Creative recreation

Slowing down, shutting up and listening to the Universe—I find that difficult.

Waiting to play, oil on canvasboard, by CarolmL. Douglas. No, that’s not my Penn Yan.

When I brought my Penn Yan back this March, it was in recognition that there was something missing in my life. When work is all-consuming, it’s easy to end up with no hobbies. I walk and I read, but these are self-care. The creative things I used to do—sewing, gardening, playing the piano—have all been sacrificed because of time.

Ken DeWaard helped us pull the boat off its trailer so I could start restoration at the very bottom. I then came face-to-face with the second limitation of my current life: I really don’t have the time or energy for new projects. In this world of merciless measurement, my phone tracks my steps. I regularly have more than 10,000 a day without trying. I start at 6 AM and I work until I can’t move anymore. Then I get up the next day and do it again, six days a week.

White Sands of Iona, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. Unless Boris Johnson has a fast change of heart, I won’t be relaxing in Scotland this year, either.

Working until you drop may work for 30-somethings, but it’s not a lifestyle I recommend at retirement age, which is where I am right now. Don’t worry; I don’t intend to quit. Wayne Thiebaud (age 100) and Lois Dodd (94) are my role models. Still, there’s something that shifts, if not in your body, then in your worldview, as you enter the social desert we call “old age.”

Sometimes you hear the universe talking; I believe that’s God. For a while now, I’ve been hearing the same message: “Slow down, shut up, and listen.” That’s not an easy message for a person of my temperament to accept, but I’m trying.

I’m an old workhorse. Let off my traces, I just amble back to the barn to be harnessed back up. It’s hard for me to break my routine. I think that’s really a problem for most of us. We’ve worked so hard for so many years that we can’t cope with freedom, as much as we talk about it during our working years. We tend to choose passive recreation—television, movies—instead of creative recreation. It’s been worse this year, when so many options have been reduced.

Beaver Dam, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas

Sadly, some people who find the adjustment to retirement difficult resort to drinking to fill the void. Studies have found that retirement leads to increased drinking. (Alcohol is the most common form of substance abuse by older adults). Having my share of alcoholic role models, the possibility frightens me.

The question I’ve been asking myself is a silly, Konmari one: what brings me joy? There are lots of answers, including but not limited to: my family, nature, being on the water, my friends. I mean to incorporate them more in my day-to-day life, instead of pushing them all off to some far-off point of retirement.

Home farm, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas

That’s a long, roundabout way of telling you that I’m skiving off work today and going hiking with Seven Dwarfs (really middle- and elementary-school kids) and their parents, who are my friends. (Yes, the kids are skipping school, too, which really brings me joy.) We’re going to Mt. Apatite to look at minerals. I imagine they’ll learn something, but that’s just coincidental. We’re slowing down, shutting up and listening to the Universe. It’s never too soon to start.

The happy pursuit of leisure

Out here in the hinterlands, we haven’t forgotten how to waste time productively.

Running, by Carol L. Douglas
I enjoyed reading Tim Wu’s reflections on why Americans don’t have hobbies, except that I don’t believe a word of it. I agree with him that leisure is the basis of culture. But I see no sign of its demise.
I teach a lot of people who are dedicated hobbyists. They pursue excellence in painting because they love to paint, and they get satisfaction from constantly improving their skills. That’s the very definition of ‘amateur,’ which derives from Latin amatus, the past participle of amare: ‘to love’.
Many of them paint as well as some professionals. The difference is that they aren’t pursuing sales. That keeps the joy in painting. Being a professional artist is as entrepreneurial as it is creative, and that is a lot like what they left behind at the office.
Hiking boots, by Carol L. Douglas.
Yes, I have hobbies separate from my work. In fact, I got thinking about Wu’s essay when I ordered a new pair of ice skates. (They are my first brand-new pair ever.) I have a canoe, snowshoes, hiking boots, three sewing machines, and a woodshop, and I use them all.
Is the problem young people, so sunk into their screen time? I don’t see it. Two of my daughters are passionate cooks, a hobby that seems to have exploded in popularity in recent years. The third has a 4X4 and miles of trails. My son is recording an album of music over his winter break. One of my favorite young people is passionately interested in aerial gymnastics. No, she’s not training for the circus; she just likes it.
Butter, by Carol L. Douglas
Many Americans pursue hobbies that were toil a generation ago. For example, my friend Toby has an inexplicable love of canning. She’s got all the best equipment and skills to make a 19th century housewife proud. It’s fun because, in our 21st century world, it’s separated from drudgery.
The same is true of small-scale animal husbandry. The backyard chicken trend has been increasing in popularity for the past decade.
Spring, by Carol L. Douglas
One of my kids loves posting photos to Instagram. She’s not trying to be a social-media sensation; she just likes to share her weird world with others. A generation ago, she might have invested in a darkroom and SLR camera. Worse, she might have invited you over and pulled out her carousel projector and 200 hundred slides of her most recent trip.
Then she would have been called an “amateur photographer.” It’s still the same thing today, even when it’s done on a cell phone. Hobbies have morphed, not disappeared.
Professor Wu’s essay falls in the category of “the sky is falling” opinion piece at which the New York Times excels. But, fear not, good sir! Out here in the hinterlands, we haven’t forgotten how to waste time.

Everyone needs a hobby

When your job is what most people think of as a hobby, what do you do for fun?
Lady Standing at a Virginal, 1670-72, Johannes Vermeer

My reenactor friends have an all-consuming passion that I sometimes envy. They shimmy out of their office clothes each Friday, reach for the worn cotton frock or woolen tunic, and spend the weekends trudging through mud, carrying water, marching in the heat, whittling, sewing, slopping hogs, or pursuing whatever other aspect of pre-modern life floats their boat.

I love painting and can’t imagine doing anything else. But twenty years ago when I picked up my brushes full time, I never thought for a moment about what it meant to start earning money in one’s primary avocation. Nobody can focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. This is embarrassing to admit, but I have no hobbies, unless you consider cleaning up after the elderly dog a hobby.
When my friend Dennis told me he is an accountant with the soul of an artist, I realized that, in some ways, I’m an artist with the soul of an accountant. So why not take up accounting for fun? I looked into the possibility of joining an investment club. That could be profitable, I thought. Of course, once it’s profitable, it’s no longer a hobby.
Music panels from the Ghent Altarpiece, 1430-32, Hubert and Jan van Eyck
When my kids were young, I took up gardening. This was easy, since I was raised on a farm and had extensive experience with shovel and rake. Gardening is a brilliant hobby for young parents. It allows them to keep a sharp eye on the youngsters without appearing to hover.
As so often happens, that hobby started to balloon. Pretty soon I was planting and maintaining sprawling gardens at the corner church, and schlepping my wheelbarrow over there three times a week.
Today my schedule involves too much time on the road during the peak gardening months. I can barely keep the weeds at bay in the small foundation beds we have.
Before children, I used to play the keyboard and guitar and sing. I wasn’t a complete moron at any of those things. I’d had instruction from well-regarded musicians. However, my first cancer treatment left me with lung problems that ruined my voice.  My piano taunts me from across the room, but after 28 years I doubted I remember much about it.
The Bagpiper, 1624, Hendrick Terbrugghen. I even have the tam!
A few days ago, I sat down and played. I was every bit as bad as I expected, but the funny thing is, in some ways playing the piano really is like riding a bicycle. The keys are all there where I left them. As for my voice, it’s a mess. But my husband doesn’t mind the caterwauling. He just puts on his headphones and turns up the volume while I run through my vocal scales. If I can just remember to never open the windows, we should be fine.