Saturday, April 27, 2013

Activities and Sloth

      A couple months ago I was looking at a half finished stuffed animal, a 3/4's finished bracelet, and multiple half read books. I was thinking about how I have a gazillion hobbies and I don't feel particularly skilled at any of them. I also often felt sort of restless with them. I'd wonder if I should finish up a book and then think, “no, but I was going to take that online Spanish class” and I'd end up feeling or being rather inert. Like I sort of know how to sew, and I can kind of make my own jewelry, and sometimes I'm decent at drawing depending on how much I practice, and I know a couple cords on the guitar, and like 50 phrases in ASL, etc. Then I became curious to see if anyone else has noticed this about themselves. I Googled something like “too many hobbies” and of course the internet was happy to tell me that yes, indeedly-do there are a lot of people out there who are wondering how they ended up with so many extracurriculars and what it meant to have a lot of half finished projects in your life.

    Most of the posts I read landed in one of two camps. The first and most dominant camp are those who believe that it's fine to have a million interests/hobbies and you should just let yourself do whatever you feel with them. After all, it's your free time, why feel it necessary to limit yourself? As one writer stated: “Try not to get hung up on completing things as the end goal of a particular hobby or's not a fun hobby anymore if you're only doing something just to get it over with. Sometimes having a bunch of half-finished projects lying around can be a bit of a source of guilt, but again...this stuff we do in our spare time is supposed to fun and fulfilling...” (link here). A lot of people in this camp hold one woman, Barbara Sher, as their champion. She wrote a book, “Refuse to Choose!” in which she discusses this very concept. She argues that rather than a problem, having this wide variety of interests and hobbies is really a gift and that those with this “problem” are actually unique, creative individuals. The most appealing conclusions I found coming from these writers is the notion of just enjoying the process of whatever you're doing and not focusing on the end result. This “journey not the destination” argument is compelling. I hold beliefs around the importance of process over end results, for sure. But I think there's a lot to be learned and gained from sticking through a process when it stops being all rainbows and butterflies. I think there's a way to still be process focused but also finish something. I get that it's my free time and the notion that I should enjoy doing whatever hobby I've chosen but there's going to be aspects I don't like about every hobby I choose. I love the act of sewing, I hate the cutting part. I love drawing, I dislike choosing what to draw. I guess my point is that the boring, infuriating, tedious, complicated parts of whatever activity I pick up are also part of the process or journey and I'm missing a huge chunk of learning if I bail on a project when I start to feel something unpleasant. I don't think that means I'm necessarily attached to the end result, but that I'm staying open to all aspects of the process at hand.

    The other camp, which I really didn't find too many people in, posited that this sort of activity jumping is a kind of laziness, or at least is not a quality people should cultivate in themselves. This camp's notions seemed best detailed in an article from 2008 in Cabinet magazine. Daniel Rosenberg wrote a piece entitled “The Young and the Restless”. He discusses a children's book from 1818 where a boy is able to do whatever activities he wants instead of going to school to prove to his parents that he can learn more about the world on his own. He ends up in complete disaster with nothing done. Rosenberg uses this book to discuss the term “sloth” and how it used to have more than one meaning. “Historically, sloth is a bipolar concept, signifying a kind of dissatisfaction that may be expressed equally through immobility or restlessness. And it was precisely to capture this ambivalence that the term was first adopted in Latin”. He spends a fair bit of time discussing the etymology of “sloth” and then discussing the book some more. He doesn't offer any solutions to this problem but the notion that this sort of restless activity jumping was a form of sloth really resonated with me. I definitely found myself in this camp.

   I made a list of all the activities I wanted to do or liked to do currently. (Here's a picture of my brainstorm next to a weirdly doodled heart).

      I decided I would conduct an experiment for myself to see if I felt more fulfilled and less restless with my free time, i.e. my time not at work, if I narrowed my focus for a few months. If on Saturday morning I found myself with a whole day of unstructured time ahead of me, I could pick from any of the few activities on my short list and do those as much or as little as I wanted. It was hard for me to think about crossing something off the list at first as it felt uncomfortable and limiting to narrow my scope. I decided I would pick 3 hobbies/activities plus reading and these would be my focus for 3 months. I figured that reading always be in the mix but decided to pick a topic or area that I'd be reading about for this time frame. So I landed on: sewing, drawing, and restorative justice tasks/activities. Part of my thought process was that by choosing just a few hobbies I could become more expert, or at least more skilled, in them. For instance, I've sewn a lot of projects but they've been very haphazard and I'm lacking a working knowledge of how to do some pretty simple, basic sewing techniques. Even things like cleaning my machine are sort of a mystery. I decided I would work through projects in a couple of the sewing books I have, even if I don't find the projects particularly exciting, I would go through them so that I could gain the basic skills I tried to leap frog with my sewing adventures in the past. For drawing, I decided I could work on any drawing projects I liked but if I felt like drawing and didn't know what to draw I would pick from a list here. I already had a lot of plans with some restorative justice groups in Rochester so it seemed like RJ had to be on the list as it was already taking up a lot of my spare time. For reading I decided I'd focus on classic literature first. There's a surprising number of classic lit books that I've never read and I've often thought about getting through some, but never do. I almost always opt for newer novels.

    I made this plan in the beginning of March so it's been about two months now. I think all in all the 3 month time frame is too short. Maybe something like 6 months before switching hobbies would be better. I'm not sure yet, I'm going to reassess at the end of May.
   The sewing hobby has gone well and by that I mean, I feel as though I'm becoming more skilled at it and I'm finding it more fulfilling. I've completed a number of projects that were more fun and turned out better than I was expecting. Two of my favorites are a Star Wars apron I made for my step-mom and a comic book themed clutch:

   Drawing has taken a back seat – I really haven't worked on it too much. I don't really have much of a feeling about this other than maybe it makes more sense to just pick two hobbies. I'll ponder this more at the end of May.

    I haven't been thinking about RJ stuff as a hobby although it's probably taken up most of my free time during the week. I'm working on several transition circle cases at Monroe Correctional Facility and am now part of a working group planning for trainings on restorative practices for life time inmates at Attica. I have wondered during this time if I should have made my reading material choice focused on restorative practices, but I think this would have left me feeling like it was too much of one thing. I've also already done a huge amount of reading on this topic as it was a main focus of mine in graduate school.

    The classic lit activity is going well, albeit slowly. I'm finishing up Crime and Punishment at the moment, which I've found both exasperating and enjoyable. I'll be reading the Great Gatsby next. Again, I'm wondering if 3 months is too short of a time frame. Also, I didn't really have an end goal here – like how many classic lit books did I want to have read? I guess I didn't pick an end goal because I didn't care, I figured I'd just keep at it until the three months were up. I've also found that I really didn't stick to my original plan with reading, unlike the other activities. I've read a lot of other books during this time that were not classic lit and I think most of them have been on my phone. I'm fine with this. I wasn't particularly concerned with narrowing my reading scope, more like spending time accomplishing some reading goals that I put off for some reason. I don't know if I ever would have read Crime and Punishment if I hadn't made this plan and I'm quite glad to have read it (almost).

    Overall, I do think this has been a helpful or useful experiment for me so far. I feel less restless with spare time, more focused, more fulfilled, more mindful of what I'm doing. Of course, some of this could also be because I'm meditating way more but I think I'm enjoying this more planful approach to my activities. 

1 comment:

  1. Spare Time???? And yes that Star Wars Apron is divine!