I have a serious confession to make: Lately I’ve been getting bored in the evening. I call this a serious confession because I strongly feel that I don’t have the right to be bored, what with the enormity and splendor of the universe. Who could be bored with that? Well, me, for the past few weeks at least, and it’s not the good kind of bored that leads to creative eureka moments. It’s probably a combination of the gray, gray weather we’ve been having, plus the fact that it’s getting dark at 5 o’clock, plus no more gardening.
Our apartmentmate just brought home Grant Theft Auto 5 and since I’m not so game to join him in playing it, I need to find something else to fight this boredom. It needs to be an activity that involves learning how to do something because I’m not talking about killing time here — I want to actually do something when I’m home in the evenings, not just fill the night with noise while I wait for bedtime. It also needs to be something I can do with my hands, because I’m too much in my head already, but at the same time I want something that leaves space for idle thought, that good kind of boredom — “the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience.” Ukulele fits all that, but I’d prefer something that makes no noise so I can do it whenever I want without bothering people (not that my ukulele is bothersome). At the same time I want something that I can do while talking with other people, and something that’s relatively cheap or free, and that doesn’t take up much space. (A pottery wheel is therefore out, unfortunately.)
That pretty much leaves me with….
(The first image is for a pattern called “The Pink Rabbit Monster Witch.” Way too many qualifiers.)
So, it’s come to this. I’m going to try to start crocheting. Part of me is skeptical as to how long this latest fancy will last. I tried knitting for a brief bit in 2003 or so when it started getting trendy among young women to do such grandmotherly activities, but I had very, very little patience for things like that in my twenties. Why spend time making sub-par scarves when I could be frantically racing to meet deadlines for more freelance work than I should have taken on but that I accepted anyway in the hopes that maybe someday, if I worked really really hard, I could spend all my days in a cubicle until the economy tanked and people stopped hiring freelancers. (That dream, it turned out, did come true.)
My thinking during that period was: work = production, and leisure = doing nothing/consuming. Since I didn’t particularly like the work/production I was doing, why would I want to work/produce in my so-called leisure time? I needed that time to escape, to entertain away my alienation from life. Quiet, meditative activities like knitting or crochet left the door open way too wide for my thoughts to wander toward uncomfortable territory, like questioning what I was doing with my life. My leisure time was, as Theodor Adorno put it in “Free Time” (p 187), shackled to its opposite: work.
… the difference between work and free time has been branded as a norm in the minds of people, at both the conscious and the unconscious level. Because, in accordance with the predominant work ethic, time free of work should be utilized for the recreation of expended labor power; then work-less time, precisely because it is a mere appendage of work, is severed from the latter with puritanical zeal. And here we come across a behavioral norm of the bourgeois character. On the one hand one should pay attention at work and not be distracted or lark about; wage labor is predicated on this assumption and its laws have been internalized. On the other hand free time must not resemble work in any way whatsoever, in order, presumably, that one can work all the more effectivelly afterwards.
On “Free Time”: I have what you would call a love-hate relationship with that essay, and with Adorno in general. I agree with so much that he writes in “Free Time,” and then he slaps me with passages like this:
“Do it yourself,” this contemporary type of space time behavior fits however into a much more far-reaching context. More than thirty years ago I described such behavior as a “pseudo-activity.” Since then pseudo-activity has spread alarmingly, even (and especially) amongst those people who regard themselves as anti-establishment. Generally speaking there is good reason to assume that all forms of pseudo-activity contain a pent-up need to change the petrified relations of society. Pseudo-activity is misguided spontaneity. Misguided, but not accidentally so; because people do have a dim suspicion of how hard it would be to throw off the yoke that weighs upon them. They prefer to be distracted by spurious and illusory activities, by institutionalized vicarious satisfactions, than to face up to the awareness of how little access they have to the possibility of change today. Pseudo-activities are fictions and parodies of the same productivity which society on the one hand incessantly calls for, but on the other holds in check and, as far as the individual is concerned, does not really desire at all. Productive free time is only possible for people who have outgrown their tutelage, not for those who under conditions of heteronomy, have become heteronomous for themselves.
Adorno also argues this idea of DIY as being a pseudo-activity in his essay “Resignation”: “The disastrous model of pseudo-activity is the ‘do-it-yourself’ (Mach es selber): activities that do what has long been done better by the means of industrial production only in order to inspire in free individuals, paralyzed in their spontaneity, the assurance that everything depends on them.” I remember when I first read that. I felt a twinge of embarassment of the sort you feel upon being called out for hypocrisy — the part that made me feel hypocrisy was the “everything depends on them” line. Was I kidding myself that learning how to make things rather than buy them readymade was in some way liberating? Then I shook the butterflies out of my head and realized that Adorno was human, and could therefore be wrong about some things. For example: “long been done better by the means of industrial production.” Really? Better for whom?
My mother and aunt Andrea are both big knitters, to the point that, at this very moment, I am 100% certain that Mom is lying wide awake in bed listening to my father snore and obsessing over the opening later today of course registration for the fiber arts conference she and Andrea are going to together in February. Registration for the best classes fills up quickly, so you have to be ready to jump as soon as the gates open. The first time they went, they met a woman who 1) raised sheep, 2) hand-sheared their wool, 3) cleaned it, 4) spun it into thread, 5) made her own natural dyes, 6) dyed the yarn, and then 7) knitted an amazing sweater with it. How is that in any way not a protest, intentional or accidental, against the inhumane system of apparel production upon which so many people rely to clothe themselves? Likewise, is it so delusional to think that making your own toiletries — even if you make them with store-bought organic/fair trade/etc ingredients, rather than, say, from your homegrown calendula flowers — is in some way a vote against the production of chemical laden, animal-tested beauty products?
Our choices in how we spend our money and our time are more powerful than the votes we cast during elections. These choices hold within them a far greater possibility for progressive change, and it’s absurd to believe that altering one’s production and consumption habits makes no difference in the world, that it’s a futile pseudo-activity. Should the aforementioned Super Knitter get over her paralyzing spontaneity and go buy a sweater at Wal-Mart instead, because the machine-made seams are going to be straighter, and because it’s cheaper and less time consuming than raising sheep?
Adorno, I kind of hate a lot of things you wrote. I am, therefore, making the announcement here and now that I’m going to learn how to crochet. But let’s be clear: I’m going to be very serious about crochet. It’s not a hobby.
I have no hobby. Not that I am the kind of workaholic, who is uncapable of doing anything with his time but applying himself industriously to the required task. But, as far as my activities beyond the bounds of my recognized profession are concerned, I take them all, without exception, very seriously. So much so, that I should be horrified by the very idea that they had anything to do with hobbies — preoccupations with which I had become mindlessly infatuated merely in order to kill the time — had I not become hardened by experience to such examples of this now widespread, barbarous mentality. Making music, listening to music, reading with all my attention, these activities are part and parcel of my life; to call them hobbies would make a mockery of them. (“Free Time”)