Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Hobbies

I am an academic. I began school at five years old in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, continued through the 12th grade, on to college, law school, and finally graduate school. I did it all in 31 years. No great time record, unless you count fanny-to-seat time.

Working at a university, I spend a good deal of quality time with academics(teaching faculty and former faculty who have, like me, become administrators) and have learned a thing or two about the academic culture. One secret I want to break wide open is this: Many of my teaching faculty colleagues do not have hobbies. I'm serious. Really. They simply don't know what to do with themselves once they've turned of the laptop, put the research back on the shelf, and decided to stay in for the weekend. This is not a put-down, of course. Some of my best friends are faculty. But, it is a major concern of mine. Perhaps you have shivered considering the same calamity?

I knit, quilt on occasion, rubberstamp into the wee hours, design and sell jewelry, read good novels that I'll never teach, and, when my knee is feeling good, I take good walks out-of-doors. Friends have asked, "how did you develop your hobbies? I can't think of a thing to do. I don't even know that I've got any talent to do anything creative." My answer is always the same: "I don't know. I just do it."

The truth of the matter is quite different, I recognize, now that I put my mind to it. Though I spent lots of years pursuing my own intellectual interests, I remember something my mother always said to me when I was a girl and and begging her to play with me because I didn't want to take the required afternoon nap. She'd say, "Martha, you need to learn how to make your own fun." That is probably the seed of my hobbying.

As I grew and spent more and more hours in classes, I need to change the carpeting and wallpaper in my mind after a long day in class. I mean, I wanted a change of pace that required I use my hands and different portions of my brain. When I tired of reading 19th-century slave narratives and novels, I'd turn to my knitting needles or my beads. I'd find myself intrigued and even spellbound by the idea that I could make a fabric, or make something pretty that someone else would admire, desire, and even purchase. That I could produce small things of beauty was new and exciting to me.

More, I enjoyed, then, and continue to enjoy the textures, colors, patterns, and journeys of various fabrics. Beads offer stories of other cultures, other times. Semi-precious stones take me to quarries and mines around the world and I wonder about the work conditions for the workers, the real "costs" of creating a bead, and the ways this very bead may have been used over the years as it visited the workbenches of traders and craftspeople around the world before it got to me. Now, rubberstamping with abandon, I wonder who will receive the cards I make and that others buy.

There are times when I dream of being an artist. My beautiful and unique cards will be seen on Oprah and I won't be able to keep up with the sales. I'll have to sell the whole enterprise to Hallmark for multi-millions, and I will go back to my home a millionaire artist quietly creating more greeting card masterpieces.

Then, reality hits and I remember I need health insurance, a retirement plan, a vision plan, short- and long-term disability insurance, retirement contributions, and the list of my "needs" goes on and on. On top of it, I'm raising my daughter and she needs plenty as she grows so beautifully. My dreams of being an artist are so pleasant, and so on hold for now!

But, I've got hobbies. I can dream. I can use parts of my brain that thrive on texture, color, scent, sound, and possibilities anytime I choose to make my own fun.

So, to my academic friends (and anyone else who is sans a hobby) : GET A HOBBY! Take a break from the ordinary and do something extraordinary with your other talents. Dream for a little while.


  1. Martha -- You've got to make your own fun! I love that. It is so easy to just let our children watch TV. But you are exactly right. It's when we have -- and our children -- have to make our fun, we discover hobbies, activities that lighten our load, give us a way to care for ourselves.

    Great post!

  2. Hi! I'm visiting from MBC. Great blog.


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