Saturday, June 19, 2010

You Need a Hobby. Your Life May Depend on It.

A few housekeeping items before we get started. First, thanks for reading. It thrills me to no end to have people unrelated to me read and hopefully enjoy what I write. Second, please feel free to share the blog address with anyone. We're all friends here. And third, although I announce new blog posts on Facebook, I realize not everyone is on The Giant Timesuck, so you can add my blog to Google Reader, which will notify you of new postings. You need a Google account for the Reader, but signing up for one is simple, and it's a really useful Google feature. I think you can add the blog to your RSS feed, too, but I'm not entirely sure how all that works, so I will just leave it at that.

Away we go.

A few years ago, I got tired of writing. The whole process of finding the time to write, eking out rehashed story ideas from thin air (what if a guy discovers a conspiracy at the highest levels of government? What if a guy sat around coming up with novel ideas and then goes postal?), and the idea of spending months and months on a manuscript with only the faintest hopes of ever seeing publication had started to wear on me.

I was even fed up with the process of naming my characters -- I'd write down something like 'BEN FOSTER' and then immediately think: 'Christ, what a stupid name for a character. It sounds made up. No one will think this is a real person. Scratch it out."

Then: 'JOHN McCOY'.

That would lead to this internal monologue: 'You moron, that's even worse than Ben Foster! How about you have them face off in a story for the title of Fakest Name Ever! You suck.'

You get the idea. So, sometime in late 2005, I decided to chuck writing. I gave away my writing books, packed away my notepads, and suddenly, I was free of scratching down story ideas, sketching out plotlines, dreaming up character histories, the whole thing.

So now what? I didn't really do much else because I'd spent most of my free time since finishing law school working on novels, and now I had this void in my life that seemed like it needed to be filled. [I know. You're just dying to make a dirty joke here. Me too. Quick break to make said dirty joke.]



Obviously, I needed a hobby (this happened when we still only had one kid, who slept through the night like it was his job). While considering which one to take up, sorting through various ideas like they were tomatoes in the grocer's bin, I got to thinking about the whole concept of hobbies and what role they play in people's lives.

The dictionary defines hobby as: An activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.

Now, I am not the sunniest person in the world. I remember a scene from Married … with Children where Al Bundy's neighbor, Jefferson D'Arcy, swings by and tells Al something to the effect of "Hey did you know there's a rain cloud that's only on top of your house?", and I think, "yeah, that sounds about right."

So that delightful side of me defines hobby as: Something to fill the emptiness until you die. Incidentally, I try to keep that side of me locked away. What can I say -- sometimes he gets out.

I thought about the point of a hobby. Do you actively seek one out in the hopes of distinguishing your life from someone else's? Something to make you more you? Or will you simply do whatever it is you're supposed to do because you have no choice in the matter? For example, I don't remember ever actively deciding that I wanted to be a writer. I remember writing my first short story at the age of 8 because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

I also thought about the nuts and bolts of actually pursuing your hobby. Is it the end result that you enjoy, is it the actual process, regardless of outcome, or is it some combination of both? Because I'll be honest: writing sucks. It's the finishing of the writing that I like (in my mind, that makes total sense). What even constitutes a hobby? Watching The Hills? Scrapbooking? Does it require some intrinsic value? Can napping constitute a hobby? And the dark side of me wonders: "isn't it just something to distract you from the end, which is sneaking up on you one day at a time?"

I never really had any hobbies as a kid, unless you count being chubby and girlfriend-less hobbies. Too bad the Boy Scouts don't make a patch for those. I'd have made Eagle Scout for sure. I'd also have liked a patch for Nintendo's original Ice Hockey game. I haven't mastered many things in my life, but in 1988 and 1989, you were not going to beat me in that game. I once scored 72 goals using 4 skinny guys against TCH (that's right, Czechoslovakia, the Ivan Drago of Nintendo Ice Hockey).

Anyway, I was determined to find my new hobby. I toddled off into my writing-free world, armed with a few hours of free time each week, looking around for a place to drop my stuff.

