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The Hobbyist Manifesto

Something rather strange has happened to our culture in the past twenty years or so. I tend to use the word culture rather sparingly when referring to our society. I believe we suffer from a poverty of culture and in the vacuum of its absence thrives consumption, acquisition and assimilation. It’s a pattern that has existed for us since our beginnings. A society that tracks its progress and growth through history according to the conquering and absorbing of other communities, their people and resources will eventually (or quite quickly) loose sight of their natural culture keepers and forsake their appreciation for culture making.

But in the past two to three decades, with the rise of the freelance and entrepreneurial economies (the infopreneurs and mompreneurs), multiple streams of income, side businesses, self-publishing industry and (yes, I see the irony here) internet-based media something specific has happened.

I love to cook and I am reasonably good at it. I can’t count the number of times enjoyment of my cooking has been equated with the exclamation, “You really should publish a cook book!” ( … or open a restaurant … or sell this at the market.)

In the last year I began learning zentangle. I maintain the original practice and to increase my knowledge, skill and understanding I also play around with larger pieces of what’s known as ZIA (zentangle inspired art). I am not a skilled sketch artist. I am not a skilled zentangle practitioner. I am a student at the very early stages of a new hobby. I adore it, but I have a healthy appreciation and deep honouring of my limits in this area. And because I have fun showing my work to my friends I have now begun to hear, “Oh Arria! I’m telling you, you really ought to make a colouring book!” ( … limited prints … sell this on etsy.)

Ignoring for a moment that I have a working grasp of how difficult it can be to nurture an idea or talent into a successful product and that depth of effort, risk, perseverance and skill is rarely reflected in suggestions of this kind …

I believe in hobbies
I feel very strongly about this. Not every talent, interest, passion or gift need be produced, marketed, made available to – and bought into, by the masses (or at least by enough to justify the attempt).

As a society, we are not served by the instinct to package and monetize our hobbies. Culture is made, not sold and bought. Customs are passed on, not marketed.

I know – truly I do, that people intend statements like this as a compliment. That’s my point. As a culture, we have accustomed ourselves to thinking it’s a compliment of someone’s hobbies and creative endeavours to reflect them back to that person in the form of a successful commercial product.
I would like to suggest for our consideration that we might all benefit from sitting with that reality for a while. Long enough to understand what it says about us and to wonder what might be calling to us from within it.

I really believe in hobbies
Here’s the other little wrinkle in our now customary compliment: it’s a form of praising potential creation instead of the actual creation. Culture struggles to take root and deepen – let along grow, in an atmosphere of relentless progress and production.IMG_2285
My little ZIA pieces, for example, are barely-germinated seeds. And they are seeds of culture, not consumption. I share them with my nieces and nephew and watch their faces light up. Then we sit down and zentangle together, sharing and appreciating what we create. I share them with my extended family and friends and my mother’s cousin sends me a colourized cartoonish version of my piece that she created in a fit of inspired whimsy. That’s culture. Relating to them as if they are seeds for a larger form of production is consumption.
I have always felt a little sad, and more than a little exhausted, when people respond to a delicious soup I’ve made by reflexively suggesting what I should do with it and what it could be, instead of mindfully receiving and appreciating it for what it is.

Up with hobbies! All hail, the humble hobbyist!

What are your hobbies? Whatever they are, please share for the sake of sharing – and hobby for the sake of hobbying.

Published inArticles & Essays

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