Not long ago, I was eating lunch with a woman whom I had just met, and she asked me the oddest question: What are your hobbies?
The question threw me, not only because I hate personal questions that come out of the blue like that, but because I had no idea how to answer it. I answered simply, "I don't have any," hoping she would drop the subject. Porter tried to help by mentioning a few projects of mine, but as I had absolutely no desire to talk about any of them, much less explain why they were certainly not hobbies, I resorted to my usual strategy in such situations, and flipped the question as quickly as possible to her own "hobbies." Works almost every time.
Nonetheless, the encounter brought home once again the thought that I apparently have very different idea about work from the rest of the world. Some would say that is because it has been almost 40 years since I worked for a paycheck, but I don't believe money comes into the equation at all. Certainly my attitude towards work and leisure predates my wage-earning.
Work is what I do.
I have no memory of a time when my life was separated into "work" and "leisure." Some work, e.g. school before college, was more annoying and unpleasant than other work. Some was associated with a paycheck, some not. But neither monetary gain nor whether or not I enjoy a task marks it as work or not work for me.
My first memorable encounter with someone else's definition of work was in high school physics, when our teacher told us, "if you are holding a 100-pound weight above your head but not moving it, you are not doing any work." I had a problem with that. Of course, that problem is just a quibble, because physics has a specific, particular definition of the term "work," independent of how the word might be used by ordinary human beings. I can handle that. However, society's definition of work, although fuzzy and unstated, is no less restrictive.
A friend of mine creates beautiful quilts, much sought-after as gifts. I think she must realize that she is an artist, but seems to have bought into the idea that quilting is a "hobby." She's a writer, also. Unlike me, she gets paid for her writing! I consider myself a writer, and writing to be (one part of) my work. Vocation, not avocation. But again, she considers her own writing to be a leisure-time activity. She is also an avid gardener—another hobby. I know she recognizes that what she does is of value—and she certainly knows how much effort goes into it and that the alternative would be to pay someone else to do the job—but she still accepts the world's idea that her work is somehow unimportant because...well, I'm not sure why. Because she doesn't live on the income? Because she has no degree in the field? Because each one is not her sole interest? I don't know.
What I do know is that I like the definition of work given pride of place in Google's definition:
[Work is] activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result
That expresses exactly what I have felt intuitively all my life.
Everything I do has a purpose. Usually a deliberate, serious purpose. Preparing a meal? That one's obvious. Sifting through census records? Genealogy research, and the last person who called that a "hobby" got a vicious evil eye from me. Reading a book? Education. Walking? Exercise. Doing a puzzle? Mental exercise. Sleeping? Much-needed mental and physical rest. Writing? That one's tough, because there's so much to it, but it is sufficient to say: I write for the same reasons I eat.
How about watching television, which is high on just about everyone's list of worthless activities (even if it fills much of their time)? For me, the primary purpose is as a social activity, usually with my husband. Depending on the show there may be other purposes, notably education. But with or without that, the social result is the activity's primary purpose.
Staring into space? Yes, even that is purposeful and deliberate. If I look zoned out, with eyes open or eyes closed, one of three essential activities is going on:
- I'm listening. I hear better if I can shut out, mentally or physically, the visual stimulus.
- I'm thinking. I'm concentrating on something, or working out a problem. For what it's worth, in my own brain, this usually takes the form of unwritten writing.
- I'm not thinking. I'm letting my mind free-range, as a butterfly flits from flower to flower, or I'm resting in the silence. This is vital for creative activities (read: life).
Okay, so there's one other possibility, and any of the above may transition seamlessly into the fourth:
- I'm sleeping.
If an activity has a purpose, it's work. If not, what is it? I don't know—boredom? Fortunately, I'm almost never bored.
What do you do for fun? is another question that throws me for a loop. Usually I can manage to respond with little more than a pathetic, "I don't do anything for fun." Perhaps it would be better to say, "I do everything for fun."
Fun is a travelling companion of work.
A rather fickle companion, it is true: unpredictable, here today and gone tomorrow, disinclined to come when called but also showing up in the most unexpected places. Some of my moments of intensest joy have occurred while doing simple housework. Anything I do can be fun, tedious, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, exhausting, or refreshing.
The only downside I see to having my own, skewed definitions of words such as work, play, hobby, leisure, and fun—besides communication problems with others—is that it is difficult to decide what is and what is not an appropriate Sabbath day activity. If everything is work, how to I handle the command to "do no work"? I tend to lean in the direction of grace, on the grounds of "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It doesn't matter what the particular activity is: if the net effect is restful, refreshing, or uplifting, it's a good Sabbath occupation. If it's stressful, frustrating, or exhausting—necessities excepted—better put it off for another day.