A history of some of my random hobbies over the years

Hobbies, amirite? Like many people, I’ve tried out different things over the years to keep myself entertained and expand my horizons and all that other good stuff. I thought it would be fun to reminisce a bit about some of the more memorable ones and explore why I tried them out, how successful I was at them, and whether or not I’m still at it.

Piano

This was one of my earlier hobbies. I don’t remember how or why I got into it. I do know that I got an electronic keyboard as a Christmas gift from my parents when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I assume I had wanted one because that really doesn’t seem like the kind of thing they’d just buy for someone, unasked-for.

My parents graciously paid for some piano lessons. I wanted to learn. Really I did. The problem, at least back then, was that the keyboard was fairly primitive and could only play one note at a time, which meant no chords, nothing more advanced than, quite literally, one-finger playing. So practice was nearly impossible and I never really got anywhere with it.

A few years ago I decided to give it another go. I like music, and I really, really want to learn about it. Also keyboards are rad. And learning an instrument is supposed to be good for keeping your brain all good ‘n healthy as you age. So I bought a new keyboard, one that probably isn’t terrible fancy but also has far more features than I’m likely to need anytime soon. It’s pretty great. Alas, I’ve discovered a new problem.

I don’t think sheet music is compatible with my brain.

I’ve been having a lot of difficulty with sight reading. So every few weeks (or months…) I will sit down at the keyboard with a lesson book and practice a bit, get super frustrated, and walk away for a few more weeks (or months…). I’d kinda like to take lessons again but, holy cow, they are expensive.

That’s a great reason to feel grateful to my parents for having at least tried.

But anyway, music lessons are a pretty low priority on the “things to spend money on” list. I have been trying to learn some music basics with a computer program, and keep plugging away at the lesson book, but it’s not quite the same as a live instructor, is it?

Status: Still plugging away at trying to learn, every now and then.

Recommended reading: Alfred’s Adult All-In-One course is a pretty good book for self-teaching, as long as you don’t get frustrated and storm away. Ahem. Also, on the computer, this Music Theory Tutor has been helping me catch up on some music basics. Very gradually. Because I’m lazy and easily frustrated. 😦

Skateboarding

Oh boy, another one from the distant past. As far as the why: I’m pretty sure I can trace my specific interest in learning to skateboard back to a book.

I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. Back in my younger days, I was big into the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, and there was one about skateboarding. It was called Skateboard Champion, according to my ten seconds of googling. My copy of the book is long gone.

So anyway, my parents (again) accommodated my desire to get into this random thing, and bought me a skateboard and some protective equipment for Christmas a different year. The skateboard was neon orange and had a volcano on the bottom, and different  colored wheels. I leaned the thing against some furniture in my room and stared lovingly at it for a few months while waiting for winter to end and the weather to clear up.

Then one fine day in Spring, I flew out the door to the street in front of the house, hopped on the skateboard, and proceeded to humiliate myself for half an hour or so.

I think that may have been the end of it. What  can I say? I was clumsy, out of shape, impatient, and averse to pain (or, to put it more accurately – a giant wimp.) I may have tried it out again over the years, but I sure as hell never learned to actually ride the damn thing.

Status: Failed, and another attempt would probably end with me falling and shattering half the bones in my 30-something body.

Recommended reading: Alas, the Skateboard Champion Choose Your Own Adventure book seems to be out of print, and I never really read anything else on the subject.

Juggling

I met my long-time best friend back in high school. One day I found out that he could juggle. Words can not describe how much this blew my mind. I was just downright amazed that this high school kid had the power to make a set of balls dance in sheer defiance of gravity and teenage awkwardness. That sounds dirtier than it should. Dammit.

He showed me some basics. The Klutz juggling book filled in the rest. Getting the basic three-ball pattern down is more a function of practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, and some more practice, followed by practice. There’s also a lot of dropping involved in the learning process.

I’m kinda amazed that I stuck with it long enough to actually get it down.

I learned some different 3-ball patterns. Eventually I picked up some Airflites and learned to juggle clubs. And then torches, which are functionally pretty much the same as clubs. Oh, torches. They are so glorious. Surprising thing about torches – the flame itself didn’t bother me much, but the noise! I was shocked at how loud it was to hear the whoosh of flames spinning right in front of my face. Yeesh.

