Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Mr. Beer

For those of us who follow such things, the recent death of New York Times reporter, editor, gourmand, oenophile, and expense-account abuser R.W. Apple marked the end of an era. I can't say what era that might be — perhaps the Protozoan Era, given Apple's long history with the newspaper — but he was one of the last old-time lions of political reportage that pre-dated the Internet, e-mail, and, of course, blogs, which usually have no reporting in them but lots of half-assed, ill-informed commentary, just like mine.

Apple's coverage of the Vietnam War and of politics are legendary in journalistic circles, but just as legendary were Apple's appetites. He knew the best restaurants in every town, where to get the right vintages in Osaka, and the best room in the best hotel of every city. Apple ate fois gras by the pound and vineyards were like second homes.

Now, I don't drink much wine, especially since the red stuff gives me headaches of the pneumatic variety, in which the pain can be measured in pressure per inch. Beer is a different story, and since last holiday season, when I scored a Mr. Beer home brewing kit, I have been semi-obsessed with beer-making, to the point I have actually made two entire batches over the course of nine months! That must be a record for sustaining an outside interest.

The fact is, I don't really have any hobbies. I mean, I read, I do sudoku, I'll watch television, go to movies and museums, but the bulk of my free time is spent at the keyboard. Writing has become my hobby, though I always dreamed writing fiction would be my profession and I'd have time to take up piano, educate my palate, learn French, or spend all my free time playing video games while Wife cooks and cleans. (Some dreams will never come true).

Apple at work

Do writers even have hobbies, besides drinking and raging on blogs? Does Toni Morrison garden, does Michel Houellebecq whip up a mean coc au vin?

Flannery O'Connor advised young writers to take up drawing, as it forces one to observe an object for an extended time. Not only will you be able to draw a passable still life, but you will be able to interpret it, such as figuring out the talking bannana like the ones I have in dreams.

Here's the rub: I can't pay attention for more than a few days on any given hobby. I tried to learn French. I tried to learn the harmonica. I tried to build a combat robot. Every time, I would lose interest in the time it took you to read this sentence.

It wasn't that I didn't like learning a new skill, or that my lousy abilities proved so frustrating that I quit like an eight-year-old, such as I did with a power tool a few weeks ago that was tossed clean across my mother's driveway.

No, my reticence was due to another factor: spending time with hobbies took away from my time to write. Every spent away from the keyboard doing something for its pure enjoyment became a neurotic spiral from which there was no escape: I haven't written all day because I'm learning how to kayak. I got to get back! I gotta write — otherwise, failure! Noooooooooooo!!

Mr. Beer — oh yeah

For those of you who have full-time jobs and write on the side, do you have well-developed hobbies? Do you spend your free time enjoying life? Do you have friends? Do you sleep 3 hours a night of your own choice?

Maybe you don’t do stuff like commute, eat, or waste time on the shitter. Perhaps you are one of those genetic freaks who would rather sit down and scribble away rather than, say, watch television, freeing up other time for hobbies and such.

Those with little ones don’t count. I know how busy you are. I know. Quit reminding me. I know who you are.