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Social Distancing Journal 03: Hobbies

Posted in Business.

First: I mentioned else­where that I was listening to some­thing purely instru­mental. I was — I’m listening to it now. And I have a link :).‑1/and-then-the-world-drew-breath

It was composed by my oldest son.


A couple of people asked me if I have any hobbies.

If I had been asked this ques­tion thirty years ago, I could have said: writing. Writing is my hobby. In some fashion, it still is, but it’s also my job, and that changes the role a hobby has in one’s life.

The idea is: if you turn your hobby into your career you will then have a job into which you can pour your passion and love which would be win-win. But it’s a funda­mental struc­tural change in the role of that activity in your life.

What I had to struggle to do was to remember that I had come to this because I loved writing. I actu­ally think love is the correct word, and it’s a messy word as well. Say you have chil­dren. You love them more than you love anyone, even their father. And there are still days all through their lives at various ages where you have to lock your­self in your room in order not to strangle them. Writing is kind of like that love.

So: some­times when people tell me I want a job I can love the way you love writing, they’re missing all of the elements which would equate to cleaning bath­rooms and doing the laundry and locking your­self in your room in order to preserve sanity and lives. They believe, truly believe, that love=joy. And if joy is not present 100% of the time, then… clearly, they were mistaken, they didn’t love this.

Hobby as a word implies – to me, so remember that all of this is coming from Michelle’s brain – activity.

There’s a desire to do some­thing, to create some­thing, to enjoy some­thing. But… that’s not why I started writing. I didn’t consider it an act of creation as much as an act of compul­sion or exor­cism; my earliest writing was poetry. I didn’t start out as a great poet.

But I started out as a more consis­tent writer than many of the people my age, and oddly, this encour­aged me to write more. Encour­age­ment, who knew?

Reading was my hobby. I would, in high school, go to parties and then play the just-one-more-chapter-game. I was almost finished, right?

No one told me that I was bad at reading. Reading was acad­emic, so reading was encour­aged. No, let me amend that. Reading books. Playing video games was not, and D&D, which takes an enor­mous amount of creative orga­ni­za­tion, when done right, was not. Because games were for kids.

I think hobbies are things we under­take, some­times out of curiosity – but if we’re young enough, and our first attempts are somehow not up to stan­dard (ours or others), we often feel… embar­rassed or incom­pe­tent. And we drop the things asso­ci­ated with that.

As we get older – or as I did – we turn a corner. Someone doesn’t like it? Fine. They don’t have to do it. In our attempt to fit – perhaps to find–a solid sense of “who we are” that somehow over­laps our sense of “who we’re suppose to be”, we some­times lose things.

But we can find them again when we realize the things that we’ve put aside or hidden aren’t things that we should.

So: I wrote. I read. I played guitar (badly). I sang (mediocre). I wrote a couple of songs, even. But, I did give up the last three. Not because by this point they were frowned upon and I cared about this.

The second element: when is some­thing you love ‘good enough’? How impor­tant is it that the thing that you want to do is seen and admired by other people?

For me, with writing, the answer was zero because unless I was getting marked for it, I showed my work to no one. So, was my early writing good? Absolutely not. I can’t read most of it now without trying to set the house on fire. But as I was, in some ways, doing it for myself, I didn’t need to care. It’s the compo­nent of writing for other people to read that adds all kinds of struc­tural compli­ca­tions, but… I worked up to the point where I felt, finally, willing to take that risk.

I never did this with arts that were more perfor­ma­tive. Maybe because, as a listener or viewer, I knew what moved me. I knew what worked. And…nothing I did ever reached that level, or close. It wasn’t, by this point, other people shut­ting me down: it was me. I did this myself.

And… I think this was prob­ably stupid. I’d lost the sense of the things I had tenta­tively started not because other people were judging me, but because I was judging myself. On some level, I felt that if I weren’t Good Enough, it meant I didn’t have any talent. It meant I was bad.

