I was not happy entering quarantine back in March.
The semester before, I was in Rome, so that January, I was being reunited with my friends for the first time since July. I had an apartment on the far side of campus where life is quiet, we had our own kitchen, and I could enjoy living with my close friends. That was where I wanted to be. Then, being send back home to live with my parents and two younger sisters where we would all be on the WiFi at the same time as we all struggled to learn and work online, I was already stir-crazy just thinking about it.
Still, at least the semester kept me busy. I had my classes and many readings for them. I worked as a tutor, so I still met with my students every week to work them through their course concepts. Finals came and went, as well as all the final essays and projects.
But then, the semester ended. And I didn't have a job because no one was hiring now that everything was shut down. For the first time since middle school, I had nothing to do. I come from a county where academics and successful careers are weighted very heavily in terms of cultural importance, so over the years, I slowly sacrificed all of my hobbies for skills and activities that would make me marketable on paper to jobs and universities. By sophomore year of high school, I probably had no real hobbies left. Everything I did could be whittled down to how it could get me into a good school.
So going into quarantine made me reevaluate the way that I was living. Forced me to think about who I was as a person—who I was when I wasn't working myself to death studying and working.
I started picking up hobbies. Little activities to keep me busy and to keep my parents off my back about not having a job. But also, just things that I had fun doing and did for me. No agenda, no gain—just me and my happiness. These hobbies weren't in vain either. Each of them taught me something about myself that I think I needed after all these years of being without any.
The first hobby I got into was painting. I will preface this by stating that I am not an artist and will never claim to be one. Really, the reason I got into painting during quarantine was because my sister had a bunch of paints she had gotten for her birthday, my mom had a bunch of old coffee cans that she didn't want to throw away, and I had a bunch of plants that needed to be repotted. It was early spring and the weather was still tolerable, so I sat down on my screened-in porch with my cat at my feet and starting painting.
I ended up painting four in total: three flower pots and one birthday gift to a friend. My first featured a sunset with a silhouette of a cactus that I had to trace in pencil first. The second is an attempt at a cherry blossom tree. The next one features three koi, each with their own unique spot pattern. The final one, the present for my friend's 21st, was a scene with a cat in a windowsill looking out over the mountains.
In my opinion, the cans came out fine, but they are nothing you would find for sale online for a high price. Nothing I could make a living off. I made them because I liked them and I had a need for them. They sit on my windowsill in my dorm room, and I love the vibrant color that they add to the room.
In the end, painting was a really important thing for me to do, other than giving my plants some much needed room to grow. During the academic year, I get so stressed over asssignments and grades, holding myself to that cultural idea that if you aren't getting a 4.0 GPA, you aren't doing good enough. Fifteen years of school turned me into a strict perfectionist, and not the good kind. I don't know when, but at some point, I stopped trying to genuinely improve in a skill, but instead, just constantly aimed at perfection and stressed when I got anything less.
Painting forced me not only to be imperfect, but to come to terms with it. Lines weren't straight. Colors weren't exact shades. Visions didn't execute quite right. Sometimes I tried again; sometimes, I set the paintbrush down, satisfied instead that I was enjoying the spring air and time with my sisters. I did something with my day instead of lock myself in my room, watch Netflix, and wish I was on campus with my frineds. I came to terms with a major flaw within myself, and told myself to stop holding myself at such high standards with everything. Imperfection doesn't mean failure.
After rediscovering my love for creating (and after running out of coffee cans to paint), I moved on to a new art medium. While looking through art pages on Pinterest for things to paint, I kept coming across really cool embroidery designs: beautiful floral and natural themes, similar to what I was painting.
I honestly had a deep-seeded hatred for all things sewing. My mom used to be really into cross stitch when I was younger, and tried to teach me, but I always thought it was too boring. Maybe, something deep inside me didn't want to follow that all too familiar trope of the young daughter who learns to sew in order to provide for a husband and children later in life, but maybe that's just the English major talking.
But I wanted to do this now, and motivation was thin in quarantine, so I decided to seize this by the horns before it escaped my grasp.
Since my mom knew how to sew, I grabbed an old t-shirt, some brown thread I thought she wouldn't miss, sat down on the couch, and asked her to teach me some simple techniques. She taught me the simple running stitch, the back stitch, and the French knot, which was always her favorite. If done correctly, the French knot results in a little circular bun that sits on top of the fabric and can add greatly to the texture of the piece. It is also insanely fun to do. Plus, since my mom was often tired after working all day, she wasn't typically in the mood to show me more techniques, so I took the French knot and I ran with it.
