I remember sitting on the bus home from school once, shedding a tear that I “didn’t have a thing”, a hobby, something I was passionate about, something creative. In my 12 year old mind, not having a thing, felt like there was something missing in me.
I had piano and guitar lessons as a kid. I hated sight-reading with a passion and after Grade 5 soon lost interest in it. My love of guitar seemed directly correlated with how much I fancied my guitar teacher at the time. I hated team sports (who chooses to be shouted at?!), found competitive swimming repetitive, thought cross-country running was exclusively for the long-legged. And hiking and gardening, well, that was just for *old* people.
I’ve always felt a compulsion towards the creative but rarely acted on it as my analytical left brain would interrupt and ask questions like; Why? You’re not very good at it. What’s the point?
Oh my left brain is relentless.
Playing it cautious, I compromised with copying-drawing or tracing; copying Tom and Jerry cartoons from my pencil case, the Greenday’s Dookie album cover, or manga characters. There were short phases as a teenager where I’d get lost in doing this. As a stationery queen, I was precious about my colouring pencils and liked keeping them sharpened with one of those satisfyingly loud, electric sharpeners that turned them into potential weapons.
And I wrote a bit of poetry. Mostly when I was stuck in the exam hall having finished my paper 20 minutes before anyone was allowed to leave. I wrote about the boys I fancied, or about a recent spat with my family. You know, the usual teenage stuff.
Mostly, I was average at this stuff, and since average wasn’t good enough, I rarely pursued them.
As I grew older my hobbies tended to be hanging out with friends, a trip to the shops, a new mall. In my twenties, a lot of my leisure time was spent socialising in restaurants or pubs.
I was consuming, not creating.
I always thought this was my issue. But I recently attended an event with Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party and I realise maybe I’m not alone. Maybe it’s structural.
Natalie shared an anecdote; a person whose only hobby was shopping. And she went on to talk about our education system as “an exam factory” and the pervasive idea taking root in our young people that something is only worth doing if it can be assessed. Government cuts are translating into less art, music, drama at schools these days, the formative time when most of us are exposed to a broad range of potential, creative hobbies.
What does that mean for a generation of people? A generation of people without hobbies?
When seen in this light, my conspiratorial mind says; it darn well makes us great ,obedient, little capitalists. Without the opportunity to find joy in a hobby we latch onto what's nearest and become susceptible to marketing. Raised on consumption, we’re now dependent. Suckling on consuming more and more and more. We believe consuming stuff will make us happy/desirable/cool/less miserable. When you attach consumption to your identity you end up with #BlackFriday crowds (and violence) and queues round the block for a new iPhone.
Spend, spend, spend. Consume, consume, consume.
It goes without saying - this isn’t great for the planet either.
And doing a hobby takes time, something we’re in short supply of these days. UK has the highest working hours in Europe. And despite all the advances in productivity technology, we’re working longer and are more stressed than ever before. What do you want to do when you’re tired and stressed? My guess is more of us consume; eat out, veg out on a movie, watch numbing youtube fail videos, mindlessly scroll on Facebook, treat ourselves to something new from the shops or internet site or unwind with a bottle of wine or beer.
Can we do things we enjoy for the sake of doing it?
Yes. But, if you’re like me, it’ll take a mindset shift. The baseline I’m working from is; “If I am not immediately good at it, I don’t want to do it.” So it’s an uphill struggle for me. My way-in has been via other personal development work; I have been treating my inner child. What would the 12 year old me like to do? Cue carrying around 50 colouring pencils as a nomad. Creating, for me, often feels childish - so rather than cringing, I’m trying to embrace that as a positive.
Crucially, we’ve got to fall in love with the process and not get too attached to the outcome. Nor, if we share the outcome, worry what people think of it. A radical idea in a world of selfies and likes. Ideally a hobby would offer intrinsic value, which would be enough for us to keep returning to said hobby. I have found that a supportive person or community can help.
Today, someone gifted me a sketchpad. And this evening I sharpened my colouring pencils manually. I’m still copying, this time Kwaii doodles in a very much outcome-orientated bullet journal. But still. It’s pretty and I like it. And I wrote. I wrote for me but also also wrote and published a blog. Ending a 4 month block.
And I’m writing poetry again after a 15 year hiatus. Inspired by a friend which acted as my permission to write. She introduced me to Rupi Kaur. I find that now when I am acutely upset, or working through something difficult it sort of seems to flow out of me. In a weird way, like it has always been there but I’d cut off the bloodstream. It’s not what you’d call structured but it’s raw and it’s healing. What I love most about it, is that in my moments of mini-turmoil something now exists that didn’t before.
There’s got to be a reason why there’s an 'art' in cathARTic.
Now of course, I’m not being naive, consumerism has infiltrated hobbies, Hobbycraft can be a dangerous place to the susceptible among us (me!). There are all manner of workshops or online courses that can easily help you part with your money. But when you’re away from the shop and just doing the the thing. The hobby. That is choosing to create over consume.
So, I theorise that the only people that win when we have no hobby are the marketeers of consumerism. Who wants that?
I propose that having a hobby is a mini act of rebellion. 🤘🏼
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