Mar­ian Keyes on dis­cov­er­ing a hobby

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

A hobby is more than just some­thing you do in your spare time, says Mar­ian Keyes. It can help to calm your soul.

UN­TIL RE­CENTLY, if some­one told me they had a hobby, I’d au­to­mat­i­cally think, ‘Trainspot­ter – who has dif­fi­culty mak­ing friends.’ And start back­ing away. But Him­self was for­ever ‘at’ me to get an in­ter­est, be­cause as he of­ten said: “All you do is work, sleep and watch telly.”

“And buy shoes,” I’d al­ways re­mind him. “Buy­ing shoes is an ‘in­ter­est’. I watch telly, I eat choco­late and I buy shoes. This is the mod­ern way. I have a full and rounded life.”

How­ever, dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly un­pleas­ant bout of poor men­tal health, I sud­denly started bak­ing, which came as a huge sur­prise, be­cause I’d never been do­mes­ti­cated or ‘crafty’. But it had be­come fash­ion­able for mod­ern women, many of them proud fem­i­nists, to knit or em­broi­der or make cup­cakes. So I was very Zeit­geisty. Also stone mad.

For 18 months, I baked like a ma­niac. It was an ab­so­lute com­pul­sion and I sim­ply couldn’t stop. Nor could I stop eat­ing the cakes I’d made, and I tripled in size. Then, al­most as sud­denly as it be­gan, the bak­ing urge van­ished and I needed another hobby to fill the void, prefer­ably one where I couldn’t eat the end prod­uct.

But there was noth­ing I was in­ter­ested in, un­til I re­alised I had to do some re­con­nais­sance (if only there had been a mag­a­zine called What Hobby?). It was like the quest for true love, or the per­fect job – it doesn’t just ap­pear on your doorstep, say­ing, “Hello there! I’m the an­swer to all your prayers.” Ef­fort had to be put into find­ing it and this seemed coun­ter­in­tu­itive – if I loved some­thing, surely I’d know? But what if I just hadn’t ‘met’ the right thing yet?

So I gave var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties a lash and learned that, like true love, you have to kiss a lot of frogs be­fore you find your prince. I did evening classes in pot­tery – that sounds like a to­tal cliché, but yes, I ac­tu­ally did evening classes in pot­tery.

Sadly, it didn’t ‘take’ – try­ing to work the wheel thing with my feet while shap­ing wet clay with my hands was well-nigh im­pos­si­ble. (No co-or­di­na­tion, you see, and for that rea­son Zumba was also a bust.) Next, I gave jew­ellery-mak­ing a go and found it way too fid­dly. And card-mak­ing was a dis­as­ter; the prob­lem was the glue – it clung to me like na­palm and I kept get­ting stuck to things.

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THEN MY SIS­TER made a pass­ing com­ment about ‘chalk paint’, and even though I wasn’t aware I knew the first thing about it, some­thing hope­ful and ea­ger perked up in me. I googled it right away, only to dis­cover there was a place nearby do­ing a course that very week­end. I mean, what were the chances? It was clearly a sign (al­though I don’t be­lieve in signs).

Along I went and it was love at first sight. Chalk paint­ing is per­fect for the likes of me – lazy, slap­dash and all about in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion. Noth­ing needs to be sanded or stripped back, or any­thing else dull and re­spon­si­ble. You’re just straight in, slap­ping colour on, mak­ing ev­ery­thing look lovely.

The mo­ment the course ended, I bought a crappy sec­ond-hand cabi­net for 30 quid, which I trans­formed com­pletely. (It’s un­seemly to boast – good man­ners dic­tate that when we’re praised we should say, “God, no, it’s aw­ful. Look at how streaky it is and see all the bits I missed here” – but when it comes to my up­cy­cled fur­ni­ture, I egg peo­ple on, draw­ing their at­ten­tion to fea­tures they might not have no­ticed. “See how I did the in­side of the drawer a dif­fer­ent colour? And look at the sil­ver bits on the legs. Isn’t it fan­tas­tic?”)

Overnight, I was ob­sessed with chalk paint, and ev­ery time I thought I’d ac­cu­mu­lated enough colours, I sud­denly needed more. I spent about a mil­lion pounds on paint and brushes and waxes and knobs (a whole other sub­sec­tion of ob­ses­sion) and more paint, yet I was feel­ing de­light­fully thrifty and ‘make do and mend’.

In a life­time first for me, I vol­un­tar­ily went to a hard­ware store, which was like vis­it­ing a for­eign coun­try – they spoke a dif­fer­ent lan­guage and the men were very flirty. (Hon­estly, if you’re look­ing for love and you’re not too choosy, hang around a hard­ware store fin­ger­ing the screws.)

When I ran out of fur­ni­ture in my house to paint, I be­came ‘known’ to the sec­ond-hand fur­ni­ture shops in my area and I couldn’t look at any­thing with­out want­ing to paint it. At a fu­neral, I was jolted from my grief when I found my­self eye­ing the carved pew-ends and think­ing, ‘He­liotrope, with a dry-brush­ing of Sil­ver Pearl.’

Vis­it­ing my par­ents be­came ex­quis­ite tor­ture, be­cause their house is crammed to the gills with

ma­hogany stuff that I itched to im­prove upon. But my mammy re­fused to sur­ren­der any­thing, so, in three sep­a­rate in­stal­ments, I stole a small nest of ta­bles from her sit­ting room. (In fair­ness to me, when I’d made them far more beau­ti­ful – blue and black leop­ard-print – I of­fered them back. How­ever, she de­clined. What can I say? Her loss.)

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THE WAY I’M con­structed is that I’m never fully at peace. Down in my depths, there’s a shark in per­pet­ual, un­easy mo­tion, and I’ve spent 15 years try­ing, and fail­ing, to calm my­self with med­i­ta­tion. But while I’m paint­ing fur­ni­ture, I re­ally am re­leased from the bondage of self. Stuff un­rav­els in my head and if I find my­self remembering painful patches of my life, in­stead of my usual knee­jerk at­tempts to es­cape (like jump­ing on Twit­ter or speed-eat­ing a Twirl), I do what any ex­pert would ad­vise: I stay with the feel­ings.

The sooth­ing back-and-forth of the paint­brush en­ables me to ex­am­ine what­ever it is, un­til even­tu­ally the dis­com­fort sub­sides. I can hon­estly say, I’ve (dread­ful phrase, I apol­o­gise) ‘worked through’ more of my is­sues while paint­ing chairs bright pink than dur­ing any other of the many ther­a­pies and fixes I’ve tried over the years.

The thing with hob­bies is that what works for one per­son might not work for another. My friend Posh Kate gets her fix by saw­ing logs (I know!). My hus­band gets his by run­ning up moun­tains. My sis­ter says she would go out of her mind with­out yoga. Other peo­ple cook or cro­chet or play bridge, and a man I know – a writer and an in­tel­lec­tual (and per­haps a bit of a tor­mented soul) – does wood­carv­ing be­cause “it makes me truly happy”.

I used to think I was too busy to have a hobby. Any pre­cious spare time was al­lo­cated to ac­tiv­i­ties I didn’t en­joy, like try­ing to get fit or at­tempt­ing to med­i­tate. But for me, paint­ing is med­i­ta­tion, ex­cept that at the end I have a beau­ti­ful piece of fur­ni­ture that I can swag­ger around boast­ing about.

BUT WHILE I’M PAINT­ING FUR­NI­TURE, I RE­ALLY AM RE­LEASED FROM THE BONDAGE OF SELF.

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