I, for better or worse, decided to study my passion in college and become a professional at what many others consider a hobby: writing and performing. Lots of people do my job for free, so it becomes tricky to make a living at it. But still I keep at it, hoping that with enough sweat equity it will all shake out in the end. I do have hobbies, though. One in particular has been very valuable to me. I am a very slow, awkward-looking, consistent, and devoted runner.
Running has saved my life four times. When bad or scary things happen in my life, it helps remind me who I am and what I care about most. It keeps me healthy and driven and it’s really fun.
When I was young I was not athletic. I couldn’t run a mile and, more importantly, I didn’t want to. Gym teachers pegged me as a lumpy artsy type and I decided they were right. The first time I ran because I wanted to was when I was a freshman in college and a boy broke up with me. I was angry and sad and I went to the basement gym in the building next to my dorm and ran on a treadmill for four minutes. Then I had to stop because I was pretty sure my heart was going to explode.
In the 11 years since that first experience on the dorm treadmill, I have run consistently, except at times when I was physically unable. Those times have always been awful, the low points of my life.
I had three miscarriages in 2013. That year was a rollercoaster. I would get pregnant, spend a few weeks happy but nervous, have a miscarriage, be depressed for about six weeks, then start running again. Running always saved me. In 2013 I ran a lot of 5ks, including achieving my personal record, in July of that year.
When I was really going, I could run 6 or 7 miles easily, just for fun. Once I went out for a 7 mile run, fell on the sidewalk in the first mile, got up, put my water bottle belt back on, dusted myself off, and ran the remaining 6 miles while blood dripped from my elbow. I have never felt more powerful in my life. Well, maybe when I gave birth to my son.
A few months after recovering from giving birth, I started running again. That’s the fourth time running has saved me. It gives me identity, personal satisfaction, and the independence I crave. It’s the time I spend every week taking care of only me.
When you start getting into running you realize there are a lot of things you can get obsessed with. Keeping track of and relating your average pace and distance and your goals is certainly an interesting topic of conversation (to other runners only), but then you get into gear. Shoes and socks and pants and sports bras and apps and belts and earbuds and podcasts. Do you like music or the sound of birds singing? Now that I’m a mom, there are the jogging strollers. As with any good hobby, running has a lot of interesting, involving, distracting accoutrements. That’s what you want in a hobby. Something that gives you a break from thinking about things that make you sad or worried or angry.
My husband is a software engineer, but his favorite hobbies are gardening and foraging. His job is valued very highly in our society, which is great for him and our family because his skills are in demand. But on his own time, he goes outside and digs around in the dirt.
He spends lots of time in the spring and summer planting and maintaining his garden. It’s usually a solitary activity, but sometimes the whole family joins him. Last Sunday, we all came with him on a mushroom hunt. He’s a member of Mushroom Lovers USA (MLUSA, I know.) and their weekly hunt was in a forest near our house. The hunt was fun, but the best part was the people. The active members of an organization like MLUSA make the experience worth the $5 yearly membership fee. I met a man with face tattoos who showed me pictures of three mushrooms he’d discovered on his walk. I wasn’t sure what reaction he hoped for. “Cool!” I said.
My husband is a software engineer, so having a hobby (“life’s passion” he tells me) that involves being outdoors and getting dirty and lifting heavy things feeds something in him. Space for a garden was one of our top requirements when looking for a condo to buy a few years ago.
I asked my husband why he likes gardening and foraging and he said, “I like to be outside and I like to eat things.” It could be as simple as that. But I also think he finds immense satisfaction in interacting with the earth, creating something that nourishes him and his loved ones. We all have our own reasons we love to do our favorite things. My dad makes maple syrup from the trees on his property. He told me the reason he loves it is because it lets him make something out of nothing. My brother cooks big pieces of meat. I think that’s mainly because he likes to eat meat, but maybe it’s also because he loves taking care of his family and friends and this is a masculine, ritualistic way to do that.
We need our jobs to survive, but we need our hobbies to make a life. Hobbies are especially helpful when bad things happen. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough that you’re still breathing. Real recovery seems to come when you are able to engage with the world the way you did before your life fell apart. Every time I had a miscarriage, I would go back to work after a day or two, because I had to. But I knew I was really okay when I wanted to run again. After I had my son, I knew I was myself again when I put on my shoes and went outside and felt the cold air in my lungs and worked hard at something, just for me.