With writing, it didn’t matter, because again: no audi­ence. Except the occa­sional teacher. But I’m certain that — because I started writing stories when I was six years old — and honestly I was so upset because I couldn’t print … type. I felt, at six, that books were each created by hand and my hand­writing was terrible. Terrible.

But the act of writing was sepa­rate, in my head, from the act of reading. So I could not – and still can’t – see my own written work as a reader can or will. I couldn’t judge it as terrible (believe that it was, unless you are an extremely fond mother and I’m your six year old). Whereas it was impos­sible not to do that with singing or playing.

I sing in the shower. There’s some­thing about my reac­tion to song and singing – in partic­ular, harmonies – that comes from some of the well­spring that writing comes from. For some reasons, when I hear a really good chil­dren’s choir, I often cry. Not weep — but some tears come from an excess of emotion; they’re the safety valve.

So: to me a hobby is a thing that brings you joy. Maybe later I’ll talk about the differ­ences in the way I use ‘joy’ or ‘happi­ness’.

And my answer is: no, not really, beyond the obvious: reading, writing.

Edited: missing word

23 Responses to Social Distancing Journal 03: Hobbies

  1. Shawn Foley says:

    Lol! I love how directly you get to your answers. I do the same thing and it drives my wife crazy. I also agree whole heart­edly with how you define love. It is similar to how I think of TRUTH. Truth is a wife. It may not alway be as pretty as you would like it to be, but you always want it. Some tumes it hurts to hear it, but it is always right. And even if you tell your­self other­wise, you really can’t live well without it. I wish I had been more encour­aged to write when I was younger, but being very dyslexic I alway felt more crit­i­cized a bout my writing because I can’t spell to save my life, and I only had a casual acquain­tance with grammar. I still say spoken English is my first language and written English is my third language. But you post give me hope. Keep up the expe­ri­ence work/hobby fun.

  2. Sherrie Salinger says:

    Listening to And the World Drew Breath. It’s wonderful. I feel the stress just draining out of me. Thank you for sharing this. Has he composed anything else? Oh yes. I need to go back and read the rest of your blog. 🤣🤣

  3. Thomas Wiegand says:

    Your voice has always struck me, leaving an echo of what my poor attempts are striving for. The humor, love and rela­tion­ships you create do not just mirror life, they are life. Miss you and thank you.

  4. Marie Roberts says:

    Thank you for sharing that lovely piece of music. Your son is very talented. Thank him also.

  5. DeDe says:

    Really enjoying these posts. Thanks again for taking the time!

  6. Lesa says:

    Your son’s music is great! I’m going to look in Apple Music for his music.

  7. Fred says:

    And the World Drew Breath is amazing! I imme­di­ately shared it with my under­grads and former students. Thanks for sharing his rare talent.

  8. Michelle:

    Over the years I’ve seen several different defi­n­i­tions of both joy and happines (and yes, it was because I was looking.) For example, one I remember was that joy is intrinsic whereas happi­ness is depen­dent: you’re happy because…

    And then one day I came across Rev. Dr. Kenn Gordon at a church service I was attending with a friend and Rev. Gordon defined happi­ness as, “A base­line of content­ment, punc­tu­ated by moments of pure joy.” And I thought, “I can work with that.” 

    Richard Bach once wrote that he doesn’t write anything until an idea barges through the door, wres­tles him to the ground and forces a pen into his hand. In her TED talk, Melissa Gilbert spoke of a poet who could feel an idea coming, like a freight train, and she had to be ready, pen in hand to receive it. 

    Do I enjoy writing? Some­times. I don’t do creative writing profes­sion­ally, and so I don’t feel the same drive there to meet dead­lines. I don’t know that anyone gets over­joyed with writing scien­tific papers but it was a part of my work. I admit to loving words and the way they (at least attempt to) encap­su­late ideas. Writing to me is in some ways a visual art form, like photog­raphy. It’s painting a scene with letters instead of colours but at its height it can be a synes­thetic expe­ri­ence, tran­scending black and white char­ac­ters for a greater symbolism. Music can do that too!!

