In praise of the hobbyist


Last week I wrote a long brain-dump on the notion of following our passion and making creative passion the center of our livelihoods. While I was working on it, this came across my Facebook feed:

If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least go to just after the 3:30 mark, just so you can hear his voice and see his face. If you want to know what the expression of creative passion looks like, this is it.

What this video helped me see is what a lesser place this world would be if only those who made  creative passion the center of their life’s work were the practitioners of it.

According to the BBC, this priest, Father Ray Kelly of Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland, is a trained singer with 3 albums to his name, but singing is (obviously) not his primary calling. He sings “to make a few bob for local charities.” He says, “I enjoy singing but I wouldn’t want to do it full-time–I love what I’m doing as a priest. The way I look at it is, it’s a gift one has, and if you have a gift you use it.”

Ever since seeing him, I have been acutely aware of all the gifts being used in large and small ways around me every day. This weekend Cane and I went to small, free music performance at a local eatery. There were about 15 of us there, lining a small hallway

The singers had great voices, great stage presence. I closed my eyes to listen, and I could hear no significant difference between their voices and the ones I might hear coming through Pandora.

“Talent is a key ingredient, for sure,” I said to Cane, “but really there’s so much more to becoming a star, that particular kind of big success. Because there are so many people who have the same kind of talent who never get rich or famous from it. It’s also luck, and connections, and resources, and a drive to achieve at that level, in that way. It requires a set of skills and qualities that have little to do with the creative talent.”

As we listened, I became so deeply grateful for all the “small” musicians who’ve entertained me throughout my life–the ones who play at bars and restaurants and weddings and parks. I’m not a concert-goer because I don’t like music in large venues with big crowds, and the price of tickets to such events are so often more than I’d like to spend. I like to take music in with other things–food, friends, scenery. Without musicians willing to play in small places for small audiences for little (or no) pay, I’d likely never hear live music, and that would be a loss.

local music

I have been wanting, since I started working on that other post, to see the new documentary about Amy Winehouse (sadly, every attempt to do so has met with misfortune). Though I haven’t yet seen it, she keeps coming to mind as I consider these questions about gifts and passion and what we do with them.

I keep wondering how her life–and the lives of so many others whose talents were so large when they were so young–might have been different if we broadened our ideas of what it means to live our passions, to use our gifts, to be “successful.”

At the end of the trailer, we hear her voice: “I’m not a girl trying to be a star. I’m just a girl who sings.” How might her story have ended differently if she hadn’t become a star, if she had remained “just a girl who sings,” if we honored and celebrated all the small kinds of creative work as much as we do the work that garners a huge audience and prestigious awards?

Early this summer Cane wrote a blog post of his own that elicited a strong reaction in his jiu jitsu community, “Confessions of a hobbyist black belt.” In it, he doesn’t just defend the hobbyist, he makes a case for the importance of the hobbyist:

What is often missing is the voice of the hobbyist. The student who has a full time job, maybe a family or other demands and chooses to not dedicate the bulk of their life to the art. This is where the vast majority of people who study Jiu Jitsu live. Either by choice, circumstance, or necessity we are part time grapplers. We enjoy the art as much as anyone and aspire to be the best grapplers that we can be but we are realistic that we don’t choose to train in a way that will make us the next world champion. This is the realm of the hobbyist.

It’s okay to be a hobbyist. There is no shame in it and it doesn’t make you any less of a Jiu Jitsu student. Everyone has their own role to play in the art. …We need people who are successful parents, professionals, educators, tradesmen, students, doctors etc. These people give the school a wonderful diversity and richness that it wouldn’t have if everyone was full time athlete. … Each has an important role to play in creating a rich tribe that nurtures everyone’s aspirations and respects everyone’s path through Jiu Jitsu.

I couldn’t agree more with him. Each of us who practices any kind of creative art has a role to play, and we all make a contribution to the lives of others when we do it. My challenge to you today is to notice all the small creative gifts that you encounter in the next 24 hours, things crafted by those who’ve earned no fame or fortune or even a small paycheck from their work, and to think of what your world would be like without our creative hobbyists.

clay pot

Both the pot and the plate are hand-made thrift store finds.

