by Alison Reiheld, Assoc. Prof of Philosophy and Director of Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville
Writer Brigid Schulte first came to my attention through her article “Why time is a feminist issue.” Schulte describes a time-use expert’s claim during an interview: Schulte had roughly 30 hours of leisure time every week. Upon hearing this, Schulte says, “I sat in my chair, phone to my ear, jaw open, and utterly frozen in disbelief.” Why? It didn’t feel anything like that between her kids and housekeeping duties—“laundry, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the child care drop offs, the dry cleaning, the bills, the pediatrician appointments, the summer camp planning"—demanding work, and a boss who “liked to say the best workers were always in the office until 9 and 10 at night.” When the time-use expert sat down with Schulte, they actually found 27 hours of what the expert called ‘leisure’ and Schulte called “bits and scraps of garbagey time… five minutes here… ten minutes there.” Even waiting by the side of the road for a tow truck, the expert said, counted as leisure. This is where Schulte coins an extremely valuable term: time confetti.
Schulte finds several explanations for time confetti. Drawing on research, she says that women don’t have a history of culture or leisure (unless you were a nun, Schulte notes, or unless you were quite upper class, I note). My own studies would indicate that this is in part because women have a culture of care—caretaking for property, and caregiving for persons. This leads in to Schulte’s next explanation for time confetti: women around the globe have felt that they “they didn’t deserve leisure time… Instead, they felt they had to earn time to themselves by getting to the end of a very long To Do list. Which, let’s face it, never ends.”
While I expect one could make a similar gender-neutral case for the pressures of the protestant and capitalist work ethics—productivity uber alles; look upon my busy-ness ye mighty and despair!—men in heteronormative households do experience different kinds of demands on their time outside of work than do women. These are often claims that they can discharge at a time of their own choosing such as yard work or general maintenance rather than ones that must be done right now and every day such as meals and the nitty gritty of care for dependent persons. It is for these reasons, among others, that Schulte comes to conclude the claim in the title of her piece, namely that time is power and time is a feminist issue.
So why write about this in a blog ostensibly on a philosopher’s hobbies? Well, for one thing, as a philosopher, I am prone to analyzing my own life and reading and thinking about it, looking for patterns and trying to make sense of it. It’s the philosophical equivalent of the practice of medicine: gather signs and symptoms, analyze recurring patterns, and diagnose before attempting to treat.
Instead of pushing back as hard as I might against time confetti, since the demands and obligations of paid work and unpaid work are real and genuinely owed to self and others, I have worked to fit my leisure within existing obligations and time confetti. This works in two ways. First, I view work as a break from caregiving, and caregiving as a break from work. This is a bit of a mental trick (ambiguity intended), but it leads to much less stress and better balance. Similar thinking allows me to choose ways of caring for my family that feed my own soul. Second, in the interstitial bits of time I have for myself, and from each of these activities, I carve out leisure. This results in what I have begun to think of as confetti hobbies.
My hobbies and passions include, but are not limited to:
- Making things in the kitchen or the garden that wouldn’t exist if I weren’t there. Behold the power of creation! By making food and growing living things be about more than just fuel, more than just keeping up appearances, I can get my personal joy out of things that need to be done anyway. I used to do this with pottery/ceramics, but the place I live now doesn’t have easy and affordable access to the full range of space and stages from raw blocks of clay through studio space with tables for hand-building and wheels for throwing plus glazes plus firing.
- The time I figured out how to make a sherry mushroom cream sauce? Changed my cooking forever (see picture)
- The time I figured out what herbs de provence taste good with? Made it possible ever after for me to throw together a good soup out of whatever happened to be in the fridge, freezer, and pantry
- When I brought lilies back from one of my favorite places in all the world, and planted them in front of my house where I will see them every day? Gives me perpetual joy for 6 months a year
- Planting cherry tomatoes enough times that now they just… come back every year as volunteers? Makes summer a delight. If you’ve never done this, you have no idea how amazing it is to pop a sun-hot tomato right off the vine straight into your mouth, and bite down as it explodes all over your tastebuds. Maybe if you’ve got the basil in that year, you pluck a leaf from the basil plant and a tomato from the vine and wrap the tomato in basil before you pop it in your mouth.
My boys in the spring a few years ago, checking on the tomato seedlings in the garden plot, from our back porch. Soon after, they could just go outside to play soccer in the backyard and, if they got hungry, grab a snack off the vine.
- Coaching robotics, which allows me to nerd right the hell out while I spend time with one or more of my kids but also provides the mostly-boys and some-girls who do robotics at the elementary and middle school level with a role model of a nerdy woman (diversity in STEM is something I am deeply committed to).
- I use philosophy a lot in this, in terms of fairness in tasks, asking instead of telling, and even through use of a talking stick to help the team members take turns after they identified this as a problem by themselves. Instead of a talking stick, we used a stuffed Wombat (they were the Wireless Wombats that year).
- This also gets me back in touch with my nerd roots. Ah, nerd roots.
- It also gives me a community, through regional competitions and robotics clubs, of people who I don’t meet through work or church
- Hiking and walking is something I very much love to do. It puts my brain and my body in sync as we look for what blooms when, what fruits when, which fungi appear on deadfall or the trail surface when, which animals and plants can be seen (or heard [or smelled]) when. It can also take us to places we would never otherwise go.
- I can do it alone, as I did this morning when I took myself to the university’s gardens, and I walked a pleasant mile with the spring tree blossoms and the smell of wild green onions that had been chopped up by a lawnmower. I only had 20 minutes. That’s a mile.
- I can do it with my husband as a date, by meeting him at the entrance to an on-campus trail for a 45-minute walk on lunch break. That’s almost 2 miles, at slower hiking-and-looking pace.
- I can do it with the kids, and flip over logs to see what’s underneath, or inspect the underside of ferns to see if they are sporing yet.
- I can do it when we travel, as last summer when we hiked all over the Isle of Skye and walked Edinburgh on a trip where the family joined me for the World Congress of Bioethics
June 2016. Isle of Skye, Scotland. See that cliff face, off to the right where there is a more gentle slope instead of a straight vertical? That was the trail down from the clifftops to the headland at Rhuba Hunish. We walked 12 miles that day. It turned sunny just a few minutes after this picture. That path is the only way down or up. We found a sheep skeleton, we found nesting seabirds in the cliffs on one side of the headland, we found great tidepools on the other. Only by walking can you get here.
It’s hard to find time for all the passions I have. I hope before too long to start playing violin again; I used to be a competitive violinist and played 30-90 minutes a day for 15 solid years of my life. I still know it so well that though my fingers are slower from lack of practice, I can pick a violin up and shock myself at how fun it still is, how good it still sounds. But I only do it a few times a year. I’d like to change that. After all, in principle, I can play confetti violin: a 5 minute piece here, a 10 minute piece there, an indulgent three movement 25 minute piece every now and then.
But I am really pretty happy with taking that time confetti and repurposing it, taking those obligations I already have and getting the most out of them, even turning some of them into hobbies by harnessing my passion.
Schulte resents confetti time. So do I, to some degree. But I can turn it to my purposes. Confetti hobbies are still hobbies.