Why Have One Pandemic Hobby When You Can Have 1,000 of Them? – The New York Times

Posted: May 31, 2020 at 2:50 am


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Over the past 60 days, I have not touched my stack of presidential biographies or baked a single loaf of sourdough bread. Nor have I acquired new muscle definition, signed up for a 12-week Russian course or embarked on the slow but fulfilling process of practicing a new hobby.

I dont have the fortitude or patience for any of that right now.

In the midst of this pandemic, with my days split between work and Zoomschooling, I can barely manage to keep everyones schedules straight, let alone learn how to trim a bonsai tree. I need quick wins these days, not focused concentration on a new skill that may require weeks or months of my time in order to achieve competence.

While advice columns have urged us to find respite in deep study or passion projects, Ive gone in the opposite direction. Rather than devote my sliver of nightly leisure time to a single, purposeful activity, I have instead taken on 1,000 of them. Im channeling my listlessness into activities whose outcomes mean absolutely nothing to me, but which give me a small sense of accomplishment. I want to try everything and master nothing.

Since early April, Ive sowed seeds in the cold spring that were meant to be planted in the hot summer. Ive cooked recipes with little regard for the ingredients, substituting ricotta for parmesan depending on whats in the fridge. Ive run a trivia night for friends in which I awarded points at whim. I dusted off old programming skills to build something truly pointless: an animated digital robot whose arms rise and fall in panic.

I commit to nothing; I am wildly promiscuous in my tastes. I signed up for a community-supported agriculture program and canceled it the moment brussels sprouts appeared in my delivery box. I made a face mask with honey and yogurt and ended up eating it instead. I played exquisite corpse with an artist friend and cheated halfway through (Sorry about that, Matt!).

Through it all, I suffer no physical or mental strain. I skip past the 1,000-piece, single-color jigsaw puzzle in favor of an easy, 300-piece Map of the United States, half of the pieces still assembled from a previous pass. I do online fitness videos on YouTube that I abandon around the 20-minute mark, just when I am starting to sweat. Why should I work that hard? No one is going to see my abs for another 18 months.

Only the most generous judge would award me a participation ribbon for these feats; nowhere on my tombstone will I be recognized for my green thumb, cooking skills, athletic ability or sharp engineering talent.

But at the same time, these quick, one-off projects have all kinda, sorta worked. Half of the seeds have sprouted. The food Ive been cooking is wildly off but still edible. The panicked robots arms dont properly connect to its torso, but instead wave urgently from its head. I may not have a six-pack, but dance hall aerobics do provide a nice rush of endorphins.

Im not learning any new skills; there is no self-improvement happening here. There is no exciting, frustrating or meaningful experience of grappling with something truly new and unexplored. In fact, I rarely do the same activity twice.

Perhaps such a distracted approach would feel emptier in more normal times. Or maybe doing something aimlessly with no intention at all is the very definition of leisure, and its leisure, not focused projects, that some of us need right now.

Whatever the case may be, Ive been pleased by my short-lived, fruitless endeavors. My projects if one can even use such an ambitious word to describe them are fun and quick. They may be sloppy half-wins, but they are activities with a start and an end. They make me feel productive at a time when all the normal and truly important stuff can feel slow-going and difficult. Unlike my children or my job, I can abandon them at a moments notice with little consequence or feelings of guilt.

The nation may need a collective therapy session when all of this is over. (Ill probably need an individual one to address my ever-present need to feel occupied.) But in the meantime, for those of you who arent making any headway on writing your pandemic novel or reorganizing your closet, I encourage you to remember this: All those projects will still be there when all of this is over. So rather than punish yourself with a slow and meaningful undertaking that will transform you into a better and more fulfilled individual, why not instead just spend 10 minutes learning how to kind-of-not-really-sort-of do a roundhouse kick?

Jessica Powell (@themoko) is the author of The Big Disruption: A Totally Fictional but Essentially True Silicon Valley Story.

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Why Have One Pandemic Hobby When You Can Have 1,000 of Them? - The New York Times

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