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March 11, 2005


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

To what extent is art a hobby for you? I've been puzzling over the general vocation/avocation question for a few weeks. And I have some musings, if no useful answers. Self-absorption alert: I'm going to be indulging in an epic amount of introspection and remembering. Don't say you weren't warned.

I've always wanted to have a hobby. Or maybe it's that I've always felt I should have a hobby -- hard to separate out these things sometimes. In any case, this conviction probably comes from my background; my family was deeply concerned about the "hobby" question.

(By the way, as far as my family and neighbors were concerned, hobbies were something men had. A woman might do a bit of knitting or magazine-reading at the end of the day. She might even enjoy bridge-club get-togethers. But these were weren't hobbies; they were ways of unwinding and socializing. A hobby was something different -- and it was something a man had. Was this belief about hobbies being a man-thing true for you guys too?)

Women were all about Getting On With Life, where guys were impractical and would never really grow up. Boyishly in need of mischief and fun, they had to be given the chance to misbehave in harmless ways if they were to be roped back into behaving like the responsible men their families needed them to be. So there was no question that a real man needed a real hobby. The guy next door hunted and fished, and the man across the street spent weekends racing his motorboat around a Finger Lake.

But my dad didn't have a hobby? Why not? This was a source of great concern for the family; we felt that some dim something that was in our way would dissolve if only Dad could find himself a hobby. The job certainly didn't do it for him -- but then, middle-class people don't tend to think that jobs are meant to "do it" for you. Dad worked as a traveling salesman.

(By the way: boy, did he not resemble anything Arthur "Death of a Salesman" Miller ever came up with. On good days, my dad radiated the kind of silly-charlatan energy that Robert Preston did in the movie of "The Music Man." On bad days, my dad was consumed by the kind of flailing bitterness that the Richard Nixon character wrestles with in "Secret Honor". At no time was there anything Willy Loman-ish about my dad. I dislike "Death of a Salesman" for many reasons, but the main one is that Miller seems to me to fluff the American salesman-type entirely.)

I never met anyone who didn't like my dad. Dad was convivial and roguish (in the most non-threatening way imaginable), and he had the ability to talk to anyone about anything for hours -- he was a virtuoso of banter and small talk. Being a salesman was well-suited to his talents. God knows that he had zero entrepreneurial drive. But he reported to work day after day, year after year, and he took pride in doing his salesguy-work well, in his role as dad of the family, and in being a decent and honorable guy generally.

Yet ... c'mon. He was spending his working hours as a traveling salesman -- and that's no one's idea of "fulfilling." He liked the life OK, but he didn't give a damn about the goods he was selling. While being usefully employed at a job that suits your personality bearably well is a fine thing, it's also very different from doing something that you find satisfying. And even if living the whole package -- the hubby/dad/family-man/employed-person/guy-everyone-liked package -- was something my dad could take justified pride in, there still seemed to be an element missing. Whatever it was, this missing factor in his life seemed related to the question: What was he getting out of the whole thing? No disrespect meant to anyone else, of course.

For whatever reason, the rest of us were convinced that a hobby would cure what ailed Dad. We just knew it. Yet for years Dad showed no ability whatsoever to develop a hobby. That's how we put it, by the way: "develop a hobby," as though hobbies were dutifully-pursued projects. Dad might putter at his workbench for a few hours. But then we'd hear the crashes and the swearing -- Dad had whatever is the opposite of a mechanical gift -- and we knew he wouldn't be revisiting the workbench for a few months. He had a lot of entertainment gifts, though. He had a knack for drawing, in the cartoon-and-caricature sense. He could tell a story and write an amusing postcard. He had a great sense of Swing-era rhythm, and he could sing and whistle.

(A pause for an art-history question? Whatever happened to whistling? People used to whistle a lot, and they often got to be very good whistlers. For some years, whistling was also a popular art-form; you see breaks for whistling-stars in some musicals of the 1930s and 1940s, for example. My dad was an excellent whistler, with a big repertoire of catchy whistling tricks -- trills, bird calls, burbles, the ability to leap registers, etc.)

Any one of his many talents might lend itself to a hobby! We urged Dad to study art and music. But within weeks of registering for drawing or music lessons, he'd throw his hands up in disgust and return to his usual state of low-grade, beer-fueled frustration. Patience, alas, did not appear to be one of his gifts. We'd shake our heads and cluck: it was so ... tragic to have such talent yet lack the ability to put it to work ...

He'd fume, he'd sputter, he'd seethe. What to do with the energy? Dad would turn to house-chores; trimming the bushes or painting a shutter could burn up a lot of energy. And, for a few hours, he got to feel dynamic, dammit. But house-chores are finally like work -- useful, but ...

Dad took up jogging -- one of his better choices in life. Jogging worked out well; it gave his day a focus, it helped his moods, and it took the edge off his tenseness. But as with much exercise, jogging is more a matter of maintenance than of pleasure -- well worth the effort, but hardly rewarding in any deep, engaging way. If Dad could have gotten by without exercising, he'd certainly have done so.

The result: Dad drank a little too much beer, watched a little too much TV, and read too many books about World War II (in which he'd fought). Before you knew it, Monday morning rolled around again, and off he went, back to work as a traveling salesman. And not without a sense of relief. I wondered sometimes if wrestling with the "what to do with my free time" question taxed his spirit more than spending time on the job did.

Then, one Saturday in the mid-'70s, Dad ignored the bunch of us -- we who were forever pressing him to use his talents to become "good at something." Instead, he drove himself over to the local airport and signed up for flying lessons. It turns out that he'd flown small planes as a college kid, and it had come to him -- god only knows why -- that he wanted to take up flying small planes again.

He had himself a hobby. Flying small planes transformed him, as well as his experience of life. My dad was no longer a half-happy, half-frustrated, confused-about-the-meaning-of-it-all guy. He was happy, period. He knew that, however the workweek went (and however much family cares weighed him down), for a few hours every weekend he'd be doing something that he was guaranteed to find satisfying.

Vehicle of liberation?

A peculiar aspect of all this was that Dad had no special gift for flying. I think we may tend to assume too easily that we would -- no question -- really enjoy doing what we're most gifted for doing, if only we had the right chance. But perhaps no such automatic relationship exists between "what we're good at" and "what we enjoy."

As far as I could tell, Dad was an adequately-talented, hard-working, amateur small-plane pilot. Yet this was OK with him. In fact, it was more than OK. While he had enough arts-talent to become a good Dixieland jazz performer -- or part of a vocal quartet, or a professional cartoonist -- he always seemed to find putting these talents to use infuriating. Trying to enjoy (and develop and explore) them seemed to make him feel uncomfortably pressured. Flying planes, for which he had a merely adequate talent, did no such thing.