For me, I wouldn’t have the blankets on my sofa, the art on my walls, or the words in my blog reader. I wouldn’t have the table I’m sitting at to write these words, or the food I’ve eaten while gathering them. My world would be colder, bleaker, quieter, and I’d be hungry for so many things beyond food.

What would be missing from yours?


23 thoughts on “In praise of the hobbyist

  1. Kate says:

    The area we live in has an amazing local music/arts scene. On Tuesday’s we can see local Blues on Thursdays we can either see the local chamber orchestra play at the bandshell or see a more “mainstream” sound at one of our local parks. On Wednesdays we can go see amateur water skiers put on amazing performances with flips and pyramids and the whole works. The majority of our home decor is paintings and pottery picked up each year at a local arts center fundraiser. Next weekend we’re visiting a “chalk festival” where people make gorgeous arts on sidewalks.

    And I just got some pickles from a friend who loves to garden and can as a thank you for the scarf I knit her last year. The great thing about hobbyists – is that they make our own lives richer while enriching/enjoying themselves. There is something really magical about that.
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    • Rita says:

      Yes, there is something magical. In connection with Beth’s comment on the last post about Christmas, my thoughts are turning to gifts I want to make. I know I need to start them now, something I was very good about doing when I was much younger. Another thing I’d like to be better about is finding out what we’ve got going on locally and taking greater advantage of those offerings. Thanks for the reminder/inspiration!

  2. Beth says:

    As a musician whose entire career has been relegated to The Small Places , I thank you. 😉 It’s easy to forget the true enjoyment we are providing people during what might be just a run of the mill gig for us.

    This is such a timely topic for me, especially combined with your last post. The arts in general are such an essential part of being human that we should strive for them to play a much larger roll in education and society as a whole. Personally, I think we’re starting to see some of the negative effects of decreasing funding for arts education in the schools but that’s a whole other issue entirely

    What I struggle with is I was trained that to be a hobbyist or a part-timer is a failure as an artist. Most musicians are trained this way which is unfortunate because the reality of the job market is that the vast majority – probably upwards of 80-90% – simply are not going to be able to achieve the kinds of jobs they have been trained for. And, oh yeah, we’re not qualified to do anything else so good luck with that. My mentor teacher once gave me a stern lecture against having a back up plan with the admonishment, “If you give yourself an out you’ll end up taking it.” It wasn’t until I was around 40 that I realized what terrible advice I’d chosen to listen to. The reality for me is that I’m ill suited for my profession and that I would have been much better off choosing a field where not only were my skills more valuable but one where I might be able to achieve a moderate amount of success. Or, you know, be able to make more than $35K a year without killing myself working all the time. The shallow things in life.

    I absolutely do not think we should be encouraging as many people to be “following their passions” in these fields where the chance of success is such a long shot it leaves a trail of broken hearts, dreams, and financial ruin. Our universities, conservatories, and art schools are filled with students who are very unlikely to find work in their chosen profession because we’ve fed them the lie that to be a hobbyist isn’t the true way to go.

    • Rita says:

      I think all of us who show some creative talent and are trained in it get this message, either directly or indirectly. As the parent of talented teens, I struggle with the messages I give. There are a few people who get to live those big dreams, and I would never want to discourage someone from pursuing a true dream. (But how many might have different dreams if we allowed for a broader range of them?) On the other hand, giving the message that achieving at that kind of level is the only worthwhile result is so harmful. You know, we don’t do this with sport. We all acknowledge that becoming a pro athlete is rare, and we heap no shame on those who don’t achieve that level of performance. Yet, we tend not to do that with artistic pursuits. Why is that?

      About being ill-suited for a profession…oh, so much I could write about that! I keep telling my kids that the best thing they can do in terms of finding/choosing a career is to develop and know themselves and be honest about who they are. If I could have done that when I was their age, my career path would have been much different!

      • Beth says:

        I’ve been pondering this for while and you really hit the nail on the head. We’re so much more accepting of sports and athletic endeavors as a part of who we are as humans but we’re much better about embracing, even encouraging, these are part time pursuits. No one laughs when a someone takes up running or joins the work softball team but when someone says they’re hobby is writing poetry or painting it’s often met with eye rolling and poking fun.

