A Lobby Against “Hobby”
1.an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.“her hobbies are reading and gardening”
synonyms: pastime, leisure activity, leisure pursuit;
I went to the dentist a week ago, which is always an adventure, but this time I had a different hygienist than the one before. The one last week was perky and sweet, very encouraging about my teeth (no cavities, thankyouverymuch), and we’d established a pretty good rapport when she asked me what I “do.”
This is a difficult question.*
I used to reply solely with whatever I did as a job, which seems to be the stock answer people are looking for. What’s your occupation? How do you make your money? That last question seems kind of rude, but it’s really in essence the same as “What do you do?” and “What’s your occupation?” It’s hard not to interpret this as “Who are you to the world?”
Recently, I’ve gotten better about saying, “I’m a writer,” although that leads to the complicated follow-up question, “What have you written?” or “Where can I find you?” and then I usually have to fess up that my “day job” is something different. But at least I assert myself as a writer first. That’s how I consider myself. That’s what (eventually) I hope to get paid to do.
For some reason, I slipped into my old habit and answered first with my administrative job, and then felt the need to clarify, “Well, that’s my day job. Really, I’m a writer.”
“Oh, so it’s like a hobby?” she said, so earnest in her dismissal of what I do.
To the sweet, well-meaning dental hygienist (and the world): No, my writing is most definitely not a hobby. Yes, I haven’t been paid (much, if anything) for it. Not even factoring in my graduate school loans, I’ve paid way more than I’ve made on it. Yes, I enjoy doing it at times. Yes, I do it in my “leisure” time, during evenings and weekends, in little chunks whenever I can spare a moment. I often have a few projects in progress at once; as soon as I finish one, I start another. Yes, plenty of people do write as a hobby. And it’s a fine, fairly cheap one at that.**
But there’s a difference between how I make my living and how I make my life.
If I could do something else, like, say, science, where my passion and my pay were covered by the same source,*** where my output and my income felt like an even exchange, I would. I absolutely would. Or if by some miracle I’m able to make it big enough that I can quit my day job and live comfortably on what I make writing full time, I will. I absolutely will.
I do love my “day job,” largely because of the coworkers, and the organization, and I believe that I contribute to something good. But what I “do” during the day isn’t my passion. I’m good at it, and I feel valued by my coworkers (who I love), but I don’t find myself up late at night figuring out the best way to collate and staple copies together, or when I’m out on a walk, I don’t think about the most perfect way to take notes in a meeting.
I do, however, turn over and over the phrasing for the next essay that I’m writing because I want to be able to describe the feeling like there’s something lodged behind your ribcage when someone tells you he doesn’t like you anymore, or that sense you have that your blood vessels are electric when you connect with someone new for the first time. I want to find the best possible, most beautiful way to get at that moment when suddenly everything is covered in buds, how “spring” is the perfect verb-noun for this current season.
My day job, while wonderful and satisfying, and certainly important, falls short of that for me. It just does.
At my writing group last night, we talked about an article that suggested writers**** have to quit giving their work away. I don’t know if (or how) that is possible, since we’d have to start paying more for the books we read, and the literary journals would surely crumble because they don’t make any money on this either. And then people who do write as a hobby wouldn’t have anywhere to get published, either.
But someone in my writing group said, “Yes, time has value, but I think we need to stop applying capitalistic value to everything.” And I think that’s right. What if we didn’t ask people “What do you do?” with the expectation they’ll answer with an occupation, and instead asked, “What are you passionate about?” Wouldn’t that be great and different and inspiring?
Until that happens, the question “What do you do?” will always be complicated for me. And I will probably have a hard time answering “Writer” without feeling the need to clarify, at least until I start making money off of my work.
No, my writing is not a hobby. Maybe someday the world will get that, too.
*Made more difficult when you’ve got a scraper, suction tube, and two hands in your mouth.
**If you don’t go to an expensive graduate school or attempt to get published in literary journals, most of which have some kind of reading fee. I think hobbies are great. I don’t mean to knock people who do write as a hobby. I just happen to be someone who is passionate about it.
***An occupassion, if you will.
****And, I would argue, other artists.