Perhaps the sheer uselessness of the activity -- not just being up in the sky but hanging around the airport with the pilots and mechanics and spending evenings in the basement studying charts and books -- had its appeal. Perhaps knowing that he'd never be great had a liberating effect on his pleasure-centers too. Certain that flying would never come to anything, he felt free to enjoy himself instead of condemned to apply himself.

What a sense of relief-and-then-happiness he seemed to feel when in the sky. I went up in a Cessna with him only once. He took me out over Western New York's beautiful Finger Lakes region. I dislike flying in small planes intensely; my knuckles go white and the sweat runs freely. Dad, meanwhile, couldn't have been happier. Despite my terror, I found it mysterious and moving to see my dad in such a blissed-out state. I had never seen him so happily absorbed in anything. Up in the air, putting the Cessna through its paces, he left cares behind and lost himself in the beauty of the visuals and in the craft of flying.

The family discovered a new Dad, one capable of depth and focus. Capable of patience, too: when it came to doing all the tedious preparation-work for flying (learning the instruments, studying for licensing exams, etc), Dad turned out to be more than diligent. Although I'd grown up thinking of him as having a very short fuse, I never once saw him blow his stack where flying was concerned.

He drank his way through many, many fewer six-packs of Genesee beer. He'd always been a sweet guy, but he became even more benign. He stopped feeling like the family's support staff, condemned to a life of holding on, doing maintenance, and finding a bit of relief in the Genesee. Now he had his own thing too.

It was sad that, for medical reasons, Dad was denied the chance to acquire a real pilot's license. He could have continued flying anyway; as I understand it, you can fly forever without a licence so long as you regularly go up with instructors. But Dad had hoped to progress from one-engine planes to two-engine planes, and to face the challenges of nighttime and instrument flying. The prospect of remaining a novice -- in official terms anyway -- took the heart out of him.

He let the flying go. Soon after he did, my mother died unexpectedly. My dad made a hurried and unfortunate second marriage. He quit jogging; the drinking, inevitably, started up again. In another few years, he had a stroke that forced him into an early retirement.

And there he was: a sad (if charming) old man. It had taken only eight years for him to transform from well-liked, hearty-and-outgoing, middle-aged success to broken-down cottontop sitting in the front window watching the traffic go by. You could see in his eyes that he was wondering, "How'd that happen? Where'd it all go?"

He grew more and more abstracted, holding on for another eight years, enduring medical scares and marital woes and enjoying a handful of nice times, before dying of a general system shutdown in the early '90s. As his life had played itself out, the years when he flew small planes -- the years when he had a hobby -- had been the high point of his adult life.

Given this history, maybe it's not a surprise that I'm hyper-convinced that a man does indeed need a hobby. This may also be a middle-class conviction; in any case, it seems to me related to the middle-class attitude towards jobs and careers. Middle-class people don't have careers; they have jobs, if more upscale ones than working-class people do. Careers are for other people, if not outright make-believe. (The idea of enjoying what you do during the workday -- and getting well-paid for it -- seems outrageous. We might as well imagine being movie stars.) If what a man spends his work hours on is A Job, then no doubt such a man needs A Hobby.

For my dad, the hobby/job distinction was clear-cut. The job: time and energy swapped for money, doing something you wouldn't otherwise bother doing. The hobby: something with no practical point pursued strictly for its own sake.

In my own life, alas, I've been confused about these distinctions. I wonder if this is because I was pushed into a high-powered world where people pursue careers. Where's room for a hobby -- in the sense that I understand the word, anyway -- in a life devoted to careerizing? Some of the upper-middle and upper-class people I'm now among pursue activities that look like hobbies: sports, arts passions, travel, oddball skills, etc. Yet something often seems amiss to me. The activities seem less loved than achieved, less a function of easygoing pleasure than required steps in an ongoing crusade. Where does the careerizer's vocation end, and where does his/her avocation begin?

Many of the career-class people I've known seem less happy and more neurotic than the middle-class people I grew up with. For one thing, they're such self-entitled achievers that they seem incapable of doing anything for its own sweet sake. Everything they do seems meant to contribute to the larger project of showing the world what special people they are. Yet what a price they pay. When I went to the 25th reunion of the middle-class public school kids I grew up with, they were a cheery, welcoming group, looking forward to whatever adventures the rest of life has in store for us. When I attended the 25th reunion of the high-powered prep-school class I graduated with, most of my classmates looked rumpled, defeated, played-out. They may make ten times the income my public-school buds do; they may not be strangers to Gstaad and Cabo. But they looked like they'd peaked long ago -- in some Harvard seminar, probably. They looked like their lives had all been downhill ever since.

I emerged from a fancy/lousy college into a world of hustling careerizers. Yet, apart from five minutes when I imagined that I wanted to make movies, I've never had anything I wanted to do in a career sense. Because I was an arty guy (and because I got lucky), I stumbled into the media and the arts -- yet what I've discovered there is that I dislike doing arty and media things professionally.

I spent a long time in one arty-media job that was well-suited to my interests, but one of the best things I've ever done for my peace of mind was leaving that position. Why? Because it wanted to be a career, not a job. I was growing miserable (and wasting a lot of other people's time) trying to make my career-style position behave like a mere job. These days I've checked out of the careerizing world as much as possible. I work at a job-type job, and I'm a much happier person for it. I like the job well enough -- hey, it ain't bad, for a job! And I guess it's well-suited to my personality, even if I also feel that it doesn't make much use of what I have to offer. Still: not bad. And my happy reaction to "not bad" seems like trustworthy evidence that I like the job-plus-hobby model of life far more than I do the all-engulfing-career model.

It's taken me a mere couple of decades to sort this out -- to bail out of career-ville and land myself a mere job. Now, perhaps, it's time for a hobby. Do I have one already? You never know until you look around. And if I don't yet have a hobby, where do I turn to find one? I've studied acting, drawing, painting, piano, and fiction-writing. I've enjoyed all these activities, and hope to get back to some of them again sometime. But each one also required a bit of ... well, to be frank, willpower and effort. None of them felt like R&R; the experiences of bliss, while real, were few and far-between. When I moved on, I felt only minor regrets.

