Hobbies and Obsessions

When it comes to hobbies, I suppose I am a little strange. That is
to say, I tend to become absorbed in whatever hobby I have taken up at the
moment, live my life in some sort of immersion for however many months or years
it holds my interest, then often times, as quickly as it came on, it goes away
for one reason or another. I suppose I could title this Obsessions just as
easily as I could Hobbies. Going back through the years, I can list many
“hobbies” that turned into obsessions for me.

For example, I started reading comic books probably when I was 12
or 13. It started with X-Men, carried over to Spider-Man, and soon enveloped
the entire Marvel universe. To be fair, it was a golden era for that company.
They had the talents of Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larson, and
countless others who eventually went on to start their own very successful
comic book company. (Ok, it folded a few years later, but at the time, it was
amazing.) Of course, I was living at a time when comics were making news
headlines. Not long after I began reading comics, DC Comics decided to kill off
Superman, a decision in my 13 year old mind that was unheard of. Kill Superman?
How would we go on? How could I ever explain to my unborn children that our
society killed one of our truest heroes? Like so many others, I was obligated
to spend more money than a 13 year old typically had in their life savings
purchasing an issue of a comic that would remain sealed until the day came when
I had to sell it to put a down payment on my first house or send my child to
college. (In truth, it remained sealed for about two weeks before I HAD to read
it.) Of course, just six months later, Superman was miraculously resurrected,
leading me to take out a loan to purchase this issue.

Over time, I went on to develop an interest in almost every title
Marvel and DC released. I was spending, well, a lot every month on anywhere
from 15 to 20 titles. I had a box full of past issues, and whenever the
creators made mention of past stories in current issues, I ran to the store to
buy up the back stories. I’ve never actually calculated how much money I spent
over my teen years buying up comics, but needless to say, it was a lot for
someone without a job. Of course, while I was reading all of these comics, I
was developing a desire to write them myself. I suppose you could say my first
interest in becoming a writer stemmed from these stories, so it was not all
bad. I tried my hand at drawing, but never really got further than a few
Bat-Man images that I suppose were recognizable. I created a universe of my own
characters and tried in vain to come up with ways of publishing my own stories.
Looking back now, I would have been much more successful had I simply written
them all and contracted out an artist, but I wanted to be the sole creator of
my universe!

When high school hit, things changed. I had less time to spend
reading comics, as I found myself at school for the majority of my day. Of
course, in what free time I did have, I found myself in the gym, playing
basketball, the next of my many obsessions. I was 14 in September of 1995 when
I entered high school. I stood a towering 5’7″ tall (although I insisted I
would reach 6’4″ by graduation…today I stand 5’8″ on a good day.)
and I weighed probably 150 lbs. with my shoes on. Despite this, I had become
convinced I would not only join, but dominate the varsity basketball team. Once
again, I had role models to cheer me on. Spud Webb at 5’7″ had won the
Slam Dunk contest just a few years earlier. Mugsy Bogues was a point guard in
the NBA despite standing only 5’3″. I could do it. Anything was possible
if you just put your mind to it. I believed in all that inspirational stuff
back then. More on that later. Come Fall of 95, I thought I was ready for try-outs.
Well, I did not make the varsity squad, but I would not be deterred. I worked
harder, turning my free time in the gym into practice time each and every day.
I sacrificed time with my friends so that I could work on my jump shot. I
bought videos to show me how to play better defense, take better shots, and
make every free throw. Fast forward one year, and I made the Junior Varsity
squad. Fifteen years later, I question if it was done out of pity. I tried as
hard as I could. I was the first one at practice and the last on to leave. I
had an ongoing one-on-one contest with a much better, much taller classmate of
mine who would become furious with himself anytime I beat him. (Our lifetime
series is very close to being tied, however I imagine if I played him today it
would be embarrassing to watch.) I knew at the end of my second year in high
school that if I did not make the team as a junior, I was done. I looked into
basketball camps. These were not local camps run by local schools. No, I went
to Pennsylvania to spend 10 days running drills against arguably MUCH better
players. I had a good time, I loved being surrounded by nothing but basketball
for almost two weeks, and I went home thinking I was going to dominate in my
junior year. Well, despite all my effort, my official basketball career ended
in November of 1997. I didn’t make the team, so I stopped playing almost
entirely. Instead of taking the option of playing during the day with my
classmates, I started working out in the gym, avoiding the basketball court
altogether. It was a hard time for me, but here I am, heart still beating and
living without a basketball at my side.

