Monday, June 6, 2011

Me and my "hobby"

Talk about a check-your-ego-at-the-door moment. A friend last week made reference to my blog as a "hobby."

The remark bothered me, and because it was made with no ill intent whatsoever, I thought long and hard about why it affected me the way it did. After all, many people have hobbies; hobbies are mostly good and wholesome. It's just that they're simply not what this happens to be.

I’ve always heard that it’s a bad idea for a person to allow her occupation to define her. I think that’s true, but I was lucky enough to end up being paid to do exactly what I always wanted to do. My “real” day job pays the bills and is not my passion, but it’s a great gig, I take pride in it, I work hard at it, and I like it.  And I am in love, for the most part, with my freelancing job -- the one that pays some smaller bills and allows me the occasional splurge.

So I define myself by both jobs, and doing so allows me to describe myself to the IRS as a professional writer and editor. But here’s where things get tricky. When you’re a writer, you don’t check your job at the door the minute you walk home, as you might if you’re an actuary or a TV installer or an insurance salesman or a bartender. When you’re a writer, you view everything as a potential tale to tell. So you’re always working.

I started this blog to keep my sanity and inform relatives of the ever-changing landscape when my dad was sick. I continued it after he died because I found I had a lot to say. My kids are in college; my stepson is too young – mercifully for him – to be counted on for much feedback. And my husband isn’t much of a talker, so while he’s a good listener, it’s either converse with walls or do this.

And I know some people don’t agree with the things I write, and that’s perfectly OK. Anytime I write about gay rights, for example, I can count on being “unfriended” by a person or two on Facebook.  And because my blog has the potential to generate controversy, some well-meaning folks have asked me: “Why do you do it?”

The question “Why do you write?” has never been one of my favorites; for me, it’s akin to “Why do you eat?” or “Why do you shower?” It’s a necessity that allows me to keep my sanity so as to be able live in a civilized society. In short, I don’t know why, but I have to churn out words – and often a lot of them – on a daily basis.

Unlike my more disciplined peers, I don’t plan my non-assignment writing; the urge strikes and I give in to it, often turning to the computer in the middle of something else. Twenty minutes later, if the letters have aligned in just the right way, I feel better. If they haven’t yet done that, I stay at it until they do.

I’m not a jack-of-all-trades. I can’t sew or cook or do math. I’m too scared to gamble and too impatient to shop. I bake a little, my gardens usually turn out all right, and I read like a fiend. But really, when the Talent Fairy was coming around, this is what she had in the bottom of her bag.

I’m not trying to sound pathetic; far from it.  I love my life, but I’m just realistic. If writing were simply a hobby for me, there would be nothing else for me to do. So in a nutshell: I have no idea why I write, and my friend’s words scared me a little.

From time to time, I think of Iris Murdoch, the acclaimed writer and philosopher who fell victim to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. As Dame Judy Dench portrays her in the movie Iris, Murdoch is a master of words who loses the ability, heart-wrenchingly, to manipulate them. My worst fear is of something happening to one of my children or to another close family member; my second-worst fear is losing my words.

So I hold tightly to them and use them as much as I can. They’re not a hobby; they’re my breath. And if someone is offended by something I write, please consider talking with me about it. This blogging thing is all about dialogue, and I love it when that goes both ways.

In the meantime, I’m afraid I have no choice but to keep churning out all these words. To those of you who read them, your attention to my “hobby” touches my heart.

Iris Murdoch, 1919-1999


  1. I recognize your breath for what it is, I too have to breathe through words. It took me years to figure out that I wasn't go to be a writer when I "grew up", because I have been a writer all my life. It is my lifeline, my breath and my joy.

    Thank you for sharing your breath with us. I read your blog for many reasons, one because it's a little taste of home and connects me to long loved friends. Two because your writing style speaks to mine, and more often then not after I read you, I am sparked to do some writing of my own.

    Thank you again.

  2. I am humbled by your words. Thank you for reading, and for sharing a little of yourself with me, as well.

  3. I may not be as eloquent as you are, but Loren and I write about the humor of our lives because we just can't keep all this "fun" to ourselves! But seriously, keep writing, keep living your passion. You HAVE to. Sometimes, you have no choice.