Sylvia Plath, the beekeeper, Leo Tolstoy, the chess player: 5 writers and their fascinating hobbies
As the world battles a widespread pandemic and an indefinite lockdown, social distancing did not remain a choice. It has become a way of life. The line between public and private that was blurred to an extent since the advent of social media is being restored and how. We are still sharing our lives but maybe in a qualified and not a quantified way as such anymore. Everyone had to cook, clean, basically do everything by themselves. All the predictive laughable memes about how introverts and extroverts operate became more real than ever across gender, age and communities across the globe.
The idea of hobby got a fresh meaning. It is not something you do just to represent yourself to the world in a creative way across digital platforms but it also became a thing of inner calling. American author, philosopher, scientist, Aldo Leopold in his work, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, asked, “What is a hobby anyway? Where is the line of demarcation between hobbies and ordinary normal pursuits? I have been unable to answer this question to my own satisfaction.”
Yes it is a tough question. How do you define a hobby and how predictable your hobby is? As many go within right now in times of social isolation, a throwback to the times when our favourite writers lived and had fascinating hobbies. Ayn Rand collected stamps, Emily Dickinson baked, Jack Kerouac enjoyed inventing fantasy sports, Flannery O’Connor enjoyed practising aviculture and H.G.Wells enjoyed war gaming.
-American poet, novelist, and short-story writer, Sylvia Plath along with husband, Ted Hughes took up beekeeping.
-In 1962, American writer and poet Sylvia Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes (also a successful writer), decided to take up beekeeping. Plath’s father, Otto, had been an entomologist who specialized in bees. In a letter to her mother in June, Plath announced, “Guess what, we became beekeepers! We went to the local meeting last week…We all wore masks and it was thrilling…Mr. Pollard let us have an old hive for nothing which we painted white and green, and today he brought over the swarm of docile Italian hybrid bees we ordered and installed them…I feel very ignorant but shall try to read up and learn all I can.”
Many do not know but a few months before her tragic death, Plath wrote a series of poems also famously known as the “bee poems” that included, The Bee Meeting, The Arrival of the Bees, Stings, The Swarm, and Wintering, inspired by her experiences during beekeeping.
-Russian writer and one of the most iconic writers of all times, Leo Tolstoy enjoyed playing chess. Best known for his iconic works like Anna Karenina, War and Peace and novellas, such as Hadji Murad and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy was also an avid chess player. He learned the game as a young boy and kept the interest alive his entire life and also recorded many of his games. His biographer Aylmer Maude, who often participated in the game with him observed that the writer “had no book-knowledge of it, but had played much and was alert and ingenious.”
-American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac who wrote outstanding works like The Sea Is My Brother, The Town and the City, On the Road and The Subterraneans among other notable works was a complete fantasy sports enthusiast.
During his teenage years, Kerouac invented many fantasy sports including fantasy baseball game even during adulthood and maintained record-filled notebooks with details in numbers and analytics. Also a gifted athlete, he played football during his days at the Columbia University and contributed sports articles for the student newspaper.
- English writer H. G. Wells, who wrote many novels, and short stories enjoyed war gaming. His works also included two books on recreational war games. His published work, Little Wars, was one of the first books to codify and mark a set of rules for war gaming. “You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be,” he said.
-English writer, philologist, and poet J. R. R. Tolkien, known for his fantasy works like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, had a deep interest in Conlang, also known as constructed language or artificial language or invented language. In a letter to his future wife Edith written during the year 1916, he said that he is working on a “nonsense fairy language – to its improvement. I often long to work at it and don’t let myself ’cause though I love it so it does seem such a mad hobby!” During a 1930 lecture, A Secret Vice, Tolkien shared, “The making of language and mythology are related functions. Your language construction will breed a mythology.”