Enjoy It (No Strings Attached)
Enjoy It (No Strings Attached)
Host Anna Borges speaks with poet Nichole Perkins about doing things without the expectation for excellence. They speak about Nichole’s new painting hobby and how her confidence in writing poetry is fueled by her creative license to be a hobbyist painter.
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Anna Borges: Hey everyone! Pop quiz for you. When you discover a new hobby that you’re really enjoying, do you:
A. Strive to improve so you can be really good at it.
B. Brainstorm ways to monetize it because hey, if you have to make money, you might as well have fun doing it
C. Stress about other things you should be doing instead of indulging in said hobby
D. Just..en…joy? Enjoy it? Wait, some of you can actually do that?
Hey, I’m Anna Borges, and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings—even when you feel like you can’t relax and enjoy yourself.
Today, we’re talking about the importance of no strings attached hobbies. You know, activities that don’t have to be productive or impressive or useful and even something you’re good at. Hobbies that don’t have to be anything other than…enjoyable.
But a lot of things can get in the way of actually enjoying them, whether baking to relax turns into stressing about getting an Instagram-worthy loaf of bread or you get stressed out when you don’t discover a secret hidden talent the first time you pick up a paintbrush. You know if you’re anything like me that’s exactly what I do! Letting ourselves relax and be free to do something without the expectation of a performance or an end goal is hard. Even more so when the something we love overlaps with what we do for a living.
That's where the no strings attached hobby comes in.
Today’s guest is Nichole Perkins, a writer, poet, and the host of the podcast This is Good for You, where she helps people stop feeling bad about the things that they love to do.
I also wanted to talk with her because as a creative, I assume she got the struggle of the work-hobby balance well. We dug into the beauty of trying things that we aren’t good at and how we can still enjoy our hobbies, even if they do come with strings attached, like overlapping with what you do for a living.
Anna: Can I start by hearing something that you're bad at? Like something that you were just like awful at, but that you love?
Nichole: Oh, um, so I recently started trying to figure out, um, acrylic painting, abstract acrylic painting. I don't know what I'm doing. I really don't know what I'm doing. I cannot draw a straight line. I cannot, I have never been able to perfect, um, a winged, you know, liner look because I cannot, I don't know what I'm doing. So that's something that I know that I am bad at, and I would never like really share that work with anybody because it's so bad, but it's also been really relaxing for me.
Anna: I love that so much. so I have to ask, cause I feel like there are like two camps of people, largely there are people who can do that and enjoy that. And there are people and I'm in this camp who will do that and be like, this is gonna be like relaxing. I'm not gonna like pressure myself to be good. And then I still am like, but what if I want this to be good? Then I wind up in the boat of like Googling art lessons and oh my God, how do I get better at this blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So like, are you, are you in one of those camps, have you felt the pressure to become good now that you've started?
Nichole: Yes, absolutely. Because there was like this one tutorial on YouTube that was like, you know, easy beginner thing and it was the sunset and it's supposed to be with, uh, power lines and beautiful trees and maybe like a little shadow of a house, right. And I tried to draw the power lines and I was just like, oh yeah, this is not, I can't do this. And I mean, I ended up kind of being still pleased with the results of what I had done, because it actually still looked like a purposeful painting. But I do want to get to a point where it looks really good, but I am still very intimidated about trying to go, you know, find actual lessons or something like that, because I feel like I'm still very childish with, with, you know, learning this thing and I don't want to be in a classroom or whatever, you know, a workshop environment where there are people who are like, oh yeah, I used to draw, but then I stopped and now I'm back and they're like, you know.
Anna: Or they're like, I'm so bad at this. And then you look over and you're like, excuse me, if you think that’s bad, don’t look.
Anna: But that's the thing is like you, I want the natural talents. I wanna be naturally good at things like I don't want to have to work to be good at things.
Nichole: Yes. That's exactly my problem as well. So there are a lot of things, a lot of hobbies that I will try or say, I'm gonna try. And then I get frustrated because I'm not good at the first attempt. And… I really have to sit and think to myself, there are very few people who are, you know, experts at something the first time they pick it up. Like, yes, there are prodigies and all that kind of stuff. But the people that I admire on a creative level, they all had a natural talent, but they still have to practice and practice and practice and practice, you know. Like I love Prince, you know, he had natural talent, but he had to learn everything that he did and learn how to combine all of that, all of his musical skills, all of his lyricism into creating the legacy that he has now. Um, the same with like the writers that I admire. Yes, there's some, there's some natural affinity to it, but they still have to learn.
Anna: And how do you remind yourself of that? Do you have to actually give yourself the Pep talk as you're doing it?
Nichole: I do. I have to, I have to like say okay, practice, practice, practice. It's okay. I know that this is not something that I can make a living at or that I want to make a living at. So it's okay. If it is not perfect or consumable.
Anna: Why did you pick something that you're taking classes for then or not classes, but at least like watching YouTube videos?
