Someone asked me recently what my hobbies are. That gave me pause. I enjoy so many things, hobbies or not, so where to begin? But I answered: “Thinking might be number one…” She laughed incredulously, not understanding who I was and what I meant.
I spend a significant amount of time each day thinking. Not that I am unique in this. We think without even realizing it, surfing the brain for memories, connections between disparate matters, solutions to challenging problems, the causes and effects of feelings and events. Afterall, we are curious creatures made for verbal activities, outfitted with and guided by words that identify, inform, clarify, embroider and precisely define. So it is logical that even stream of consciousness bouts of verbalizing preoccupy us. And for writers of any stripe, words, whether given internal or external form, are tools that enable transportation to a world of characters, places and times that would not otherwise spring to life. Those consonants and vowels strung together feel like daily sustenance.
So, how easy for human beings to become lost in thought. To contemplate and wonder.
But when does thinking become pondering? Ruminating? When does such thinking cease to become worthwhile, productive? Once I would have said such a thing was impossible. Every thought had meaning and purpose–yours and mine–and if I thought hard and long enough I would find the answer sought. I followed my ideas and imaginings into mazes of speculation. Brief inspiration could capture me; soon I would be swimming in reflections. I adored ideas. A barrage of “whys” and “hows” accompanied me everywhere. Certainly I was not always a favorite student or child despite a proclivity for learning. I wanted even more explanations and answers. In fact, I can still ask more questions than some people can find the patience to appreciate or share.
My mother used to use the word “brood” when describing some of my youthful cogitation.
“Why don’t you give your mind a rest?” she’d ask with a smile as concern tinged her voice. “You think too much. You’re a brooder, chewing away on things. You’re exhausting yourself. Maybe even me.”
Friends would sometimes try to shoo away my constant contemplation with a flick of fingers and a laugh. “Be cool, lighten up!”
Boyfriends would tell me, “You’re intense. Interesting, yes, but very intense. Where do all those thoughts come from, anyway?”
“Too sensitive, that’s what you are,” my older sister pronounced with a little sneer. I thought her too insensitive then so we were often at it. But how come I seemed different from so many? Was she right?
It was clear I was naturally more serious than light-hearted. Pensive, another sibling suggested. And, from the start, consumed by language–to sort it all out. My head was stuck in a book or journal when I wasn’t practicing my cello or working on figure skating lessons. I wrote songs, poems and stories, gazed out my bedroom window on a cloudy day and constructed kingdom that held a whole culture more vast and intriguing to me than the one in which I had landed–a Midwestern company town where following everyday rules was a major key to life success. Where most every yard was leafy and manicured. Where strenuous competition, no matter the activity, sustained my friends. I longed for something else and a creative life seemed the key. And that seemed to go with “thinking too much”…I thought…and feeling, let’s face it.
I did agree I needed to develop ways to put lengthy contemplation on pause. If everything was a matter of significant consequence to me, as my wise mother said, when could I catch my breath? Where was the balance? The needed R and R? It was hard living inside a mind that was always busy, seldom satisfied for long. So I found ways to find relief from an adoration of ideas and passionate responses. Anything that distracted, soothed or humored me without creating negative complications was an option.
I still hold to this, only variations on the theme. Because I did not grow up to be less introverted–though I enjoy people a great deal–or less contemplative, I’m afraid. Thinking remains a major activity I indulge in for a number of reasons–and due to being a human being. But I’ve continued to discover recreation–for its own sake.
As a youngster and teen I came up with such things as reading fashion magazines, those silly but visually sumptuous fantasy tomes. Pouring over the latest fabrics and styles, make up and hair creations. Pictures that delighted when I found more innovative fashion photography. From this activity came the creating of wall-sized collages with old cards, photos, magazine pictures, even phrases and words salvaged from many places. I liked to draw. Sketchbooks and scrapbooks filled up with pencil and ink designs, rudimentary still life pieces. And houses. I loved to imagine cutting-edge steel and wood houses made with indoor waterfalls, walls of windows that overlooked babbling brooks or verdant gardens and so on. (In 1962 that seemed revolutionary.)
Riding my bike and learning how to do tricks on it in a big parking lot were entertaining. Tree climbing rated high on my list. Ice skating was so important to me that I would brave zero temperatures to hear that zing of glistening ice beneath blades. The adrenalin surge alone as I gathered speed, leapt and spun was enough to convince me skating held magical qualities. I came away exhausted but cleansed of the week’s stress and my clamorous thoughts and feelings.
