Is It A Hobby or a Passion?

A young woman with impeccable posture rat-tatted decisively on stiletto heels toward the waiting area where I sat. Pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head, she sat, checked her watch, sighed, and turned to me.

Weary, travel-stained, not wanting to talk, gulping a salad I had purchased as I galloped toward my connecting flight, I avoided eye contact.

“Have they offered an explanation for the late departure?” she asked.

“No.”

“I have an important meeting I simply can’t miss. I hate this airport. Why are flights out of Denver always late?” foul weather

Resisting the urge to point to the windows and the raging spring blizzard obscuring the runways, I shrugged my shoulders and returned to my salad. Undeterred, she said, “I’ll bet you’re going to Reno to gamble.”

Wondering if her assessment had been influenced by a stray bit of spinach caught in my teeth, I replied, “I’m doing a book reading in Carson City tomorrow.”

“Oh, you write? Good for you! How nice it must be at your age to find something to keep you busy. I always thought writing might be a fun little hobby; maybe I’ll tinker with it some day.”

Well, thank you very much: in addition to being as irritating as the United States Congress, Miss Hoity Toity, you just helped clarify my thinking about hobbies and passions: two concepts I’m prone to ramble on about as though they were identical twins.

I think I might have been looking for a hobby — an enjoyable activity — when I enrolled in a memoir-writing class after I retired. But the joy I found in writing quickly caused it to become a passion — an object of intense emotions and enthusiasm.

Writing engrosses me, challenges me, rewards me. At times, I also feel disappointed, frustrated, or discouraged. But, invariably, I wake up the next day eager to tackle the problems that defeated me the day before.woman using laptop on the bed

Deep in these thoughts, I munched my salad, ignored my self-important neighbor as she bossed people around on her cell phone, and wondered what separates one person’s hobby from another person’s passion.

To me writing is a passion and knitting is a hobby. I’m compelled to write or revise nearly every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes; but I can go long periods of time without feeling the need to knit one and purl two.

It could be the other way around. I could be immersed in patterns and yarn and learning new stitches every day, feeling engrossed, challenged, and rewarded, telling others that knitting is my passion.

So the difference between a passion and a hobby seems to be an individual choice based on the level of commitment, fascination, and reward that any activity from chess to fly-fishing to dancing offers its adherents.

Thanks to Miss Highfalutin and the chain of thought she motivated, I now understand that though I have many hobbies, I have only one passion. As Gloria Steinem said, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

Attempting Poetics

In past posts I described my failed attempts to be an accomplished pianist and an admired artist: one led to a keyboard fiasco in church and the other to my inability to produce art as riveting as my father’s skinny chicken.

imagesMore recently, I decided to become a poet. Aglow with visions of quill pens and reading to enraptured audiences, I enrolled in a class for would-be poets and nearly quit when I had trouble completing the first assignment.

As I drove home from class, a stingy snow began to fall and didn’t stop, eventually coating yards and trees with insistence, rather than abundance.

Around 5:30, after an afternoon filled with busy work, instead of starting dinner, I turned up the heat and reread my assignment, a simple, twenty-minute exercise designed for beginners: concentrate on a scene in nature, describe what you see in complete sentences, pull phrases and words you like from those sentences, then arrange the selected fragments according to your idea of poetic format.

images-8I wanted to write poems. I wanted the ability to poetically describe the world I inhabited, to use few words to make the scene outside my window come alive for others, to depict swirls of snow on glistening asphalt and a diminished sky filled with persistent, sparse flakes.

I stood at the window, as frozen as the wind-whipped flakes I watched, and tried to find even one satisfactory sentence for my assignment. Twenty minutes later, I gave up: the assignment unfinished, dinner uncooked, and the poet depressed in a nagging, puny way, not the grand depressive state I imagined a real poet would feel.

I decided to start the spaghetti.

No matter how motivated, I find it hard to develop a new skill: work is required, failure is frequent, and — once past elementary school — praise is mostly absent. Too often, I react to my lack of skill and fear of failure by procrastinating or quitting. If I hadn’t had loving cheerleaders standing by offering encouragement, appreciation, and outstretched arms when I first tried to walk, I’d probably hold Ripley’s record as the world’s oldest living crawler.

