Monday, January 22, 2007


Kristen has applied for a scholarship that is well known to our departmental colleagues, and which I managed to get a few years back. It is a very useful award for overseas travel and has been around a good many years. Numerous of these are given each year, some to undergrads, some to grads.
It is one of those homier, more local sorts of things, which has its good and bad aspects. For example, it has a long application form that was probably invented ages ago and which I recall thinking could do with some simplification. It definitely takes a more personal interest in the applicant's life than does, say, FLAS.
This has led us to an interesting discussion, as the form has a space for one's hobbies.
While I may have sighed at having to fill in yet another blank on the form, being asked about my hobbies in this context seemed quite innocuous and merely an indicator that I was applying for a local rather than national award. After all, somewhere along the line they also want to know the grantee's hometown paper so that a press release can be sent. That struck me as both thoughtful and extremely old-fashioned. (Where that I have lived would consider itself interested in such news? Do I have a hometown? Does the San Francisco Chronicle or the Washington Post have a place for these things?) Well, if one does come from a small town, I'm sure it is very nice to have the award mentioned in the local paper.
I was not, however, offended about the hobbies. I suppose I put in my usual sorts of things, like knitting and gardening.
Kristen sees this differently. She finds inquiry about hobbies to be inappropriate.
Somewhat surprised, I said that it is normal to have a line for hobbies on resumes, so why not on this?
Kristen assured me that she has never heard of anyone putting hobbies on a resume, unless, possibly, one is straight out of school and has nothing else to include.
I was intrigued. I learned how to do resumes from books on resume-writing, and this was just one of those things you included, although you might call it Leisure Activities or some such thing if you wanted to look excessively high-brow.
Perhaps job applicants are no longer taught to include their hobbies. It's true that the academic CV does not include these, but then it doesn't include very many of the things I used to include on resumes. I do not, for example, list the software programs I have learned on my CV, nor do I put my typing speed.
I am curious what others think on this burning issue of hobbies. Is it an invasion of privacy to ask about hobbies? It does seem to me that one has complete freedom to put only those hobbies that might look good to the reader; if blowing up mailboxes with home-made explosives is one's hobby, this is better concealed from the general public. On the other hand, the very notion of a hobby suggests that it is not socially disruptive. While we may pursue our hobbies to the point of obsession, a hobby is generally envisioned as agreeable and socially acceptable. This is why we list things like knitting, sewing, stamp collecting, gardening, building model railroads, swimming, and backpacking. Pursuits like going to Star Trek conventions, constructing and selling transgender Barbies, and target shooting may qualify as hobbies, but don't usually go on the resume; they aren't quite cozy enough. Throwing weekly swinger parties in your home dungeon is probably not even a hobby, though it is definitely an Interest.
It occurs to me that the concept of hobbies is both historically situated and class-related. Hobbies (formerly more often referred to as hobby-horses) go back at least a couple hundred years. Leisure and some amount of cash is required to have a hobby, so it is not something open to the lumpenproletariat. Knitting is not a hobby if it is part of one's survival. Gardening is not a hobby if it is obligatory.
I have occasionally heard that children today no longer have hobbies. Supposedly they spend all their time watching TV, surfing the internet, and in some cases playing sports. Since the children I know are rather atypical, I am not going to use them to build a case one way or the other. (I will say, however, that six-year-old Molly seemed as excited about owning a sewing box as she was about singing, dancing, and learning to read. I don't think this child is short on hobbies of any sort.)
Class-wise, adult hobbies now seem regarded as, perhaps, the province of the working class and the lower middle class. I may be wrong on this, but I think the intellectual class prefers to have "interests" while the moneyed class does I know not what. The activities involved may not be all that different, but the perception probably is.
As for me, I have countless hobbies, I just don't have a lot of time to pursue them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang, girlfriend, I didn't know I was playing muse today! ;)

January 23, 2007 2:02 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Muse-dom is so unpredictable. You never know when it will strike, or who it will inspire.

January 23, 2007 8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is inherently normalizing. If you want to be seen as a "leader" or a "team-player" you will say that you are interested in golf and stay away from mentioning the Star Trek conventions--whatever one's passions [1]. The question has no positive purpose, except perhaps in the exceedingly few business settings that care about you as a person [2]. It's intention is entirely discriminatory and as such is asked in bad faith.

[1] Notice the incongruity of the word "passions"--if you have those, you're definitely not supposed to talk about those in a job application, if you know what's good for you. Only anodyne things like hobbies are under consideration.

[2] I'm going to have to think about some places--Starbucks would be a limited sort of example--where having employees with eccentric interests/hobbies/passions is part of the company image (and, as such, normalizing in its own, if more agreeable to me, way).

January 23, 2007 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In high school one of my hobbies was hypnotizing my friends and giving them past life regressions. My friends included reborn cowboys, dancers, and bartenders.


January 24, 2007 4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to meet you, Travis. And Karla, what is the name of this fabulous grant that we should all be preparing to apply for to extend our studies in far-flung corners of the globe?

January 25, 2007 11:20 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Well, only University of Pittsburgh students are eligible. We are also not talking about really large sums of money.

As for passions, I prefer to keep most of them out of my job applications, which is why I am quite content to list a few hobbies. After all, I don't have to clarify which are actually passions, just indicate that I might be a "well rounded" employee. Despite my disruptive nature, this is not something I see any problem with, any more than costuming myself semi-appropriately for the job. (Employment is all about acting, anyway. Once in awhile you get to act something approximating your real self instead of the Cheery Waitress or Diligent Factory Worker.)

It has been awhile since anyone did a past-life regression on me. The one I recall best was one where I seemed to be a deaf and retarded waif c. 1700. Or perhaps I was merely autistic.

January 25, 2007 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

I really loved this post; so much food for thought. I've come to believe that the "hobbies" blank on such forms dates back to the bygone eras when one's prospective employer might have fewer applicants, and have time to think of the whole person instead of a skill set (quaint!), or perhaps want to make conversation as a "warm-up" early in the interview.

I always love to hear about people's hobbies while getting to know them, but it would seem a little stilted to discuss them with a stranger (especially my collection of shrunken heads in spice bottles) in a job or fellowship-seeking context. Plus, it's hard to keep from making up facetious replies during these unexpected questions.
Kind of like when I was in the elevator at one of the Mecca-type medical centers where I see my ENT. A very friendly couple pressed the same floor I did, and asked, "So, which doctor are you seein' on 5?" It was really hard not to say, "oh, the TB guy," or "those leprosy consultants," etc.

In a different ramble, enjoyed your discussion of the socioeconomic side of hobbies. In either a book or column by David Brooks, he mentions that the big trend in newer kitchens of the wealthy is to have the most labor-intensive equipment all over the place--as a type of ornament or trophy.

Instead of the marble board and big bowls, there are giant industrial quality machines for bread making, Viking ovens seen only in restaurants before now, and those crazy Aga ovens that are advertised as fostering "spontaneous cooking b/c they are always on" huh?, not to mention the big wet kiss and gift basket its owner must get from the electric company.

So clearly the worm has turned full circle from the times when the kitchen was stark, functional, and hidden in the back of the home so that the lady of the house might forget it was there until the cook brought out dinner.
Of course for that strange group whose security/self esteem is grounded in how little he/she can/will do independently, this whole "labor intensive" hobby idea won't catch on, and they will continue to look askance at people like me who flail around with the weed eater in the front yard.

January 30, 2007 6:07 AM  

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