Dancing was a favorite. Turn on the stereo and move back some furniture and I was set to let all run a little wild–as long as siblings weren’t doing something in the living room or my father wasn’t teaching violin, or my mother preparing the dining room for guests. In which case, I could always visit a friend and have a dance-off, or attend a school or community center dance. I could dance across the back yard, trailing long silky scarves in the breeze. Relief, it seemed, was truly a dance away.
Singing was always a pleasure, especially if completely alone. Or there was someone to play piano in accompaniment. Or I would turn the radio way up. Singing in my room with door closed, crouched over guitar and trying to piece together lyrics with melodies for a folk song was also good, but a bit more like work. (That required problem solving, even melancholic brooding. Or when practicing an art song…well, I was less apt at those times to sing for sheer fun.)
All these mattered because they were entertaining, overall relaxing, and required less serious thought rather than more. And I do some of these things today because I came to know what keeps me healthy in body, mind and spirit. I also worked in human services for many years, which requires serious concentration and reflection. If I hadn’t had fool-proof ways to “let down” and step back from so many deeply challenged, even ruined, lives as a mental health and addictions counselor, I would likely not have lasted twenty-five years in the field. It comes down to self-preservation, whether one needs a break from one’s own mental gymnastics or others’.
A recent assessment of things, then, that interest me but are either frivolous, superficial or just plain fun. A few noted below.
1. Reading a wide variety of magazines, something I have written of before. I subscribe to eleven by last count. So many things to learn, to have fun reading about! I am apt to visit a bookstore and come back with one or two more. I read magazines to get a quick take on things, to see what the culture her or elsewhere (or a certain area of interest) is throwing out there. They can be read quickly. Articles become a springboard for further investigation.
But another reason is that I love the tactile experience of smooth printed pages in my hands. The graphics also attract and involve me. I tend to read off and on all day (including books), and find I can peruse magazines while doing other things as needed. I am amused, sometimes enlightened, and always distracted by what I find in magazines.
By the way, I still remove pictures to save for collages or my little laundry room gallery. I repeat, I read many good books, but that is another topic requiring a whole post of its own.
2. Painting and drawing. Still. I was an art major in college…I’m even not sure why. But I could paint away for hours then, fill good-sized self-made canvasses with shapes made of oils or acrylics. But whether or not I was any good, it gave me happiness. To this day I love art–to see it, make it, learn about it. So every now and then I take out my drawing implements–which I enjoy enough that I visit art stores fairly often to browse or buy more. Or I use the tubes of watercolors (about which I know almost nothing)–and have at it. Thoughts flee as soon as I prepare to make a colorful mess of things.
I know this seems unrelated…but thinking of implements and stores…I also enjoy browsing in hardware and office supply stores. Is that peculiar? So be it. It is another sort of recreation I like.
3. Sit on my balcony and watch the neighborhood do what it does, tend to my potted flowers when it gets warmer, sip tea or partake of a nice lunch. I usually see cats prowling around, too, or just sunning. The non-human animals have the art of relaxation mastered. (Little kids, even toodlers, too, I’ve noticed.) Or I gaze out my window in the living room and watch passersby on bikes (all sorts of those, even very tall unicycles), skateboards, roller blades, in cars (I play a game of trying to identify cars-the year as well– as they quickly pass). There are lots of dogs, children, friends enjoying friends. I can see towering, graceful trees that line the block. A church. Pretty houses. Like going to the movies, really more fun, I feel; you can make your own story if you want.
4. Walking and hiking. Yes, you can think a lot then but, oddly, I do very little of it. I feast on the beauty of neighborhoods or parks, the forests, beaches or mountains. Walking or hiking instantly release tension, smooth worry lines, charge up lovely endorphins, satisfy my large appetite for expansive sensory stimuli. It keeps me strong of heart and limb and clarifies my spirit. I also take photos as I go. See number 8.
5. Call or stop to see friends or family. Listen. Share. Laugh. Appreciate. Even forget self. Nothing like reaching out to forgo one’s own tedious thoughts. Enough said.
6. Watch–not for hours daily, just as needed–television’s HGTV, DIY, Travel, Discover, A & E, BBC America, Sundance Channel… you get the idea. (Okay, sometimes “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”, I’m sorry to admit it.) I like to learn things but that doesn’t often require any deep thought while viewing. I watch and am amused or inspired by others actions and ideas, new places I may never see, experiences I may never know first-hand. It’s like magazine reading but without the static images.
