I’m a dabbler. I worry sometimes that this might be a bad thing. But I’m trying to get over it.
Some people are obsessive, which is, of course, why the best athletes, artists, musicians, chefs, and writers are as good as they are. I’ve had jobs that encouraged obsession. As a university professor, I could have spent all my time reading academic journals and relevant books, just to keep up. But as a colleague put it, that would be like trying to walk to the horizon. And I simply needed a
break now and then.
When I was a sportswriter, there was pressure to be up to speed on that whole wide world, to read the specialty magazines, to spend weekends watching TV, to attend games on days off. I can’t imagine doing that job now, with seemingly every game televised live. Some of my colleagues devoted most of their unpaid hours consuming all this stuff. Not me. I’m fond of quoting the writer CLR James: “What does he know of cricket who only cricket knows?” I like sports well enough, but I like other things, too.
Speaking of other things, I have come to appreciate bird watching. I have feeders in our yard, and binoculars, and a couple of bird books, but I’m not obsessive about it. I once wrote a magazine article about birding and was lucky enough to accompany a team on a competition called a ‘big day.’ We had to identify as many species as we could, by sight or sound, within 24 hours. It started at midnight – owls, you know – and involved driving SUVs all over B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. The participants were extremely keen and generous with their knowledge, clearly obsessive; my team leader drove along narrow, winding logging roads with his head out the window looking up in the sky. It was interesting and fun and it made for a good story. But at the end I was like, been there, done that.
Same with a visit Dianne and I made to a ‘star party’ on Manitoulin Island. We like looking at the stars and we can identify a few obvious constellations, but, you know, there are mosquitoes, and on clear nights in the winter it’s cold. The star party was on a pleasant, late-summer night, at a hilltop campground in a dark sky area when the moon was just a sliver, and it featured a couple dozen eager amateur astronomers and a guide with a telescope. But we soon realized their passion far exceeded our own; when I asked one fellow about the camera he had mounted on his telescope, the lengthy, jargon-loaded monologue that followed made me regret it. We went to bed shortly after midnight.
I like cooking – although, to be honest, mostly I like eating. I learned to cook when my parents ran a small restaurant, mostly short-order meals. My repertoire has expanded considerably over the years, I have lots of cookbooks and downloaded recipes, and most of the cool kitchen gadgets one needs. I even ponder taking a cooking class of some sort. But I don’t want to cook all the time; we’ve got store-bought pizza and chicken wings in the freezer. Sometimes, too, I just want to sit in front of the TV and watch others cooking and talking about food. I miss Anthony Bourdain.
I like photography, too, and I have a couple of cameras. But mostly I take pictures with my cell phone. It’s light, it’s handy, I always have it with me, and the photos are pretty good too. And I like to collect art: paintings, pottery, sculptures, blown glass. I thoroughly enjoy being surrounded by these beautiful objects in a house that is quickly becoming an art gallery. I even took an art history course once. But I’m no expert.
I hope I don’t sound critical of obsessives. In fact, I envy them. Where would we be without the all-consuming passion of those inspired musicians and writers and artists and athletes, whose greatness stems from their boundless devotion?
Our son Adam, for instance, has his obsessions. When he played sports, he was all in. It meant Dianne and I spending lots of time – and money – at football fields, baseball diamonds, and chilly hockey and curling rinks. But I think it was a good thing; he pushed himself to be the best he could be. A good life lesson.
He’s now obsessed with cooking fine food and drinking fine wine. And I have to say that I’m all in.