        We’re also very torn about how to encourage our children to pursue they’re dreams. My husband went to art school and while he has a good career in web design (for an insurance company which may not be high brow art but it pays the bills) many, many, of his classmates have not been able to turn their art into a decent living. Thankfully our kids are young because we still don’t have the answers.

        Sometimes I think I always knew deep, deep down that I wasn’t well suited for what I was choosing and that someone who knew how to ask the right questions might have been able to get me to see that. But. No one has the self awareness at 20 that they do at 40 so I’m probably making an unfair judgment on my younger self. Who knows.

        • Rita says:

          Yes, yes, yes! Why is it that we praise those who take up sports as hobbies, but we often feel disdain for those who do the same with the arts? Perhaps it’s because those in the arts take themselves too seriously so much of the time? We “play” sports. I know we also play music and we can play with words, but somehow it’s not the same, is it?

          I think another problem is that we have no problem with those who get paid to compete athletically, but pretty much any artist who gets paid well for their work gets accused of selling out by at least some people. (Which, of course, only perpetuates the poor pay for artists and the notion that they should be happy to do their work for free.) I’m sure a good number of your husband’s art school peers would not consider him to be a success because of the way in which he’s using his talents and skills.

          Maybe the root of this issue is the anti-intellectual bias that runs through US culture? Is it the same in other countries? (If any of you following this thread are from other countries–Marian?–please chime in.)

          As for the self-awareness and questions and how to help our kids, well…that’s a tough one. I have a child with some big dreams. Not in the arts, but big dreams. I would never, ever want to discourage her from shooting for them. I also know that she’s very much a work in progress and that I cannot really know what is right for her, and that what seems right today might change a lot in the next 10-20 years. The only consistent advice I’ve given her is that she has to know herself and listen to herself to know what she needs to do with her life. Two very hard things to do! And advice she doesn’t much appreciate. She’d much prefer that I be able to just tell her.

          • Marian says:

            You may, in fact, be on to something, Rita, with respect to the anti-intellectual bias running through the US. Because we lived in the US for 11 years, I can offer up my perspective on some of the differences I observed between Canada and the US, although you’ll have to take my words as observational and anecdotal, as I could be way off base …

            Our school system in Minnesota most definitely placed a higher emphasis on sports than the school does here in Ontario (which is very much in line with what I experienced growing up in Alberta). I remember when our daughter first began cross country running in grade 6 in MN, and the coach put all the kids on a bus for a 2 hour ride to a meet in a raging rain/thunderstorm, all because he didn’t want to lose a point for being a no-show. In contrast, when we moved here, our daughter was greatly surprised when the coach explicitly told the kids that studying and exams were more important than sports, and missing a practice or even a meet because of schoolwork was perfectly acceptable. Her coach in MN NEVER would have said such a thing. Another thing we noticed when living in the US, was how prevalent sports scholarships were. The sports culture doesn’t seem to invade Canadian universities to nearly the same extent (if at ALL) as it does in American colleges, and here, if we hear of anyone getting a sports scholarship, it almost always means they’re off to university in the US.

            We had a fantastic music and band program in our school in the US, something I wish we had here. I do have to say though, that there was a huge emphasis on the band performing for sporting events, like football, and in parades as a marching band, and perhaps this is just me, but I always feel there’s something about the rah rah showmanship of a marching band that approaches the sports mentality … as well as the feeling that the band is merely there for support or as a prequel to the main event (ie. whatever game is being played).

            This next observation is perhaps a bit odd, and maybe a stretch for anti-intellectualism, but I’ll offer it up anyway … in our daughter’s MN high school, grad portraits for the yearbook were quite the production! Students would apparently go for 3 or 4 separate photo shoots in different locations, and some of the senior’s photos I saw as I looked through my daughter’s grade 9 yearbook were most decidedly NOT intellectual … posing by a horse; a supermodel-type pose by a tree; sitting on the floor in front of a locker, dressed in a volleyball uniform, in a very – ahem – skanky pose. In contrast, our daughter’s grad portrait from her Ontario high school looks like your typical grad portrait: the school robes, the “thingie” that comes down the front in a V … in other words, she looks like she graduated from SCHOOL 😉

            I always feel like CBC radio (which is 100% government funded) is representative of some stalwart and stubborn refusal to allow anti-intellectualism to creep in. I feel like it holds our small, yet large, country together and lets us get to know one another. The US does have NPR, but I think its funding drives are enough to drive anyone except the extremely determined listener away 🙁