At one point, my friend and I started a small juggling club along with a magician we knew from our days working in a mall. I don’t think the club ever had more than 4, maybe 5 members. It sort of petered out.

But juggling rules. Just sayin’.

Status: Still doing it, though not all the time. Luckily it’s like riding a bike. Once you learn how to Mills’ Mess, you never forget how to Mills’ Mess.

Recommended reading: Juggling for the Complete Klutz is a fantastic place to start. It’s seriously one of the best beginner’s books I’ve ever read for any topic, AND it comes with a trio of square (non-rolling!) beanbags for practice.

Puppetry and puppet making

I can’t remember how I came across puppet making resources on the internet, but they inspired me to give it a go. I do remember having checked out a book about ventriloquism and ventriloquist dummies from the library when I was a wee young’n, but nothing ever came of that. Also ventriloquist dummies are kinda SUPER CREEPY, aren’t they?

Anyway, I started setting up a space for puppet making in my garage last summer, but got sidetracked by both my ongoing job search and a low-budget but massively time consuming remodel of my bathroom. Still, once Spring rolls around and my garage warms up again, I plan on going back out there, cleaning everything up, and giving it another go.

I think I may even try to make silly puppet videos for YouTube, but that depends on how much of a pain in the keister it is to do all of the performing, filming, and editing by myself.

Status: Still hoping to get my garage clean enough to get back to putting some together when it’s warm enough to hang out in the garage for a few hours at a time. And from there possibly make an ALL PUPPET MOVIE (gasp squee etc)

Recommended reading: Dressing the Naked Hand is a pretty good, and entertaining, starter book. It covers the basics of both construction and performance. Project Puppet has some great patterns and supplies for sale online, but can be a bit pricey.

Drawing/art

This has been a lifelong fascination for me, much like the piano. But, much like piano, I’ve long had a problem with frustration while practicing. On top of that, I’ve had a sort of fear keeping me back. I don’t know why. I’m afraid of my art sucking, afraid of it not being good enough for me, afraid of what other people might say.

Quick story: once, maybe 15 years ago or so, I had a pretty long streak of practicing drawing. At one point I drew a sort of still-life of some demented McFarlane action figure or another. I sent a picture of the drawing to a friend, because I just wanted to show somebody, but also gave my (honest!) opinion that it wasn’t a very good drawing (and it really, really wasn’t.) This friend thought I was fishing for compliments and chewed me out about it.

I suppose drawing, for me, is just like writing, in that I’ve spent the last several years trying to get past the scarring left by the negative opinions of the few people whose opinions truly matter to me. It’s an extremely difficult battle, I’ll admit, but one I’m still fighting. I will not be defeated!

Status: Much like the piano, I’m still plugging away at trying to learn, every now and then.

Recommended reading: I’ve tried a bunch of tutorials and books. The most recent is You Can Draw in 30 Days, and it’s up there with the Klutz juggling book as one of the more fantastic beginner books I’ve used.

Whipcracking

This one was definitely inspired by movies. Whips always look so damned rad in movies, don’t they? Indiana Jones, Zorro, Catwoman in Batman Returns, they made me desperately want to learn to wield a whip. I was doubly inspired by seeing Adam Winrich‘s fire whip show at the Bristol Renaissance Faire.

Some simple math: whips plus fire equals AWESOME.

Anyhow. I eventually found and purchased some whips and learned some basic cracks. Holy cow I loved it. But then I moved to a house with a yard that’s approximately a foot or two wide (which is not NEARLY enough space) and I’m wayyyy too self-conscious about loud noises and drawing attention to myself to do it in a public park. So this particular hobby is currently on hiatus but NOT dropped.

Status: Do not have anywhere to do it, and am missing it like crazy.

Recommended reading: Looks like most of the books I’ve seen are currently out of print. One of them, Let’s Get Cracking, has a new edition that’s currently available. Whips and Whipmaking by David Morgan is great if you’re interested in how the things are made. Morgan was a highly respected whipmaker and his whips have appeared in many movies, including the first three Indiana Jones movies.

Fitness

I plan to write more in-depth posts about fitness in the future. For now, the short version of my story: I was very lazy and very overweight for many, many years. Eventually I decided to do something about it. After trying a variety of activities, I settled on day-hiking and weightlifting as my favorites. I was big into jogging for a while, too, but don’t do that so often anymore because of this condition I have – I believe the technical term is “crotchety-old-man knees.”