Now, five years after my first poetry class, I continue to distract myself when I need to have something ready for my poetry group. Prose flows from me; poetry doesn’t. So I resist the effort involved.

Recently, I wrote an apology to the group to explain why, once again, I arrived without anything to share, and did my best to make it look like a poem:

I Hope You Understand

I apologize. I’m not prepared.

I had things to do—
finish a disappointing novel
water anything that drooped
call people
drink coffee and stare
stalk Facebook friends
breathe.

So I haven’t written a poem.

Yet, during the afternoon
I reserved for writing a
poem about crows
strutting like Sumo wrestlers
along my sidewalk,
I alphabetized the spice cabinet
ate rhubarb pie with ice cream
and napped.

After all, one has priorities.

 

 

 

A Passion for Words

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Words entice me into books, thrill me when well spoken, and bedevil me when I’m writing. They amuse me, enrich me, anger me, and sometimes fail me. I spend part of every day entangled with words, and I couldn’t be happier.

According to family lore, a weakness for words wanders in my genes, making me susceptible to the eight parts of speech, well positioned. My grandmother, Caroline Hall, responsible for my cheekbones and weakness for ginger cookies, also led me to words with her zeal for books and a lap perfect for reading Mother West Wind “Why” Stories to a toddler.gramma

When she was eighty-five, she showed me a small box on a shelf above her sink that held 365 vocabulary cards. The word of the day was insouciance; she was to learn it and use it several times in conversation. She studied the card for a minute or so, and then told me my dishwashing was too insouciant.

I realized the extent of my obsession with words when I met a girl in college I liked for her lively eyes, tinkling laugh, and tongue-tickling name: Roxie Throckmorton. Try saying that name aloud two or three times. Please do.

Wasn’t that fun?

Roxie’s name filled my mouth and gave a dramatic lilt to my voice, so I said it every chance I had. The poor girl must have tired of my fixation; before long, every time I saw her, she was vanishing around a corner.

Other words ricochet and resound in my mouth as well. Serendipitous is a long time favorite; my flowers gave me coreopsis; and a fellow blogger introduced me to susurrus.

I admire words that echo the sound they represent — whisper, quack, sizzle — and am partial to compound words that are self-descriptive — dragonfly and raindrop.

Through no fault of their own, I find some words innately funny and amuse myself every time I write them: irk, rambunctious, chortle. I tend to overuse these words, especially my favored willy-nilly.

Some words offend me in an oh-yuck way, and I admire their ability to do so. Spew and sludge are fine examples.

Names that flow with poetic rhythm captivate me: Persephone, Schenectady, Thaddeus, Kaskaskia, Edna St. Vincent Millay.

I suppose my family had it right. I did inherit a weakness for words. They answer a need in me as demanding as my need for light.

Do you share my affection for words? Can you think of two or three you are partial to for whatever reason? If so, please leave some in a comment, no rationale required. I’d enjoy reading words that appeal to you. Who knows, I might discover another as amusing as willy-nilly.

Wrestle Mania

Chief Kit Fox in the ring

Chief Kit Fox in the ring

I believe the ability to appreciate the talents of others is itself a talent. I arrived at this conclusion years ago, while enjoying the smooth moves of Chief Kit Fox as he defeated his opponents with a tomahawk chop.

In 1956, I stepped forward with my friend Charlie to accept a small rectangle of construction paper as Sandy and Jean Dericco, co-founders of the club we had joined, war-whooped in celebration.

I grinned and examined the certificate I’d been given: a sketch of an Indian brave with a handwritten message written across his chest: “Congratulations! You are now a member of the Chief Kit Fox Fan Club!! Happy wrestling!!!”

The Dericco sisters possessed saintly traits: They received straight-A report cards and laundered their P.E. uniforms every weekend. Blonde curls sparkling like halos, they never gossiped, forgave those of us who did, visited shut-ins, and wept during the assembly that featured a handicapped man who typed with his toes.