            I don’t think your comment left any doubt that you believe there absolutely IS an anti-intellectual bias in the US, and I would definitely concur with that. I don’t know if it’s a chicken or an egg thing (ie. what came first) — but it’s disheartening and demeaning (IMHO). Whenever I think of this, Harry Potter comes to mind … why, in the US, did the Philosopher’s Stone have to be changed to the Sorcerer’s Stone (and with certain of the British words and phrases Americanized) when in Canada, children were allowed the UK version (when in fact, our speech and phrases are closer to the American than to the British)?
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  3. Sarah says:

    Reading your post it strikes me that so many of our ambitions related to creative work are not really about the work itself, but rather about recognition for the work. Ouch. That’s a sobering thought.

    In a way that is natural of course — if you feel like you have something you want to communicate with your creative work then of course you want to feel like your message is being heard and received (and I would define “creative work” in the broadest possible sense here — a poet wants to know that her poem moved someone, and a canner wants to hear “now those are some damn good pickles!”).

    But really, a lot of the way that success is defined in artistic endeavors is tangential to the actual art. So, you’ve given me renewed inspiration to focus on the work. Thanks for this. “The main thing is making the main thing the main thing,” right?
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    • Rita says:

      I agree that that main thing is making the main thing the main thing–but what is the main thing? I don’t know that considerations of audience and impact can be separated out from doing the creative work itself. Why can pickles if there is no one to eat them? And I do want to know that my poem (or blog post) moved someone. Connection and serving a purpose are different from recognition, though–and I think that may be a distinction that is missing when we think about what makes someone a successful creative artist. Throw in considerations of income/livelihood, and it’s more muddled yet.

      As a writer/blogger, I came to realize that the quality of interaction was far more important to me than the number of interactions. I didn’t need to be a “big” blogger and I didn’t need to impact a large number of people. I wanted to interact with my right people, in a more meaningful way than I’d be able to with a large audience. The blog I used to write with Cane got far more traffic than this one (and, ironically, it gets more traffic now, nearly a year after we stopped posting, than it did when we were writing it!), but I’m enjoying this one much more. So, for me, how I’ve defined the main thing is now different, even though it might look the same: I’m writing about the creative stuff I’m doing/thinking and taking photos to illustrate that writing.

      These are the things I think we need to talk about with young people who want to do creative work. I know no one ever really talked with me about these issues or raised these questions/ideas. Being successful meant being widely read, winning awards, and making money (either directly or indirectly) from writing. That’s it. What a bill of goods that was.

      • Sarah says:

        I guess I was trying to hold on to the idea that the work is the main thing. I recently came across this blog post describing rules created by Sister Corita Kent for the Immaculate Heart College art department:

        One of the rules is: “The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.” I don’t know, I just somehow find that really comforting, especially the first two sentences. Because it means I should keep my focus on the thing in front of me that is really the only thing under my control (the work).

        But I COMPLETELY agree with you that “Connection and serving a purpose are different from recognition.” Very true and it’s helpful to accurately name what it really is that I hunger for.

        I think I cavil a bit at the idea that wanting to make money through creative work is a “bill of goods.” I agree that it is certainly possible to be successful at one’s art/creative work without making money from it. But I’m not sure we should shut down the idea of making money altogether. I guess thinking about “creative pursuits” over here, and “things we do to earn money” over there, and never the twain shall meet — well, it cheapens the creative pursuits somehow. Not sure I’m being very articulate here, and maybe this is just my frustration as a journalist with seeing publications offer 10 cents a word, or no payment at all, for stories.
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        • Rita says:

          Oh, I love those rules. Thank you for sharing them. I want to steal them. 🙂

          And I want to clarify some thoughts on money/creative work. I think perhaps part of my bitterness around that (revealed in the bill of goods statement) is that I’ve seen creative work so devalued in recent years. I really admire Taylor Swift for using her considerable clout to create a discussion about pay for creative work (and for sticking to her guns and demanding to get pay she feels she’s earned). I feel sick about the current state of journalism. I understand that the old business model broke, but what’s happening now is concerning for so many different reasons.