    A haiku:

    Empty coffee shop
    with chil­dren’s laughter

    Many thanks for sharing your thoughts, and your son’s music!! 


  9. michelle says:

    @Sherrie: Yes, he’s composed other things; this is the one that I person­ally listen to a lot :).

    @Shawn: Writing is tough on dyslexics, and it’s very hard not to feel perma­nently discour­aged when one is young – say, school aged. But there are published writers who are dyslexic. I admit, given my own issues in child­hood, I would prob­ably have been far too discour­aged to struggle.

    It’s like, hmmm, talent. Talent is 10%. Effort is 90%. When I was young I believed that Talent was 100%, somehow. So if I was terrible at some­thing, it was because I lacked talent.

    The down­side of this is, of course, that it over­looks effort. It over­looks work. You either have it, or you don’t. You were meant to do this, or you weren’t. But even if you are meant to do some­thing, it takes effort. Some of the best early writers I know stopped writing. I didn’t under­stand it. But also: I didn’t want to stop. What I grew to realize is that it’s effort for everyone. And those who come out the other side, in the end, are a product of effort.

  10. michelle says:

    @Lesa: I don’t think he’s put anything up on the iTunes store, by which I mean, I’m sure he hasn’t. But I’ll mention it :)

    @Fred: Under­grads? What do you teach?

    @Mike: What I’ve noticed as a distinctly non-visual person is that writing evokes emotion. Music as well. For some readers, my books evoke strong visual images; I think it’s mostly the different ways we process information.

    But the ques­tion of joy vs happi­ness has always inter­ested me, because I use the words in a way that’s specific to me, and I’ve come to under­stand that people use them differ­ently, some­times very differ­ently, so thank you :)

  11. Michelle: I don’t know the author but an idea that has always intrigued me is, “Have you ever wondered what happens to thoughts that have no words to express them?”

    Words are so much more than empty place­holders for meaning. My niece is studying Japanese, and it’s just Such a different way of assem­bling ideas. Mandarin as well. And Cryllic. Trees and some insects speak in chem­i­cals. It’s is a bizarre and fasci­nating world we share!!

    Thanks for you. 


  12. E_ says:

    The music is amazing! Thank you for sharing and your oldest son for creating.

  13. Jo-Ann Pieber says:

    Oh Wow…just WOW!! 

    Dear son of Michelle, 

    I’m only Halfway through this piece of music and I feel compelled to thank you, and commend you for your efforts. I found your work moving and comforting and just all around beau­tiful. Just want you to know how much joy you’ve brought me today.

  14. Tchula says:

    Finally sat down to listen to your son’s beau­tiful music! I love it! I have to say, it could easily be an OST for a AAA title fantasy RPG. I often buy ones from games that have awesome music (Nier Automata, Skyrim, Dark Souls 3, etc.) I wonder how one becomes the writer of music for games anyway? Has he thought about it? If he ever puts an album together, let me know (and please ask him to put it on iTunes so I can buy it!)

    As to hobbies, I defi­nitely under­stand the “joy” element v. the “boring-bits-one-has-to-do-because-it-pays-the-bills.” I write anime fanfics because I enjoy it, but I don’t really have any pres­sure to do so. I don’t write as some do on a daily or weekly basis. I wait for a story to come to me and play out in my head (like a movie), then I write it down. I could never make a consis­tent career out of that.

    I admire people who have the forti­tude to wrestle with the “middle-of-the-book blahs” (I remember you called it that before). Occa­sion­ally, in a long fic, I’ll have some of that, but since I have no time pres­sure or dead­lines, it’s easy to just let the problem mari­nate in my head for a few days/weeks/months until my subcon­scious mirac­u­lously resolves it and I can write it down. ;-P

    I also love singing for fun. I’ve always had what I consider to be a very good voice, but like Kallan­dras, it’s changed as I’ve aged. I can’t hold a note as strongly or for as long as I used to. I think some of it is age, but some is likely from damage to my vocal cords from the two times I had surgery and was intu­bated (gall bladder, and L4-L5 disc repair). It left some scar tissue that makes it hard for me to hold notes the way I used to, which makes me sad. But not sad enough to stop singing in the shower and the car! xD

    Also, I would absolutely love to be able to wreck video games the way my favorite YouTuber, Fight­in­Cowboy, can. But at the end of the day, I still have fun playing just as a “casual” gamer, even if I get stuck and can’t finish the game. And fun is what I want out of a good hobby anyway!