On that old t-shirt, I stitched a little vase of hygrandea flowers—little bunches of French knots in different pastel colors. I worked on it for about two weeks, carefully plotting where to put each knot so that it would add to the shape of the flower. It was honestly veyr frustrating work, since I was still working through my perfectionism, but also because it took me a long time to do. I'm not someone who sews daily, so the movements and the mechanics of sewing felt awkward and wrong in my hands. At every steps of the way, I was certain that I was doing things wrong. Every day, I would sit and stare at the uncompleted project, and hope that that night would be the night I would finally finish it.
But it was slow. Especially for me, a child of the age of the Internet and fast food. Someone is used to getting instant gratification for the things that I do. Especially for me, a student who doesn't normally have time to just slow down and carefully work through a project, since my semesters are so packed, I need to have things done immediately in order to have time for everything else on my to-do list.
I needed to slow down. To slow down and do nothing by work with my hands, and have nothing else waiting for me on the other side of the finish line except for the completed project. Some nights, I would only do a couple of knots because I wanted to do something else. Some nights, I would do several flowers and still be unhappy that it wasn't finished. I learned that completed isn't always something that you can find on a syllabus, but rather a feeling that can only be found when slowly working on the project. Patience was the deep breath I needed after sprinting through semester after semester for three years.
- Pasta Making
This one is probably my strangest hobby that I picked up, but definitely the most rewarding. And it all started with some girl on Tik Tok making homemade gnocchi.
Since my parents were working all day and none of my sisters or I were, my parents encouraged us to take on some of the meal responsibilities to help them out. My middle sister mainly took this up, since she is a natural cook, and because I tend to start grease fires whenever I step near the stove. But pasta: pasta is my love. I can't mess up pasta.
My desire to make gnocchi was a little deeper than just a love for pasta. As mentioned earlier, I lived in Rome last fall. I loved living in Rome and I miss it every day, and one that the Romans do that's unique to Rome is make fresh gnocchi every Thursday. So when I watched that girl on Tik Tok make her version of homemade gnocchi, I got a little Rome-sick, and added the ingredients to the shopping list for the next time we ventured out to the store.
The actual process itself for making gnocchi (or any homemade pasta dish) is not easy and it is not quick. I probably started around 3:30 each time, and was lucky to have dinner ready by 6:30. All the while, various family members would come into the kitchen, see me slumped over the table, and ask if I needed any help. Every time, I answered no. This was my dinner, my responsibility. I felt like I needed to prove that I could do this on my own. That I was a functional person too.
But time rolled on, and my dad was getting hangry, but I wasn't even close enough to getting done. Sine I had never made homemade gnocchi before, I didn't know what the dough was supposed to be like, and probably spent too muhc time kneading in the flour. With each passing minute, more stress added. With each family member that entered the kitchen asking when dinner would be ready, more stress added.
When I was getting towards the end of my dough after finally cutting the individual gnocchi, I realized I hadn't even started the sauce. I had planned to make a vodka sauce, like the one that they use at our favorite restaurant and that I thought would add a unique flavor to the pasta, but it was already almost 6:30. I didn't have enough time to measure out the ingredients and get dinner ready in time for my hungry, impatient family.
So the next time my mom walked in and asked if I needed any help, I asked her to start preparing the sauce. I told her what I wanted and declared her my official sous-chef. Slowly, as the sauce started to simmer, the stress started to ease away and it was one less thing I had to worry about. When I was done was with pasta and the water was boiling, I asked my sisters, who were watching over me like hungry vultures, to help me dump all of the pasta into the pot.
But in the end, I couldn't have really done it alone. They teach us all now that you need to learn how to do everything by yourself in order to be truly successful—to fully achieve the modern American Dream of being the "Self-Made Man". But no one really gets anywhere by themselves. It didn't matter that my mom and sisters helped me with the meal because I still planned it and saved my mom from having to prepare a full meal by herself. Besides, it gets kind of lonely in that kitchen being the only one working.
Pasta making definitely combined all three of my quaratine lessons as I kept trying new dishes. Ravioli and tortellini tested my perfection, as I bit my tongue when I was serving, trying not to apologize for how uneven they all looked. Those and tagliatelle tested my patience with the hours that it took to make them and the uncertainty of when exactly I would be finished.
But each time, again and again, I needed help with some element of the meal. Whether it was the sauce, the salad, putting the water on to boil, getting a forgotten ingredient, or just keeping me company, I had to accept that there were just some projects that I am not meant to do alone, and that's okay. That asking for help doesn't mean that you can't be independent, or that you are dependent on anyone.
Quarantine wasn't ideal, and it definitely wasn't super exciting, but it did teach me a bit about myself and the importance of having hobbies. I hope that from here, I can learn to adjust my life outside of quarantine so that I can include these and other hobbies into my life, and not fall back into the stressful routine from life before COVID.