Testing the Waters: What to Do When You Don’t Like Anything

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!

When I first learned about the “And Related Subjects” series, it threw me for a loop. Actually, it was less of a loop and more of a downward spiral, because that’s what happens when you realize you have no passions. In thirty-three years on this earth, I didn’t manage to develop even a hobby, unless you count games that begin with the words “Candy Crush.”

But the more I read about fantastic authors who also go mountain-climbing or fencing or compose actual music, the farther I went into panic-shame-depression mode. I’ve spent the last decade of my life writing books, building a writing career (these are two different things, by the way), and raising kids. I don’t have a lot of free time, and when I do have a night off, I dust off my film degree and take it to the movies, usually with my husband in tow.

After a few days of dejection, however, I realized that I was looking at it the wrong way. This is exactly the point in my life when I should start thinking about an extracurricular. I’m done having babies, thank the giant spaghetti monster, and my writing career is… well, not stable; no writing career is stable these days, but I’m doing all right. For the first time I can remember, all my Big Picture ducks are in a row. Why not figure out what I enjoy?

With this epiphany, I decided that not only would I write an And Related Subjects piece, I would use it as an excuse to figure out what the hell I wanted to do in my near-mythical free time. Pleased and invigorated, I set out to find my passion.

Which is when I realized that I don’t actually like anything.

I don’t, for example, particularly care for people. Or sports. Or complex card-playing games that require enormous financial investment and a master’s degree in game rules (cough cough MAGIC: THE GATHERING cough). I can’t art my way out of a child’s finger painting. I have a lot of boring mundane health problems that prevent me from, say, running. Or yoga. Aside from books, tv, and movies, I like going to movies, my chinchilla, spas where no one makes small talk, and discussing ’80s action movies with Kameron Hurley. None of those really screams “legitimate passion.”

Not to be deterred, I spent a few days thinking about it, and doing actual research on hobbies, which made me feel kind of silly. Eventually I came up with five options: archery, paddle sports (kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding), rollerblading, bellydancing, or burlesque dancing.

If you know me, or if you’ve even met me for a few minutes, you’ve probably laughing right now about the last two, because I am notoriously uncoordinated. Not only can I trip over my own feet; I can actually fall down to the ground while doing so. I regularly have bruises I can’t explain, because I’m so used to smacking into things that it no longer registers as an event.

But … I’ve been kind of fascinated by bellydancing since I first read Jennifer Rardin’s Jaz Parks books, many years ago. And I love jazz and blues music, and burlesque dancing seems so cool … I was even one of those weirdos who paid money to go see Burlesque: the Christina Aguilera Vanity Story. In theaters.

I decided to save those two for last, and start with safer prospects.

I got some new rollerblades, and quickly found that while I am still perfectly adequate at skating, I am perfectly terrible at stopping. Seriously, how do people stop on roller blades, when that tiny brake on the back right skate is so obviously decorative? (Note to self: check YouTube). This wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t live in a neighborhood of hills, but I’m too old to be constantly running into trees and/or falling down. I’ll keep the skates for large flat surfaces, but I don’t see it working out as a passion.

The author in her not-so-natural habitat

The author in her not-so-natural habitat

Kayaking went more or less the same way. I wasn’t planning to buy a kayak, but there was such a good deal at one of our local stores that my husband got it for my birthday. I then proceeded to not use it for two weeks, because it turns out that using a kayak is An Ordeal. Getting it on top of a vehicle is awkward. Tying it securely to the top of the vehicle requires forty minutes and a lot of cursing. Getting it down from the vehicle and into the water is …well, you’ve got the idea. And all of this depends on perfect weather and someone to watch my kids, who will want to come, and will want to go out on the water in my lap, but will get scared the moment we’re twenty feet from shore.

And, okay, if we’re being honest, I kind of get scared, too. Madison has a lot of lakes, and they are very green and very dark and very likely to hide, in my opinion, mutant leeches, forty-foot crocodiles, and basically any other sea monster you might see on one of those Saturday afternoon SyFy movies. I myself have obviously seen too many of these movies, because when I kayak alone I constantly expect the tiny, low-in-the-water boat to be upended by the monster head of, at the very least, an overfed shark. No, don’t ask me how the shark got into a freshwater lake in the middle of Wisconsin; I never suggested these fears were logical.

I’m not sure if I’ll keep the kayak.

I ruled out archery without actually trying it again. I enjoy archery, and I actually don’t suck at it—I went on an author’s outing at CONfusion a few months back, and let’s just say if the zombie apocalypse happens Marko Kloos and I will band together and do just fine. But I’d learned my lesson about buying equipment, and there’s really nowhere in my suburban yard to practice with a projectile weapon, which would have meant range fees, and just generally more fuss. Given the choice between driving to a faraway range to shoot arrows by myself or staying home and watching Netflix with my dog, I couldn’t see myself making the time.

Which left me with dancing.

[pauses for laughter]

There is a place in Madison called Dance Life, and they have classes on bellydancing and burlesque. They had a fantastic Groupon deal, and, thanks to this column, I sucked up my courage and went to my first class, Burlesque Fitness. As it turns out, this is like Zumba, but with sexy moves and better music. It was a blast, so I went to Fundamentals of Bellydance next. And then Burlesque again. And before I knew it, my ten-punch card was all used up. To the surprise of everyone who has ever seen me stumble on a flight of stairs, dancing became the thing I most enjoy.

There are two reasons why this is the hobby that clicked with me. One is that I’m actually not terrible at it. I’m not good, of course, but I’ve taken classes at the gym before, and it turns out that the one skill you really practice in a fitness class—the ability to switch to a new move as it’s being called out—is the same skill you need for dance class. So I’d inadvertently been preparing for Burlesque for ages.

The second reason is this: I don’t know about most dance studios, but Dance Life is the most welcoming, accepting, and encouraging environment I’ve ever stepped into. Women of all shapes, ages, and weights come to Bellydancing, tie their shirts up under their sports bras, and absolutely frigging crush it. In Burlesque class, nobody so much as glances at me when I screw up, because they’re all too focused on doing the moves—even the instructor. I used to live in LA; I know what it is to feel scrutinized and judged as you try to exercise. This is the dead opposite of that. It is glorious. I found myself not actually caring how many calories I was burning (about 450-500 per class, according to Fitbit) or how much weight I might lose (none; what have I been eating?) by doing it, because I was just plain having fun. That’s right: for the first time in my life, cardio is fun.

Probably a sign of the apocalypse.

Another first? These days, when music starts to play, I don’t feel like a helpless spaz. There are a couple of moves I can do not-terribly. Again—not good, but I’m gaining confidence and acceptance I didn’t know I was missing. And besides, it’s really upped my karaoke game.

As it turns out, thirty-three isn’t too old to find something new that you love. I will probably go rollerblading again, and kayaking, and if the chance comes I’d be happy to shoot some arrows, possibly at zombies. But I can tell you for sure that if I have to miss dance class next week I’ll be sad, and that’s a sentence no one ever expected to hear from me.

Now I just have to write it into a book so class can be tax-deductible.

Top image: Ghost World (2001)

nightshades-coverMelissa Olson is the author of six Old World novels for 47North as well as the Tor.com novella Nightshades. She lives in Madison, WI with her husband, two kids, three dogs, and a jittery chinchilla.

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