Once basketball fell by the wayside, it was a while before I
picked up any new hobbies. From 1997 through early 2000, I went through a bit
of a funk, but came out of it one morning when I developed the notion that I
wanted to play the guitar. I was a big Dave Matthews fan (ok, who wasn’t
between 1995-2005?) and I decided I wanted to teach myself how to play his
songs. I was 19 and had found myself in possession of a credit card, one of the
biggest mistakes of my life. Drove down to Sam Ash music store and bought
myself a quaint little acoustic number….along with ALL the accessories. I
quickly ran home and downloaded as many guitar cheat sheets (Tabs) as I could,
and started picking away at the strings. Of course, like everything else, I
slowly became overly immersed in becoming a guitarist. At first, it was only
Dave Matthews songs and only acoustic. John Mayer was popular at the time, and
who was I to deny my girlfriend my ability to play one of his tunes. (I never
mastered Your Body is A Wonderland, but guaranteed that would have gotten
me….well) Of course, like any good guitarist, one had to play electric as
well as acoustic. Bought an electric and thought I was going to be Jimi
Hendrix. Fell in love with all things Jimi and tried in vain to play Voodoo
Child. I developed the callused fingertips, bought all kinds of guitar
magazines, started talking about scales, and I kept my guitar in my car at all
times, just in case there was an impromptu jam session in a parking lot
somewhere. This went on until about 2002, 2003. After failed attempts at
writing music, I put the guitar aside one day and never picked it back up. I
would often look at it, collecting dust in the corner of my room, but I simply
did not have the desire to try anymore.

In place of the guitar and my comic book obsession, my next hobby
became exercise, not a bad hobby to have I suppose. I had joined the gym
probably months after purchasing my first guitar, but never spent much time
there until I found myself bored and without any other hobby to occupy me. I
developed workout routines and soon found myself in the gym five or six times a
week, versus the once or twice a week I had been going in the past. I began
charting my weight loss. (I had put on a fair amount of weight after I stopped
playing basketball, surprise surprise.) Over the next 3-6 months, I lost
weight, added muscle, and felt great. I had never been a great looking guy, but
I had definition in my arms, abs you could actually see, and I looked good in
my clothes. I had a confidence I had never had before, but I also had a bit of
over confidence when it came to how much I could actually lift. It was the
Summer of 2005 and I decided I was going to lift some obscene amount of weight.
I ripped a muscle in my arm, which was never properly repaired, and just as it
had begun, it was over. I was scared to lift again, so for a while I focused on
only cardio exercises. Once I gained the confidence to lift weight again, I
went back to it, but slowly I found myself visiting the gym less and less. It
was the Summer of 2008 when I gave up on my routine and found myself working
out only when it was convenient. I still have my gym membership, but find
myself there once a week at best lately. I have gotten out of shape, and while
I am by no means fat, I am not happy at who I see in the mirror. Certainly 30
years old is not too late to get in shape again, but I have to find the motivation
to get myself back there. This is a hobby/obsession I would like to recover.

After my music career folded and I stopped working out, I decided
I had better do something to occupy my free time. At some point between
2003-2008, while I was still in school, I had started writing short stories for
a fiction class I was taking. I had always enjoyed writing and had been
encouraged in high school to pursue it, but aside from a few clever anecdotes,
I never really wrote a lot that I felt was worth publishing. That changed as I
started focusing on my clever little stories and started developing the idea of
writing a novel. A good friend of mine is a good author so we would critique
one another’s works. I even started posting short stories online and I would
give and receive feedback to and from other writers. Like all my other hobbies,
I started making lists and timelines of when I would accomplish my goals.
According to my list, I should have not one, but possibly two published novels
by now. I even sat down for about a month (yes, a whole month) and hammered out
something one might call a novel. It was a fictional story, but I used my life
as the outline, and while bit by bit it had its good points, overall, it was
crap. That is to say, instead of racing the clock to put out some form of junk,
I should have spent, I don’t know, a year, not a month, working on it and
possibly coming up with something worth publishing. Of course, I was obsessed,
so I situated myself in the corner of a Starbucks (where else would one go to
write their best fiction?) and wrote away. I enjoyed writing and I was proud to
come up with as much as I did, but when I slowly became aware of how difficult
it really is to be published, my desire faltered and with the overall
disappointing reviews of my novel, I gave up once again. Thankfully, other than
the cost of printing 5 copies of my novel, this was one hobby that did not cost
more than the price of a Starbucks coffee every afternoon. Like the guitar, I
would like to return to writing again, but I have been reluctant to sit down
and try my hand at it again. We’ll see, although the blogging does get my
engine churning a little bit.

