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Hobby Horse

Remember Hobby Shops?

Wikipedia told me about the origin of the word ‘hobby’: ‘A hobby horse is a wooden or wickerwork toy made to be ridden just like a real horse (which was sometimes called a “Hobby“). From this came the expression “to ride one’s hobby-horse”, meaning “to follow a favorite pastime”, and in turn, hobby in the modern sense of recreation. Hobbies are practiced for interest and enjoyment, rather than financial reward. Examples include collecting, creative and artistic pursuits, making, tinkering, sports and adult education. Engaging in a hobby can lead to acquiring substantial skill, knowledge and experience. However, personal fulfillment is the aim.’

Yesterday I met a man who was in his 50s and talked with him for about 20 minutes.  One of the first things he asked me was whether I had any hobbies.  My instinct and, indeed what I did, was to the explain that I write poetry and fiction in much of my free time.  His response was, ‘Anything else?’  I said I was pretty serious about that, but that I also like to read, sew and do other crafts.  He looked at me expecting me to go on.  Panicked, seeming like I was falling short, I said that I also like to cook and ride my bike.  He looked at me and nodded, ‘Do you like sports?’ I said not really.

Writing occupies a funny spot in my life: less than an occupation and more than a hobby.  Most of my best friends understand and have a passion that functions in a similar way.  It’s no less jarring though, when again and again, people have trouble grasping the way it works for me.

What might be more interesting to me is the panic I felt when called upon to list things I enjoy.  There isn’t much I don’t like or I won’t try, so perhaps it would have been better to say my hobby was trying new things and end it at that.

What are your hobbies?  How do you explain writing to people (if it’s not what you do for the majority of your income)?  Are hobbies an outdated concept? Am I just being difficult?

8 thoughts on “Hobby Horse

  1. My hobby is commenting on Jac Jemc posts. (And I have had too few opportunities as of late to practice my hobby!)

    I don’t think I believe in hobbies; it’s all or nothing. I write, swim, teach, lift weights, walk, ride my bike, play with my cat, cook, clean, shop, watch movies, read, listen to music, talk with my parents, drink coffee, spend time with my girlfriend. All of it is pretty essential to me.

    1. I do everything Adam does except:

      swim – Can’t, so drown

      teach – Can’t, too many skeletons

      lift weights, – Won’t, steroid temptation (be the biggest)

      walk – Won’t, I use a shopping cart

      ride my bike – Don’t, ride cart

      play with my cat – Can’t, cat (Sven) long gone

      cook – Can’t/Won’t/Don’t – live in nyc, cheap falafel/pizza

      clean – Won’t, other roommates don’t, why should I?

      shop – Hate, so don’t

      talk with my parents – Hard, since we’ve both disowned each other, maybe that means we are in harmony

      drink coffee – Can’t, 1993 lawyer’s office experience turned me off

      spend time with my girlfriend – Hard and Soft, no girlfriend

  2. Blogging (and commenting on blogs) is kind of like “hobby writing,” isn’t it?

    I think Kieślowski’s _Camera Buff_ is a great film about the intersection of one’s art and one’s hobby and how it impacts one’s life.

  3. I HATE explaining writing to people because of that ambiguity. The conversations always go something like this:

    “Oh, so you write? That’s fun; I/someone I know write/s poetry/plays/vampire stories/ as like a little hobby.”

    “Well, it’s more than a hobby, really–I mean, I take it pretty seriously.”

    “Have you ever published anything?”

    “Well, yeah, quite a bit of stuff, actually…”

    “Oh, so eventually you want to be a writer? Like, for a living?”

    “Er, well, I mean, I’m probably never going to make a living at it, so, uh, I guess it’s just something I do for myself.”

    “Like a hobby!”

    Sigh. “Yes, like a hobby. I guess.”

  4. I like this post. My fiance and I had a conversation about this recently–she was sewing a fleece bacon strip for our cat to knock around and I was submitting a novel for like the 700th time and we talked about how, although it required a minimal investment of time and attention, the cat toy project was going to have probably the bigger payoff in terms of having someone (our cat) enjoy it. It certainly felt more hobbyish, though.

    I’m averse to calling writing or anything really a hobby because it makes me think of grandpas whittling elephants out of blocks of wood (which sounds pretty cool, actually): something done casually and for relaxation. Maybe I prefer the term avocation for writing, to describe something done not for money but for an intense personal interest or commitment or whatever. For me it’s typing into a glowing screen, for my fiance it’s making music, for my friend it’s coding. Well, actually, he gets paid for that. Damn.

  5. I think Tim’s point about the hobby as something “done casually and for relaxation” is relevant. I think the intense focus writers and artists put into the work is parallel to the intense focus required by career specialization, but without the monetary aspect. And in our society, a conversation with a stranger can (unfortunately) get awkward without the without the common language of that monetary aspect, because money is what justifies not continuing to diversify your talents after a general education (I think of Wendell Barry’s point that it takes a lot of complex talent to produce food and maintain a home without industrial technologies) – you have to explain yourself, because you’re meant to feel pressure that you haven’t found a strategy for monetizing your writing, whether you even care about that, and yet you won’t claim it as a hobby, because it isn’t that either. This is maybe why hobbies are perceived as casual, and hobbyists who are more than casual are perceived as fringe or weird.

    But for me, too, hobbies are interests I pick up excitedly but usually don’t stick with or at least won’t “progress” with. But I think that’s another bias: you “progress” in a career, and hobbies are for tinkering. Select activities (including writing) are neither occupation nor hobby, and I don’t like the word “passion,” so there isn’t a lot of language to deal with it. Maybe appropriately.

  6. “done casually and for relaxation” hmmm, that sounds so nice. innocent. i wonder if a word exists for “done casually and FOR STRESS.” examples may include: harming small insects, biking through rush hour traffic in new york, staring at strangers, psychosomatic itching episodes, etc.

    in winter i attempt to take up knitting. because i wait a year in between projects, i forget how to knit and must re-learn each time. i have not gotten beyond making rectangular items.

    i like to think about things i would do as hobbies.

    with writing i tend to say first that i’m an artist, and i use text as the focus of my work–that’s because most of my texts are digital pieces, and as someone has mentioned earlier in this blog it’s often hard to separate works with digital text from visual, sound, interactive, or whatever other multimedia mix-up is going on. so artist working with text is easier than writer, for now.

    now back to some recreational itching. and a beer.

    xoxo
    aya.

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