Illustrations by Lucia Vinti
At first, finding a hobby seemed doable.
It was March 2020. Long, dark hours in my apartment stretched before me: no happy hours or dates or parties. I forced myself to imagine the possibilities. I could finally devote this time toward discovering a hobby, I thought. I’d come out of the pandemic newly minted with some fabulous skill. So I dove in headfirst and … quickly failed.
Baking was messy. My embroidery and knitting attempts ended in tangles. Pottery crumbled under my hands. I realized I had little patience to fail continuously at something that just wasn’t clicking for me.
“Trying to ‘find a hobby’ is hard and I hate all of you who say you have them,” I tweeted in frustration last month. Almost instantly, friends and complete strangers poured into my replies, offering me their hobbies, from weaving to bracelet-making, as well as their advice: Be more patient, be more willing to fail, ask for help.
So I’m giving hobbies another go. This time, I asked three experts — a collage artist, a cocktail connoisseur and a plant whisperer — what to do. Here’s what I learned.
Time: Start with an hour (or more) per week.
Money: Less than $15.
Materials: A glue stick, scissors, paper and old magazines.
The first woman I turned to was Rachel Orr, 31, who is design editor for The Lily, as well as a collage artist. A collage pro, Orr has taught workshops and sold her work. But it didn’t start out that way. She says she got into collaging after deciding she wanted a hobby that wasn’t tied to a computer. She jumped right in with a 100-day collaging challenge.
“A big lesson I learned there was that it took me 174 days,” she says. “Because life happens. You’re not going to do it every day, and I actually found out I didn’t like doing this every day.” But, she says, taking time away from her collaging and picking it back up helped her break with the idea that every one of her projects had to be perfect.
“I have this all-or-nothing mind-set,” she says.
She calls collaging meditative: cutting and pasting something that is already made, and creating something new. Orr says that as she got more into collaging, she bought a $10 X-Acto knife, a cutting mat and fancy scissors, but beginners don’t need more than a glue stick, some paper, scissors and old magazines. Luckily, I had them all.
I started out by choosing a magazine — the August edition of Washingtonian — and cutting out what I liked: a giant cinnamon bun, a greenhouse and a sign proclaiming: “We’ll get through this.” I also quickly found that cutting things out is a bit tough. In my attempts to be as precise as possible, I accidentally slimmed down the greenhouse and removed pedals from a bike.
Orr was right, though; it was meditative to cut paper, slide my glue stick across the back and press it down to a piece of computer paper. In the end, I had some kind of proclamation of what I wanted to be doing instead of weathering the pandemic. My finished product was a golden sea made out of beer, with a boat motoring across to a greenhouse in the mountains. I stuck “we’ll get through this” at the top.
I enjoyed myself, but it didn’t take me long to grow tired of the exercise. After a few days, I found myself unable to figure out what to make next. I decided to listen to Orr’s advice: I took some time away and waited to see if inspiration struck.
So far, not yet.
Time: Less than an hour for your first cocktail.
Money: About $150.
Materials: A cocktail set that includes a shaker, jigger, muddler, bar spoon and citrus press, as well as essential spirits such as vodka, tequila, rum, whiskey and gin. Liqueurs and bitters are also a good addition.
After collaging, I decided to try something I had a bit more familiarity with: cocktails. I called Camille Wilson, a 32-year-old blogger in New York. By day, Wilson works in admissions at a private university, and by night, she crafts cocktails. Her blog, the Cocktail Snob, features colorful cocktails Wilson makes herself. She started blogging about cocktails a few years ago because she wanted to “help people create happy hours at home and show them that it’s really easy,” she says.
Wilson told me to start with what I like, or try a neutral spirit, such as vodka. She also coached me on making simple syrups — essentially, just boiling down sugar into water — which can be added to sweeten a drink. According to Wilson, you don’t need a fully stocked bar or a bunch of tools to get started, so don’t rush out to spend a ton of money. You can substitute a Mason jar for a cocktail shaker, for example, or use a measuring cup or a shot glass as a jigger.
“When you’re first starting out, I would keep it pretty simple,” she advises. Check out your bar cart and cabinets, and start there.
Simple ingredients I already had? Mojitos came to mind. I started off by making the simple syrup by melting sugar into water on my stove. Then, I muddled some mint at the bottom of a cocktail shaker. I felt like a chemist as I added in lime juice, rum, the syrup and some ice to shake. Within five minutes, I had served up two full mason jars, garnished them with mint and lime slices, and shared with my boyfriend. He gently suggested I add a bit more lime next time.
I won’t say I became a total cocktail fiend, but I did begin thinking about how I could make my next cocktail with my remaining rum. Wilson had recommended I start my week by trying a new cocktail recipe and then perfecting it throughout the week, spending a total of an hour a week on cocktail-making. I think I can live with that.
Time: A couple of weeks to months.
Money: About $15.
Materials: Pots, seed trays, potting soil and paper towels.
Aiyana Poe, 20, is a self-proclaimed former serial plant murderer. And that’s why I was immediately at ease in admitting to her that I am a current plant murderer.
I turned to Poe to get her advice on gardening. She is a garden manager at Cultivate the City, a D.C.-based organization that empowers people to create their own urban gardens. Despite killing a windowsill herb garden (and subsequently dashing my dreams of using my own homegrown basil in my cooking), I wanted to give it another go.
Being good with plants runs in Poe’s family, she says, and she has an outdoor and indoor garden. But when she began working in a garden, Poe knew nothing about plants. Her first task in a community garden? Picking bugs off leaves.
“That was torture,” she laughs. The experience is one she is grateful for, though: It showed her all the work that goes into a garden. According to Poe, it’s a misconception that you need a lot of space to have a garden. She encouraged me to try a “scrap garden,” which uses scraps of veggies to regrow them. It’s cost-effective, she explains: You can buy peppers at a store, cook with them and use their seeds to regrow them.
But gardening is full of trial-and-error and requires patience, she says. After the initial work of planting, she says, it’s just a waiting game to see how things will grow. Some veggies, like kale and Swiss chard, can be planted once and grow over two seasons, she says, while tomatoes and peppers may take 15 days to become seedlings but actual fruit will take 60 to 80 days. And even then, sometimes you might fail.
“Even if I try this one [method], it may not be successful,” Poe explains. “So, I’ll try different methods next time.” But, for her, the patience paid off when she saw her plants grow.
“When I see a plant now, I automatically get happy,” she says.
Automatic serotonin? Great. I got started by collecting the seeds from a tomato and jalapeño I cut up for some guacamole. I cleared the soil from the pots that once held my dead herbs and replaced it with new potting soil replanted the seeds, eagerly lining the pots up next to my window. And ... I waited. Ah, I realized, this is where the patience comes in. I decided to chat with my plants a bit in the mornings. It might not be doing much for the plant, Poe tells me, but it may be doing something for me.
“It probably gives you a bit more of a personal connection to what you're growing,” she says. “Which then, in turn, makes you notice if things are doing well or not.”
So are things going well? No sprouts yet, but nothing is dead, either. In the meantime, while I wait, I’ll make cocktails.