Both of my parents teach piano, and my mother always told me to practice music as a hobby—and no more. By the time I reached high school, I had given up piano and violin and had started playing Classical guitar, and soon moved on to my favorite songs by Sublime, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and Led Zeppelin. As an undergraduate I would invent songs and play them at open mics. Around the time I started graduate school, I began to want to jam with others.
These popular teenage Scottish musicians [The Claymores] probably enjoy music and work hard in school. (Photo credit: http://www.free-press-release.com/news-razor-sharp-performance-from-newcastle-indie-band-the-claymores-1261343988.html)
For the first five years of graduate school, though, I only ever played at all when I visited my 13-year-younger brother the organist. He lives in another state, and I accepted the seldomness of rock in my life with the thought that training as a scholar meant leaving my strumming passion on the other side of the state border. Here I studied, socialized, and slept. I just did not make time for hobbies in grad school.
But hobbies puncture all the anxious vanity that accompanies the development of new critical abilities as a graduate student. As the author of this blog post about learning capoeira during graduate school reminds us, it is actually relieving to be terrible at something. You realize that you can still enjoy skill-intensive activities and like yourself, while lacking skill.
I will never be professional musician, but I love a good melody, and I love mixing sounds with my bandmates. In fact, I just finished grading essays before I wrote this, and I'm looking forward to rocking right now.
Now I’m writing after having cut, layered, thinned, and styled my fiancée’s mother’s hair. She looks beautiful. I also cut my fiancée’s hair and my own. I have cut various friends’ hair over the course of graduate school. As an undergrad, I refined my hair-cutting craft using my own head as material. Before that, in high school, a fashion-savvy, older friend taught me the rules (forget the mullet-taboo: leave a little length in the back, thin the sides to de-accentuate head shape, always know in advance how straight a line you want—a straight line looks “fancy,” a vague line looks “natural”). This hobby lets me spend time with people I like, and then their stunning, new hairstyles make it even more pleasant to see them again later.
Plato thought that citizens of democracies were spoiled by opportunity:
As so he lives out his life from day to day, gratifying the desire of the moment. One day he drinks himself under the table to the sound of the pipes, the next day he is on a diet of plain water. Now he is taking exercise, but at other times he is lazing around and taking no interest in anything. And sometimes he passes the time in what he calls philosophy. Much of his time is spent in politics, where he leaps to his feet and says and does whatever comes into his head…. There is no controlling order or necessity in his life. (Republic, 562c-d, Translation: Tom Griffith)
Today we might add some new diversions: signing online petitions about political issues we have never really thought hard about, doing yoga videos online, or dancing in the living room with friends not “to the sound of pipes,” but maybe to Ace of Base. Exploring many activities does not bespeak lack of commitment to our main activities; in my experience, the more involved we graduate students get in non-professional activities, the more comfortably we can resume deep absorption in teaching, reading, and writing.
About the Author
Spencer Hawkins, Ph.D. Student, Comparative Literature
Published in: Student Voices