Thoughts About Hobbies

I’d love some insight from my readers on something. (Those who are still out there, anyway.)

I’m obsesed over whether I’m good enough for my hobby. I don’t know if I can clearly put all of this into words, but I’ll try.

My interest around this time of year is film – probably because it’s awards season and this is when most of the good films come out. But I don’t want to see just the Oscar nominees. I want to become a film expert. I want to know all the good and great films of the past. I want to read books about what makes a film great, I want to see all the great films, I want to be able to write about them. Especially older films – silents; black and white films from the golden age of Hollywood; foreign filmmakers; the great films of the 1970s; and so on.

And yet I don’t seem to have the patience for it. Sometimes it’s hard to sit down for 90-120 minutes or longer and immerse myself in a movie. After about 90 minutes, I get the urge to look at my watch. I’m sometimes annoyed to see that less time has gone by than I’d thought.

It can be especially hard to watch more than one movie a day. Especially if, instead of sitting in a movie theater, I’m at home and there are other distractions. Watching a movie at home, I’m a lot more tempted to bring up the progress bar and see how much of the movie is left.

And I fear this means I’m not good enough to have this as a hobby. I’m not good enough to belong in the elite club of movie people. The real experts are telling me: “Give it up and find another interest, and leave film-watching to those of us who actually love it. You obviously don’t love it as much as we do. This obviously isn’t your calling and you should find something else.”

Okay, but I still like it and for some reason I still keep wanting to try.

My therapist tells me it’s okay to not purely enjoy a hobby. He says it can be healthy to engage with an interest rather than just enjoy an interest. Engaging with it means there is some challenge or work involved, rather than just pure pleasure. And that’s okay.

But I still feel like true movie people never look at their watches, they love nothing better than sitting in a dark theater for three hours and immersing themselves in the screen, even two or three times a day, that for them it’s no challenge. And therefore, unlike them, I’m never going to make anything of this hobby and I should just go find something else.

Why do I have to “make anything” of it? Why can’t it just be a hobby? Because I need something in my life that can be more than just a hobby. I want something I can pursue with dedication. I don’t have that in my career. I don’t have it in any other area of my life. I want to dedicate myself to something.

But in addition to fearing I’m not cut out for it, there’s another problem: I don’t like the feeling of obsession. I’m very uncomfortable with falling down a rabbit hole and losing sight of everything else in the world. The internet made that seem abnormal anyway, because it’s so much easier to tweet and click and multitask, and my brain is forgetting what it’s like to singlemindedly focus on something. So dedicating yourself to something feels weird.

Matt has no problem sitting down and working on his website for several hours at a stretch. I want to be able to dedicate that amount of time to something as well, without feeling weird about it.

And I’m afraid of people telling me I’m weird and obsessed, and I’m afraid my strong interest in it will annoy them. I myself get irritated when someone else is obsessed with something I’m not obsessed with. But aren’t all happy people weird in some way? Aren’t all happy people kind of obsessed with something? Why do I worry so much about what other people might think? And more importantly, how do I make that worry go away?

I’d love any insight any of you might have on all of this. Often when you write about your thoughts online, nobody responds, and it just makes you feel alone. So if you have anything at all to say, I’d really appreciate it.

6 thoughts on “Thoughts About Hobbies

  1. You know, part of the reason that I gave up blogging was my dissatisfaction with my theatre reviews. I love going to the theatre and talking about what I like and don’t like but at a certain point I realized that I was never going to become an expert. I felt like my level of criticism wasn’t rising very high. I didn’t really have the vocabulary to say why I liked something in a way that felt authentic. And since I’m pretty sure I’m tone deaf, I didn’t feel comfortable writing about someone’s singing voice. I think I’m able to just sit back and enjoy things more now that I don’t have to think about them so critically. I guess theatre is still my hobby.

    As a kid I collected stamps and for awhile I thought I’d get into scrapbooking. I bought tons of supplies, which are in a box underneath my bureau. :-( I’d love to learn to play an instrument but like I said, I don’t think I’m very musical. I’d love to learn to take better photos instead of just snapping away and hoping something is in focus. I’ve thought about taking a photography class. But again, I’m not very visual.

    And I have the same feeling watching a movie at home. There are so many ways to get distracted. Sometimes I’ll get in phases where I want to learn about Italian or French films but nowadays, I don’t have the patience for subtitles!

