Once upon a time, I enjoyed playing racquetball despite the fact that I suck at it. I wasn’t just bad. I was an introverted book nerd with clumsiness baked into my genes chasing after a little blue all and failing nine times out of ten to actually return a volley. Even so, I loved playing. It was freeing to enjoy something I was spectacularly bad at.
My ex-husband was less enthused about playing with me. The first few times I think he put up with my running and giggling while missing the ball because I hadn’t ever played before. He expected me to get better. When I didn’t, he began to play to my level, not putting a lot of energy into the game. Upon realizing that he was purposely playing badly, I told him he didn’t have to. It didn’t hurt my feelings that he was better at the game than I was. And I didn’t mind losing 15-0. The point was to have fun.
Once assured he didn’t have to “play down” to me, his whole demeanor changed. He would hit the ball with such force that the rebound sounded like a gun shot. I was dodging the ball now, instead of missing it. A couple of times it hit me with enough force to leave a mark. This was the way he played with his friends—all men. They didn’t so much as serve the ball as assault it with the racket. Winning and winning through the biggest display of aggression was the point.
My ex could only approach racquetball—and our relationship—in two modes: humoring me or total domination. I dropped racquetball. I wasn’t allowed to just enjoy running around, swatting at a ball. It wasn’t fun.
This anecdote has been weighting on my mind the last few days. In November I shared a tweet on my Idiorhythmic Designs Facebook page:
It got shared and liked a lot. The response was 99% positive. But there was a 1% who took offense with the message. One person even took the time to comment: “Stupid bitch, tell that to my bills.”
A few others shared with similar remarks. What I had read as being an inspirational piece of advice, others viewed as an attack.
There is this great distaste for the term “amateur”. It seems to have become conflated with “dilettante”. The two words share an overlapping general definition, as being the opposite of a professional. But where the latter has an added connotation of being a negative, the former has, at least until recently, been a neutral term.
As the tweet points out, hobbies—especially those that involve the arts—have become commodified. The gig economy, and the idea that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” are prevalent. Viewing every act of creativity through that lens leaves no space for doing something for the joy of it, even if you suck at it.
And yet, I get it. As someone who makes her (not so very lucrative) living from her creative efforts, it is imperative that I be not just great but phenomenal at what I do. My writing and sewing skills determine if I will be able to pay rent and buy food. I could as easily miss the point of the tweet, reading it as a dismissal of my artistic endeavors and I might respond with a spicy retort about bills, too.
I don’t think the solution is an either/or approach to the for love or money question. An and/also gives people more space to be, to hustle, and to feed their souls with the joy that comes from doing something just because it is fun.
I won’t ever return to racquetball. My knees are less springy than they were almost 20 years ago. But I have other hobbies that I participate in. I doodle and dance, poorly. Next year I have decided that I will try karaoke. I plan on picking up a croquet and a badminton set for our backyard, where I will put my non athletic to use. And should anyone comment on how bad I am at any of it, I will respond with, “Yeah, I suck at it, isn’t it great?”