On "Free Time" and How We Spend It
What's a hobby anyways?
Thank you for taking the time to subscribe to Amateur Hours. Seriously! The newsletter ecosystem is overwhelming, inbox notifications even more so. I’m grateful that you’ve chosen to spend a little time in this corner of the internet.
But then again, the point of this thing is that time has gone fuzzy these days. Specifically: free time. “Leisure time.” The liminal space between answering emails, washing dishes, and the other endless small tasks that accumulate until somehow it’s 9 pm and the whole day is gone. Of course, some of us have a lot more free time than others (caregivers, I salute you). But no matter who you are, almost a year (!!!) of social distancing probably has you desperate for a disruption of the routine. You’re in luck: Despite—or perhaps because of—the endless chaos of this past year, I think we’re in a hobby renaissance.
You may know me from my previous job editing Healthyish, Bon Appetit’s wellness vertical, but this newsletter is not strictly about food and wellness (although it may touch on these themes.) It’s about the appeal and anatomy of the hobbies, large and small, capturing our collective imagination right now. Hiking and house plant husbandry, sure, but also eBay-deal-hunting, noodle-rolling, natural-wine-drinking, card-game-playing, mushroom-growing, and so on. Each week will include helpful tips from miscellaneous cool folks who do these things, from experts to amateurs. You won’t become a pro after one email, but you will get fun activities to fill (at least) a bit of your time. Some just might stick.
But before we get into all that, I want to acknowledge that it can be hard to find energy right now, even to do things that we love. I want to say “at the risk of getting too personal” here, but this is my newsletter and that’s the whole point. So I’ll just be honest. Last week, I was flipping through an old notebook and found a journal entry from October. I had been, at first in hindsight and then obviously even to myself, depressed and anxious for months.
Even activities that should be easy, that I know I enjoy, are impossible to put into practice right now. Is this all a self-indulgent way to admit I’m depressed? I want to be curious and useful. I want to move my body and make art and knit and delete Instagram from my phone. I want to get past this and make a path for myself in this weird world. But I don’t know how to get there.
Typing up this dispatch now, it’s obvious that I was going through it. I was angry because I saw a blueprint for a happier version of myself that I couldn’t put into motion. She was someone who started each morning with stretching instead of Instagram scrolling, someone whose hobbies were a daily practice instead of a 9 p.m. afterthought.
It will be March tomorrow, and I still spend most of my time avoiding my knitting. Most evenings consist of doing the dishes, watching Drag Race UK (I’m team Bimini, thank you for asking), and just vibing. When I feel like it, I pick up my nascent checkerboard-scarf-in-progress to process my thoughts away from a screen. I’ve come a long way in these first few months of 2021, but I’m still not the Martha Stewart of hobbies—and that’s the point.
A hobby doesn’t have to be something you do every day, and it definitely shouldn’t be measured in terms of productivity. I’ll talk to experts in the coming weeks who have turned their hobby into a career (or at least a side hustle), but that is not the goal here. We all deserve fun that isn’t optimized or monetized. I’m creating this newsletter to carve out a space that explores activities for the sake of doing them, whether or not Instagram is watching, in whatever function and form feels right to you.
Okay, I know that got a little heavy. Thanks for sticking around! The next send will focus on mushroom growing and other fungi fascinations (a pro’s troubleshooting tips! recipes for cooking your homegrown abundance with wild abandon! blue oysters playing modular synths!) I know I said this would be biweekly, but I’m eager to get this going, so look out for that send next Sunday.
If you have any requests, recommendations, feedback, or 2 a.m. thoughts you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. Send me an email!