I don’t know why these fresh-faced angels started a fan club for the professional wrestler, Chief Kit Fox of Saturday night’s All Star Wrestling. Perhaps they tired of being perfect; maybe they enjoyed watching scantily clad men grapple.

I do know why I joined: free snacks and learning opportunities. I regularly employed wrestling to subdue my sister Barbara when she got uppity. Perhaps I could pick up some pointers.

The club of four gathered in the Dericco home. We flopped in front of the TV topped by a prowling black-panther figurine and waited for the mayhem to begin.

We liked Gorilla Monsoon and Sputnik Monroe, but felt a fanatic attachment to Chief Kit Fox — especially during his grudge matches with Professor Roy Shires.

Kit Fox, beloved by the crowd, entered the arena in a war bonnet to the noisy approval of fans doing the scalper sidearm, one of his specialized moves. His enemy, Professor Roy Shires, strutted toward the ring wearing a mortarboard, graduation gown, and glasses, carrying a fistful of pencils. Inside the ropes he yelled about Western pencil necks, breaking the pencils he carried and flinging them at the crowd that bellowed its hatred of the sissy Easterner.

We club members booed and roared with the crowd, ecstatic when Kit Fox successfully employed his finishing move, the bow and arrow. When he won, we spilled popcorn, spewed root beer, danced and whooped.

On those dark occasions when the Professor won with his bombs-away, a diving knee-drop from the top rope to the chief’s throat, Charlie and I walked home in despairing silence. When Charlie turned off, I walked on alone, thinking I might cheer myself up by sneaking into the house and surprising Barbara with a Bray belly-bomb.

I don’t remember how long we gathered for All Star Wrestling, but I remember why we disbanded: Sandy and Jean were denied TV when their parents overheard the obscenities they shouted after a spectator hit the chief with a folding chair.

I still have my handmade membership card, vivid memories of the brawls we loved, and my belief that appreciating the artistry of others is a worthy talent in itself.

Have any thoughts
about talents you appreciate?
Please leave a comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Eeks

I Continue My Talent Search

Unknown-2Mom encouraged her daughters to find and pursue interests. We obliged: Carolyn walloped home runs; I walked barefoot on hot asphalt; and Barbara charged a fee to those who wanted to sit by her on the school bus.

I sensed Mom had hoped for more, so I decided to become an artist like my dad.

For as long as my siblings and I can remember, Dad drew a stylized chicken. With admirable consistency, he sketched a side view of a tall, skinny rooster with a long neck and prominent wattle. Its beak gaped wide and dripped exactly three drops of drool. The word “Eek!” also escaped, written three to seven times, depending on Dad’s whimsy and the chicken’s mental state.

He shared his talent with us by leaving small scraps of paper with his gaunt rooster here and there around the house: beneath a doily on the piano, tucked into the toothbrush jar, or slipped inside a book. (As an adult, I once found a seven-eek chicken in my medicine cabinet after Dad visited. I chose to think it was not a comment on my cooking.)

Admiring my father’s skill and persistence with his art, I decided to discover a topic of equal interest for my life’s work. Having recently read The Secret Garden, I set about drawing pictures of a gate in a crumbling brick wall adorned with gracefully twined roses.

I practiced until I achieved consistency, and then entered my crayon painting in the school art fair.

I expected a blue ribbon, but received a note suggesting I work on proportion. When I asked my teacher what proportion meant, she replied that my huge roses were too big for the wall; it looked like a fence made of tinker toys supporting pink cabbages.

Well.

The next Christmas, I asked for book on sketching. Santa delivered. The book started with step-by-step illustrated directions for drawing people’s heads by using a circle for the head and smaller circles to mark the placement and size of each feature before filling in the details. Chapter two explained how to use the circle technique for bodies and clothing. Then came chapters on animals, houses, and outdoor settings; all hung on a series of circles.

A year later, I was still on heads.

