May 9, 2012

Healthy Excesses

I talk a lot about my chickens. I am obsessed with their care and safety. I spend hours pounding and drilling in their coop, redesigining and planning their life. I go dumpster diving after the construction workers go home at night. I gather scraps of wood I think I can use. I spend a lot of time at ranch stores, browsing and collecting ideas. I buy chicken wire, mesh, and finally secured a small dog run I can rig to a decent chicken run. I draw on scraps of paper, plan the remodels, wish I paid better attention in geometry and algebra. I talk obsessively about my chicken project.

"I'm glad you've got a hobby that keeps you so active," my husband relented the other night. Truthfully, he's never understood this hobby. He tried to discourage me from replacing the chicks the dog killed. It didn't work. "You are very invested in the chickens." He meant obsessive.

I have been asked by many why I got chickens. I usually shrug my shoulders because it would be difficult to explain in a mere sentence or two. "Is it for eggs?" Sure, I answer. "Those are expensive eggs," they respond. It's not the eggs. It's really about my life and work situation.

I have always wanted chickens. I've played the idea in my head for years. I didn't need them in January or February. I didn't even need them on March 3rd. It was the end of the first week of March that I needed the chickens. That was when I found out that, after living a comfortable existence as a high school counselor at the same school for 18 years, I would be transferring. I wrote a whole blog post about it. Maybe two. Then I got the chickens.

My energy and concentration is now focused on a problem I can deal with. My dad asked me how I'm feeling about the transfer. "Conflicted," I answered. "Do you want to go see the hens?" No segue. Just stood up and started pulling him to his feet. I don't know how to have chickens. I have a lot to learn about them. I already learned that Sunday likes to break their necks. My bad. But I feel confident I can rise to the challenge and figure out how to keep hens safe, gather eggs, and maybe solve the problem of Sunday's loneliness as she can see the chickens but can't kill them. I can remodel a chicken coop, build a run, cut out a new door, add shutters, bury chicken wire to cut the dog's paws when she tries to dig under the fence, build a laying box or two, install a roost, and generally solve new problems that access parts of my brain that would otherwise obsess over my new job and all the challenges and concerns I might have. I would rather worry about chickens than possible job scenarios.

Of course I already have plenty to do. There is always laundry to fold, blinds to dust, errands to run, floors to mop or vacuum. But those activities use only a small part of my brain. The other part can still think and worry and obsess. The point of the new hobbies are to occupy my mind from spiraling into neurotic anxiety cycles where I envision a fatalistic view. This is nothing new for me. It's simply a different flavor of what I've done for years.

Here is a sampling of my past hobbies (or obsessions):

  • Making the perfect chocolate chip cookie that rivaled Mrs. Fields. That was a fat year.
  • Making artisan bread. Another fat year.
  • Finding and mastering George Winston's Pachelbel's Cannon in C Major. This was before the internet was rampant and it was only printed in Asian countries and rarely imported. I really sounded impressive sitting at the piano for a minute
  • Painting. Scott joked that he was afraid to go to sleep at night for fear he'd wake up painted. I painted nearly every wall in our house and a few furniture items to boot.
  • Grading Elementary Pedagogy. I know that one's weird. I worked for an online university where I was a grader of papers for students studying to become teachers. 
  • During the scrapbooking craze, I tried it for three weeks. I had just changed jobs and would have done scrapbooking for a lot longer but I got pregnant during this time. I found that puking my guts out depleted all desire for hobbies. Along with food, breathing, and the overall will to live.
  • Cross stitch. I'm really not proud of this time in my life.
  • Humanitarian kits and efforts. This one never really petered out. It still pops up a few times a year.
  • Fouette turns after a pirrouette.
  • Performing lyrical jazz in front of an audience.
  • Blogging
  • Understanding HTML. 
  • Collecting a minimum of 6 month worth of food storage in basic staples
  • Canning spaghetti sauce from tomatoes and peppers from my garden.
  • Assembling 72 hour kits for each member of the family including a change of clothes (which are now 6 years too small and missing essential pieces from years of pillaging for camps).
  • Reading about World War II (after visiting a concentration camp in Germany)
These are only a small sampling of my coping mechanisms. I generally take on a new interest and jump into learning the intricacies until I either feel competent enough to believe I have mastered the skill, competent enough to say I've tried, or life blows up in my face and I have to abandon activity for more pressing issues like throwing up or putting out a figurative fire.

I'm not drinking. 
I'm not carousing.
I'm not compulsively shopping.
I'm not shoving political agendas down everybody's throat or marching in a parade bra-less or worse.

This week I even met with my new team and observed the individual personalities and group dynamics. I would love to report on my observations but I just bought some more chicken mesh and I'm just about ready to line the run. The ladies await.

Am I alone in taking up new hobbies to temper life? What have you taken up?


Tonia said...

I am so sorry about your chickens. Your new job will be great.
Keep up the blog hobby because reading it get my mind off things!

Kim said...

Since I came to Missouri four years ago, sans job (or prospects), I've started baking, cooking, blogging, and dabbled in writing fiction.

They've filled hours and hours of time that I would have spent at a job. Maybe they make me feel a bit less worthless from time to time.

I pore over cookbooks and recipes and read story contest submission rules and ways to improve my writing skills.

But the worthless feeling persists. I suppose if I were still in my child-bearing years, I'd probably have had a baby to feel a sense of purpose, and less like a burden on our financial stability...which is really dumb because we all know how expensive children are.

Then I tried my hand at poorly-paid freelance writing, and drove myself (and everyone living with me) nuts with impending deadlines and ever-changing requirements.

I have this need to be needed, and a desire to do something worthwhile - and haven't really found it.

Forget who took my cheese, I need to find my chickens.

Mom24 said...

I envy your self-awareness. Such clarity! I have no idea how you do that.

Enjoy your hobby. I shall envy you from afar. I love the idea of having chickens. I'm not sure I would love the reality however so we're keeping it to an idea.

You're going to be great at your new school. They're definitely lucky to have you. My brother died when I was a sophomore in high school. My parents, understandably, completely checked out. My guidance counselor, a man I barely even knew existed prior to that, made a world of difference for me. It's a very important thing you do, even when it doesn't seem like it.

Rachel said...

Hey, I think like you say... it's healthy excess! :)

Though frankly, I thought the fouettes were harder to master!!

mCat said...

"Cross stitch. I'm really not proud of this time in my life."

I laughed so hard, I snorted.

I usually get obsessed about something for a short period of time and then get bored and need something else. Shiny squirrel? Yep

CountessLaurie said...

I love you.

I temper life with reading. Unfortunately, I shut everything else down too, but at least I am entertained...

Joan said...

I stopped at the Linden nursery store and saw the baby chicks there. They were so cute I almost wanted to do the same thing you're doing but hubby was with me and I brought me back to my senses. Can I come and look a live vicariously through you?