I sample hobbies like halloween candy, picking them up and discarding them as soon as I don’t find them interesting anymore. Trying things out is cool, because you learn about lots of different things. But I’ve always the envied the concentration and dedication of those who give themselves completely to their craft. I think the quintessential example is the ballerina who has been training since she was three. Hours of practice and exertion adding up to something beautiful.
I am not that ballerina. I am the living example of Quantity over Quality. Hnng. Need a very basic Tae Kwon Do move executed? (At this point, I only remember the ones with cool names, like “Tiger Mouth” and “Ox Jaw”) Want me to play a simple guitar song in the key of C? How about a sloppy watercolor painting? Or a scatterbrained poem written? Or a charmingly rough-hewn pencil sketch of an eyeball? Or a knitted sweater? Or the theme song of Sherlock played on accordion?
So here I am, the product of many fulsome years of doing this and that. Nothing in particular very intensely, though, except maybe knitting and writing. And although in some ways, my sample-pack approach to Doing Stuff has been fun and illuminating, I do feel a bit unrefined. I envy the laser precision of some people’s dedication to their craft. I mean, they are out there, BEING AMAZING AT ONE THING THEY PRACTICED A LOT.
I used to be completely confused as to how people could stick to something so faithfully. In the past, I’ve found myself squirming with boredom, sickness of the sameness, when I stick with something for too long. I’ve had this fear of going into something and having it be really boring. And that has happened to me a few times. I gave up flute after three years (it was hard to channel my adolescent angst in its dulcet tones). I thought it was all sonatas and sunshine, which didn’t suit me. But maybe if I’d stuck to it, I could have actually found a way to do something cool (to a middle schooler) with it. I mean, that beat-boxing flute guy did.
I think that you need to make something your own in order for it to be truly impressive. Although technical expertise can be staggeringly impressive, I think that what truly marks an artist is the ability to add something new. Maybe the mark of a genius at something, then, be it ballet or needlepoint, is the ability to synthesize their expertise with imagination, to add the richness of their experience and make art. We’ve seen writers of every generation reinvent their craft again and again. From Homer to Steve Roggenbuck, there have been endless iterations of what poetry can be and mean.
So here, dear reader, is my mission (and yours, possible): To find a hobby, a thing to do, and stick to it. Become good at it. And then do something with it that no one has ever done before. If Debbie New can knit a boat, then anything is possible.