The release of the movie Atlas Shrugged, and the much anticipated (by me) Ayn Rand evening at the Manchester by the Book ** on Saturday May 7th prompted me to read several articles about Rand, and an hour’s worth of her book Atlas Shrugged. Like most of the articles stated, those who read her books during their teen years often become Objectivist converts, and I did, marginally.
As I sat in Panera reading the first 3 chapters, and then skimming every hundred pages or so, I was appalled at the literary characterization and the sharply drawn “right” and “wrong” moral tone. Of course, then I read this article which says it’s her worst book. Those characters are either soulless sociopathic automatons or recreant mealy-mouthed imbeciles.
All this Ayn Rand discussion aside, I want to point out a quote I encountered in the first few pages of the book that sums up an ongoing line of conversation my workmate and I have been engaging in the last few weeks.
“The trouble with you is you never had a hobby.”
Now, in Atlas Shrugged, this jibe is literarily intended to shame the man who has made the railroad his life. Rand of course, intends it as veneration for work. But this leads into the topic of hobbies.
Several weeks ago that workmate turned up on a Friday morning lamenting how she didn’t have any hobbies. Disbelieving, I asked “So, what did you list on Facebook as your interests?” She replied, “I don’t have anything!” Privately I wondered, “How do you spend your weekends? Sleeping?”
Her inability to list any interests or cite her hobbies is completely antipodean to the way I live my own life in which reading, blogging, sociology, soccer and thrifting are a few of my interests. It turns out she spends her weekends in what I would consider fairly typical ways though, seeing friends, cooking meals, going to the beach, attending church, and trying new restaurants. But this isn’t what she wanted when she said she wanted hobbies.
Sleuthing into our previously undefined ideas about hobbies reveals we both operate under the assumption that hobbies are more than just “how we spend our non-work hours.” And beyond that it’s more than just passive recreational activities only capable of amusement. In fact, what we both hope to achieve in our hobbies is something more like what M. Csikszentmihalyi described in his book about Flow, that a person is fully immersed in an activity and feeling energized. Furthermore, that this activity is leading to self-actualization (as Maslow would say), and that learning is kept continually within a zone of proximal development. (Meaning, both challenging, but also possible) (Vygotsky.)
A hobby then, is something that’s going to give you joy, but also require effort, and also the acquisition of skill and knowledge. It grows bigger and better over time, and as soon as you reach a certain level of achievement you set yourself a bigger mountain to hurdle. It’s resolutions that actually resolve something.
Now that I’ve been considering hobbies I find it ties in to quite a number of realms of life, not exactly a panacea, but certainly a cure of some sort. A cure that should also be explored more in terms of community than individualism. But that’s a thought I haven’t had time to explore as fully yet.
** Also, I highly recommend hitting “like” on the Manchester by the Book f-book page as a way to get cool invites to their poetry and featured author nights. The staff there is awesome, and the store holds a good selection of fiction and non-fiction.