For much of my post-school life, my free time has been spent writing, reading, watching movies and sports, cooking or running. I felt like I already did plenty of each of those things (especially the running), so I wasn't especially keen on doing more of any of those things (particularly the running). And none of them really felt like hobbies (although, looking back, I'm not really sure why). I wasn't even sure whether writing constituted a hobby, or whether it was better described as a failed business venture. Still, I felt like I needed something else to make me more me. I've got friends who scuba dive, snowboard, mountain bike, all interesting-sounding activities that mute the Grim Reaper's footsteps, tip-toeing ever closer.

Here's how my HobbyQuest went.

Hobby Idea No. 1: Salsa

I want to say that it wasn't as stupid as it sounds, but it really was. During my first writing-free holiday season, I stopped in at a seasonal gift shop at one of the local malls and stumbled across a jar of Old Bay seasoned salsa. I remember thinking very distinctly that there were a hell of a lot of different kinds of salsa. Mango salsa. Peach salsa. Tomatillo salsa. Maybe salsa could be my hobby. I could become a salsa expert. I could make my own salsa.

It took me a little while, but it did eventually occur to me that salsa already falls into another category of activities of daily living -- it's called eating. It's like calling pooping a hobby. As it turns out, the Old Bay salsa sucked, and I quickly lost interest in making salsa.

Lesson learned: When Sam's Club makes a gigantic and delicious tub of your hobby and sells it for like four bucks, it's probably a stupid hobby.

Hobby Idea No. 2: Chess

When I was about nine years old, I got interested in chess. (Look, it was no accident that I didn't kiss a girl until I was 19). Someone even geekier than me at school had started a chess club, and I wanted to join. I really have no explanation for my fascination with chess. About a week or two before our first scheduled tournament, I discovered Little League, and being nine, it sounded like the coolest thing ever. My parents gave me the option -- chess or baseball. The scary thing is that I remember being relatively torn. In the end, I chose baseball and never thought about chess again. Until now.

As a hobby for a grownup … chess didn’t seem so geeky. The game of kings! How could I go wrong? I could learn about strategy, thinking two and three moves ahead, and even feed the competitive fire a little. I thought it might even help me in my career as a lawyer. I got myself a beginner's chess book and started studying. Did the exercises in the workbook. I was a diligent little student. For about four days. Then I got bored and started looking around for something else to do.

Lesson learned: Baseball was cooler than chess in 1982, and it remains cooler than chess now. You're not slaying too many ladies playing chess, either.

Hobby Idea No. 3: No hobby at all

For the following year, we watched a lot of Netflix movies.

Lesson learned: If you find yourself in the year 1999, don't make statements like "Who wants to order movies by mail? Blockbuster's got NOTHING to worry about."

Hobby Idea No. 4: Writing

By mid-2007, I started to feel the pull of writing again, and I realized that you don't pick the hobby, the hobby picks you. It's sort of like the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter books, but not nearly as cool. I suppose that's a good thing. You'll do whatever it is you're drawn to. If you feel like fly fishing, then you'll go fly fishing. If you feel like chasing a pipe dream like writing a New York Times bestseller, well, then that's what you'll do. And if you don't have a hobby, well, the Grim Reaper will track you down soon enough.

Lesson Learned: I spend way too much time thinking about inane crap like the philosophy of hobbies.

Next Week's Column: Diary of a Suburban Weekend


  1. My theory on hobbies is that you have to take it one or two steps beyond the normal course of activity. For example:

    Watching The Hills is not a hobby. Watching The Hills in your boxers while drinking 16-year old single malt scotch with a wedge of gouda is a hobby.

    Pooping is not a hobby. Pooping while reading the morning news and responding to blog...hold on a minute...okay, I'm back, where was I? Oh yeah, pooping while responding to blog posts is a hobby.

  2. Beer is a hobby and a way of life.

  3. Didn't get a kiss until you were 19? I could have sworn you were 18 when you got with Mrs. Phillips.