I had hopes for acting/writing/music. But they never became careers, and they never turned into hobbies either. How bewildering. (I take it that a hobby is something you can barely keep yourself from doing.) I've also enjoyed tennis; I've known what it's like to look forward all week to an hour on the courts. But once my tennis partner left town, I let the tennis go. Another activity that's Not a Hobby, I guess. Maybe I can come up with something new -- some other kind of game, perhaps. How about cards? But, while The Wife can lose herself in computer Solitaire for hours, I don't seem to have the mind for cards.

Maybe "art" -- in the sense of hanging around it and yakking about it -- has been my hobby. Gad, what a terrifying thought. Could this really be so? My ego's offended by the idea: It can't be; Good lord, the sacrifices I've made for art; Why, the seriousness of my interest in it!, etc. Yet maybe that's exactly what hanging-around-the-arts has been for me -- a hobby. I do follow the arts almost without trying ... I do love rhapsodizing about what I love, and sounding off about the frustrations of being an arts person ... Sounds a little like a hobby.

Come to think of it, perhaps blogging is a hobby. I wonder, though. I certainly prefer blogging to professional writing. Yet there's little about blogging per se that interests me. As an activity, it's a vehicle for gabbing about my fleeting interests rather than an interest in its own right; at its best, it's a way of meeting and comparing notes with lively and simpatico people. I suppose you might call it a hobby, then -- but in the sense that "going to the local bar" might be called a hobby. I imagine a hobby to be something more like watercolor-painting or carpentry -- an activity engaged-in purely for its own calm and engrossing sake. And blogging certainly isn't that for me. Still, it's unpaid. I do it a lot, and I do it on my own time. Looked at that way, it starts to sounds a bit like a hobby. But maybe not.

So, am I a guy with a job but lacking a hobby -- a sadsack? Or am I a guy with a job and a hobby he just doesn't know about -- a dimwit?

What set all these self-absorbed musings off was the fact that, a few months ago, I stumbled into a hobby of the most traditional sort. I've found a game I adore. A game! -- imagine that. Most amazingly, it's not the game that I'd have expected to become my hobby.

I'd been convinced for years that if I ever did "develop" a game-style hobby, it'd be the Japanese game Go. Go suits my image of myself. It's sly; it's simple-yet-complex; it's transparent-yet-poetic. It isn't about pieces clobbering each other; it's spatial -- judo rather than boxing. Playing Go, you have to be both inside it and outside it at the same time. Things flicker and flip. Go is more aesthetic than it is intellectual, and it demands a mind-bending mixture of imagination and analysis. It's a game for people with negative-space brains.

Hey, that's me! Or such was my thinking for years, anyway. I've given Go a try. I own a Go board. I know the rules. I took some lessons. I can play the game, if at an elementary level. I've read Kawabata's novel "Master of Go." I've visited the New York Go Club a few times. (Short version: lots of intense Japanese and Korean businessguys, a handful of grad-students-forever American guys, billows of cigarette smoke, and gallons of caffeinated drinks. Never more than one or two women.) A few years back, I even spent a weekend at a college in the Massachusetts countryside, attending totally-over-my-head Go seminars.

But I have to be honest: the Go habit has never taken hold. I forget about Go for long stretches. Books of theory and problems fail to entrance. My heart races unenjoyably when I get trounced by youngsters online. The home Go board collects a lot of dust. Most important, the state I enter when playing Go is anything but the zoned-but-awake, alpha-wavey thing I hope to experience.

More bewilderment: how can this be, when Go is so unquestionably well-suited to Who I Am? If I can't have a Go hobby, then maybe I'm someone who isn't the hobbyist kind, or at least the game-hobbyist kind. Still, I had this itch ... this gnawing sense of frustration ... this thirst for Genesee beer ...

The exalted self-image: simple yet complex, exotic, deep

Imagine my surprise as -- over the last few months -- I've found myself developing a full-fledged hobby. I lose myself in it; hours pass without me taking any note. The tension-level I experience is purely pleasurable -- alpha-wave overload! But imagine my dismay -- the blow to my ego -- too, because what has in fact sunk roots into me isn't anything so fascinating as Go. What's hooked me instead is (blush, shuffle) crossword puzzles.

I don't know why exactly, but I decided to pick up a crossword puzzle book before our most recent flight to California. I've resigned myself to the fact that I can't do any serious reading while on a cross-country flight -- and, really, enough with the magazines already. Why not give crossword puzzles a try?

Cut to LAX. I've lost all track of time. It's as though the flight has passed in less than an hour. My eyes are burning but my mind can't let go. I'm still working on one of the crosswords as The Wife steers me towards the baggage-claim area. "You've got the fever," she says in Wifely exasperation. "Now you know what playing Solitaire is like for me."

The sad reality: dumb, dumb, dumb

I'm amazed how fully my mind enters into the crossword game-world. Space and time mean nothing. I physicalize like a lunatic, mouthing the words I'm trying out and moving my hands and arms around as I reach for associations and hunches. The Wife once tried talking with me while I was doing a crossword; she had some feeling or other she wanted to pull apart. But I could barely hear what she had to say. (Don't worry: she made me pay later.) The fact seems to be that, when lost in a crossword puzzle, I'm simply incapable of any kind of conversation, aside from asking the world at large for help with a word. If I work on a crossword puzzle before going to bed, I spend the entire night dreaming about words and puzzles.

It's a little chagrin-making to notice that, while I have a few small talents in life, I'm not particularly good at doing crossword puzzles. I've stuck with the "Easy"-level collections, and I struggle with those. Easy's hard enough for me.

Which raises the question: Am I simply repeating my dad's life? The way my hobby just came to me out of the blue ... The way I've got no knack for it, yet that's cool ... Perhaps some goofy Dad-genes are manifesting themselves -- but perhaps not. But if not, why should it be that some of the activities that really grab us are ones that we have no particular gift for? Are two different systems at work in us? Namely: 1) "I have a talent for this," and 2) "But I find it rewarding to do that."

The self-delusions -- as well as the abrupt moments of self-discovery -- never stop, do they? In this case, what I've learned is that my brain is anything but the chic, abstract, quasi-Asian creature of mystery that I like to imagine it being. Instead, it's a slightly soiled, "Columbo"-esque Everyguy who enjoys killing a little time with coffee-stained diversions. Sigh: yet another comedown. But maybe a not-bad attitude towards life is that it's about learning how to enjoy the inevitable comedowns. Yes? Well, OK, maybe not.

Here's an informative Economist article about what makes Go fascinating. Samarkand sells a lot of good Go equipment and Go books. Here's Samarkand's quick intro to how to play the game. Here's an Amazon Reader's List recommending books about Go. You can watch a 15 minute-long intro-to-Go movie here. "The Many Faces of Go" (available here) is the best of the computer Go software packages for Windows. Here's a good self-teaching site for Go beginners.

