I have a confession to make: I live a secret life. No, no, not like that — though that would surely be interesting. I’m talking about an imaginary life in which I do hobbies.
The hobby projects themselves are actually real and fully formed in my mind: making a beautiful scrapbook of my son’s first years, stringing together hundreds of 5mm labradorites to craft a dramatically long necklace, sorting through the collective family photos of three generations and making photo books for the Morrison clan.
But I haven’t actually done them. At least not yet. I have all the raw materials, carefully and painstakingly researched and collected over many months and years. (My son is ten, for crying out loud. I bought the scrapbook before he was born.) I have drawings and plans and dog-eared references. I have carefully stored raw materials and neatly aligned good intentions.
I want to be a person who actively does hobbies! I come from hobby stock. My father built model trains (H-scale, if you know these things) for a weekly “model night” he had with his best friend from college for more than 40 years. He built my dollhouse in his basement workshop, which had its own band saw.
My mother had a “sewing room,” from which appeared my eyelet-lace christening gown, hat, slip (with my name embroidered on it) and booties, and my mermaid-shaped high school graduation gown (it was 1986, so, y’know), as well as scads of curtains and dresses and purses and coats and more. She also caned chairs. Let me repeat: the woman soaked fine, trimmed reeds for a week in water and then wove them by hand into a complicated windowpane lattice pattern that was strong enough to sit on.
Me? I just pretend. Or, worse, maybe my iPhone is my hobby.
That is a totally depressing possibility.
This is not the way I want things to be, but the oppressive truth of many hobbies is they need square footage to breathe, to take root, and thus find their way into our overscheduled lives. And living in New York City, everything comes down to real estate. All of my planned hobbies have spent months and years carefully and neatly put away into a linen closet, on a top shelf that’s not even that easy to reach.
Having everything in the closet meant that I had to plan to do my hobby setting aside at least three hours, so taking everything down and unpacking it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. I comfort myself with the fact that, at the very least, I’ve made my son spectacular, complicated birthday cakes each year since he was born. That’s my sum total hobby time, I guess: 20 days in ten years.The oppressive truth of many hobbies is they need square footage to breathe, to take root, and thus find their way into our over scheduled lives.
But I just recently moved 40 miles and a few lifestyles north of the city, into a barely populated, wooded area, where you can really only see your neighbors in the winter when the leaves are down. And, suddenly, I have space. And my hobbies are demanding to be set free, to be allowed to run loose in my home.
I have a feeling that if I bump into these wannabe hobbies more casually —“Oh, hey there lighted magnifying lamp! Wassup?”— I will be seduced to spend time with them, instead of using my scarce unscheduled time to clean the house that doesn’t stay clean and do the laundry that doesn’t stay laundered.
That’s what is important about hobbies: Five hours or six months or three years later, you have an end result, a thing you made, a collection of the time you spent with yourself thinking, “Oh, cool, I’m totally going to do this!”
When I was running Redbook magazine, I called it “mastery,” this notion of now that women don’t necessarily have to devote themselves to cooking and sewing and knitting, these hobbies can be discovered anew as expressions of self, as a way to stimulate the gray matter, as a way not to have every spare second of this insanely busy time called “midlife” absorbed by tasks and to-do lists.
Yeah, that’s what I want. And I’m getting there.
Last weekend, I drove five-and-a-half hours to Rochester, New York, to fetch The Great Hobby Facilitator: a long — very long — slim table. Its surface area is just begging to be strewn with gemstone beads, fine needles, photographs and memories, a scanner, one empty scrapbook, eight blank CDs, 11 gardening books, a drawing of the bathroom I want to build out of square footage from my garage, grown-up coloring books of Moroccan tiles and Mexican Day of the Dead Art, high-end colored pencils and the computer with the “Learn Turkish” Rosetta Stone CDs in it. Even better, the table is an old wallpaper-pasting table from the ‘30s, which dovetails perfectly with my mad obsession over hand-blocked and hand-printed wallpaper.
Actually, I won’t ask just one table to carry all that responsibility: there will also be a cabinet and my desk, formed together into one useful U-shape.
It’s all coming together. I can feel it.
I have pulled out the gems and the pearls. I have unearthed the giant box of photos. And I will, at last, be able to find a few spare moments to play, and on weekends a few hours. Finally, I’m making an honest woman of myself, turning my “imaginary” hobbies into real ones.