I’ve found that the best way to keep myself motivated is to set clear and specific goals and be patient while working toward them. Example: my back has always been pretty weak. So last year (that is, 2016) I made a New Year’s resolution to be able to do 5 wide-grip overhand pull-ups by the end of the year. Well, I haven’t achieved that yet (and it’s my resolution again this year) but having that clear, specific goal motivated me to join a gym and focus on increasing both my overall strength, in general, and my back strength in particular. And while I’ll probably never be a powerlifter or bodybuilder or anything, I currently feel stronger and healthier than I ever have before. And while I can’t yet do wide-grip pull-ups, I can now do underhand chin-ups, which is something I’d never been able to do in my life until last year.

Status: Ongoing. And getting better at it. AWW YEAH, BRO

Recommended reading: I’ve found Building Muscle and Performance and The Men’s Health Big Book of Exercises to both be excellent resources for a variety of exercises (and variations of exercises). The former book is also excellent as a resource for overall functional fitness.

Writing

I’ve already covered it fairly extensively here.

Status: Yer readin’ it, ain’t ya?!?!??!?!11

Recommended reading: Stephen King’s On Writing is a highly readable combination memoir and inspiration on the topic of writing.

Knitting

This is a recent hobby. I had a lot of free time on my hands after losing my job last year. My BFF (the same one who got me into juggling) suggested knitting.

The good thing about knitting is that it’s very inexpensive to start. You can get a set of knitting needles for a few dollars, and some cheap yarn for practice.

My friend couldn’t show me how to knit, since he currently lives two states away. I watched a few how-tos on YouTube but couldn’t quite figure out what anyone was doing. Luckily I found a woman who provided lessons at a local library for a reasonable price, and she helped me understand the basic stitches and stitch combinations during a beginner lesson.

I’m honestly not sure about this one. Simple patterns are kind of fun to do while watching TV, but doing anything even slightly more complicated – ribbing, for example, and having to keep track of whether I’m supposed to be doing a knit stitch or a perl stitch – can be a bit irritating if I’m also distracted by the TV.

Still, I’m sticking with it for the time being. My goal is to eventually knit myself a Louise Belcher pink-bunny hat. I’m not huge into cosplay and don’t even know when I would possibly wear it, but I feel like that’s something I should have anyway.

Status: Probably too early to tell.

Recommended reading: I haven’t read any books. Ravelry and Knitting Help are both great online resources.

Cardistry

This is another very recent one – my most recent, in fact. I didn’t even know that fancy card-flourishing was a thing until last year.

I had picked up a few interesting decks of cards over the years, mostly by accident. My oldest deck is a set of slightly-undersized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cards from 1990. I had a pack of Japanese-import Legend of Zelda playing cards, because I thought they looked cool. I had another import deck, this one from England, that had come free with a book purchase from the Folio Society. I had a table-used deck my parents had brought back as a souvenir from a Las Vegas casino.

Then one day I saw, on Instagram, some cards that had been designed by Neil Patrick Harris. I also hadn’t known, at that point, that premium or artistic playing cards were a thing, but I was blown away. I picked some up and thought about trying to learn some card magic with them but was distracted by how-to videos on cardistry.

I’m pretty sure I’ll eventually end up getting into actual magic and sleight of hand, but for now, I’m fascinated by the artistry of card flourishing. I mean, my big dumb hands are currently pretty terrible at it, but I’ve still managed to learn a few interesting things, like different shuffles and a single-hand spin cut.

Status: Love the cards, still trying to get my uncooperative fingers to cooperate on the fancy showboatin’ part.

Recommended reading: Haven’t actually read any books on the topic yet. So far I’ve mostly been sticking with YouTube tutorials. There are plenty out there for all kinds of tricks! Go explore! But so far I’ve been having some success with Ellusionist, 52Kards, and Jay Nation.


Well, this has been a no-doubt fascinating exploration of some of my hobbies, past and present. There’s also a MYSTERIOUS POTENTIAL FUTURE HOBBY which I haven’t mentioned ’cause I have no idea if it’s gonna pan out or not.

But what about you, reader? I’d love to hear about your hobbies, active or not.

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