Crosswords? Hell, you can buy collections of them at any newspaper stand.



posted by Michael at March 11, 2005


Your remarks about career-oriented people reminds me of a saying that I hear people utter all the time: "Work hard, play hard." I get the "work hard" part but "play hard"? Of course, the people who take this to heart do mountain climbing, marathon running and skiing and all those other exhausting activities in their spare time and they make the rest of us look bad. I can't run on adrenaline 24/7.

I like your definition of a hobby--that it's something that you like to do and that it doesn't carry any expectation or stress. "Work hard, play hard" should be ammended to "Work hard, play soft" and I think we'd all be the saner for it.

Posted by: sya on March 11, 2005 05:58 PM

Well, I don't know what I was expecting, but it definitely wasn't crossword puzzles. What a hoot!

I'm way too competitive to ever do the hobby thing in the way you describe a hobby. I blow steam off with p0ker, which is utterly absorbing like your puzzles are, but is wonderfully cut-throat. I always picture myself doing something that not's competitive and stressful with my free time (like woodworking, or tinkering with engines), but the closest I ever get to that is just reading a book.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on March 11, 2005 06:38 PM

I really liked this post!

I'm surrounded by people that "work hard, play hard" and it's so obnoxious. I consider my hobbies to be 1) enjoying and judging pop culture and 2) thinking of things I would like to do, if only I had the motivation, courage, and patience.

Posted by: Paul N on March 11, 2005 07:07 PM

Looks like you've found a way to get into your "flow" moment with the crossword puzzles. I'm sure you've heard of the term used by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly in his book "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience". From Amazon's editorial blurbs:"In work, sport, conversation or hobby, you have experienced, yourself, the suspension of time, the freedom of complete absorption in activity. This is "flow," an experience that is at once demanding and rewarding--an experience that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates is one of the most enjoyable and valuable experiences a person can have." Congratulations!

Posted by: Jim on March 11, 2005 07:36 PM

SYA -- I think sloth, R&R, and taking-it-easy are much underrated, don't you?

Scott -- That's hilarious. I played poker (for pennies, nickles and dimes) for a brief stretch and got a taste of what people love about it. But maybe I'm lacking the competitive gene. Even when I played tennis I hated playing games. That's for the pros. Me, I just like to hit the ball.

Paul N -- I've got a lot to learn from you! Now that you've got me thinking about it, maybe I should look into the hobby-potential of drawing up lists of things to do, and then taking naps because it all seems too overwhelming.

Jim -- Good god, you actually typed out "Mihaly Csikszentmihaly" twice. You deserve some kind of award for that. Yeah, I think his concept of "flow" really gets it, don't you? Do you have activities that you rely on for flow experiences? Interesting how we all seem to crave them, isn't it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 11, 2005 09:28 PM

Crossword puzzles are great. So is e-scrabble.

I enjoyed this post. My dad is a small-plane flyer and a whistler, too. And one of the few people I know who actually love their career.

Meanwhile, I'm on the verge of resigning from my career-job so I'll have more time to hike and write stories. The career thing isn't worth it if it's sucking your soul out.

Posted by: Waterfall on March 11, 2005 11:32 PM


Thanks for this. You seem to have both (1) figured out why my hobby-less dad spent so much time sitting around watching TV and drinking beer, and (2) anticipated exactly where I am in my life, teetering between the career my dad never had and the simpler job and life he did. I'm still thinking I can hobbyize my job, Taoistically deriving meaning from its mundanity, but I'm also wondering whether I should just chuck it all for a 9-to-5'er and a hobby.

Sounds like crossword puzzles might work for me too.

Thanks again; you always seem to set my mind a'spinnin'.

Posted by: Outer Life on March 12, 2005 12:05 AM

Reading the other comments, I gotta ask -- is this a Type A / Type B thing? I reckon those descriptors have fallen out of favor by now, but I also reckon most know what I mean. I fancy myself a Type A, but am I just lucky to have loved all of my jobs and found it easy to immerse myself in them?

On the other hand, I wonder if I'm another hobbyless dad, sitting around surfing the net, clicking fold, and drinking beer. Lord knows I love my beer. And my whisky. And surfing.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on March 12, 2005 12:52 AM


You do like words, and mysteries. Crosswords make a lot of sense. You learn, you deduce, it expands your vocabulary and strengthens your reasoning abilities. What's not to like? :)

And word puzzles can show up most anywhere. I recently got the March Dungeon (D&D adventures) and it has a logic problem. As you can see, one hobby can be incorporated into another.

Which leads to this question, have you developed other hobbies? Either in parallel with crosswords, or as a result of your interest in crosswords?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on March 12, 2005 03:15 AM

My hobbies don't evolve around the arts per se, except that they seemingly do.

Typing words into a computer - shorthand for my main line of work - isn't very rewarding physically. So I've always looked for compensation. Which used to come from athletics, until my left knee got too bad, after which I used my surplus of physical energy in restoring the house I bought.

Nowadays I sing in a semi-professional choir that performs regularly, through one the many coincidences that can make up a life.

I took up singing lessons for two reasons. I wanted to learn to play the piano, but after a couple of years reached a ceiling; mainly because the difficulties I still had in reading sheet music.

Another reason was that I had a good voice for phone conversations but not one that could fill a rooms I had to lecture in easily.

Throught sheer availability I got asked for one choir, and than another, and another still, and suddenly I found myself performing in a televised requiem when our former Queen had died.

I guess I enjoy this hobby as well because the singing is such a collective effort, while typing words into a computer can be such a lonesome affair.

But, I would still call it a hobby because it wouldn't be much of a sacrifice to stop doing it completely.

Posted by: ijsbrand on March 12, 2005 12:07 PM

But Michael, crosswords are a hobby most excellent! I've developed a serious addiction to them, and have gotten good enough that I can do the gold-standard of North American-style crosswords, the Saturday New York Times, in 30-45 minutes (the very best do it in under ten...uh, wow). And David Sedaris said in "Me Talk Pretty One Day" that people who can do the Saturday NYT must have "the kind of mind that can bend spoons". So I view my hobby in a disgustingly egotistical blushing for me. Crosswords can get amazingly deep and twisted. You're in for a lifetime of fun.
Oh, and there are two routes to go if you want to get even deeper. You can take up "cryptic" crosswords. I won't say what they are, except they're the dominant type of crossword in the UK, and a subcult in the crossword cult over here. They are in essence a different game (IMO). It would be interesting to see if you like those too.
And you can even get into crossword construction. I'm thinking of doing this. Construction of crosswords sounds superhuman to me, but it isn't, apparently. There's software to help, for example. And that's a hobby to engage an enourmous amount of the mind.
Still, I can't help wondering why I feel the need to justify my hobby at all. I wonder if that's true of hobbies in general (after all, they don't produce anything), or if hobbies, like say crosswords, that are pursued by, ahem, nerds like you and me, require justification in much the same way that nerds seem to in general (unfair, I know, but still true).
Oh, and you might want to try reading "The Crossword Obsession" by Coral Amende. It's what triggered my own obsession. Very light, but fun.

