Why We Need to Question “Hobbies” in the Pandemic

By Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Pandy hobbies

On a rainy Thursday morning at the end of January 2021, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling for far too long... I couldn’t remember what I had done in 2020. I remember the past couple of years clearly: In 2019, I went to Chicago, Portland, Dublin, Tokyo, Singapore, Montreal, and all across Northern BC for the BC Book Prizes author tour. In 2018, Port of Being was published and I met many poets in real life. The past few years were defined by the trips that I had taken, the people I met, and the work that I presented, wrote, and published.

Not having easy-to-recall defining moments for 2020 like I did for 2019 and 2018 scared me so much. Okay, I wrote three drafts of my novel. That made me feel a bit better. But how else did I spend my time – aside from work and checking pandemic stats – and then trying not to check pandemic stats? I turned to the one being that knows me better than anyone else: my beautiful computer. I looked through the metadata of all my documents. It turns out I had been doing a lot, just not what I had been doing before. I had changed.

To my surprise and disbelief, I made music in 2020. In previous years I had deejayed and noodled around with various instruments, but I had never made whole songs on my own! I also went for long walks, made field recordings, practiced deep listening and soundwalking. I learned the names of songs again, their order in the album. I relaxed. I cried a lot, because pandemic. I watched movies set before 1945, because escapism. I bought a Kobo and read a novel every few days, like I used to do when I was an undergrad, because story time! Apparently, “Canadians have changed their lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Chronicle Herald says, reporting on a survey that interviewed 1230 people across the country. They say people have been spending their time at home pursuing hobbies like reading and baking.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a “hobby” is “an activity done in leisure time for one’s pleasure.” First of all, how messed up is it that we need a pandemic and lockdown to have “hobby” time? But more importantly, what the hell is a “hobby”? Reading and writing were never hobbies for me. They were necessary. I know this because I have been hospitalized six times trying to make my “hobby” my life – as the eldest daughter of an immigrant family with little money, it was not easy to be a reader and a writer.

So, when I saw how obsessed I was with listening, sound, and music in 2020, I didn’t think that 2020 had given me time to pursue my hobbies, like it had given the 60% of Canadians in the survey to pursue their respective hobbies. Instead, I saw that I had been denying what was necessary for me.

In “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” Audre Lorde writes: “If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly towards and through promise, is a luxury, then we have given up the core – the fountain of our power, our womanness; we have given up the future of our worlds” (emphasis mine).

Thinking about what we enjoy in terms of “hobbies” is giving up our possible worlds, because we begin to think of our enjoyment, our pleasure, as a luxury. But our joy is our future world. Let’s not call it a hobby. 



The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Shazia Hafiz Ramji’s fiction was shortlisted for the Malahat Review’s 2022 Open Season Awards. Her poetry was shortlisted for the 2021 National Magazine Awards and the 2021 Mitchell Prize for Faith and Poetry. Shazia’s award-winning first book is Port of Being. She lives in Vancouver and Calgary, where she is at work on a novel.