  4. Marian says:

    Just home from camping and catching up on this very interesting conversation. It’s a topic that I dealt (very poorly with) when I was a young adult. Unlike Beth, I was encouraged to do the practical thing (the unpractical, creative side of me was never even seriously floated as an option for a livelihood, to be honest), but just like Beth, I ended up in a career I was ill-suited for. I think that’s the sort of thing that happens all too easily on both ends of the creative/practical spectrum when a person doesn’t know themselves, and when they don’t know the stark reality of the career they’re actually working towards. Our older two kids don’t really have any creative outlets that they’ve ever considered to be possible careers (so in other words, they’re not struggling with the same issues I did at their age), but that being said, we’ve done plenty of talking about how it’s possible to have a practical career and to still have time for the things they love (cross country skiing or hiking or crocheting or sailing or reading about history…). I think the whole “pursue your passion” thing works extremely well for a small number of people … and I envy those people! … but as Beth says, it doesn’t work well for a whole lot more people. Personally, I think young adults need to know that their career doesn’t necessarily define them, it isn’t necessarily ALL of them, and that there can be room in life for pursuing passions, no matter what their day job is. And perhaps in the end that’s actually a better balance … huge success in a creative (or athletic) endeavour, for which you garner huge recognition … ? Maybe that’s just way too much pressure and and ends up being damaging for most of us anyway … (Justin Bieber comes to mind…). All of which is to say, ABSOLUTELY in praise of hobbyists!

    (And I think the reason pro sports are given a free pass when it comes to the heaping shame department is that pro sports are glorified to an absolutely disgusting extent (IMHO!). When I think of what NHL hockey players make per season for PLAYING A GAME (arrrggghhh!) I shake my head and despair for what an upside down world we live in).
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    • Rita says:

      I really agree with all you’ve said, Marion. I think one thing I’ve really struggled with is that my day job never remained just a day job. When I was in the classroom, I would never have had time for blogging. I did somehow manage to get a book written/published, but it was really difficult. I remember a stretch of time in which I got up at 4:30 every morning to write. I don’t know if I could do that now. My physical needs have changed/are changing.

      Don’t get me started on sports and salaries and relative worth. I know that they are paid what they are because of the money they bring in. Free market and all that. But it just doesn’t seem right, does it?

      • Marian says:

        There IS only so much time, isn’t there? I have felt this dilemma keenly for most of my adult life – all the things we NEED to do (work at our paying job, look after children, cook supper, clean…) which crowd into the time we could be spending pursuing our passions/dreams (of course, some of these aforementioned needs end up turning into passions, but that’s another topic…). I’ve always felt (but perhaps this is actually wrong, or too simplistic) that if a passion is strong enough (in adulthood), it will somehow get wedged into leftover snatches of time. The issue which causes me a fair amount of bitterness, however, is that even if you manage to pour all your passions into your snatches of time and come up with something really, really good, you can still be stymied (or denied “societal success”) if you can’t find the backing or support needed to take your art to the next level (as in, a wider audience than just yourself and your dog or your best friend). This, to me, is the most frustrating part, because this has nothing to do with talent or effort; this is “who you know”, what connections you have, whether or not you have a confident/aggressive personality and the chutzpa to sell yourself and your work.

        Your experience with figure skating illustrates (to a T) my argument in your previous post that passion is not enough on its own, that without time and encouragement and support and financial backing, talent can go only so far. It’s hard to NOT be bitter about this, to keep the litany of “life is unfair” from taking over your thoughts, and I confess I have struggled with these feelings since childhood. I grew up lower working class, with an extremely frugal father and an extremely unhappy mother. When my best friend talked about everything she was doing in Brownies (laid out the uniform, showed me the badges) I asked my mom if I could join too. Nope. When I would wander the streets summer evenings, I would wonder why it was that some kids got to play baseball (on teams, apparently, because the whole thing looked so big and organized!). When I watched the Olympics on TV, skating was the thing that I dreamed about too. But we couldn’t even belong to the community club, which had the groomed outdoor rinks; I skated around on the bumpy flooded area in the schoolyard, imagining myself doing leaps. When I got to high school there was a girl who was a figure skater. She trained very intensely (and I suspect there were huge financial sacrifices made; she lived in a small house in a fairly bad area of town) and actually made it to the junior Canadian level, going to competitions across the country. The envy I felt for this girl, whom the valedictorian singled out with “we’ll see you at the Olympics”! She never made it out of juniors though, and I wonder, now, how she feels about it all. I sometimes wonder if it’s somehow easier to deal with a “falling short of dreams” if sufficient talent is the only thing missing from the talent, time, support, financial backing equation. (ie. if the only person to “blame” is yourself, would that be less “bitter-inducing” than “blaming” others or the situation in general?). And I’m rambling now, so I’ll stop…
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        • Rita says:

