MY SON IS COLLECTING STAMPS. He has them strewn all around his roon. He does not have a stamp book. He does not even have proper stamps. He does not, for instance, have the long-lost $23 trillion Guyana stamp, which was the sole reason I once collected stamps. If he gets that stamp, I will buy him a stamp book. In the meantime, I wish he'd give up the whole thing.
I am against stamp collecting. I am, in fact, against all hobbies. I have been against them ever since I figured out that nothing I ever do is considered a hobby and that you have to have a hobby to be what they used to call "well-rounded." You have to collect something or build something or stick pins into something that was once alive. Hobbies are either boring or disgusting.
The world does not agree. All my life I have had to fill out forms that ask about hobbies. I always wanted to write down "reading," but reading is not a hobby. The way you know that is because there is a separate question about reading. You have to do something else. If you collect books, it is a hobby. If you actually read them, it is not. If you happen to watch a butterfly in a field, that is not a hobby. If you put a pin through its little heart and mount it, that is a hobby.
My son, I fear, is doing what I once did: He is searching for a hobby. He is already felling the pressure. Soon, he will learn from stamp collectors that Franklin Roosevelt collected stamps and went on to become president of the United States. He will not learn that Richard Schuster, a schoolmate of mine, also collected stamps and went on to become boring. In fact, he will not learn that this is the primary requisite for a hobby: It has to be boring.
Hobbies are the Muzak of childhood. They are the something you do when you want to do nothing. They are the things you do when you are alone. If you do it with someone else, it is not a hobby. It is maybe a sport. This is why fishing can be a hobby but baseball is a sport. An even better reason why fishing is a hobby is that it is boring to talk about. By definition, no hobby is of any interest to anyone else.
The basic material of hobbies is balsa. The basic fluild is glue. The basic surprise is that a piece is missing. All this is learned at a place called a hobby shop where you go in the vain hope that you will find something to interest you. Then you will have a hobby (whittling?). You will be able to refer to it proudly on applications (model airplane building?). Then you will be a well-rounded person (lanyard-weaving?).
When I was young, I never knew the purpose of hobbies. When it came to stamp collecting, for instance, I never knew if the idea was to collect all the stamps in the world or find the $23 trillion stamp, missing all these years and probably eaten some time ago by a $1.98 dog. (Has anyone ever checked to see if this stamp ever existed?) To tell the truth, I never really knew what the term "on approval" meant. All I knew is that I was forever sending away for stamps on approval and paying next to nothing for then even though the people who sent them to me assured me they were valuable.
Now, however, I think I know the reason for hobbies. There are some, of course, that promote learning, that take you off into paths of knowledge. Stamp collecting in theory does that. In practice, all you ever do is open up glassine envelopes. But most hobbies are encouraged not for their own qualities, but as antidotes for certain sins. The first, as usual, is sex. The fear is that idle hands will idle over to where they don't belong. This might account for the fact that you never found girls in a hobby shop. Sex, like hobbies, was for boys.
The second sin is somethig called excessive reading -- whatever that is. This goes back to the notion that the child who reads too much is not well rounded. If he stops reading and collects bottle tops he becomes, by definition, well-rounded. You figure it.
The last is a holdover from the Puritan days -- the sin of idleness. We don't like it in anyone and we particularly don't like it in a child. We think that it is better for someone to be doing something, no matter how inane, than doing nothing at all. Maybe it is and maybe it is good to stay occupied at least until adulthood when hobbies come naturally. I have one now.
It's called taking a nap.