Posted by: PatrickH on March 12, 2005 01:01 PM

Hey Michael, no, I didn't type in Michale Cs.'s name twice - did the ol' ctrl-v thing. I bet he even types his name wrong sometimes. My flow moments occur when I'm drawing from life, and when I'm trying to solve particularly thorny problems in my job (and also when I was high-jumping when I was a kid).

My personal theory is that the flow happens when you have everything at hand and/or in your head when you have somthing to achieve and you are intensely interested in solving or doing it. In other words, you have mastered the tools of doing it such that the use of them is second nature and you can let yourself get lost in the doing. I think these flow moments can be a great help in your mental health no matter how you achieve them, whether via crossword puzzles or formulating Nobel prize winning theories!

Posted by: Jim on March 12, 2005 04:21 PM


It would seem to me you've got your hobby, and the Blowhards is it. I read what you said about blogging, but still, you go to a lot of effort to maintain the Blowhard site, you write and comment about subjects you're interested in, you interact with other people, you recruit associate Blowhards, and all without any hint of filthy lucre entering your pockets. I think it's a hobby.

As for crosswords, I do them now and then. The occasional NYT crossword that hits my desk is certainly a source of pleasure. And yet, I always have an empty feeling when I finish one. As in, "Okay, I've done it. Don't I get a prize?" At least I don't think there's an address where I can send all my completed crosswords and get something back for them. Crosswords can be fun, mind-stretching, and even educational (I didn't used to know the name of the Muse for poetry), but I end up with a feeling that I haven't really accomplished anything.

I've had several hobbies over the years. One became a second income, then when my primary job of 25 years dried up, the hobby turned into full-time free-lance. I've even seen it stated outright in self-help books about what to do when laid off that one option is turning a hobby into a new career, but I'd add to that the point that you shouldn't wait until you're actually laid off to start thinking about it -- the groundwork should be prepared long before, because it takes time to get a home business going.

For sheer not-gonna-make-a-dime-from-it pleasure, though, amateur astronomy does it for me.


Posted by: Dwight Decker on March 12, 2005 04:36 PM

'I suppose you might call [blogging] a hobby, then -- but in the sense that "going to the local bar" might be called a hobby.'

Heh. I suppose if the rest of us could contribute as much to cultural discourse by "going to the local bar," we'd have a much smarter country populated by much happier alcoholics.

Later. I'm off to Moe's.

Posted by: Nate on March 12, 2005 05:56 PM

Hobbies, shmobbies...I think that was a marvellous and very touching memoir of your father.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on March 12, 2005 07:00 PM

But in that puzzlingly indirect way so favored by fate, my brother, as he entered his 50s, decided to take up the hobby of swing dancing.

[sorry to intrude onto your boy's night out, I'm going back to my knitting now]

Posted by: Tatyana on March 13, 2005 11:22 AM

I have an art-related hobby -- for the past few years, I've been collecting something called poster stamps, which you can read about here: Basically, they're non-postage, non-governmentally issued stamps that were used for advertising in the late 19th-early 20th century. Some of the greatest graphic artists of Europe were involved in putting out poster stamps, which were really miniature versions of actual advertising posters. Before WWI, a collecting craze developed, and at one point there were 400+ poster stamp collecting clubs in the U.S.

I've learned so much about art, history, and culture from collecting these little gems, which except for the most rare can be had for under$10. The prize of my collection is an actual album issued by a toy store in Connecticut before 1914, with several hundred stamps (many sets), probably collected by a child, because of the funky way some are glued in, etc.

One of my favorite areas of collecting (I have many)is for the artists' colonies that were in Darmstat, Nuremberg, etc., the Glass Palace, and ones issued by the varioius Secessionist groups.

Are women less likely to have hobbies because 1) they stereotypically have less time, with jobs, kids, housekeeping; and 2) they have many more traditional outlets for their creativity, handcrafts, arts, needlework, etc.?

Oh yeah, I've just taken up country line dancing, too. Lots of fun, good exercise, and you don't have to wait for anybody to ask you to dance.

Posted by: missgrundy on March 13, 2005 12:40 PM

heh, every once in a while my boss tries to get me to treat my job as a "career" :D i guess deep down i've sort of always suspected my occupation might be pointless, altho i enjoy doing it, but i think it's left me slightly detached from work... like it's not unsatisfying per se, but it's not consuming either, which is how i like it, and--now that i think about it--that'd probably be true of any profession i'd have chosen. so it really must be my personality more than anything that keeps me from taking what i do too seriously :D

btw, i was just reading this interview with woody allen :D

"It's like people who can draw," Allen responds. "You say, 'My God, how can you draw that horse or that rabbit?' They say, 'It's nothing.' I could draw a horse or rabbit all night and it would never come close. It would look terrible. So being funny is no big thing for me, it comes naturally. It's not like Horowitz learning the piano. Believe me, I've never done anything in life that came hard to me!"

incidentally, i've noticed that the british convention for recounting interviews is to write out the conversation, as in a book. whereas, in the states, it usually takes the form of a transcript.

FT: [inquiry]
WA: [response]

not sure why that is, nor if i really care, just something i've noticed!

as for hobbies, my dad likes to start gardening projects (that go perpetually unfinished), my mom likes trying out different recipes (scrapbooking has yet to catch on) and my brother is pretty outdoorsy (snow boarding, rock climbing, camping, hiking, biking, etc... lately he's been thinking about helicopter piloting lessons)--oh and my dad and brother are both minesweeper fiends; um, i can't say reading, movies, music and the occasional recreational drug or road trip classify as a hobbies, so i guess i'm left to say that one day i intend to volunteertake up fly tying, rug hooking, genealogy or paintball... that internet sure is a timewaster!


Posted by: carabinieri on March 13, 2005 12:53 PM

Waterfall - That's neat that your dad's a flyer and a whistler too. Odd -- I'd have thought that was WWII-generation combo, and I imagine your dad's younger than that. Maybe the pattern lasted longer than I thought. Careers are funny, aren't they? I wonder sometimes if they aren't soul-sucking almost by definition.

