The title of this post conjures up images of a car. That machine that moves you from point A to B, or C, D and beyond. For most, it is a simple convenience, perhaps a necessity of life in a modern culture. Others attach a level of status onto to it, where it becomes a symbol of achievement or their station in life; a clue to their self-image and identity. A vehicle can also represent a metaphor. What if you considered your hobby as a metaphorical vehicle that takes you from one place to another in your life?

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Volumes have been written about this hobby, with most focusing on the objects: a layout, the trains, the technology.  Some write about its qualities, such as how much fun it is or whatever. Much of the discussion however, sounds like: “Hey you, check out this great thing. You should buy it, pay attention to it, participate in it because, well, it’s so great!” I used to get sucked in with that kind of rhetoric but, not so much anymore. Now I tend to say: “No thanks. I’ll pass.”

What would you like to do with a hobby?
I have reached the age where accumulating stuff has little appeal. The hobby used to be all about “Stuff,” for me but my interests and motivations have changed significantly. I no longer build models just to have the model, I build models to discover who I can be. This is a far different conversation. One I find more compelling and, it is one we are not having because we only see the hobby as Stuff.

As people realize that having more and more stuff is not the source of never-ending joy we were promised it would be, the desire for things with meaning and of lasting quality is felt by many. I am not unique in these feelings. Maybe it is part of growing older and, having laid a few youthful demons to rest, feeling more settled with who I am. Now I am drawn to the experience of learning and the growth that comes as a result of exploring what this craft allows me to do. I find this approach far more satisfying than filling my life with more stuff. Which finally brings me to the question: what role should a hobby play in a life, in your life?

Those are rhetorical questions. We are all aware there are lots of voices and opinions along with a disgusting quantity of rigid dogma surrounding this topic and, I am not opening things up for debate. Do that somewhere else please! I only want to share the role this craft is playing in my life in the hope that others may draw something useful from it.

Who would you like to be?
Seems a strange question to ask in regard to a hobby or other pastime but is it? I think it has great relevance to our craft. Model building in its many forms has become a source of motivated learning for me. Today, I am deeply drawn to understanding all I can about the craft of modeling. As a child and teenager, I built plenty of model cars, planes and ships and in those years was not aware that I could use my intense interest in these things as a source of motivation to systematically develop skills that would serve me the rest of my life.

What kind of skills? Observational skills, analytical skills, conceptual skills; the patience to plan and organize, the persistence to see a work through from beginning to end. These are rock solid skills that will carry you far in many walks of life and careers. We have used team and individual sports to teach young people life skills for decades yet, historically dismissed hobby activities as being of little consequence to the oh-so serious work of being grownups. We do so at great loss to ourselves and to each other. How many gifts in our lives go unexplored because playing with models is seen as childish or unimportant to real life?

So let us speak of that so-called real life. Of the many things I have explored, this craft has given me the focus and a means of finding my voice as a writer. I have written and sporadically kept a journal for years but that work will never see the light of day. Writing comes naturally to me and sharing the love I have for many aspects of railroading and the many forms of craft within the hobby, allows me to build an audience for my writing that I would not have known otherwise. This blog and my other works are all building into a “real world” career that is bringing good things and people into my life.

I love digging into the work of a post like this one. I love thinking through the topic and crafting the words to express it well. I am just beginning to understand the power of story and the ability of words to convey ideas. Writing is a craft too, one I never would have seriously pursued without my interest in railroad modeling but, life is funny that way.

This craft provides me with a rich variety of creative outlets, all of which bring enjoyment. Scratchbuilding has taught me how to plan, analyze and observe more deeply and, is helping me develop the persistence to see a project through to the end. The determination to fix problems at the workbench when they are still small is another lesson that is spilling over into the rest of my life. My exploration of the design possibilities with a small layout in a large scale taught me the value of establishing clear priorities, a useful skill in many situations beyond the basement.

I wonder often, why we treat our interest in this craft so cheaply? I wonder why we dismiss it (even between ourselves) as just playing with trains, when the potential it carries for bringing good things into our lives is so real and yet, so blatantly ignored by the majority. It begs the question: what are we gaining by clinging to this approach and, what is so precious that we cannot afford to lose it by thinking differently?

The answers have always been yours to choose but returning to the metaphor of the craft as a vehicle that can take you from one place to another in life, here are your thoughts for the week: What role does a hobby play in your life? What role do you want it to have? Who would you like to become?

Regards,
Mike