I think it’s important to have a hobby—maybe not for absolutely everyone, but for almost everyone. Even those of us who love our jobs (and I do—I really do) need something else to do with our heads and our hands. Maybe those of us who have no physical product in our jobs need one most of all. I certainly felt that. As the child of an architect, I often toured buildings my dad worked on. He worked for the state, so some of the buildings he worked on were prisons, which was less interesting to a preteen and teenager, but there were plenty of city buildings he worked on too, especially since we lived in the state capitol, so frequently as we drove around town, he would point out the window and say “That’s one of ours.” If he weren’t the lead architect, he was still involved, consulted, and proud. And he used to say how wonderful a thing a building was, because everyone from the architect to the bricklayers to the electricians could all point at it and say, “That’s mine. I did that.”
When I went in to teaching, there was much less opportunity for such a proclamation. About halfway through grad school–knee deep in research, student teaching, and still taking my own classes–I thought about needing a hobby. I couldn’t really point to anything and say “I made that.” Students are much more complex than their education, and no matter how life-changing I like to think an English class can be, I was under no illusion that I “made” anything really. Intellectual work has little physical product. Even if one writes a book, pointing at the book doesn’t really point at the product in the same way a potter points at a pot or an artist points at a sculpture or a cook points at a pastry. I started seeking out hobbies to fill that need.
I tried a lot of hobbies. My husband watched, amused, as I tried on sewing, jewelry-making, pottery, oil painting, needlepoint, and others. I still have vestiges in my closets of failed hobbies, and they occasionally come in useful, proving the hoarder’s worst nightmare—as soon as you throw something away, you’ll need it. Some of these hobbies, I just wasn’t any good at. Sewing felt too much like work and involved too much math, actually (which is just an excuse—math isn’t an impediment unless I don’t actually enjoy what I’m doing. Then it’s an extra excuse to drop it.) For a variety of reasons from the silly (my mother did it: that’s her hobby) to the practical (it does take a long time to make an article of clothing), I gave up on sewing and all these others. Pottery stuck the longest; I really enjoyed wheel-throwing, and the useful, pretty (sometimes) things I could make, but when we moved 2000 miles away from my pottery instructor and I had babies and toddlers to tend and tenure to work toward, that fell by the wayside too.
It wasn’t until my toddlers stopped being toddlers and were safely ensconced in school, and I had tenure and could relax a little, that I found the hobby that stuck. I was invited to a stamping party by the mom of one of my daughter’s friends, and we made a greeting card and a bookmark. Papercrafting. Yes.
For a bookish person, paper was a natural medium, and for the incurable happy-ass that I am, something sweet and cute that you can send to people was perfect. Also, part of me resists technology and values hand-crafted-ness, so the idea of making my own Christmas cards was a delight. And it was practical (HA!)—buying stamps was an investment and I could stop buying cards and tags. (I laugh because this actually is true: I haven’t bought a greeting card in over six years, but the amount of money I have spent on paper and ink and pretty stamps and cute ribbon… has very likely FAR surpassed what I might have spent on Hallmark. Still, not all hobbies have a return on investment like that, so I use it to rationalize pretty readily.) Finally, the time required to do something meaningful was much less; I could squeeze in making a card or a bookmark in a few minutes if I needed to. It was a perfect hobby for this working mommy. My kids were growing up and were less reliant on me for every little thing, and my husband was great at encouraging me to take more than ten minutes to enjoy my hobby, but still, one of the appeals was that it wasn’t a time sink.
So I dove in. Not only do I make all the greeting cards we use, I make enough to give packs of cards as gifts. I make all our gift tags and most of our gift bags and boxes. We still buy brown craft paper to wrap, but that’s just about it. I decorate the paper, make my own gift bags or decorate plain store-bought ones, and keep us in bookmarks, despite the puppy’s best efforts to seek out and destroy them all. It is a happy hobby because it revolves around gift giving, and that makes other people happy. It makes me happy too—to make something pretty and useful, and honestly just to MAKE something. The act of creating something fills some need very deep and ancient for me. I’m not making artistic masterpieces, but I am making things we use, and I’m making cards that require us to handwrite a note to people we love, and that makes me happy too in this age of emails and texts and Facebook reminders to wish someone a Happy Birthday. So in addition to making a card, I’m making a personal connection. I like that, probably, most of all.