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What a Hobby Aficionado Taught Me About Free Time

Published:
May 27, 2024
May 27, 2024
Read this article to find out more about the benefits of hobbies in terms of their ability to increase happiness, spark curiosity and improve relationships.

A good way to get to know my friend Marcus Bleech is to ask for a tour of the stuff in his pickup truck. 

Marcus makes equipment for his ancient Greek military reenactment hobby, so he’s got a big piece of brass he found at a thrift store and an electric belt-powered polishing wheel to use on the metal. Maybe that’ll be a piece of armor. He has some plywood, which he could fashion into a shield. His most recent finds are some old railroad spikes, which he’s going to blacksmith into ancient Persian weapons, and ten gallons of beeswax from his beekeeper friends, which he’s going to use to waterproof the linen tent he sleeps in during overnight reenactments.

Marcus also runs Dungeons & Dragons games — sometimes for adults, sometimes for his daughter and her friends — so he always keeps folded graph paper, a pencil, and a set of polyhedral dice in his glove compartment “just in case.” An exceptional visual artist, he has a couple of 4’x4’ sheets of expanded polystyrene that he’ll use to create model terrain and buildings for a D&D campaign, which he’ll populate with miniature figurines he painstakingly paints by hand. To make ancient-looking documents for the games, he’ll dye paper with coffee or tea, and then bake it in the oven to give it an antique feel. He designs and prints labels to affix to miniature bottles of liquor for his adults-only games — bespoke magical potions.

Some of the other stuff in his truck includes a kite, two baseball mitts, a bocce set, a soccer ball, and throwing axes. “There are always tomahawks in the back of the truck because you never know,” Marcus told me when I expressed some skepticism about, you know, having deadly weapons in your trunk. “Maybe you pull off the side of the road with some friends and you’re like, ‘Does anyone have any cards?’ I have something better.” He throws the tomahawks into trees. (“Ethically, dead trees. Preferably soft so they’ll stick.”

Marcus does hobbies better than anyone I know. (I haven’t even told you about his painting, photography, video game, science fiction, and record-collecting interests.) I want to learn from him, the Yoda of free time, but not because I’m interested in military reenactment or painting miniature dragons. I want a lesson in leisure from Marcus because here’s the thing about him: While he devotes so much of his life to activities he loves, he’s the opposite of selfish. You might read about his pickup truck treasures and figure he’s either a rich retiree or an unemployed hermit. But he’s a supremely devoted husband, father, son, and friend, and he’s really good at his job. (I know this last bit because he and I work together.) From my perspective, he’s living the dream — meaningful pastimes, meaningful relationships, plenty of leisure but not much wasted time. I wanted to learn why he devotes so much of his life to hobbies, how he pulls it off, and how those of us who are sick of scrolling on our phones might be able to devote our downtime to something more worthwhile.

“Your free time is limited. What’s the point of working if it isn’t to provide for something else?”

First, when it comes to fitting all this stuff into an average day, Marcus admits he sleeps less than doctors would probably recommend. When the rest of his family goes to bed, he heads to the basement to paint, saw, or play video games. He insists it doesn’t have to be that way for everyone, though, and that the key for anyone interested in growing hobbies is to figure out a life balance that works for you. What allows Marcus to pursue his hobbies is that he has a spouse who is “happy to put up with [my] eccentricities” and a daughter with whom he shares his passions. 

Another factor that makes Marcus’ hobbies possible is his resistance to the “total work” culture. If I need Marcus after hours, I can reach him on his cell. But he’s not checking work email when he’s not working. When he’s off, he’s off. “Your free time is limited. What’s the point of working if it isn’t to provide for something else? Once your basic needs are met, your life is for hobby,” Marcus says. “I love knowing that I don’t live just to grind away. The point of the work is to provide for the happiness you can use your time for.” 

While many of Marcus’ hobbies include hours working on projects alone, connection with others is an essential part of Marcus’ leisure time. He loves to introduce people to the processes of making stuff by hand or playing D&D, and he enthusiastically shares his learnings on online forums dedicated to his hobbies. Earlier this month, he invited neighborhood kids over to his house to help turn those railroad spikes into Persian battle axes. At a big military reenactment event recently, the part he loved the most was getting to talk to people — especially children who had come to the program with their families to check it out and maybe get to hold a shield or a sword.

Insatiable curiosity fuels Marcus’ hobbies and his desire to share them with others. He inherited that from his parents, who would take Marcus and his siblings on Sunday car rides most weekends that would include some educational element, whether planned or an unexpected detour. On one of these rides, he remembers, years before cell phones, their car broke down in the middle of nowhere and Marcus’ dad found a small nearby factory that had a phone they could use. “When he came out, Dad had a plastic widget in his hand and said it was what they manufactured, and that the workers would give us a tour if we wanted,” Marcus told me. “They always found a way to make learning a part of everything, and when interesting things were plopped into your lap, you find it’s a habit to really take notice of them. It’s almost like curiosity itself was a muscle.” 

While Marcus has had decades of learning that go into his hobbies, newer hobbyists can grow and develop their interests just by chasing their curiosity one step at a time. He didn’t start painting miniature figures by buying and working on 300; he started with one. Give something a try, Marcus suggests, and if you like it, take another step. One thing I was curious about related to Marcus’ hobbies, which are — and I use this word with the deepest respect — nerdy, was difficulty breaking into a community. Are people judgemental of those who know less? Very rarely, Marcus told me. People are so excited to share their passions with new people that most of the communities he’s part of are extremely welcoming and helpful. If people are jerks, shake the dust from your feet and try a new place.

What’s obvious to anyone who knows Marcus is that hobbies are not trivial pastimes for him. He has a sense of humor about his interests, but they’re not jokes. Because for Marcus, hobbies are an essential part of what it means to be human. “Your life is finite and you only have a certain amount of time,” he tells me. “You really should use it for something that gives joy.”

“Your free time is limited. What’s the point of working if it isn’t to provide for something else?”

Creators:
Mike Jordan Laskey
Published:
May 27, 2024
May 27, 2024
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