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What am I leaving behind?

I need a hobby. I’d like one in part for the stress-release factor, but also because I’d like my kids to see me doing something other than reading or typing and also I’d like to have something to leave behind, a physical trace of myself.

Our house is filled with traces and mini-monuments created by family members: my late grandmother painted and my house is full of her paintings, and my mother has now started painting herself; my brother’s photography lines the walls of my children’s rooms; my late grandfather’s woodwork and handiwork are used daily. My mother-in-law is a trained seamstress, so my daughter can point to all of the things that she has mended for her during visits. My husband cooks elaborate and delicious meals for us.

I have…a blog.

I know that my kids are both fascinated by working with their hands, or at least watching people work with their hands. When I was pregnant with my son, my husband spent one afternoon assembling the new changing table. My daughter (about 18 months at the time) was watching her dad work. She hadn’t been particularly affectionate with her dad, but she suddenly ran up to him, threw her arms around him, kissed him and declared, “love you, Dad.” I was currently working out of the house and he was taking care of her at home while writing his dissertation. My husband is also, as mentioned above, the cook. My daughter had spent her entire life, up to that point, around academics, both male and female. And yet, here she was, moved by the sight of her father doing manual labor.

(In fairness, she may have been equally moved had she seen me doing the same thing, but I was massively pregnant and in no condition to put together heavy wood furniture.)

Fast-forward a few years. Our neighbor often works in his backyard and the kids would beg me to go over so they could watch or even help. They are also constantly telling me about all the things their teachers made. And they ask, why don’t you make anything? Then again, when my daughter asks me to draw something for her, she just gets mad because, as she says, I don’t do it well enough.

I almost failed kindergarten because of poor fine-motor skills (never mind that I already knew how to read and speak two languages). While I have since improved, I haven’t ever mastered drawing, penmanship, musical instruments (and trust me, I tried), or any sort of art that involves using my hands (so, you know, all of them). One time, my very pregnant childhood friend who was in nesting mode forced me to try knitting. It didn’t work. Instead of being sources of stress-release, they become sources of great stress and anxiety.

Doing things around the house (like cooking or fixing or decorating) are also fraught with negative emotional baggage. I was clumsy and a bit of a space cadet as a kid, so anytime I tried to help or do anything on my own, I was constantly told that I was doing it wrong or not fast enough or just simply in the way. This wasn’t any way to inculcate any sort of hereditary hobby.

This leaves me with my writing and (brace yourselves) singing. Singing is one of the few activities that while I know that I will never gain fame and fortune with my voice, I still enjoy the activity and have enough talent not to send my kids screaming and to be a part of a choir. My daughter now knows not to ask me to draw anything for her, but she doesn’t hesitate to ask me to sing. And when I overheard my son singing Rainbow Connection, I realized (with admittedly a few tears in my eyes) that maybe; perhaps, I have already left something with them.

And someday my kids will hopefully appreciate my writing. I’m not sure why I don’t give more weight to the sheer volume I have produced and published in some form or another in the past 10 years of my academic career (and even my non-academic one before that), but I’m still stuck in a pre-digital (and firmly academic) mindset that unless it’s a book, it doesn’t really count. Maybe my kids will give more weight to my blogging than I am.

I wasn’t able to attend my grandfather’s funeral, but one of my relatives read the following from Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. It is spoken by one of the other outcasts Montag meets when he escapes the city. Granger is remembering and mourning his own grandfather:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a wall built or a pair of shoes made…Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die…It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, as long as you changed something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

Maybe that’s why I’ve become interested in DigitalHumanities and trying to be more active advocating for adjunct faculty (I wont call them contingent anymore); I want to build things, change things for the better. It would be much easier if I could knit a pair of socks or paint a picture, but unless someone comes up with a better suggestion, it seems this is the path I’m taking.

Morehead, Kentucky in the US.

Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at CollegeReadyWritingand follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at UniversityofVenus.

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