Sunday, February 01, 2004

(Yeah, I'm posting during the Super Bowl, because I would rather watch the Survivor All Stars. Go Rupert!)

Bears with Bonnets

A few years ago, Steve’s Cousin Petey came for a visit. As he sat uncomfortably in our salvaged midcentury armchair with its lumpy cushion, he asked us, “So, what kind of hobbies do you guys have?”

Hobbies? What’s a hobby? At that time, we had a newborn baby, two drafts of two dissertations, and a couple of adjuncting jobs. We worked every minute of every day. A hobby, what’s that?

My dad never had a hobby either. He just sat at his old Apple IIE revising his textbook and preparing classes all weekend and into the evening. He read a lot of books but since reading is work related, it doesn’t seem to constitute a hobby. My mother never wound branches into wreaths or stencilled the kitchen. Raising kids, carrying for my grandmother, helping my dad, paying the bills, and making buckets of pasta seemed to leave her with almost no free time. My parents spent any spare minutes at church or on the picket line of some political cause.

But Steve’s family in Ohio has a multitude of hobbies. After we became engaged, I went out to Cleveland to meet his family. I met Uncle Petey, who drove a mail truck during the day, but over the weekend he collected old electric organs and old Mr. Salty’s, which he lovingly displayed in the basement. Cousin Petey worked for the FAA by day, and at night, he set up an elaborate model train with plastic trees and miniature houses. Cousin Petey also collected rare musical instruments and refurbished old motorcycles. Another uncle was into ham radios and model planes.

Steve’s dad was always in search of new hobby. Something that would relieve stress from work and fill the hours. His latest thing was woodworking, but after shaping a few bowls and swans, his enthusiasm seemed t o have waned though he did love acquiring the new equipment.

The women also had their hobbies. Aunt Carol made Christmas ornaments and wall hangings of smiling reindeer with a jigsaw cutter. Aunt Audrey made clothes for dolls. I’ve heard that clothes for dolls is very popular. A lawyer friend said that whenever he goes home, he helps his mother’s friends get tax write offs for their rooms of bears with dresses by declaring those rooms as museums.

But the hobby is a fading phenomenon. Susan, my publishing friend, said that the crafts books with knitting instructions and creative projects for ribbons no longer sell.

We’re too busy. Everyone is spending more hours at work. More time raising kids. There is the computer to eat up spare minutes. And 100 channels on the TV. Technology and work have spelled the end to stamp collecting, gardening, crocheting, quilting, canning, pickling. I don’t think I would categorize blogging as a hobby. Since I use blogging as a means for brainstorming ideas and as a rough draft of future writing projects, it falls under work for me.

Is this a good thing? On the one hand, I am not sure if the world is made a better place by bears with bonnets. And who needs ham radios picking up on my cell phone calls? But the slow death of the hobby does come with its costs. For those who have a job rather than a career, a hobby can be a way to find satisfaction from work. It’s often a creative exercise. And when the collection of objects is the goal, there is a process of categorization and the thrill of the hunt. These activities don’t make money, but have greater rewards. Though I might find the end product silly, the process is excellent.

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