Last week, one of my co-workers and I were discussing retirement, as we'd just heard that a long-time favorite customer of ours was taking a buyout from his position and essentially taking early retirement. We both marvelled over the fact that he had expressed concern about not knowing what to do with himself once he had officially stopped working. We agreed that we didn't think we'd have ANY trouble at all filling that spare 8-9 hours a day with more interesting things than coming to our job every day.
Like Shani said in her earlier post, I have to force myself to limit where I focus my attention - if I didn't, my house would be buried even further in my hobby supplies, and I'd be unable to focus long enough on any one thing to ever accomplish anything.
It's probably because I am interested by so very many things that what is more important to me than exactly what my hobbies are at any particular moment in time is the effect they have on my life in the larger picture. I can honestly say that in at least two cases, my hobbies have changed my life.
I joked in my introduction that I wondered if you could consider the internet a hobby. I've thought some more about that, and I would have to say that I abolutely can and even should. I mean, I spend at least 10 hours a week wasting time here, I get a good deal of satisfaction out of the time I spend, and the truth is that without it, my life would be very different.
I first started using the internet my freshman year at college, when my boyfriend insisted that I go sign up for an e-mail account with our school - that they weren't automatically handing them out to every incoming freshman should tell you how early this was in the online world. I watched as he got sucked into all kind of things online - MUDs and MUSHes and IRC and I don't even know what else. I watched as a few of our friends got kicked out of school for failing grades, mostly the result of spending too much time online. I had too much riding on my GPA to do that, so I mostly posted a lot in newsgroups and our school's little bulletin board. I thought it was amazing that you could easily have conversations with people on the other side of the world.
As we moved through school, W (boyfriend then, husband now) settled into a few sites that he played a lot on, one of which was a MUSH called TinyTIM. At that time, there was a large group of players living in Boston and they used to get together for parties and activities fairly often - we lived in Worcester, but since W still had high school friends in Boston, we drove in pretty regularly to join in the festiviess. Once I got to know the real people behind the characters, I started logging on too.
Once I did that, I meant a whole lot of interesting people. Most of them neat and interesting and geeky, a few of them weird, most of them nice. I tend to be fairly quiet in person when faced with a lot of people - I'm the one sitting on the fringe, watching everything, not saying much until I have a handle on everyone in the room. TIM was perfect for that - I could hang out in the main space, watch everything that was going on and not stick out while I was doing it. Once I got to know people, I started making friends. A lot of them were in Boston, where we moved soon after. A number of them were further afield, but that didn't matter. In the community's strongest period, we would have parties that players would travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles to attend, and even now, more often than not, when I travel I know someone who lives near my destination. My co-workers joke that I must know everyone, since almost anywhere they can think to send me, I have a friend I can call up to have dinner with me.
TinyTIM is a lot smaller now - there were always little dramas happening in small scale, and the group as a whole went through an upheaval of sorts a few years ago. The advent of new and different online amusements and ways of keeping in touch with people have siphoned off a lot of the players as well. I miss it sometimes, but even I rarely have the time to spend in an environment that is busy that needs constant attention - my internet times comes in little stolen moments over the course of a day. At the end of my time as a frequent player, I can't complain about what I got out of my time there - of all my dearest friends, and of all those friends I see the most often, and spend the most time with, the vast majority of them are people I met on TIM, people I would have been unlikely to meet any other way.
These days, LiveJournal plays the same part in my life that TIM did then. Many of my "friends on LJ are people who have also migrated from TIM, but many are new. It's different, of course, in that it's not real time and I've not yet found anyone organizing huge sleep on the floor parties (that may have more to do with the passage of years than the medium), but it's allowed me to connect with those I would consider my tribe. For someone who's never quite felt like she fit in anywhere, that has been a wonderful thing.
My experiences with knitting have been remarkably similar - when I walk into a knitting circle, I know I have something in common with everyone else in the room. Our knititng works as an entirely comfortable ice breaker as we discuss projects and yarn, patterns and techniques. We all have a reason to be there other than socializing, so the occasional silence is rarely uncomfortable, and again, I don't stick out very much as I sit on the outside of the circle waiting to figure out how I fit into it.
Many more eloquent knitting writers than I have noted how astonishing it is that knitting is such a strong common denominator that it allows people who would never otherwise have any reason or desire to meet one another to get to know one another and become friends. I'm not sure why it happens, but it is true - I have made friends at knitting circles who are all kinds of people - and yet, we find we become real friends, and it is something I count myself wildly lucky to have found.
I have other hobbies of course, and endless things I enjoy trying out. I get more out of all of them than making friends or finding connections with other people as well. But I still think the the best hobbies are the ones that take me beyond myself and into the wider world when I do them.