In graduate school, I took up crafting — knitting, sewing, embroidering, quilting, making magnets and sock monkeys and jam? I tried them all. I’ve always liked working with my hands, and the grass roots, eco-friendly nature of the DIY movement was really appealing to me. I also enjoyed learning more about what have traditionally been women’s activities. Embroidering science quotes on pillows felt subversive and oddly empowering. I made me feel closer to my grandmother. It gave me something to do. It was a creative outlet. I met new people, and saved money on holiday gifts. My grad student friends and I would meet for weekend stitch-n-bitches and support each other through tough times.
Crafting also helped my mental health. Watching an episode of Buffy or Alias at night to unwind, I’d find myself unable to relax until I discovered that crocheting silenced that persistent little voice saying “Why aren’t you working?” Because I was working! I was making something! My overachieving neurotic brain was just as satisfied by stitches as by words. I was able to relax, and concentrate on Sidney Bristow kicking ass instead of the pervasive feelings that I wasn’t good enough.
When I started my faculty position, I stopped. I don’t know why. It wasn’t intentional, it’s just that self-care is one of the first things to go when you’re busy. Recently, because year three has made me feel like I’m Artax sinking into the Swamps of Sadness, I started again. I made a baby quilt for my cousin. Then I made another for my colleague, and a third for my sister (please keep having babies, by the way. I’m kind of on a roll here). A couple of weeks ago, I picked up knitting again, working on a “baby” blanket I started in graduate school for a pregnant friend whose fetus will start preschool this fall. I’m reaching out to friends to start a book club — something else I loved in grad school — and this morning I looked up when the Zumba classes are. I’m feeling like myself again, or at least the fitter, happier, more fulfilled grad student version of me.*
The other day, I posted my latest quilt on Facebook, and a colleague wrote a comment: “How do you find the time?” I used to get those a lot in grad school. I’ve seen friends training for marathons, or posting photos of their cosplay outfits, get similar comments. They frustrate me, because they imply that we should be working every single waking hour. I don’t have kids (yet?), which frees up a lot of time, I admit. But even my colleagues who are parents have hobbies, even if it’s a weekly soccer league or a monthly volunteer gig at the dog shelter. Heck, even Happy Hour can be a hobby, and there generally seems to be enough time for that. Besides, a quilt can be made in five minute increments. It’s not rocket science (though it does involve a surprising amount of math).
“How do you find the time?” is pernicious. It’s a form of concern-trolling, because the person seems like they have your best interests at heart, but they’re really just shaming you for not being at work all the time. Don’t listen to them. First, you don’t need to work eighty hours a week to succeed in academia, and most people probably aren’t anyway, even if they think they are. Secondly, having hobbies and outlets is good. Breaks make you more productive; this is one reason the tech industry is all about having Lego stations at work, or things like the Pomodoro method are so effective. Strong networks and interests make you healthier and happier. Healthy, happy people are more productive. Knitting, beer-brewing, and tending to your SCOBY won’t get you tenure by themselves, but they’re almost certainly helping more than hurting.
You probably have lots of hobbies already, but you don’t know it — those are those things you used to do before graduate school made you stop because you were too broke or busy. I don’t care if you have to cut up old pairs of jeans you fish out of the university free box and make solstice wreaths out of them: If you don’t have a hobby or three, get one. I recommend at least one that you can do alone and one that you can do with others. Bonus points if you can schedule your fun (e.g., a weekly trivia night, a knitting group, a dance class), and treat it like anything else on your calendar.
And the next time someone asks you, “Where do you find the time?” resist the urge to say “From the hollow space at the center of the dried husks of my enemies,” and instead say “I find having a physical/creative/social outlet makes me more productive!” and then let your fabulous CV speak for itself.
*If you’re in grad school and feeling like everything is terrible and about to freak out because it’s going to get harder, breathe. It’s going to be okay. Half the point of this blog is so that you learn from our mistakes, rather than repeating them. Now go look at yourself in the mirror and say, get into a power pose, and say “I am a BAMF” ten times. Because you are.