Nichole: But I still want to like see satisfaction in my own improvement. I just wanna be able to like sit and do it without feeling the pressure of performance or like I said, that end, that end goal.
Nichole: But you know, with writing, obviously that's very different, writing is something that, um, has been a part of my life for a very long time and I've always known I wanted to make a career out of it. And I just didn't really know how, um, because there's so many different ways that you can become a writer or, or make a career out of writing. I still have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish. So that's, that's more when I freeze up and let, like, I don't think I'm a perfectionist, but that fear of someone seeing my mistakes or seeing the worst of what I can do. Um, really like puts me in a choke hold sometimes.
Anna: Absolutely. Yeah. Oh, I can't wait to dive into all the writing stuff because selfishly love writing, love, love talking, writing, and art. Can you kind of, I don't know, this is a big question, but like kind of tell me a little bit more about your like current relationship to writing? Cause I know for so many of us it's work, it's like therapeutic, it's fun, it's creative, it's personal. It's like all of these things that are like seemingly at odds for each other. And I'm curious what it is kind of right now for you.
Nichole: Right now it is 90% work and then 10% just personal creativity and that personal creativity usually is my poetry. I have published a poetry book. So that was very much a goal of mine. I still, I, and I have other poetry that I would like to publish one day, but right now what pays the bills is culture writing. You know, writing books, script writing for podcasts, um, and that kind of thing. And I hope to eventually get into, um, screenwriting for film and television. Um, and I just, I want to ultimately continue to write until my dying breath.
Anna: I can’t lie, some days, it’s harder for me to really have fun writing, thanks to how much I associate it with work. After the break, I explore poetry as a potential no-strings-attached hobby and we talk more about how to protect our favorite activities from outside pressures like work.
Anna: Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring! Before the break, I was talking with Nichole Perkins about why it’s so helpful to have hobbies that don’t overlap with what we do for a living. Next up, I may or may not have asked for an impromptu poetry lesson.
Anna: One of the reasons that I was so excited, um, to talk to you specifically is because growing up, I used to write a lot of poetry and I never had aspirations to do it professionally. It is just, poetry is what I associate with like playful writing, exploratory writing, me writing, all this kind of thing. And so when I started thinking about, Ooh, what can I dig up for this episode? Poetry did come to, come to mind. Oh. And so I'm, I'm kind of curious if I like asked if, like, if I asked you to just write a really God awful poem right now, like where would you start?
Nichole: Oh, well, for me, it, that would be, um, a rhyming poem. Um, and not just like in iambic pentameter, like I, I do try to do like, um, um, inside rhymes or, you know, that kind of thing. Try to switch up the, you know, where the rhyme falls, but rhyming poetry has always just escaped me. Um, and I am not good at it. So if I were to try to write something that I would consider bad, it would be rhyming. Um, and making sure that like I threw in the moon…
Anna: I do love me some moon imagery, sorry, poets.
Nichole: Right, all poets love the moon, right.
Anna: And so who doesn't love the moon? Love my girlfriend, the moon
Nichole: So that's where I would probably, probably start.
Anna: Why I, I think I find poetry so alluring as like an outlet like this is because I don't know what makes a good poem. Like I will read a poem and I like it, you know, or I won't like it, but that never makes me think this is a good poem or bad poem because it is like so much more subjective to me. I mean, like, I know all writing is subjective, but I'm just, don't have an ear for poetry. And so like, not knowing what good is, is like freeing to me because I can't strive for it.
Nichole: That's really interesting. Cuz for a lot of people who dislike poetry, part of that is because when we're in school and we're learning poetry, it is hard to say what is good and what is bad… and so it's hard for them to understand. Like what made, you know, like, [laughs] if I put this in a paragraph form, would it still, would it still have the same emotional hit? Would it still provide the same satisfaction as seeing it in its whatever format, whether it's a sonnet or, you know, um, really short broken lines, whatever. Um, so people get really frustrated cuz you, you, when you say, what is a poem? And you say, you know, it's, it's writing in verse. Well what's a verse? This, you know, short blocky paragraphs, like. Okay, well why can't we just put it in a paragraph? Why can't we just, you know, make it a, a story as opposed to a poem? And it's like, you can, you can. And the way that poetry just constantly changes. No one poem really looks like the other, um, it freaks people out because people like structure, people like rules. And one of the first things you learn about poetry is yes, this is what a sonnet is, but you can also play with the rules a little bit and change the format of a sonnet, but still call it a sonnet. And that gets people really frustrated, um, about, about poetry, right. Um, because you know, there, there are formats defined formats and then poets go in and just change them all the time. It's frustrating.
Anna: So when you're like specifically in the, kind of like that 10%, um, that you mentioned where it's like really just for you writing, like maybe you'll hope to publish someday, but it's your time? How much are you worried about it being good versus not good? Just like for you?
Nichole: Um, this is gonna sound really…
Nichole: I feel like it's always good.
Anna: I believe it.