I was rescued from my fruitless pursuit when my youngest brothers exercised their artistic abilities by scribbling my book with orange crayon. I shrieked and complained, then gave up on art and decided to be an Olympic runner.

But I continued to feel an artistic bond with my father: to this day, whenever a raindrop hits me, I picture him in heaven—carefully drawing an emaciated, drooling rooster—and tucking it away for me to find later.

Have any thoughts on today’s post?
Please comment below.

 

 

Hide It Under a Bushel, No! continued

Faithful readers will remember that last week we left a young but determined Janet searching for talent and thinking she might find it at the piano.

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PART II

Mom agreed I could take piano lessons. She enrolled me with Mrs. Rowe, a patient lady with an imposing bosom, who shed talcum powder as she sat beside me on the piano bench and did her best.

I pounded away at the keyboard for a couple of years, earning saliva-smudged, gold stars when I mastered a piece, and then decided I should debut. I began to badger my mother about playing in church. With what I considered unseemly reluctance, she secured an invitation for me to perform during evening services.

Mrs. Rowe recommended I play March of the Wooden Soldiers because I thumped it out quite nicely. I tortured my family for two weeks with its four-page arrangement, practicing it over and over, demanding a critique after each repetition.

Finally, I had it — except for the last five measures, which contained a scale quickly rippling down three octaves, followed by a series of resounding chords. I usually bumbled the opening notes of the scale and had to start over.

I ran out of practice time before I could correct this unfortunate glitch.

On Sunday evening, I donned a pink, dotted-Swiss dress Mom made for my performance and wriggled nervously in a pew until my solo was announced. Face fiery red, I walked forever through somber silence to the piano sitting near the podium.

I plopped down, peered at unrecognizable notes, and sounded the opening chords, my heart leaping so high it clogged my sinuses.

As I played, my situation worsened. The strange surroundings closed in, narrowing my vision, causing me to pant with claustrophobia and drip with sweat. But I didn’t falter. The wooden soldiers and I marched on and on and on and on toward the final measures.

At last, I began the scale. Five notes later, my little finger failed to bridge over my thumb. Silence reigned. I started over. Again, I tripped on my thumb. Sinking so low my chin rested on middle C, I tried once more. And finished.

Mom assured me no one would hold that minor mistake against me. My younger sister said she thought the music was supposed to stumble around at the end, like maybe one soldier was drunk. I said nothing, just crawled back under my bushel.

A few years later, a fire, which burned our home and possessions, consumed my talent as well: no piano, no lessons. I don’t remember minding.

Still, on occasion, I sit at our piano and hammer out basic tunes to the accompaniment of a CD that came with a recent purchase, “Piano for Dummies.” These efforts build neither talent nor skill, but a quiet sense of enjoyment.

Please share any thoughts you have
about this post
by commenting below.

Hide It Under a Bushel, No!

I listened to my father’s voice soar when he sang solos in church.

I saw the first, faltering, ice-skating attempts of my brother, and a year later watched him swoop around a frozen pond, skating backward with a smile on his face.

My mother, who could create anything, took up the art of tole painting in her sixties. I witnessed her absorption and contentment as she studied, practiced, and progressed.

So when I started blogging, “Utilizing Talents and Skills” became one of my categories for living and aging well. This post and the next will detail my first experience with talent development.

 As a young child, I believed I should share my special abilities whenever and wherever possible. I formed this philosophy from two unrelated experiences in church: hearing a parable about buried talents and singing a song about a little light: “Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine!”

I assumed the light I should shine was the talent I shouldn’t bury. I knew about talents. We had assemblies at school where the older students tap-danced, played the accordion, and attempted to yodel.

I wondered what my talent could be.

It definitely wasn’t singing. As Aunt Beulah said, I couldn’t carry a tune and shouldn’t try. While other family members received compliments for their soaring voices, my tuneless chirping caused merriment in some, fear I wouldn’t stop in others.

Convinced my voice was better off under a bushel, I looked for a different talent to share. Many of my third-grade friends studied piano. While I envied the important-looking satchels filled with music they carried on lesson day, I’d never thought of learning to play myself.