Outer Life - Thanks, but I'm sure you recognize that this posting was my feeble attempt at an Outer Life-style posting. You set the form, dude. Now the rest of us get to rip it off, er, offer our own variatins on it.

Scott -- Has the Type A/Type B distinction gone out of fashion? Seems like just yesterday ... But what a good question: how do A's and B's differ in their attitudes towards jobs. A funny subtype that I run into all the time in NYC is what I think of as Type A-wannabes -- people who really don't have the outgoing-leader character, but are determined to get the world to treat them as if they did anyway. They're the worst bosses, as a general rule. They're 90% caught up in the schemings and dramas involved in pretending to be a Type A, and 10% focused on leading (their actual job). I sometimes wonder how much more pleasant the world would be if only there were no Type A-wannabes. But maybe the type is especially prevalent in NYC, where everyone's a leader and no one's a follower.

Alan -- Mysteries ... words ... Hmm, put that way it does seem pretty logical, doesn't it? Hey, how do you view your involvement with D&D? Hobby? Something else? I think something I've struggled with a bit over the years is picturing a "hobby" as something that's approached and experienced fairly lightly, even whimsically. I guess what I'm slowly learning is that a hobby can be that, but it can also be something that becomes more real (and hits you deeper) than the job/career thing can. I'm a slow learner...

IJSbrand -- Sorry to hear about the knee, great to hear about the choir. You really feel you could give it up like that and not miss it much? But you sound like you get a lot out of it. I don't mean to be nudgey, just curious. Would you miss the job more, or the hobby? I suppose it's a ludicrous question, given the fact that we all have to make money ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 13, 2005 02:50 PM

PatrickH -- Good god, man, you're far gone! You've got that glow of someone who 's ... well, enjoying himself. Thanks for the tips and insights. You're absolutely right -- I shouldn't run down crossword puzzles. There's a book about the crossword-puzzle addiction? Oh no, now I'll have to read it. And I tip my hat to anyone who can complete a NYTimes puzzle. I suspct I'll never get that good. I don't sense myself having made any progress in the months I've been doing the puzzles and for the moment don't mind doing the EZ/For-Morons ones, however embarassing it is to be spotted by other people using the collections ...

Jim -- Your theory of flow makes a lot of sense. It seems like a great way to conceptualize art too, or maybe what art ought to be: technical expertise that kind of dissolves and gives way to something else. Maybe the book "Flow" should be handed out to arts freshmen. It'd certainly be a big step up from French Theory.

Dwight -- I'd love to have a hobby that resulted in something constructive. Carpentry or watercolors or something -- that'd leave me with a "thing" when I was done with it. I wonder if the uselessness of crosswords isn't part of what I find so satisfying about them, though. I have an extreme case of the pleasure/usefulness split, alas. If it's useful, I'm not going to take much pleasure in it; if it's to be pleasurable, it better damn not be useful. I'd love to be a bit more mature than that but don't seem to be. Do you experience that kind of split? Like I say, I seem to have an extreme case of it ...

Nate -- That's the spirit. I'll catch you at Moe's.

FvB -- Thanks. My dad was a lovely guy. I remember growing up and being struck by how many guys seemed to have tough dads, or difficult, grandstanding dads, or pushy dads. My own was largely a delight, so I was and am grateful not to have had to endure anything terribly "Great Santini"-ish. My one gripe is that he didn't stand up for himself (and for the kids) in front of our very pushy mom more than he did. But maybe he did what he could: she was a pretty formidable force.

Tatyana -- Maybe 50 is a magic age! Swing dancing sounds like a really lovely hobby. I once took a couple of classes,and it seemed like loads of fun. Talk about lifting your spirits!

Missgrundy -- You've got the collecting bug, or gene, or whatever it is. I'd never heard of poster-stamps, thanks for cluing us in. They sound fascinating, as well as well-scaled (and sensibly priced). I bet they're like little windows onto many worlds. Line-dancing must be a very fun scene. There really is nothing like dancing for leaving you feeling tingly and alive. Is it still true that women have fewer hobbies than guys do? If so, is it just that we reserve the word for the kinds of things guys do? I have no idea. Gals certainly busy themselves as much as (if not more than) guys, but maybe by "hobby" we mean the kind of impractical things guys often get tangled up in. I wonder. It certainly seems true that, probably because of the childbearing/childrearing thing, women seem more focused on earthy practicalities. And then they relax, or take a break. Guys sometimes seem to find that hobbyesque activities give their lives some focus or even meaning. If they're just going to unwind, it's going to be with a beer and a remote control. Guys -- many guys anyway -- often don't look to jobs to give their lives meaning, as women who go into the workforce sometimes do. Hmm, maybe it's a question of where we get our sense of "meaning" from. Your thoughts?

Carabinieri -- It sounds like you've got a very sensible attitude towards your work. You remind me of one of the many reasons why I decided not to pursue a place in the movie industry. (Setting aside lack of talent ...) It was that people in the industry take pride in how mad-dog rabidly you have to want it. You gotta make a big show of wanting it so badly you'll get anally raped daily, you'll eat shit for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (Lots and lots of shit/ass images get used in typical movieworld conversation.) I like movies fine, but I want to engage with no job in that kind of way. I love being able to leave my job behind me when I leave the office. I think I do a better job when the job itself enables me to do that . Jobs that don't allow me to do that turn my life into a nighmare, and that doesn't seem to help my performance. I like your idea of hobbying as timewasting too (and timewasting as hobbying). Maybe "diddling away at the computer and seeing where all the links take me" is my real hobby.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 13, 2005 03:19 PM

By the way, how do y'all picture your arts interests? I mean, we're all pretty crazy about the arts. Hobbies? Not quite the right word?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 13, 2005 04:00 PM

". . . Type A-wannabes -- people who really don't have the outgoing-leader character . . . ."

The Type A characteristics may occur more among leaders and wannabe leaders. I don't know. But the Type A characteristics really need have nothing to do with being a leader, good or otherwise:

". . . time urgency (or hurry sickness) and an easily-aroused irritability or anger. We [Meyer Friedman and Ray H. Rosenman] named this syndrome Type A behavior (TAB)."


People who wouldn't even think of trying to lead others can suffer from TAB.