          You’ve named two other common ideas about creative work:
          1. If passion is strong enough, you’ll find a way to do it.
          2. Talent will rise to the top.

          I think both are both true and false; I wish the messages I’ve seen and heard would acknowledge the ambiguity more honestly. Life circumstances have kept me from writing more/differently, sure–but I was also missing a necessary drive. (In large part because of my wrestling with all kinds of ideas/beliefs about creative work and its value. But the reason doesn’t matter; I was missing that drive.) If I’d had a simple drive, or a super-compelling one that insisted on being satisfied regardless of the other noise, maybe I would have written more or differently.

          And yes, sometimes, talent does seem to rise to the top. There are the occasional stars who rise from seemingly nowhere. It is possible. Just not very likely, and I think it is also true that there are many, many people with talents no smaller than those who achieve “success” who do not achieve it because they are missing resources and connections.

          About skating: Yes, I saw many skaters like your Junior Canadian. There were thousands of kids just like me all over the country, but there was only one Dorothy Hamill. I wasn’t very good at math, but I could get the gist of the odds. And this was in the days when pretty much the only options for post-competition life were being a coach or skating in the Ice Capades. Neither appealed to me. But, to be fair and honest (and not bitter) I was missing that drive. Maybe I’d have had more of it if there weren’t so many other barriers, but there were things I didn’t want to sacrifice for skating regardless. I wanted to do after-school activities and go to friends’ birthday parties and not get pulled from school to train. I did not want to have to live away from my parents for part of the year. My coach was from a high-powered rink that had produced a national champion, and I understood clearly that if I were going to have any chance of making up the time I’d lost, this was the deal. I quit not just because I was missing resources, but because the things I’d been asked to do and miss were killing my love of skating. Every minutes of ice time was so precious, none could be wasted on simple fun. Not that I understood exactly what I was doing at the time, but I think somehow I knew I had to quit to keep that love–and, honestly, I made similar choices with writing. I chose not to pursue an MFA and go the publishing/college teaching route because I didn’t want my livelihood so dependent upon writing. I wanted to be able to keep that pure, to write what I wanted how I wanted and when I wanted. I’ve made that choice over and over again throughout my adult life.

          If I have any talents, skating and writing are what they are. I don’t skate often now, but sometimes I still do, and I feel no bitterness. None. I love the way it feels to move over ice, just the way I did when I was a girl. I feel an aliveness in that that I’ve never felt in anything else. I’m glad I didn’t lose it. And I have no bitterness about what I’ve done (and not done) as a writer. Getting to peace has been a long process, but I think being able to see more clearly what the choices were (and that I did, in fact, make choices, in spite of all the things I had no control over) has been important to making that peace.

          I am so sorry you never got to do the things you saw other kids getting to do. One of the things I find most distressing about funding in the schools where I live is that school activities are increasingly something parents have to pay for. I don’t remember it being that way when I was in school. There’s assistance for the poorest, but it is those kids just above that line I ache for. Their families make too much to qualify for fee waivers, but not enough to pay the fees. I wonder often what talents are not being developed, and what difference it would make for those kids (and all the rest of us) if they had access to the experiences that could develop them. In all my writing/thinking about these questions, I always want to remember that in spite of what I didn’t have, I still had more than so many, many children in this world. That, too, has helped me feel peace.

          • Marian says:

            Drive! You’re absolutely right, Rita —- without drive, talent isn’t going to go very far, is it?