    In terms of obsession, I guess I have been a little at various points in my life. Before my first trip to Israel, I obsessively read everything I could and when I got back, I’m pretty sure I annoyed everyone by talking about it constantly, until I finally moved there for a year. ;-)

    But all of that was 15 years ago now. I don’t read very much about it. I have a lot of Israeli music that I used to listen to all the time. I took Hebrew lessons once a week and I stopped that when it started to feel like homework.

    So I do go through phases. I guess I’m in a theatre phase now!

  2. Don’t you also read a lot? It seems like you have better patience for reading than watching movies, what if that can be considered your main hobby?

    My problem is that I want to be a better movie person and a better book reader, and I can be impatient with both, meanwhile I read a ton of articles online and don’t have trouble spending the same amount of time on TV shows. I think it also is because I will try to watch the better movie or read the smarter book instead of what I would be most entertained by in that moment which makes me watch the clock more.

    I don’t really have a solution for you except to say that I often feel the same way. Maybe the point is to just keep trying, like with any hobby? I’m sure ship builders loose patience too, although I think it just takes a lot more mental stamina to watch a lot of movies than to get physically sucked into an activity. I think we are also both just worry warts at times, and the trick with not worrying is to just learn to shut it off at the right time and just do what it is I’m worrying about (I’ve started to think of it as a vampire’s ability to shut off their humanity).

  3. I don’t have a very organized response but I’ll try. My best words of advice here are simply to let yourself enjoy what you want to enjoy. Whether it is films, books, theatre, etc. I’m no professional, obviously, but I’ve been through my share of therapy. It sounds to me like you’re putting this pressure of everyone else’s expectations upon yourself. It shouldn’t matter what you think everyone else will think about you. The things that you care about, obsess over, “get weird” over, or have passion for should be all that matter as long as you enjoy them.

    As for my own personal worship of Oscar season, I find it’s a great way to spend my alone time during the winter. When it’s cold out and my partner is working on a show, leaving me with six free evenings a week, it’s a nice escape. The awards season gives me structure, which I’m not very good at finding for myself otherwise. And through the past few movie seasons I’ve been amazed by the sheer creativity and artistry out there in the cinematic world.

    Not my most concise post, but that’s what happens when you let me type for more than 140 characters. :)

  4. When I take on a new hobby I generally start broad. I try to get a good overview and understanding of the subject, learn the language and layout of this new subject. At some point I just naturally start diving down into some aspect of it, going deeper into the topic and doing additional research. Kind of like I did back in college.
    Films are a gigantic subject. For me these days there are 2 types of movies I focus on: Oscar nominated films each year; and trying to see every gay themed movie available through Netflix. (Believe it or not, there are hundreds.)
    Sorry you feel alone when no one comments. I have enjoyed reading your blog for 12+ years and have only left 2-3 comments.

  5. It’s striking that you mention your therapist in this question, because I think the entire formulation of this post says more about you and your own insecurities than it does about your ability to sit and watch a film. I think the question at the heart of this post: “Am I good enough” [to be a film hobbyist] is not the right question. It’s not even a meaningful question; hobbies have wide spectrums of interest and engagement. Hobbyists do what they love because they are interested, not because they meet some arbitrary skill threshhold. The skill you claim to lack is also not a skill–sitting still and watching a movie isn’t what makes a “great film watcher” (whatever that means). If the skill were in the sitting, any sedentary person could be Pauline Kael.

    What do you really want from the hobby? Recognition from your friends that you’re a “good film watcher” or someone who knows a lot about movies? Genuine enjoyment of the films you watch? Why do you need to categorize your film watching as a hobby, and why is there some baseline success at this you need to achieve before you’ll call yourself a film hobbyist? If you decide you can’t sit still long enough, will you give up watching films entirely or will you just not call yourself a hobbyist?

    Really, this seems to be much more about your claim to authority on the subject of film. It seems to me that you want to consider yourself (and maybe more importantly, have other people consider you to be) someone who knows “a lot about film” (again, whatever that means). Are you good enough for that? I don’t know. But if that’s what you want, there are ways to go about it. If what you genuinely want is just to watch films as an avocation, well there’s nothing stopping you from doing that; you’re probably doing it already, regardless of your skill at staying immobile.