Posted by: Dave Lull on March 13, 2005 04:59 PM

Actually, I haven't knit for...oh, about a year. Mostly I spend bits of free time fretting over the fact I'm wasting it unproductively, making mental lists of the things I could've done. If I just organise better, make that xtra effort, stop dragging my feet, concentrate &c, i.e. if I weren't me but me+.
So I'm with Paul N on that one, except I am mostly irritated about the fact. And thus, thanks to Dave Lull, I'm diagnosed with TAB now. Hurrah, they have a name for it!

As to the swing dancing @ 50: M, I hoped you - and others- will click on the link.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 13, 2005 06:37 PM

You raise interesting questions about hobbies and gender -- women I know garden, take cooking classes, do needlework of various kinds -- are those hobbies? They just seem so connected to the everyday life of women, that they feel like "activities." But then again, I'm of an age when most women are not skydiving or mountain climbing, so their activities tend to be quieter ones.

In my own family, my father (another salesman) most definitely had a "hobby", or maybe career as opposed to his 9 to 5 job -- he had been a child star in vaudeville and on radio in New York in the 30's, and in the 60's-80's he became a well-known figure in the Minneapolis theater scene. He would rush home from work, bolt his dinner, and go off to rehearsal for whatever play he was in -- we almost never saw him. My mother was a perpetual motion machine, always doing *something* with her hands -- sewing dolls, seasonal crafts, pottery, painting, sandcasting, Ukranian Easter eggs -- you name it, she did it -- and later had a fair amount of commercial success with a line of very kitschy little pewter sculptures (collectable stuff -- not very exciting). Was that her hobby? Not to us -- it was just what she *did,* along with keeping the house, sewing us clothes, and clipping recipes out of magazines.

I have a career that I'm very devoted to, one that gives me enormous satisfaction. But the day I won a Hungarian auction for a rare Egon Schiele poster stamp (the only one he ever made), it was a different kind of thrill! There's something very satisfying about collecting. I do have to admit that it's a pretty masculine pastime -- last year I went to a stamp convention in St. Louis where the Poster Stamp Society was meeting, and it was basically me and the guys. The only other woman was a dealer's wife.

Posted by: missgrundy on March 13, 2005 07:34 PM

I liked that post so much. My father, an academic, discovered a hobby when they retired to the country -- gardening. How he loved it. And I too came to gardening at 60, having had no interest in it before.
On whistling: I'll bet I'm about the oldest person commenting here. When I was a kid we had a wonderful "victrola record" called "The Whistler & His Dog". Has anyone else ever heard of it?

Posted by: Susan on March 13, 2005 08:23 PM

Dave -- Thanks for clearing up my confusion about TAB, and thanks for the link too. Fascinating. I like the term "hurry sickness" a lot. But I think I liked this passage best:

A final almost intractable barrier to the widespread acceptance of TAB as a major risk factor is the fact that almost all cardiologists suffer severely from TAB.

Tatyana -- Apologies. I was so taken by the idea of swing dance at 50 that I didn't read the posting you linked to, which I did just now. It's very touching. Not only that, it leaves you wanting to know more, which my overlong posting certainly doesn't.

Missgrundy -- Fascinating character sketches of your parents. Quite a contrast between 'em! And I like your snapshot of the stamp convention a lot. Funny to observe how various activities attract various groups. My yoga class this evening, for instance: 20 people. Four guys (and that's a lot). Eternal question: why does yoga seem to appeal to gals more than guys, at least in this country? (The Wife laughs that the photography style in Yoga Journal is "Lifetime TV photography.") All but one Caucasion. Usually there are a few Asians, but there are seldom any black people. I wonder if this has to do with the neighborhood the studio's located in. Or maybe it's just that not many black people are interested in yoga. Hard to know what to make of these things, but hard not to notice them too. Women do seem to blend in and out of what they do, though, where guys seem to compartmentalize more. Hey, maybe that tendency towards flowiness is one reason gals like yoga better than guys do.

Susan -- Gardening sounds lovely. I know a guy who raises all kinds of food for himself and his family in his small suburban backyard, including grapes -- he makes his own wine. Cans tomatoes, gives away a tremendous amount of food to family and neighbors. And he beams when he talks about it. Seems to please him on a very elemental level -- I envy that! I don't know "The Whistler and His Dog" ... though now that I type it out like that I find myself wondering if maybe it wasn't part of the stack of records my parents had that I never listened to ... It was amazing, in any case, how good some of those old-time whistlers were. Did the whistling thing die out in the '50s? The'60s? I don't know many (or maybe any) Boomers who whistle very well ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 13, 2005 08:57 PM

it's great to find another gardener.
Are you reading Chan, the Bookish Gardener? A wonder woman: books, classical music, kids, exceptional garden - and she's a commercial real estate lawyer!
according to Karel Capek, urban/suburban gardeners who grow vegetables aren't gardeners at all; they are farmers and are looked down at by the real thing (i.e., floral gardeners). Needless to say, I can't recommend this incredibly funny book high enough, for green thumbs and all thumbs, both.

Posted by: Tatyana on March 14, 2005 10:01 AM

I can whistle. Folk tunes, Bach, Mozart, TV show theme songs, hymns with the harmonies added, they all come out of my mouth at times. My goal, however, is to whistle the theme from "Lassie" without cracking up--havent done it yet.

I do take issue with the idea that needlework etc is somehow connected to women's "real" lives. The days are long since gone that women crafted the family clothing and decorated the family linens out of necessity. I knit alot of stuff every year and always I do it with the knowledge that if I wanted to, I could get the functional equivelent of what I'm making at Walmart for a tenth of the cost of materials.

I dont call knitting a "hobby" tho. More like a compulsion, an obsession, an avocation.

Posted by: Deb on March 14, 2005 10:04 AM

Usual great thread and a thought-provoking account of MvB's father's later years. I wanted to throw this definition of a hobby out and see if people were interested in continuing the discussion.

"A hobby is an absorbing yet emotionally non-transformative activity."

Is that too limiting or is it accurate?

Posted by: JT on March 14, 2005 11:56 AM

Deb, of course you're right -- I'm undoubtedly revealing my age and upbringing by feeling that needlework, etc., are part of women's everyday lives. I grew up in a household with a mother and a grandmother who felt that sewing was a survival skill, and who were never ever without something in their hands -- knitting, crochet, etc. etc. Do I do any of these things? Outside of the occasional needlepoint, nope. The "should" in me is pretty strong, esp. around holidays, but then I lie down for a while and it pretty much goes away.

Posted by: missgrundy on March 14, 2005 12:44 PM

Tatyana -- I tried the Kapek book on gardening but it wasn't my cup of tea. However, I've been amusing myself with another, possibly even more old-fashioned, book from that series: "The Gardener's Bed Book". I love his daily advice. He's a real Gentleman of the Old School.
Missgrundy -- oh yes, those awful "shoulds". My mother always knitted, & I'm still using some of the things she made. I do crossword puzzles, which leave nothing to show for the time.

