Wednesday, April 08, 2009

do you choose your hobby, or does your hobby choose you?

My hobbies:

  • Reading for fun, mostly fiction
  • Knitting, if poorly and slowly
  • Hiking/walking
  • Baking
  • Cooking
  • Blogging
  • Board games.

The reason for my choices: I don't read as much fiction (mainly because I don't read as much "for fun" anymore) as I used to, but I maybe read a novel or collection of short stories every two weeks to a month, and it this is reading that is "not work," and it's not mindless internet surfing. I had to take an extended break from knitting because of my hands, but I'm back to it after giving up on working with super fine yarn with a pattern for a while, and enjoying the ease of bulky weight yarn in a basic garter stitch and will hopefully finish at least one of the three projects I'm working on. I walk at least nine to twelve miles a week even though I don't have to, and I like to go for hikes when I can. I bake at least once a week, and I get pleasure from kneading dough from bread, making elaborate cakes and pies, and tossing together a basic cookie or brownie, and it's an activity I'd feel like I'm missing from my life if I go for more than a week without it. I hesitate, because I cook almost every day. A hobby should be a regular activity, but when it boils down to basic sustenance and is like just another daily task, is it really an avocation? TD convinced me that my approach to cooking was hobbyistic: I research recipes and compare them to come up with the best combination of techniques and ingredients, I often write my own recipes, I experiment and improve until I get "the best" recipe, and I like to host dinner parties. I'm constantly on the lookout for new things to make and new cuisines to try, and so it's never about just fueling the body, but making an experience that is both nourishing and social. Thus, I think that my approach to cooking is more hobby-like. Blogging...well, but of course!

I used to make paper crafts, but that was back when people seemed to like getting handmade cards and decoupaged boxes. I used to make mix tapes, but then I moved all of my music to external drives and forgot to aggregate them. Besides, after a few years, you realize that you're just flooding your friends' houses with junk. I used to run, but after a while my knees gave up and now I just walk 9-12 miles a week. Some hobbies just die after a good run (word play!). Sometimes you stop doing some activity with sufficient regularity. Sometimes you just realize it's just not for you.

What is a hobby?

Merriam Webster:

Main Entry: 2hobby

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural hobbies
Etymology: short for hobbyhorse
Date: 1816
: a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation

Now, I would link this word to an even older word, one that signifies, as hobby does, a distinction from one's occupation, or vocation, with its root in the Latin vocare:

av·o·ca·tion           Listen to the pronunciation of avocation
Function: noun

Etymology: Latin avocation-, avocatio, from avocare to call away, from ab- + vocare to call, from voc-, vox voice — more at voice
Date: circa 1617
1archaic : diversion , distraction2: customary employment : vocation3: a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one's vocation especially for enjoyment : hobby

So, I would distinguish a hobby as something that is not done for work, something that is done for enjoyment, and something that is some type of activity, such htat it can be called a "pursuit" or "subordinate occupation." That is to say, "napping" is not a hobby. Nor is "sitting in a chair." I would not necessarily put "watching television" as a hobby, even though it's how I spend my about 3 hours a week of my time. No, it must be some activity that is not passive. For instance, "getting massages" is not a hobby! It must be something you do, not something that is done to you.

Now, onto the italicized hobby...board games. Because I have a partner whose company I actively enjoy, I thought that a great addition to our repertoire of "hanging out" would be semi-structured activities that we can do together. Most of our hobbies are separate, which is great for independence, but it would be fun to share recreational hobbies. He sails competitively, whereas I sail half-assedly and often enjoy just sitting on the bow, being awesome (again, passive). He plays music, whereas I am growing to accept the idea of being a groupie. Most of my hobbies are solitary, save cooking, and while we enjoy cooking together and hiking on occasion, sometimes you want a rainy afternoon hobby that will stretch your mental muscles and be "interesting." Which is why I decided six months ago, to add board games to my/our list of hobbies ("my" because it's something I've wanted to do for a while, "our" because it is not as much fun playing alone).

Dude, what was I thinking? I never grew up playing games and don't have that competitive game playing streak nor gaming, strategic mind. My dad, unlike most Vietnamese men, hated gambling and would rage against any one of us if he found us with a deck of cards. I grew up in a limited English household, and did not have board games. I never played those games American children grow up playing (what is this thing called "Chutes and Ladders"?), and didn't play any games at all until high school, when the other Asian kids busted out the Tien Len. Eventually, when we had the first round of nephews, we loosened up and got Scrabble (which we used to teach English and build vocabulary, forgetting about scoring), Monopoly (which I find boring and excessively capitalist), and Taboo (which I love to this day).

I am just not good at playing games! We got Carcasonne, and after 4-5 attempts, we are still playing "practice games" because I am just not catching on quickly enough about the rules and how to lay the tiles strategically so as to advance my position and box TD into corners. He is insisting that it'll be more fun for the both of us (more competitive and evenly matched, less frustrating for me) if I let him play with a handicap (either an extra meeple or 10 point lead for me, or I get to refuse a tile and draw another). I feel, how to put this delicately, like an idiot. TD says that practice makes perfect, and that the reason I am not good--yet--is that we haven't been playing enough, and I haven't quite internalized the rules and strategy. I think that part of it also (besides the aforementioned reasons about how I may have been socially conditioned to lack game strategy) is that I have poor visual spatial skills, such that I have a hard time picturing the entire map of the terrain and how my tiles will best fit. He has a point though, that perhaps practice makes one a better player, and that at least with this game (which has an element of luck of draw), there is no inherent talent for it that makes improving an impossible goal. I don't need to win every time, I just need to improve and not be frustrated by the feeling that I don't know what I'm doing. I remember when I first did LSAT logic games, I was at 33% accuracy, and by the time I took the test, I scored nearly perfect (one wrong). So I guess that logical, strategic thinking can be learned and improved upon (even if I have forgotten how to do most of the logic games and even if I think that they're all kind of lame).

In any case, I'm going to stick with this hobby, for now. I just ordered Ticket to Ride, and I'm thinking of San Juan next. Playing tips for these games (and especially Carcasonne) are appreciated, as is general advice on how to think like a gamer.