Hobbies? What hobbies?
Someone recently asked me whether I had any hobbies.
I scratched my head. I frowned. I bit my lip.
I had no idea how to answer the question; the speaker’s use of the word hobbies made me wonder whether he was really from Earth. I don’t have any hobbies, and I’m fairly sure none of my friends do. But I suspected that this was the wrong answer and, more importantly, the wrong attitude. And so I aimed for a certain amount of diplomacy.
“There are a lot of things I like to do,” I said, carefully. “I like to hike. I like to bike. I like to read. I watch a lot of movies. Sometimes I play my keyboard.”
I stopped talking, because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
It’s hard to list your hobbies, especially when you don’t think of them as hobbies.
One of my problems, of course, is with the word hobby itself, which strikes me as more than a little anachronistic.
By which I mean: Maybe people had hobbies in the 1950s, but do they really still have them today?
The answer, of course, is yes.
The world is full of hobbyists.
I know this because I work at a newspaper, and we’re constantly writing stories about people and their hobbies.
Sometimes these hobbies are interesting — I’ve written about an informal gathering of blacksmiths at the Normanskill Farm in Albany, people who spin and eat fire and the Hash Hound Harriers, a club that holds scavenger-like chases that combine running with drinking.
As to whether any of these folks consider what they do a hobby, I have no idea. Like me, they might simply say, “Well, this is something I do for fun,” or “This is one of my interests.” Or they might say, “My hobbies are rock collecting and macrame.” Which is fine, I guess. But isn’t the phrasing just a bit weird? What kind of person admits to having hobbies, rather than likes and dislikes and interests?
I called my best friend in Seattle, and asked her whether she had any hobbies.
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
“Hobbies,” I said. “Do you have any?”
“Of course I don’t have any hobbies,” she said, sounding a little offended.
I asked the guy who sits next to me at work whether he had any hobbies.
“Hobbies?” he said. “Nope, can’t say that I do.”
Another friend confessed to inventing hobbies on a job application when she was in high school. “I didn’t have any hobbies, but the form asked me to list them,” she explained. “I put down hiking, even though I’d never been on a hike.” Her husband is a hobbyist, she said. “He loves hobbies,” she said. But his love is fickle. The ham radio equipment purchased 20 years ago now collects dust in the basement and the bee-keeping project was abandoned long ago.
Interestingly, he wanted his wife to share his love of hobbies, although not necessarily his particular hobbies. “He tried to get me to into weaving,” my friend continued. “He even purchased a loom. But I couldn’t get into it.”
“I like to knit,” one of my friends said. “But I’d never call it a hobby.”
Not killing time
Why don’t my friends have hobbies? I wondered. What was wrong with them? I’ve always thought the guy who sits next to me at work is kind of fun — did his lack of hobbies suggest otherwise? And what kind of person lies about their lack of hobbies on a job application? (More importantly: Why does a job application even ask for a list of hobbies? Does having a stamp collection or building harpsichords make you more qualified to work retail during summer vacation?) And why didn’t I have any hobbies, anyway?
A friend suggested that the word hobby trivializes one’s interests — that it denotes activities of relative unimportance, activities that kill the time and fend off boredom, but do little else. “When you describe something as a hobby, you make it sound kind of lame,” she said. My friend Adam agreed. “There is an implicit nerdiness in a word like hobbies,” he said.
Which might explain why I’ve never felt the need to acquire a bunch of hobbies.
Truth is, I’m hardly ever bored, and I consider time something to be lived, rather than killed.
I’d rather dabble
There’s also the possibility hobbies require a greater level of commitment than I’m ready for.
A few years ago, a local spelunking club hosted an open house at Clarksville Caves in Albany County; visitors were led on a guided tour of the caves. On a whim, I decided to drive out there and check it out; I’d never done any spelunking before, and I wanted to try it. I soon found myself squeezing through dark, narrow passages on my stomach and searching for footholds as I lowered myself down steep rocky drops. I enjoyed myself immensely, but it was tough to imagine joining a spelunking club and devoting myself to it in any meaningful way; doing so would have limited my freedom to do other things, and I was reluctant to do that.
At the end of the day, I appreciate hobbyists.
I’m glad they’re out there, showing people like me what the inside of a cave looks like, making honey and learning morse code.
But I’m too much of a dabbler to ever have a hobby.
Not that I’d ever call it a hobby, of course.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.