Nichole: It sounds really cocky but…
Anna: No, it doesn't own it. I, I, I mean, that is why you're a poet.
Nichole: I feel so much more confident in my poetry, and when I write, when I get to a final draft of that poem, I'm just like, yes, this is, this is really good. Um, and the only time that I start to doubt myself is when I start thinking, should I submit this someplace? Because that is when I feel like…
Anna: I mean, all of those trying to anticipate reactions, that’s when it starts.
Nichole: Exactly. Because it's like, when I'm submitting the poem, it's not just me, my, my poem. It is against all the other submissions that are maybe dealing with more, more political topics, more cultural, uh, culture based topics or, um, you know, things like that. And so me writing about, you know, a piece of fruit may not hold up as well against a poem where someone is talking about traumatic events, you know, or something like that. Which is not to say that that poem should not be considered better than mine. Like it can be, it might be. Um, but it's just a matter of like, well, now my poem has moved from the context of my journal, into the context of the world. Can it stand up against, you know, whatever else the editors are looking at, you know, whatever else the readers are looking at.
Anna: It has to be something.
Nichole: And so I feel when I sit down and, and write it, I feel very, yeah, just assured of myself in, that feels good. It feels good to be able to approach a creative talent with confidence. And so I try to give myself room to move from terrible painting [laugh] to really good poetry or, you know what I hope will be really good fiction.
Anna: Yeah. Do you have any advice for people who I don't know, whatever they try and keep as like their protected space, whether that's from like trying not to monetize a hobby or not trying to like worry about being good at something like, other than just really reminding yourself of that. Do you have any advice for protecting that space or like keeping that attitude?
Nichole: I think in this day and age, I would say try not to feel compelled to share, right. Because I think that is when we freeze up, when we think, okay, I'm gonna try this new thing and I'm gonna document it on my Instagram or I'm trying this new thing and I'm gonna send pictures to the group chat, like whatever. You don't have to. I mean, it's not to say you have to keep it private or secret. But if you're able just to hold onto it for yourself and I think that's an overall problem that a lot of people have is feeling like you cannot keep anything to yourself. You have to share. It is a proof of your love to your partner, to your parents, to, you know, your audience or whatever that you're like, I'm giving you all of me, I'm trying to be transparent and that kind of thing. Again, that does not mean you're keeping secrets and hiding it and like, whatever. It's just a matter of, you can hold onto something for yourself. It's okay. It's not a betrayal to your, to your relationships, whatever they may be. If you hold onto something until you're ready to share it, you know?
Anna: That's so underrated. Yeah. I feel like as someone who is pretty recognizably, a perfectionist or type A usually at like work or whatever, I find I have a really hard time explaining that sometimes keeping things to myself is for me, you know what I mean? That's not me being a perfectionist. That's me protecting myself for my perfectionist habits.
Nichole: Yeah. And, and in my, um, friendships, sometimes I don't talk about like career opportunities or whatever. And I think, you know, my friends get a little upset with me when I finally do make the announcements or like share, like, why did you tell us about this before? Or why am I finding out about this, you know, from the announcement on social media? And it's like, it's not that I am hiding it, but I'm also just trying not to jinx it, you know? And that's definitely a trauma response for me where I have talked about something too soon and it's gone away, whether it was a relationship, you know, like, oh, I'm talking to this guy, things are going great. And then, he disappears and I'm like, Ugh, now, now it's gone. And that it's a little bit like perfectionism because it's, um, there is a fear of failure. I don't, I don't wanna talk about this thing because I'm afraid I'm gonna fail at it. I don't wanna talk about this guy that I'm feeling because I'm afraid it's gonna fail. It's, it's not gonna be a success. I don't wanna talk about this career opportunity because I am afraid that it's gonna fall through. And then you know, this, it'll be a rejection of me. Um, you know, I don't wanna talk about learning how to paint because what if I abandon it because I never get good at it. And then you keep asking me about painting and I'm like, I had to stop because I was a failure.
Anna: No one ever asked Nicole about painting. If you listen to this episode, do not ruin this for her. I will be so mad at you.
Thank you so much for, for chatting. I could have continued chatting about this kind of stuff for forever, honestly.
Nichole: Thank you for having me on.
Anna: I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what made a good no-strings-attached activity for me. I knew it had to be fun to do badly, so I wouldn’t get all perfectionist about it. And I knew I couldn’t feel pressured for it to be something, like something I’d be tempted to monetize.
But I hadn’t really noticed the theme before: We need things that are just for us. It sounds simple, but it’s easy to forget all the ways we’re always sharing our time and attention and…well, ourselves. We multitask or document on social media or try to kill two birds with one stone with side hustles. And that’s how we forget to create space for things like fucking up or being weird or creating without a goal in mind.
So there’s magic in keeping some things for ourselves to enjoy, no strings attached. I’d ask you to share your own no-strings-attached activities, but since I just told you to keep it for yourself, how about this: Whatever it is, why do you love it and how do you protect it?
Let me know and I’ll see you next time.