Then one Sunday I watched teenage perfection, Mavis Beck, with queenly posture and slender fingers, execute a dizzying rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee.

images-1As the last notes faded, she inclined her head graciously, holding the pose for several seconds. Chapel light gleamed on her honey-blonde curls; her cheeks glowed a beguiling pink.

I wanted that talent.

Will little Janet’s pursuit of a talent be realized?
Does she understand what talent is?
Does it matter?
Tune in next week to find out!


Have some thoughts
about today’s post?
Please  comment.

A Late Discovery

Pencil-Clip-Art After I published a post chronicling my decision to compile a book, a few readers asked how I discovered my passion for writing. Did I write all my life, astounding or dismaying others with my prose? Or did writing come to me more reluctantly, like convincing a toddler to open his mouth for pureed spinach?

The spinach analogy works.

I always felt I could write, and my teachers seemed to agree—with varying degrees of enthusiasm. But writing required work; I found it easier and more fun to spend my time reading the words of others and trying to peel the foil from gum wrappers.

Besides, my lifelong ambition was to teach, not write, so why bother?

As a teacher, I most enjoyed teaching literacy: reading, writing, and speaking. The individual writing conferences I had with students of all ages rank among my happiest teaching memories.

During these conversations, I frequently tried to help my students understand the necessity of deleting words, sentences, or paragraphs that divert a reader’s attention from the writer’s story or purpose — like a fly buzzing around a bride’s head as she’s reciting her wedding vows.

girl-face-cartoon-clip-art_416713Nose-to-nose with an uninhibited second-grader, after a detailed discussion of the strengths we’d found in her story, I gently wondered if two sentences describing her pretty birthday cake, in the middle of a story about trick-or-treating, might confuse her readers.

Could those sentences be taken out of this story and saved for another about her birthday?

“Oh no, Mrs. Bohart, I WROTE them in THIS story. I CAN’T take them out. They’re too GOOD!”

How well she summarized the agony of all writers.

After I retired, buoyed by my enjoyment of a class for beginning bowlers where I had fun and managed to break 100, I took a memoir class. In it, I wrote the memories of my heart, which I read to positive classmates, who laughed at the right times and never looked puzzled or appalled.

I haven’t quit writing since. I had discovered late in life that I could lose myself in writing, allowing my hair to go uncombed and pot roasts to burn.

Choosing the perfect descriptor or thinking of a clever comparison pleased me inordinately; I wrote with a contented smile and emptied the dishwasher with a tumult of ideas swirling in my head. Finally, at age 65, I had begun practicing the skills I preached to students.

It’s never too late to find, or develop, a passion.

Today’s Question:
What talent or skill
would you like to develop?

What You Said About “Words Matter”
A theme emerged in last week’s comments: parents and teachers need to model the language they want their children to use. Sue kept a quote in her classroom “Children are a mirror,” to remind her to choose her words carefully. Becca, a mom, admitted she sometimes forgets the impact of her words until they come out of her child’s mouth. Kathleen, Becca’s cousin, also stated she wasn’t a perfect mother when her children were young, but she never called them names or berated them; she knew they already had enough to battle out in the world. She also shared a hilarious story about her decision to name her son Tucker. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll want to take a look.

Dubious Skills

As a child, I pushed myself to color inside the lines, climb to the tops of trees, and jump until the rope-turners quit. I believed my fan base would increase each time I made a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

Now I’m easier on myself when I’m developing new proficiencies or abilities. Rather than trying to outshine others, my goal is to be engaged and content—especially when utilizing my more dubious skills.
bouquet_of_flowers
For example, I enjoy arranging flowers from our garden in decorative vases for display around the house. I feel energized and creative as I snip branches, trim leaves, and position blossoms.

However, when I step back to admire my handiwork, I often find I’ve created a lop-sided bouquet littered with bald spots. And why did I think a single lilac blossom and fourteen yellow tulips would be an attractive combination?

But I’m not discouraged. As soon as the daisies droop and roses wilt, I happily create new eyesores.

