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The Value of Newness

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There are people who collect stamps. There are people who collect baseball cards. There are people who collect books, spoons, coffee mugs, ties, shoes, rocks, and sand. I bet if I can think of a thing, there’s somebody who gets really excited about collecting it in massive quantities. There are even some people who collect things that are less concrete. Some people like to collect anagrams or recipes. Personally, I like cool words (like agathokakological) and university nicknames/mascots (UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs).

Sometimes I joke that I collect hobbies, and it’s probably my most significant collection of all. I think this comes from my passion for learning about new things. Some of them, like music, have stuck around and remain a large part of my life. Others, like the stop-motion animations I used to make with my Dad’s first digital camera, have been left behind in earlier parts of my life. When I think about picking up a new hobby to add to my collection, one of my concerns is the cost. Picking up golf would cost me hundreds of dollars or more, but picking up disc golf (as I did a few years back) only cost about ten or fifteen bucks. What, then, is the value of collecting these hobbies?

The wide variety of hobbies gets me thinking about things differently, like having your whole music library on shuffle. Listening to Bartok, then Ellington, then Berio, then the Beatles will cause you to think about Bartok, Ellington, Berio, and the Beatles differently.

Double Shadow

One of the most recent hobbies added to my collection was art. A couple of years ago, I picked up a basic acrylic paint set to occupy the hours not taken up by class. Never having taken an art class, I really didn’t know what I was getting into. Everything I was doing was an experiment. I learned what kinds of paper held the paint effectively, how paints behaved differently on canvases, and what interesting things I could mix into the paints to create different textures. It was just as exciting to me as learning about the basics of composition, instrumentation, and chord voicings; or learning about basic concepts in electronics or literature. Buried so mind-numbingly deep in studying music, I had forgotten that feeling of discovery, and painting helped me regain it.

I think my friend Matt Schoendorff might say the same thing about quantum physics. He became so enamored of the subject that he wrote as his doctoral dissertation a set of character pieces about quantum particles for wind band.

All too often, fear keeps us from trying new things. Fear of failure may be reasonable in, say, trying a Wild West-type pistols-at-dawn duel for the first time. But most of the time, trying something new isn’t as risky as that. Create something new, I think you’ll find that it’s worth it.

Most recently, I’ve tried producing a film and this.

What new things have you tried recently? How have they changed the way you think about other parts of your life?

  • Great post, Dave! Sometimes we get so mired in the routine of what we know (or think we know), that it seems we have exhausted any reasonable expectation of discovery. But you’re absolutely right — a shift of focus or a change in venue not only can reignite the spark of newness, but also translate that spark across a broad spectrum of staled activities. This is exactly what I experienced when I dove off the cliff-face head first into quantum mechanics. Once I had the opportunity to play with my new hobby, I realized that it could better inform my work in music. Spot on!

    P.S. Thanks for the reference in the post!