            I’m glad to read that you’re at peace now with both your talents, and with where you are with them. I can’t pretend I don’t have my moments, but I too, am becoming more at peace with my past and with where my life has led thus far, and the tool (for lack of a better word) that has helped me the most has been taking the approach of: “the man cried because he had no shoes, until he saw the man who had no feet”. I may never have gotten to have skating lessons, but at least I had skates … There’s nearly always a way to be grateful for what you DO have, isn’t there? And yes, I’m in the school often enough that I too, can see how disadvantaged some kids are. It makes me incredibly sad.
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          • Rita says:

            I agree–there’s always something to be grateful for. And there’s a good body of research showing that a regular gratitude practice is about the best thing a person can do to be happy.

  5. Laura says:

    I’ve been thinking about this from two different angles. One is that I’ve been keenly aware, lately, of our culture of achievement and what we tell our children about what they do. These days it’s both explicitly and implicitly stated that if you’re going to choose to do something, you should be the best at it. I have strong doubts that this is the right message to send kids. What about (gasp) just having fun? What about goofing off? What about doing it indifferently but still enjoying it anyway? If I or my children feel that every time one begins to train for a 5K one really needs to run a marathon to be “legit” or if one is going to paint they should enter juried shows to be accomplished, then what are we doing it for? Ourselves, or to prove something to the outside world? I worry that if children feel obligated to “perform” every single time they pick up an instrument or paint brush or football, they’ll decide not to do it at all. I’m afraid they’ll lose the other things. Like joy.

    Secondly, I struggle a great deal with this as a writer, because I’ve always believed that writing was about other things, not itself. I can’t really imagine writing, just writing, and have it be better, or stronger, just on its own two legs. So many of the other things I do frame or inform my writing, like my emotions as a parent, the science from my day job, my inner life in the garden, my cooking, the books I read, my conversations with friends. I don’t think of my “other” things as being a detraction (though they certainly can be at times) so much as an opportunity to discover new ways of thinking about how I write. In a way I’ve always envied people who can approach one thing, whether it’s law or gymnastics or stained-glass making, with a singular purpose that shuts out everything else. But it doesn’t seem realistic to me, or at least realistic to the way I need to live. Or want to live.

    • Rita says:

      Well, I think I got all screwed up about joy and purpose and performance at a young age. For a brief time, I trained as a figure skater. It was very expensive (especially for my working-class parents) and it was in the days when amateur sports were truly amateur. The Olympics were the goal. It was the only goal that could justify the sacrifice. I did not stick with it long, despite the fact that I had talent and loved skating like I’ve probably never loved anything else, because I started late and my parents were carrying other (more important) burdens and I knew what a long-shot that goal was and how much I’d have to give up to attempt it. One day I just went home from the rink and never went back. I was only 12, and I couldn’t articulate all the conflict I felt, but the whole thing was so painful I didn’t put skates on again for 4 years. (And then I was drunk.) As with any love, there was no going backwards. I am glad that I have skated with joy in the years since, but I think that experience has definitely colored my relationship with writing.

      I think I’m understanding what you’re saying about writing being about other things. I’m not sure, because I don’t know how writing can ever be just about writing. It always has to be about something else, doesn’t it? Maybe not, and I can’t even conceive of it because I’ve never been that kind of writer. I’m trying to remember if there was ever a time that writing wasn’t primarily a means to some end for me, and I can’t come up with even one.

  6. Gretchen says:

    mmm….I mean, it’s sort of this ideal to strive for for most/many people that you take the thing you love and find a way to make a living doing it. But then making a living (or NEEDING to make a living) doing that thing inevitably changes your experience of that thing. I started making a mental list of people I know and what kind of paid work they do….people who are doing the thing they love most and getting paid vs. people who work a job (maybe a job they enjoy and feel fulfilled at even, but not one they’re necessarily passionate about) and comparing (my perception of) their experiences…..I got distracted by something or other very quickly, but it’s a mental exercise I’d like to return to at some point….
    Gretchen recently posted…Abe’s Room: Dresser DecisionsMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      EXACTLY! Even though I was never making money doing our old blog, it became too much like a business, and then I didn’t want to do it! So, now I’m here–going totally amateur and not looking back! And much happier. 🙂

  7. May says:

    You have set me to day dreaming. Truly my world is peppered with hobbyists. Actors, dancers, musicians, artists, seamstresses, quilters, writers, chefs, bread bakers. I am so blessed by an array of extremely talented friends and family. Thanks for this post. It left me feeling very grateful.
    May recently posted…TToT: A Simple LifeMy Profile

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