I started with the harmonica. It seemed simple enough. The mouth sandwich, a combination of my oral fixation and love for bread. I watched at least 30 minutes of YouTube beginners’ tutorials. I spent too much money on a Hohner Special 20 in C. I was poised to become a harmonica master.
But I was bad at it. I lacked the agility, the lingual flexibility, the patience most of all. Homeless people were good at this thing. Not to be classist, but shouldn’t I be able to play the harmonica too? Did I need to go through life’s hardships and time on the cold streets of Northbridge to become a harmonica master? I wasn’t willing to test the theory. With just a hint of resentment, I left the harmonica behind.
Next, I ventured onto the tennis scene. This time, I was armed with a friend, my insurance policy against an early retreat. We took lessons together on a weekly basis. We would wait for each other in the carpark and lock eyes, girding our respective loins for the onslaught of shame that came with physical ineptitude.
We both sucked at tennis. Like really bad. “Rallying” ended up being one of us serving and the other person running dejectedly to pick up the ball. The only reason we ran was because there were other people around. Otherwise, I’m sure we would have just looked at the ball roll past us in an apathetic Daria-esque manner.
“Do you want to sign up for next term?” asked my friend at the end.
“Um,” I said. “I’m… busy.”
“For 10 weeks?”
And I was busy. Busy trying to find a new pastime to enrich my life. I’d started picking up all of these hobbies because I wanted to work on something constructive in my downtime. Unfortunately, attempting to find a hobby had become my hobby. I was addicted to the thrill of identifying a new activity to immerse myself in. Unfortunately, I lacked the lung capacity to embrace full and extended immersion.
My next venture was one I fell into. Late night, lying on my bed, dull light seeping in underneath the door. I stumbled onto a longboarding video. He was Norwegian, a teenager, and really good at longboarding. I already wanted to be Norwegian and a teenager. This was enough incentive for me to want to take up longboarding.
I bought a skateboard first, the more accessible but arguably more difficult plank of wood on wheels. I took it to my cramped, uneven driveway like an idiot and promptly fell onto my outstretched hands, spraining both wrists.
“Shit,” I thought as I picked myself up gingerly. “That was fucking awesome.”
It had been so long since I’d fallen down. So long since I’d felt the real and bowel-loosening power of free falling onto a hard surface. I was intoxicated by the threat of fractured bones and subluxed joints. I was hooked.
I’d always wanted to skateboard when I was younger. But I found myself lacking testicles, real and metaphorical. I also didn’t own a beanie or Etnies and was generally too busy reading Meg Cabot. Here was my chance though. I’d escaped the high school environs and its gender stereotypes. Now I was stuck in the world of gender pay disparities and male-dominated upper management.
A month later I bought my longboard. It was from a skate shop 40 minutes away with an owner 3cm shorter than me and 4.5kg lighter. He was surrounded by adoring teenage boys who would buy their grip tape and fresh trucks then skate off into the distance, yelling out thanks to the owner by name. I watched on in admiration.
“So, I suppose you want to longboard dance?” said the proprietor.
“No,” I said, perhaps more emphatically than was acceptable in the world of skateboarding. “I want to longboard as a means of transport.”
He looked at me suspiciously while I avoided eye contact. 15 minutes later I walked away $210 poorer but holding the future of sustainable transport underneath one arm.
It’s a year later and I still can’t longboard for shit. I can move from A to B (if the surface is sufficiently smooth). I can carve (read: wobble precariously) down a three-degree gradient without falling off. And I can fall asleep on my stationary longboard pretty proficiently. But my dreams of longboarding to work while simultaneously saving money and the world from global warming have not been realized.
I am regularly tempted by the constant and distracting buffet of hobbies at my fingertips but I am yet to give up. My harmonica hides in its case on a shelf, my tennis racket languishes in the storeroom of my mum’s house but my longboard sits in my bedroom, strategically placed to torment me into using it.
Perhaps that is the solution. Make yourself feel guilty enough to stick with something. Then console yourself that through every non-committal venture, your patience and stoicism is building. Life is a continuous opportunity for character development. My interests might be scattered but my willingness to be really terrible at something remains resolute.
Here’s what longboarding has taught me. It’s okay to be really shit at something. You’ll probably get better at it. But whatever you do, don’t lock your elbows when you fall.