, I started thinking about my dad, or the reality of a life without him. But months went by, and then years, and I found it hard to watch TV, or to read a book, or to just be still. To this day, it is very difficult for me to watch TV unless I am simultaneously folding laundry or nagging my husband.
By my mid-20s, it began to occur to me that my inability to unwind was negatively affecting my life. Without the ability to decompress, I was as tightly wound as a bow, and as prone to snap. At the same time, I was struck by the realization that I had no hobbies, which suggested that I might be a loser. On top of my baseline anxiety, I now had real reason for panic. So, thinking that a hobby might help me learn how to relax and deliver me from loserdom, I began a fevered period in which I desperately sought to identify a hobby that would stick. The goal: to mold myself into something better and more interesting than the anxiety-ridden mess I’d become.
First: photography. If you didn’t go through a period in your 20s when you walked around earnestly with a camera taking photos of piles of leaves, I would suspect that you didn’t have a 20s. I might have stuck with it, except that my photography teacher assigned actual homework, and I’d often run out of time and end up taking close-up photos of objects around my office, like my stapler. The week before I quit, I again ran out of time and locked myself in a bathroom stall at work to take desperate, artsy photos of my brassiere draped over the back of the toilet. When my teacher pulled me aside to suggest that my photos might benefit from more time and focus, I lost interest altogether.
Next: horse-back riding. I had read Black Beauty as a girl, and remembered liking it. More importantly, I liked jodhpurs, and thought the chances were pretty damn high that I’d look awesome in them. I think I took maybe 8 lessons total before I realized a) that I was expected to actually groom the horse, not just show up for rides, 2) that I might never get over the fear of being kicked by a horse sufficiently to allow me to groom it as required, and 3) that my head was too large for all the really cute helmets. I also realized that “posting” requires thigh strength that I neither had nor could ever hope to develop. My riding career ended as quickly as it had begun.
Then: knitting. I was actually a pretty good knitter, if you like tightly woven knits. It turns out that if you are a stress case, your knitting tends to reflect it. Everything I knitted came out half the size it was supposed to and looked felted, because I pulled every loop so tight. And if I missed a stitch, or made some other error, I was completely unable to get over it, and was apt to throw the entire project in the trash and hurl the can across the room in a fit of rage.
Most recently: rock climbing. My gym has a rock climbing wall, and my friend Katherine and I took lessons for a while. It was super fun, and boy did it feel burly to tell people I was belay certified. I liked it enough, and felt confident enough that I’d finally found my thing, that I actually posted this photo on Facebook with the caption, “Look who has a hobby now, hosers.” A better caption might have been “HUBRIS,” because I think I stopped going about two weeks after this photo was taken.
I haven’t given up. I watched “White Nights” on cable once and have wanted to tap ever since. My friend found an adult class and I almost pulled the trigger, until I went on the studio’s website and read that you are required to wear tights or “jazz pants” to class. First, I don’t know what “jazz pants” are, but they can’t be good. Second, if you go with the tights option, they are presumably to be worn without pants over them. So, tights, plus a leotard, plus tap shoes. I want to tap, but not badly enough to expose myself to abject humiliation. I also have a fantasy of taking family Taekwondo lessons with all three of my guys. But I’m concerned that, because I am Korean and my boys are half-Korean, we’d all be a lot better at Taekwondo than Tom, who is very, very white. And that would cause unnecessary envy and acrimony in our relationship, which might increase my stress, not reduce it.
Have any tips for relaxing, or for a good hobby? Please share, I need the help.