When alone in the house, I sing with volume and drama. I belt out ballads, pop tunes, cowboy laments, and church hymns. Song fragments burst from me. I wail, yodel, and growl like Janis Joplin—all off key.

Singing with others, I hum along demurely, not wishing to offend the sensitive or startle dogs.

woman_driving_2I like to drive. I snack, sing, and comment on the driving of others: “Well, hoity-toity lady, aren’t you something as you drive your little red car very, very fast and pass on a curve. Tut, tut!”

But when I have passengers, my enjoyment falters as I’m made edgy by their white knuckled terror.

On Saturdays, I enthusiastically assemble my cookbooks and make a weekly menu and shopping list. I scan coupons, check the refrigerator and cupboards for ingredients, and badger Joel for ideas. I then prowl supermarket aisles, anticipating the fine cuisine I’ll prepare for our dinners.

Then, as the week unfolds, I discover I planned three pasta meals, forgot to buy the chicken for the fricassee, and picked up a can of corn instead of pineapple bits for the fancy dessert.

Vonnegut Saying www.ArtProMotivate.comBut neither questionable skills nor challenged talents dissuade me from pursuing activities I enjoy. Excellence is no longer required.

Have some thoughts
about questionable skills you enjoy?
I’d be interested.

Summary of Comments on “Family Economics”
Three wise ladies, all sharing the same philosophy, agreed with Aunt Beulah that developing financial sense in children matters. mrs1500 mentioned that it is up to parents to teach their children how to “take care of their financial house.”  Janice added that living within one’s financial means allows for independence in many other ways; and Becca explains to her children that sometimes its less about what we like and more about what works.  Wise words all.

A Reluctant Author

I put my sudoku puzzle aside, reached for more popcorn, and remembered something I read long ago in a self-help book. Its title and author were hidden in the cloud of nonsense that fogs my mind, but an idea from it still lingered: not writing the book inside of you is more stressful than writing it.

“Well, Unknown Person, easy for you to say: obviously, you have more free time in your day than I do,” I thought—as I settled down for a nap. “Besides, I already write newspaper columns. That’s quite enough, thank you.”

I had written a weekly human-interest column for the local paper for three years. I hadn’t become rich and famous, but I liked running into folks who enjoyed my work. I sometimes thought about compiling a book from past columns and unpublished pieces, but worried it would be too much like fruitcake: a blend of ingredients tasty by themselves, but a bit much when mixed together.

woman typingStill, the book I carried inside me persisted. A year ago, listening to its quiet, insistent voice, I knew I would compile a book—and why.

I wanted, once again, to feel the nervous, anxious excitement I experience when I attempt something new, something I don’t know how to do, something that scares me, something that kick-starts my creativity.

I believe our talents and abilities unleash our creativity and the act of creating fulfills us, frees our minds to explore new possibilities for those things we’re passionate about: painting, gardening, music, carpentry, photography, cooking. And sometimes, when we set our creativity free, we accomplish things we’d thought impossible.

So, I began a book, and stuck with it, even when my mind rebelled, screamed, “Whose bright idea was this?” and sent me scampering to the kitchen for a pint of ice cream, a brownie, and all the brownie crumbs I could pinch together.

Please believe this reluctant author: at any age, you can stretch an ability or talent beyond your comfort level, and when you do, the eventual achievement will make you smile.

You can read more about the achievement that makes me smile by clicking on “About my book” in the main menu across the top of this page.

Have some thoughts
about talents or abilities that spark your creativity?
I’d like to hear.

A Recap of Comments about Some Lesser Joys
Lori’s thankful list included the first sip of a perfectly brewed cup of tea on a cold winter morning; Dawna mentioned reading glasses and a warm shower on a cool day. Janice is grateful for her new refrigerator and her husband’s bread-making ability. Sue appreciates red wine, dark chocolate, and a deep conversation with any one under the age of nine. Jacke solved Aunt Beulah’s sheet-folding dilemma by suggesting the use of one fitted sheet which you launder and put back on the bed until it wears out. No folding! Ingenious!