  15. michelle says:

    @Tchula: I don’t know if he’s thought about it. At the moment, I think he approaches compo­si­tion the way you approach fanfic: when impulse strikes and becomes strong enough for action. Also: I know absolutely nothing about how music is even commissioned. 

    I know his earlier compo­si­tions, and I’ve seen how those have changed, or become layered, with time. And I do honestly love this partic­ular piece.

    On Saturday, I will post the extremely different compo­si­tions of my younger son, although the piece I was going to post he feels is infe­rior to the piece he suggested instead *wry g*.

  16. Tchula says:

    I will look forward to listening! :-)

  17. Thank you for this. I am a life­long reader. I read before I could read, not real­izing until I was an adult that my early years of making up stories to go along with the pictures was not actu­ally reading. I grew up to be a histo­rian, librarian (public, acad­emic, and currently, elemen­tary school), and a teacher. I read every­thing including manga, graphic novels, and fanfic­tion. Those are my joys and I love being invited into the worlds of those around me. You are awesome and amazing. Thank you for bringing joy into my world by sharing your own joy.

  18. Peter Moore says:

    First of all, I like your son’s piece, I espe­cially liked the celtic bit in the early middle of the piece. I’m listening to it as I write this. One of my hobbies is reading, another hobby of mine is listening. I am a very creative person. For about 2 years in my early 20’s I was a profes­sional musi­cian. That lasted about 2 years before I burned out. About a decade later I quit my job as a civil engi­neer in a large land­scape construc­tion company and went back to school to become a chef. That career lasted a bit longer than the musi­cian gig, I kept at it for about 10 years but burned out on that one also. From those two expe­ri­ences I learned that for me, I needed to keep my money making sepa­rate from my creative endeavors. I consider playing music a hobby, I consider cooking a hobby, I also am an avid landscape/garden/nature photog­ra­pher, now that I’m retired I also prac­tice callig­raphy, and as I said above, I read and I listen to music. However as I said above I don’t have what­ever it takes to turn the hobby to career. When I try, the joy completely leaves, and I even­tu­ally have to stop. There is a singular joy in creativity, there is also a lot of work. I didn’t get good enough playing music to please myself until I learned to prac­tice, and prac­tice hard. I didn’t get good enough cooking until I spent a lot of money and several years of my life going to a cooking school. I didn’t get good enough at my photog­raphy without spending a lot of time taking photos and working at it. Even reading and listening required work on my part. Why did the writer or the musi­cian do this? Why did they do that? I once spent several very enjoy­able days reading your account of the flight of Jewel’s den to Terafin in “Hunters Death” and comparing that to the same scene in “City of Night”. I liked bits of both. When I listen to music, I’ve learned to sepa­rate out each instrument/instrumental group/voice/choral section, and hear how they all fit together. I guess what I’m saying with all these words is that for me, hobbies take time. I agree with you 100% that if the time doesn’t give me some sort of reward I don’t continue with the hobby. As far as making it a career is concerned, I can’t get past the place where I HAVE to cook, play music, do what ever. Today if I’m getting dissat­is­fied with my photog­raphy I can put the camera down for a bit, I can close the book, turn off the music, go to the deli and get a sand­wich rather than cook a meal. When I was making money in music and cooking that option was not open to me, and I person­ally need that ability to distance myself from it. Thanks for your piece, it’s given me a lot to think about.

  19. michelle says:

    @Peter: what instru­ment did you play? (Older son was clar­inet and some piano; younger son alto sax and also some piano, but more jazz piano; the tends to use the piano when he’s trying to get an idea of what the whole struc­tural sound of a symphonic piece is supposed to be – or at least that’s how I see it, observing).