It’s safe to say that my current obsession, language learning, is
still going strong, but I write this today partly in fear that I will lose the
desire. I hope not. This one started because of a girl, sort of. I work with a
lot of Spanish speaking folks, and back in 2007-2008 I found myself talking
with one of the girls who worked in the kitchen. To be fair, she approached me.
I was a little startled, as no females had ever directly approached me before.
And when I say we talked, well, she spoke no English at all, so we talked in
broken Spanish phrases. I had taken four years’ worth of Spanish in high school
(ending in 1999) and one night class in college (around 2002) so while I could
ask some basic questions and describe a lot of food items within McDonalds, my
knowledge of the language was rather limited. Despite our limited ability to
communicate verbally, we started spending time together outside of work. It
turns out you don’t have to speak Spanish to have sex. In any case, being the
honorable man that I am, I thought it might be nice if I could speak to her in
Spanish and I would try to help her speak English. Over the course of six
months or so together, she showed no interest in learning English and soon we
stopped seeing one another. A lot of that had to do with the fact she got
pregnant by another guy, but that’s a story for another time. In any case,
while I was done with her, I was proud at how much Spanish I had picked up and
soon found myself looking for any resources available to learn more. I’m sure
you can guess by now that I spared no expense when it came to learning. I even
went so far as to take online lessons from a teacher in Argentina! Yes, I spent
$400 on Rosetta Stone, thinking I would be fluent in a matter of days. When
this did not happen, I was smart enough to return it and get (most of) my money
back. It turns out learning a foreign language simply involves talking in that
language as much as possible.

Originally, my intention was to master Spanish and call myself
bilingual, but a random stop by FluentIn3Months started me
on learning many more languages. It was March of 2010 that I began Tres Meses Hasta Exito and
at the time, Spanish was my focus, but fast forward to July of 2011 and here we
have Tre Mesi Per il
All of a sudden; I am intent on learning Italian, French,
Portuguese, Mandarin, and German in addition to Spanish. (In response to Benny’s Mission
to Learn Klingon
I have decided that once I complete these other languages,
I want to try my hand at Na’vi, the fictional language from the movie Avatar)
I’m not going to lie, despite many free resources for learning that are out
there, I have spent, and will spend more, on learning these languages. Looking
around my apartment, you will find countless books on Spanish grammar, verbs,
slang, idioms, and even a few novels written by Spanish authors. I have the
entire Harry Potter series in Spanish (this is going to take me years to
complete) and I watch almost exclusively Spanish television and movies. I have
started watching movies in Italian and I have been trying to read articles on Yahoo Italia

So what is it about all these things? Why do I start things and
then let them go? Is this typical for others as well? I mean, I have read of
people who devote their lives to their hobbies. I don’t want to limit myself to
only one aspect of my life, but it is hard to break everything down into manageable
blocks of time. Some days I feel like I spend my entire day studying a foreign
language and other days I feel like a failure if I don’t. I have books I want
to read, but shy away from them since they are written in English, like reading
in English will set me back in other languages. I like feeling like I am a
diverse person, but is that really true when I spend all my time on only one
thing at a time. I am sure there are ways to incorporate all of these hobbies into
my life without having to sacrifice one or another, but I worry tomorrow I will
wake up and decide I don’t want to speak Italian anymore, just like my other
hobbies. I want to do so many things in my life that I end up doing none at
all. I need to figure out how to fix that problem. In the meantime, I’m off to
shower. Until next time.



~ by James on September 30, 2011.

One Response to “Hobbies and Obsessions”

  1. […] morning and was counting the minutes until I could get back to working out.  It was one of my many obsessive hobbies I have had throughout my life.  I was all pumped up and ready to go, and after doing some chest […]

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