Hobby Time

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

I was leaving my home office this Saturday afternoon when Burke said it me: “You work pretty much every day, don’t you?”

“Work? Well it’s writing. Writing work.”

“So, work?”

“I guess.”

I won’t pretend to be one of those people who claim that writing isn’t work. It is. It is something I immensely enjoy and an activity to which I am fully addicted. And there are certainly times when putting a new story down on paper gives me an immeasurable childlike joy.

But to write with the aim of publishing becomes to a large degree a job. It involves story and character development, editing, fulfilling public need, and working on narrative technique. And, yes, to improve and become a better writer in these areas requires a lot of hard work.

Work. Huh.

I thought about it, too. I never walk back into my office saying “I’m going to gleefully write a story for the simple joy that it brings my soul.” I may go on and do exactly that, but when I walk back into my office and there’s a person in my house (or a cat) I always say, “I’m going to go get some work done.”

Work. Hm.

When I was young, writing was my hobby. I could sit at a desk and write stories all day about ghosts or adventures in the woods. I remember in particular an alternate look at the battle of Gettysburg and one about a monster who had a million arms. It was all for fun. And that certainly changed as I got older and other points had to be included in writing that was going to be taken seriously.

Roger Kahn writes in The Boys of Summer, a book about his experiences with the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers, that to watch professional baseball players practice was to realize that they were no longer playing a game, they were professionals honing and perfecting the skills of their profession, just as a dentist or a carpenter might.

So my childhood hobby had now become a job. I wrote my blog, a book, for some humor websites. And while I loved it, it had someone become work, not a hobby.

And then it occurred to me: I don’t have a hobby.

Sure, there are various ways in which I spend my free time. I get lost in books all week. I love walking. I exercise religiously. I study Czech.

But are these hobbies? Sure, I love walking, but it’s usually utilitarian when you live in a city. Moreover, my walks end at home, work, or at a pub. I exercise constantly and I do read about modern trends and I constantly develop programs. This could certainly be considered a hobby, but it’s really more out of necessity. If I don’t exercise, I will end up riding a motorized scooter through department stores yelling through cheese-filled teeth at anyone blocking my path to the big and tall section. I study Czech, but it’s not something I find joy in the way others do. Certainly I could change that, but for the time being, it wasn’t exactly a hobby as much as it was a way to get bread, beer, and haircuts. While I love reading, it is a bit sedentary. I can plop down on my couch and read for five hours and while I will have gained insight, story, enjoyment, and information, it’s very passive.

While considering these things I was overcome with the possibility that I was…boring! I certainly have interests, over the weekend I’ll cook, watch movies, read a book, and write. I’ll meet a friend at a pub for a nice chat. These describe a perfect weekend. And while they are relaxing activities, they are mostly done at home and, often, in pajamas. Which means that they amount to one very forgettable weekend. How much time can you spend binging on Netflix and reading before it all runs together into one mass of blah time?

I needed a new hobby. I sat down and brainstormed.

Like most American kids, I had hobbies. I collected stamps; well, until mind-boggling boredom ordered me to get a new hobby. There was baseball cards, a hobby I gave up because I had the tendency to choose cards because they looked cool rather than discerning their differing values based on whether they featured Mickey Mantle or Dickie Thon. There were little forays into others. Dungeons & Dragons (but my friends got more out of it than I did), golf (fucking sucked), tennis (I tried to hit homeruns and was thus disqualified), and fossil hunting (which lost its luster when I didn’t uncover a full T-Rex thirty minutes after stepping into the woods behind my house.

I played team sports, baseball and football. Baseball out of pure love of the sport, football because it just seemed like something I should do. Football lasted a couple of years, until it dawned on me like a smoke message from an airplane: You hate playing football. Why are you doing this? I couldn’t come up with an answer, so instead of playing football I went and did something I actually enjoyed. Which, at sixteen, was probably attempting to jiggle the cable box so that I could see the softcore porn flicks forever hidden among the frustrating zigzags of electric security.

I enjoyed playing rugby in college a lot more than I did football, but these days a hobby involving other people does not appeal to me. I work with people every day, my new hobby should involve some level of solitude. Also, rugby is hard. It requires a lot of running, training, and then hitting very large men. I crossed all team sports and activities off of my brainstorm list.

I have taken martial arts a number of times in my life and loved it. Kick boxing. Tae Kwon Do. Aikido. Chinese boxing. I stuck with them for a few years each, but they slipped to the wayside as life got busy and having a hobby which was confined to specific hours in the evening became more of a stress than a relaxant. I considered boxing, but decided that I should hang on to all of my remaining brain cells. It was scratched off along with martial arts.

I then sliced anything involving substances, whether appraisal or creation. These included cigar smoking, beer brewing, and wine or scotch tasting. Aside from the obvious jokes about intake and the fact that my hobby would render me naked, in public, and probably arrested, I am truly not interested in how beer is made or how to fully appreciate a lowland single malt. I just want to sip one after a waiter brings them to me.

After making a list, cutting, adding, and cutting, my preliminary list was narrowed down to these: chess, archery, rock climbing, electric models, meditation, sailing, flying airplanes, hiking, bird watching, gardening, and fishing.

With this list in mind, I decided to think about what I really wanted from a hobby. A skill? Knowledge? Time alone not spent in a pub? When asking these kinds of questions, I required honesty. If I were choosing a hobby for enjoyment’s sake, then there could be no pretense, no care about appearances, no interest in what others thought, or, most importantly, that I didn’t choose something because it seems like something I should be into. It had to be something I could really enjoy and want to learn more about.

I cut meditation, archery, rock climbing, electric models, and flying. I cut meditation because part of what I was looking for in a hobby is meditation. I believe that doing a hobby gives us a chance to focus, let go, and clear our heads. Plus, I was trying to get away from sitting, and meditation requires periods of sitting. I cut archery because I like possessing all of my limbs and would like to avoid puncturing strangers with arrows. Also, if the zombie apocalypse comes, arrows are going to be too much hassle. Electric models went when I imagined my life being dictated by an arm on my kitchen table who was luring me with the promise of future access to ATMs. Flying went out the window because I kept imagining myself doing exactly that 10,000 feet above the Czech countryside. And rock climbing was gone because I’ve never been strong at tying knots and this is an activity which is done with other people. Who also aren’t strong at tying knots.

I promised myself that I would not make a flippant decision concerning those choices remaining, but would rather put thought and research into it. Then try them out to see which I liked. It’s a work in progress and I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime if you need someone to come over and jiggle your cable box, I used to have a pretty good touch.

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