Trying to figure out why voters didn’t like Hillary Clinton, David Brooks recently noted that we like people who build lives outside of their jobs, creating spaces in which to be human beings, not “notes of human ‘orientation’. “Can you tell me what Hillary Clinton does for fun?” he wrote. “At least in his public persona, Clinton exudes an exclusively professional vibe.” Brooks later suggests that “it is doubly important for people with fulfilling vocations to develop and be seen to develop sanctuaries outside of themselves: in play, solitude, family, faith, hobbies, and Hobbies”.
If that’s true, many of us have problems. What do any of us do for fun? Watch TV, see friends, have a glass of wine? Snack? Does going to the gym count as a hobby? Does cooking dinner count? If we were better athletes and more skilled leaders, would these activities be more important? How about riding your bike to work or listening to a podcast while you walk the dog? How about dreaming up some amazing hobbies to put on your online dating profile – is it a hobby? (It certainly takes a lot of time, and no one is paying you for it.)
Hobby anxiety – the fear that you have failed to cultivate interesting or likable or simply unimaginary hobbies – is real. It seethes in conversations between adult friends over brunch (is it a hobby?) and in existential moments before falling asleep. (Sleep: hobby, biological necessity, or both?) In high school and college, you had structure. If your family could afford it, extracurricular activities helped define your identity: debating, athletics, photography, musical theater. But then those activities faded away – as an adult you lack the discipline, time, money and legal representation to defend yourself if you break into the lumber buying area of the local school. Your parents no longer cook your dinners and no longer pay for ballet lessons. You leave your job exhausted, with the laundry, chores, and rent check rushed. Who are you?
More likely than not, you are female. From Slate staff members I spoke to, almost all women admitted to having some degree of leisure-related anxiety, while many men seemed safer. Perhaps certain activities – cooking, exercising – are more easily considered “hobbies” when men engage in them, since it is often taken for granted that women will spend time feeding the family and to keep fit. Or perhaps, without making any assumptions about the particular men of Slate that answered my question, many men have more free time than their female counterparts: Studies show that women still do the lion’s share of “shared” household chores. Perhaps, as Christina Cauterucci has suggested, the texture of female friendship is simply such that we engage in deeper conversation, while males bond over common activities (i.e. i.e. hobbies). at least less likely to admit this kind of inner turmoil.
Although the WD defines a “hobby” as “a favorite occupation or subject, pursued solely for the amusement or interest it affords” (when he’s not trying to tell you the word denotes a little horse trolling ), this meaning is complicated by the fact that you do not always enjoy your hobbies. You get frustrated, especially if you want to be good at it. There’s the dishes in the sink after trying a new recipe, the call of the elliptical when you’d rather curl up in bed, playing scales on the piano when you wish you could play Impossible mission theme song. Even knitting or yoga, which claim to soothe the tormented soul, come with aggravations: hopelessly tangled threads and limbs. And what about the thing you love and hardly ever get to do? Does this count as a real hobby, or just a fancy hobby? If I’m passionate about comics, but I rarely read them and never draw them, can I tell people (well, OkCupid) that I’m a comic book enthusiast without winning four dating scene Pinocchios?
Slate LV Anderson embarked on a pursuit that I can claim as a hobby without guilt or qualification: crossword puzzles. But by the David Brooks standard of strict work/non-work separation, puns seem like a pretty lame pastime for a writer; Lamer again for a match of words. Should I talk about all this with a therapist? (Is therapy a hobby? It’s supposed to make you happier!) What if my job is something I enjoy — something I do “for fun or interest”? »? Am I inexpressibly lucky or am I an aluminum cell robot woman?
Maybe an activity becomes a hobby when you say it’s a hobby. Here are some hobbies listed by Slate-sters: “Aggressive skincare routines.” “Watching endless YouTube videos.” “Talking, reading and listening to stationery podcasts.” “While eating.” “Eat regularly. ” “Listen to music.” “Tennis, Record Collecting, Improv Comedy (deceased), Guitar (deceased), Fantasy Sports (deceased).” “Walk around the neighborhood. “Rearrange my books into interesting configurations.”
I resigned myself to my main hobby of wallowing in hobby anxiety.
Corrigendum, 26 May 2016: Due to an editing error, this post originally misspelled Christina Cauterucci’s last name. Cauterucci’s editor is duly shamed.