New Year and New (Re-)Discoveries

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Happy New Year, everyone! This year, I have all sorts of practical professional goals that I need to meet, but in a larger sense, I have one main New Year’s resolution: to let myself do more things that I enjoy and am not good at.

I’ve always been an ambitious and driven perfectionist, which has genuinely helped me in many ways. It’s hugely motivational when it comes to the things I really care about – it means I’m always willing to really put the work in and keep on trying to make all of my stories as good as they possibly can be – but it has also seriously limited me sometimes, when I’ve given up things I enjoyed just because I didn’t have the time/energy to become really good at them and I couldn’t stand being a low-level amateur.

So: this year I want to go back to making music every week even though I no longer have the time/energy to play music at a professional level (which was why I’d originally given up making my own music after I graduated from music conservatory and changed career paths from French horn performance to music history), and I want to go back to regularly drawing the way I did before I was 13 years old (when I finally realized just HOW MUCH better some other kids my age were and gave up because I “wasn’t good enough”).

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve finally picked up the beautiful alto recorder that I was given as a gift before my older son was born. Right now I’m only playing it in 15-minute chunks – but it’s been astonishing just how much happier, calmer and more settled I’ve felt at the end of each 15-minute practice session. I love making music! How did I forget that over the years? It’s why I originally planned to be a professional musician – but somehow, in the stress of a very intense (and occasionally toxic) conservatory lifestyle, all of my focus shifted from loving what I did to fighting to be PERFECT at it (in a context where ONLY perfection was acceptable) – and since I couldn’t strive for “perfect” when I was playing for less then 3-5 hours a day, I couldn’t stand to make music at all afterwards.

Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to pick up the French horn again, but in the meantime, starting mostly from scratch with an instrument I never studied professionally is really helping me to allow myself that level of joyfully low-level amateurism – and it’s bringing me an awful lot of happiness. How did I ever cope without making my own music for so long?

(One line that’s really helped me, from my younger son’s cello teacher when I was discussing this stuff with her: “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly!” – Which is completely opposite to my general life approach, and it was sooooooo enormously liberating for me to hear. :) )

I’ve also been drawing a bit with my kids this year, just to keep them company, and it’s reminded me that – newsflash! – I actually do like doing it for fun, even though I don’t expect to ever get particularly good at it. (My sweet 6-year-old niece asked me the other day: “Do you illustrate your own books, Steph?” Hahaha NO and I never will, thank goodness for everyone concerned.) But it’s fun to do anyway! And “fun” really is worthwhile, too, now that I finally have a bit of time for it.

I went through a long period – from the time my first son was born 9-1/2 years ago until both of my sons entered full-time school 4 months ago – when I had to fight and claw just to steal the bare minimum of time/energy to get my writing work done. Pretty much every other hobby or passion dropped by the wayside for nine full years. And that wasn’t a mistake – I NEEDED that time for my writing, so I had to be ruthless with my prioritizing. But now that both boys are in full-time school, I’m starting to slowly rediscover things I used to like, that I can finally start to bring back into my life. It’s a process of…not reinventing myself, exactly, but – maybe rediscovering myself? Finding out what I still love after all these years, what I no longer feel much real interest in after all – and what things I’d never even thought of before.

What about you guys? Are there any old passions or hobbies that you’d like to pick up again one day (or that you’ve already gone back to)? I’d really love to hear about them.

Here’s to a 2018 full of moments of joy and rediscovery, everyone. I’m really glad to be here sharing it with all of you.

9 comments

  1. I’ve always loved that quote of GK Chesterton’s – it’s remarkably freeing to suddenly realise you do NOT have to be perfect at everything you do.

    • Yes!

      • My late father always drove me to be perfect and it blighted my childhood and teenage years, and even my early 20s. It wasn’t until I was receiving treatment for the previously undiagnosed depression after a spell in a mental hospital, that I learned of that line of Chesterton’s – and I cannot begin to describe how much of a relief it was.

  2. Wonderful! So glad to hear it. This is what I went through last year when I got back into gaming, which was always the first thing I gave up when I needed to focus on work, writing, and family. Now that I’ve published some books, I feel less pressure to make that my second (third job, really, after being a parent and having my day job), and let myself do something for fun that reconnects me with a pursuit that was once a major part of my identity. And I’ve been live streaming my games, which helps connect me with others and share my interest and feel like I’m still “creating” something. But with all the responsibilities we have as adults, it’s nice to carve out space again for something that’s pretty much mine alone.

  3. Calligraphy has been that thing for me in 2017 and I hope to continue with it this year as well. It’s just fun & I enjoy it. I have no aspirations to ever professionally do placecards for weddings or anything–i just like watching the letters form. I also picked up the ukulele last year & I’d like to pick up my guitar again after a multi-decade hiatus. I’ve also had an idea for a webcomic for *years*. My youngest will enter full-time school in fall of 2018. Maybe this will be the year I start on that. :)

    • I would love to read a webcomic from you! Wishing you the chance for lots more fun exploration this year. (I know how that bittersweet countdown goes as you wait for your youngest to start full-time school!)

      • It is definitely bittersweet, but I really do look forward to not having to ration my time quite so strictly!

        It’s funny–I didn’t realize quite how similar this experience was the first time you mentioned it, but I have a masters in comic books & I really haven’t made very many since leaving grad school. Intimidated by the brilliance of those I went to school with, in part, (& also by how difficult it is to make a living in comics.)

      • Oh, yes, that does sound familiar! *hugs*

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