Here I need to add the radio, as it is another medium where interesting things happen. No, I don’t have an iPod. I don’t listen to iTunes. But I do love a good interview or new piece of music issuing forth from our speakers that broadcast a wide spectrum of entertainments from, perhaps, our primitive yet beloved radio. I just have to listen, relish the moments. And I can change the station, of course.
7. Linens! Yes, I love exquisite linens. Sometimes I go to the store, sometimes I leaf through catalogs, occasionally look online. I think the beauty and function of sheets and towels is a perfect wedding of qualities. Do I buy many? No. But I study them and wonder how they would look and feel in bath and bedrooms and enjoy every minute of it. I might get new things once every four or five years. It’s the dreaming that counts here. Catalogs afford me such moments.
8. Photography. It is instant meditation. I am fully present in the external world though the inner eye is also evaluating. I am not exploring thoughts, I am welcoming images. The way things are (or appear to be) engage, fascinate and refresh, especially nature’s landscapes. But also cities. People and other creatures. I am saved by the variety and wonder of the earth, of the possibilites for humankind. Taking photographs lights up a split second, makes indelible an experience, asks me to be focused on the world beyond my own. The mind stills, gentles while zooming in, then opens wide. Perceives life minutely. Differently. And when I examine the photos later, I often learn something once again.
9. Games. I am not likely to become some outstanding player but I like games very much. I do not play chess or bridge or even poker, nor many others. But I am good at Scrabble, checkers, dominoes, Uno and Balderdash (one of my favorites of all time). I can play gin rummy pretty well. I love outdoor games as well–horseshoes, badminton, croquet, bean bag toss, Frisbee, volleyball when I get the chance–but it’s still the rainy and chilly winter so table games are the focus now. They are some of the most fun times I have with my family. We used to have a game night each month. I might institute that again. What a rousing good way to pass the time. It’s the sort of thinking that tricks you into feeling your brain doesn’t need to employ fancy footwork, so to speak.
10. Music. I adore going to hear live music. I am not a bar patron often as I don’t drink. But there is some great jazz in this town. I do attend many warmer weather outdoor music festivals or shows. And there are concert venues that offer wonderful musicianship. Recently I heard a lesser known but fine German cellist play Dvorak, a treat. I always go hear Bonnie Raitt with one of my best friends, a joyous event. Coming up is a pops concert with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, which I admire. Music–it takes you both into the deepest parts of your being while lifting you right out of yourself. Enchanting.
11. Making chili. Or beef stew. Maybe cookies. I include this although I am not generally a cheerful cook. I used to cook every day for our seven member family plus whoever they brought home at the last minute. And I finally was just done with that. I like recipes when I must do this activity. Except for chili and stew. I can do those blindfolded without a second thought. The cookies? Well, those do require attention to the clock or responding right away to the timer foing off and I am usually reading as I wait…I always burn at least one batch. But sometimes cooking–just making a simple but delicious salad–empties my mind. Nothing like chopping onions, potatoes, carrots, celery and tomatoes to do that.
12. Getting out, looking at and organizing my jewelry. I have too much of it, mostly used for dressier work outfits until I retired. Much of it is “costume” jewelry; some is handmade, like fine art, or passed on to me by family. I turn it over in my hands, study decorative effects, then get out the metals and gemstone cleaner and shine it up. It takes some time–like shoe shining, but much better–and it is satisfying. I like to hold and examine a few pieces that were my mother’s. Sort things I can donate or offer my daughters. I rediscover earrings or necklaces long ago put away. They bring forth memories of certain events attended, people I was with, jobs I have had. Places where I first saw the finer jewelry and how came to own it. But wait a minute, I’m talking about reminiscing. That’s getting too close to thinking. I might have to reconsider.
There is always something else to explore, to seek. Small things of almost no big consequence to anyone. Except to my own peace of mind, that densely packed area where quiet pleasures can and do coexist with weighty–sometimes tiresome–ruminations. I could add much more: say, travel, making pillows, birdwatching, searching for handmade cards to send to people for no real reason, secondhand store browsing. But it’s late, so time to think about something besides this post.
And of course, when one thought leaves, ten more are ready to congregate and have a discussion. So it is in the human dominion of language and thought. I had to learn long ago: don’t demand that everything divulge its depths, its significance, all the time. Let it occur of its own accord, as well. Refuse to allow the messy, marvelous entirety of life be such hard work. Breathe in, let it go. Make some simple fun. Free your body, soul and mind. Those ideas and questions will always be waiting.