Around this time last year, I hit a wall with the craft that stopped me cold. Creative work is like that. Sometimes you just exhaust the possibilities and don’t know where to turn or what to do next. Speaking from experience, it’s a frustrating situation to be in. Many people find such ambiguity intolerable but I made peace with it long ago. I’ve learned to live with the questions and mull them over and over until the answers come.

In my case it was time to let go of the layout so I could embrace something different. I debated this move for months and finally reached the point of doing it. The next day the space was empty and I felt a huge sense of release. I discovered the freedom to consider what the craft offers when the demands of a layout are gone.

When you’re bored or disenchanted, the conventional wisdom says to switch eras, prototypes, maybe even scales but in my view, these are all surface changes. We do the same things perhaps continue to make the same mistakes. It feels different because it’s new but that soon wears off and we’re right back at the same place.

We are overloaded with choice now and without a clear direction of our own, we cling to the firmest foundation we can grasp in the sea of overload. This usually comes in the form of advice and conventional wisdom from others. Yes, someone may know far more about a specific subject than I do but they don’t know what I want from the craft.

It has never been easier to find six best practices and five tips to fast and easy anything or the 10 secrets to model railroading nirvana. Such advice is packaged for the widest possible audience as the easiest and the most applicable thing to do, resulting in a mind numbing sameness. We throw our context and abilities aside and cling to the guru of the hour, rather than spend any serious time understanding what our hearts want to express.

I’ve been involved with creative pursuits most of my adult life. Like other crafts, model railroading tends toward insular thinking, with our distinct jargon and dedicated literature. We isolate ourselves from the influence and knowledge of other crafts and rehash the same concepts time and again. This repetition of old ideas is why I didn’t see a satisfying path going forward with traditional model railroading. This hobby has become a pursuit of gadgets, technology and of trackplan tricks for stuffing as much into a given space as possible that still leaves room for people (barely). Those things that connect us to railroading almost seem an afterthought now.

I read a quote somewhere to the effect that if you don’t know who you are, you won’t know where you want to go. I tried to find it again but it’s lost in whatever online rabbit hole I was in at the time. It touches on a theme this blog and The Missing Conversation book series has covered extensively: knowing what you want and understanding why it’s important to you.

I’ve used the time to shut out the hobby noise as best as I can in order to listen. What’s important to me is feeling a connection to the work and to the subject of that work. This is why I return again and again to the same locations and themes. I want to understand that connection on a deeper level.

The cameo project is my exploration of that connection. With it I’m looking at ways to create a tangible sense of place by framing the scene in specific ways. It’s also a means to test ideas that are too expensive and complicated to do on a room size scale with a traditional layout form. Fundamentally though, it feels like coming home to something I left a long time ago.

Mike