    And yes. I think the differ­ence for me, in the hobby – > busi­ness calcu­la­tion is that I only write my books. I write the books I want to write, I write the books I can write. So: if you told me to make a living as a writer, I would have to master Romance, I would burn out long before I sank like a stone; there are some things that I have strug­gled with all my writing life. Or horror.

    I don’t know enough about how musi­cians work when attempting to make a living at it.

    I do know a lot of fiction writers who made or make the bulk of their writing income from non-fiction work. But writing is pretty broad as a general category.

  20. Peter Moore says:

    @Michelle: When I was a profes­sional, I played nearly all the wood­winds and blues harmonica. My prin­ciple instru­ments were soprano and alto flutes; blues harmonica; alto and tenor saxes; and clar­inet. But I also owned and played oboe and bari­tone sax. I could also play bassoon tho I didn’t own one. I played mostly jazz, blues and jazz/rock fusion. My solo instru­ments were soprano flute, tenor sax and harmonica (on blues pieces). I wasn’t good enough (or maybe powerful enough) as a musi­cian to play only what I wanted. As a studio musi­cian I played what people wanted me to play. I was in several different bands and I gener­ally had more say there, but unlike writing you still have to fit in with usually 4 – 5 other musi­cians. Music, or at least the music I played was a team endeavor. I have to admit tho that when every­body was clicking on the same wave­length, and the audi­ence was giving us their energy the results were intensely satis­fying. Nothing else I have expe­ri­enced can compare. I get a great sense of creative satis­fac­tion out of capturing a beau­tiful photo­graph, or creating a visu­ally stun­ning piece of callig­raphy, or cooking a deli­cious and attrac­tive meal, but those creative endeavors still cannot compare with the gestalt feeling of being in a band and having all the other musi­cians on the same wave­length. There is a sense of being part of some­thing greater than your­self, and also some­thing greater than the sum of all the other musicians.

  21. michelle says:

    @Peter: from anything either of my sons have said, Bassoon is a special type of stub­born deter­mi­na­tion in the face of an instru­ment. Every­thing else impressive!

    I don’t think most musi­cians play only what they want, but I think what you’ve said — the part about being part of some­thing greater — is what my older son — or perhaps both my sons — miss about playing in a symphonic/woodwind band. Neither went into music as majors.

    Younger son played in both jazz and symphonic bands.

    I’ll post the younger son’s composition(s) on Saturday — they are very, very different as both musi­cians and people. 

    And for musi­cians, it’s a bit like writing in a way: what you do to earn a living writing isn’t all that creative most of the time. I’d imagine people hired to compose sound­tracks for movies have more leeway, but I get the impres­sion that compo­si­tion and playing aren’t the same (but also that composers usually play at least one instru­ment well).

  22. Sivi says:

    Thank you for sharing the link to your Son’s compo­si­tion. It’s wonderful. Looking forward to any future links to music that you’ll share from your family as well as your written works now:)

  23. Peter Moore says:

    @Michelle: Of all the instru­ments, basoon was the most fun AND the most frus­trating to learn. The fingering on most wood­winds is similar or close to iden­tical. The fingering on a basoon is completely different from every­thing else. In addi­tion, even when it’s being played correctly, it sounds funny. Mozart wrote a basoon concerto, the subtitle was “a musical joke”. I’ve two major complaints about basoons: first, they are very expen­sive, I was lucky to go to a public H.S. that actu­ally had a school basoon, when the basoon player grad­u­ated, I was asked if I wanted to learn it, given the fact that lessons were subsi­dized and the use of the instru­ment was free I said yes. The other problem with the basoon is that it is completely under­uti­lized in both symphonic works and in jazz/fusion/blues. The only modern musi­cian I know of who plays a basoon profes­sion­ally (outside of symphonies) is Paul Hanson who has played with Bela Fleck and others. It has a rich tone and a lovely char­acter, eventho you want to smile when you hear it.

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