in Blog, Reads

Thinking Out Loud: Affinity Phases

If you’re familiar with the work of James Paul Gee and Henry Jenkins, then you’re probably also familiar with the concept of affinity spaces. Briefly, an affinity space is a place, either virtual or physical, where people with a shared interest can get together and informal learning takes place. If you want to know more than that, Wikipedia has your back.

I’ve been feeling like I want to take up a new hobby – in particular, an art or craft. I’ve been trying to figure out what it is. I was thinking about origami, but I’m not settled yet. I was also thinking about a decision I’ve made recently: to give up on being an expert. If I have an honest epitaph when I die, it’ll say, “She didn’t work up to her potential.” This was the rallying cry of my teachers over and over again. Which, I have to tell you, says a lot, because in high school and grad school I was pretty stellar. So my potential must be galactic or something.

I just don’t always apply myself. Or, more often, I apply myself, really hard, and then I stop. And it doesn’t just happen educationally, but in my hobbies/personal interests, too. Craft supplies and interests accrete to create a Great Barrier Reef of Stuff-Kimberly’s-Enjoyed-but-Doesn’t-as-Much-Now-but-Might-Come-Back-to-Later.

I’ve decided to call this process of getting super into a thing and then letting it fade into the background an “affinity phase.” I made a little timeline of my life to track these, and while some have distinct periods of activity, others sort of float around and I come back to them from time to time. What qualifies something to serve as an “affinity phase” in my life? The number of books I’ve read, blogs to which I’ve subscribed, or supplies I’ve bought can be a good indicator. The number of people to whom it connects me is another one.

I was watching the Making of Featurette on Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing Blu-Ray. He was talking about whether he’d do another Shakespeare or not, and sort of dodged the question, saying that he wants to do lots of different things. He said he’ll never get very deep into one thing, so he might as well go for breadth. I pointed at the screen and flailed. Joss Whedon gets me, you guys. (In case you’re curious, the Joss Whedon affinity phase of my life extends from 2000-2003; he hangs around but fades into the background after 2003.)

So I’ve identified this phenomenon in my life, named it, and am working to embrace it. My next step is to figure out how to make it work for me. In one sense, it already has – I’m currently working in a job where I get to do a million different things, most of which draw on some core affinity that I’ve had over time (education, web design, writing, editing), and where most importantly, I am expected to and rewarded with praise when I keep learning new things. But in a more personal sense, I feel at sea. I’ve got to figure out how to live with and be happy with this very essential part of my nature even when I’m not at work.

I’m re-treading ground here that Kim Werker covered more than 5 years ago. That’s okay. We’ve all got to figure these things out in our own time.

Leave a Reply

  1. I was going to go tweet back to you, but realized I needed far more space. But in short, YES. And, coincidentally, I’ll be writing today about a related topic, both on my blog and in my newsletter. I may have written about accepting this same thing about myself five years ago, but I’ve found it’s something I rediscover and struggle to accept over and over again. Not as painfully or earth-shatteringly, but it keeps happening. And it happens both in my professional life and in my hobby life. It’s harder, professionally, to find what you’ve found – a role in which you’re not only accepted as a, shall we say, enthusiastic dilettante, but encouraged to explore and develop that characteristic. And I don’t think it’s any harder or easier to find that when you work on a team vs. for yourself. I continue to struggle to value my dilletanteness (whatever) in my solo work – to remember that when I pressure myself to be an “expert” at something, I end up miserable and I do shitty work. But when I let go of that and find a way to feel confident and chill about the work I do, I’m happier and my work is good.

    Affinity phases. I love it. And I have some Wikipedia reading to do.