When I lived in Wisconsin, I briefly attended a writing group that met in a small library. There was an older man there who brought his knitting needles and yarn to every meeting.
I figured he wrote wholesome poetry or was there to cheer people along when I first met him.
When it was time to share stories, he cleared his throat, put his needles down, and passed around his story.
My jaw dropped as he read one of the most graphic horror stories I think I've ever read. I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination, but this made my eyes widen.
Everyone around the table was nodding their heads in approval, as if this was a normal Tuesday night for them. Like the entire room's posture was: "Yes, bestie, the same mind that makes light blue winter scarfs is also the same mind that created this story about cannibalism. He's also a beloved grandpa. This is normal here. This is Madison. We do this."
After we offered feedback, he pleasantly smiled and picked up his knitting needles again and went to work. I could tell whether or not he liked someone's story by whether or not he put down the needles as he listened. While I didn't stay at that meeting, I still think about him sometimes.
Truth be told, I was envious of his confidence to just knit in public and that he found a hobby that suited him so well - damning both unused free time and gender norms in a swift click of the knitting needle. Even in the writing community around Chicago, I haven't found someone with nearly that same kind of confidence and self-acceptance. What a guy.
I started thinking about more hobbies I could add in my free time. My doctorate ends soon, and I'm imagining my life without being a student. It's freeing thought, but I've also realized I was given a unique opportunity to explore things I've been putting off. And one of those things has been sketching and art, which I stopped doing when I was eleven when I found out I was a good writer. I won a short story context about Santa quitting Christmas, and the rest is history.
This was also inspired from a documentary I saw about one of my favorite writers, Hubert Selby Jr.
Hubert is a unique writer. He uses slashes instead of apostrophes, and writes according to a ryhthm. He didn't care about proper punctuation or grammar. He wrote as he felt it.
Here is a glimpse into that style from Requiem for a Dream:
“You see, you have feelings. You can appreciate the inner me. Like right now I feel a closeness between us that Ive never felt with anyone before … anyone. Yeah, I know what you mean. Thats how I feel. I don’t know if I can put it into words, but— Thats just it, it doesnt need words. Thats the whole point. Like whats the use of all those words when the feelings arent behind them. Theyre just words. Like I can look at a painting and tell it, youre beautiful. What does it mean to the painting? But Im not a painting. Im not two dimensional. Im a person. Even a Botticelli doesnt breathe and have feelings. Its beautiful, but its still a painting. No matter how beautiful the outside may be, the inside still has feelings and needs that just words dont fulfill.”
Hubert became a writer after a near death experience and decided to dedicate his life to a new goal. A devout Christian in drug recovery, he decided to use his own work to graphically, and bluntly, write about his experiences growing up in Brooklyn. His work shocked audiences everywhere as he revealed a side of the world that nobody really paid attention to.
He was an eighth grade dropout with no serious goals, other than to just write what he felt.
And he made his own rules as he went along.
When it comes to writing, a lot of people have made the comment to me that they wish they could write well. But the truth is, the only way to really write well is to first write. Most of the time, I carried around this impression that I wasn't a good artist because I believed that it was another inherent skill. Howevever, I have realized since that everything done with skill is something that needs to be practiced over and over again.
I started drawing again tonight while watching some Youtube tutorials. They're laughably bad. But I'm having a good time learning, and that's all that matters.
If there's a hobby you've been putting off or a dream that you think you can't do because you think you won't be good at it, the truth is you won't be good... at first. Practice means everything. And while I'm looking at my sketchbook now and laughing hysterically, I know perhaps there will be a day when I will know halfway what I'm doing. And that'll be awesome.
Be like Hubert. Do what's on your heart and let it flow from there. Be like that guy at that writing meeting who knits and don't care what other people think. Be a legend.
(If you want to see that documentary on Hubert, click here. It's free, and narrated by Robert Downey Jr. You can't lose!)