Posted by: Susan on March 14, 2005 08:49 PM

Deb's back! We missed you.

JT -- It's a great question, or at least one I've spent a lot of time wondering about too. On the one hand, something that's a "hobby" sounds kind of light and inconsequential, something to fritter time away with. On the other ... I dunno. My dad really was kind of transformed by flying small planes. And maybe my own interest in the arts really is a hobby-thing, no matter how big a deal it is to me. I'm not sure. Is there a better word than "hobby" for those interests of ours that are non-professional yet really do engage and reward us deeply? Should we get over our idea that a "hobby" is an inconsequential thing?

Missgrundy, Deb, Susan, Tatyana -- I wonder to what extent our hobby-style interests and pleasures are related to traditional sex roles (and perhaps biological drives). Knitting and needlework are no longer economically necesary, but they're certainly based in a tradition of "women's work." Maybe collecting's related to guys' love of the hunt, and maybe small-plane flying is related to guys' love of the mechanical. Maybe play and fantasy generally are ways we have of taking our inborn (as well as culturally-trained) drives and interests and freeing them of responsibility so they can be enjoyed for their own sake. I'm pretty sure that's the case in art -- that art is a roped-off area where it's understood that we get to set ur drives and desires free from their usual inhibitions and burdens, and we get to enjoy them for what they are as well as see them play out in a kind of mythological setting. Maybe hobbies are a bit like that? Your hunches?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 15, 2005 12:12 PM

Michael: "Is there a better word than "hobby" for those interests of ours that are non-professional yet really do engage and reward us deeply?"

Perhaps the word you are looking for is "amateur", in its original sense (not that you could use it without explanation, of course). As I understand it, its original sense was that the amateur acted from love (the root is the latin amare, "to love") rather than for gain.

Michael: "... something that's a "hobby" sounds kind of light and inconsequential, something to fritter time away with."

I'd call that a "pastime" rather than a "hobby". Most of the hobbyists that I know (and I used to edit the "Hobbies Quarterly Catalog", so I know a few) are more consumed than your description would admit. For a particularly obvious example of the phenomenon to which I refer, see pretty much any issue of "Model Railroader" magazine.

As to whether blogging is a hobby: You aren't required to like every element of a hobby to be a hobbyist; many hobbies have their elements of suffering. Skiers universally hate lift lines*, rock climbing is largely enjoyable in prospect and retrospect (at least it has been for me), many boardgamers dislike reading rules. I would consider blogging to be a hobby and the boring parts just the cost of getting to the good, fun parts.

Oddly enough, my father is a pilot too. He even built his own airplane, but he stopped flying after friends of his were killed in two separate accidents while flying out of the airport he kept his plane at. He said that flying just wasn't much fun anymore, which saddened me.

On sewing, I remember my mother spending evenings darning socks when I was a little kid. While most of my female relatives sew, or crochet, or knit, or needlepoint, or quilt, I can't recall (I find it hard even to imagine) seeing anyone darning socks in the last 30 years.


*Especially in Europe. European lift lines rival LA at rush hour for frustration and petty dominance games.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on March 15, 2005 07:36 PM

You can imagine me, Doug, last time 2 weeks ago, and I enjoy it.
I have a form (don't know proper term here) that came from my late mother-in-law, handcrafted of walnut with ebony marquetry. It feels exactly right in my palm; it's a pleasure to select right thread and needle for a job, my stitches form tight basketweave, exactly like my beloved grandma taught me, 3o plus years ago. Naturally, darning socks is not an economic neccessity and I only do thick skiing socks novadays (I know my grandma would say I'm spoiled). "What's not to like?"(c Michael B)

Posted by: Tatyana on March 15, 2005 10:34 PM

I'm with Tatyana, I darn. The wooden thingie you use to stabilize the sock over while stitching on it is called a "darning egg" here, btw. There's quite a few collectors of them out ther also, if you have something unusual. You can buy them new for about $6 at the yarn store.

I dont do it out of economic necessity--socks really are pretty cheap these days. It's more that I just cant toss something out that I can fix with just a few minutes I would spend doing something utterly frivolous like watching TV. And it's a skill that I just hate to see lost for lack of interest.

I agree hobby isnt quite the word I would use for the stuff I do with fiber. I, however, cant think of anything better. I dont exactly do it to relax, especially when I'm in the middle of a design problem that I cant seem to solve without tons of extra work. It's just something I have to do to stay sane and balanced, if that makes sense.

Posted by: Deb on March 16, 2005 12:47 AM

Well, hey, I mentioned that I like to chop wood, so who am I to say what's tedious*. As an aside, I remember that my mother used a light bulb rather than a purpose-made darning egg. While I don't remember my youth as a time of poverty (or as a time of much of anything, for that matter), in retrospect I suspect we were poor.

* It's really too bad that tedium isn't related to Te Deum. Ah well, another folk (faux) etymology shot to heck.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on March 16, 2005 12:35 PM

Beautiful post, especially the part about your father. Sorry, but writing is clearly your hobby.

I grew up in Upstate NY too. From May to October, as beautiful as anywhere on earth.

Posted by: Marcus Stanley on March 17, 2005 12:41 AM

I found your post fascinating for several reasons - not least of which is that my late father (who just missed World War 2 by a couple of years) spent most of his evenings drinking beer and reading books about the war.

He owned plenty of hardbacks (some of which I have now), but we still have his piles of paperbacks from the 1960s. It's strange to think of those as relics, because the WW-II-themed paperback was something that filled up yards of book racks back then. The market was there - all those men in their 40s.

As for hobbies, I second the motion for amateur astronomy. That's the one that makes me lose all track of time.

Posted by: Derek Lowe on March 17, 2005 07:45 AM

Wonderful and fascinating post, Michael. (And what a shock to follow this thread and bump into a mention Tatyana, you are too kind. And right-on about Karel Capek.) I was intrigued by why blogging doesn't quite fit the contours of "hobbiness" for you, and I'll have to add that to the soup of ill-formed but slowly-gelling thoughts I've had about the social/extroverted (and antisocial/introverted) dynamics of blogging. But the experience of "flow" is a good rule of thumb. (Totally irrelevant comment: a student named Csikszentmihalyi did very well in the city spelling bee this year.) As for crosswords...go for it! The true hobbiest does it for his soul, not for show.

Posted by: Chan S. on March 17, 2005 10:45 AM

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