What would you tell the New York Times if they wanted to interview you about the craft? How would you present it?
There’s a Times story and video making the rounds among modelers on Facebook. The video, Rebuilding In Miniature, produced by Veena Rao, features the work of Ali Alamedy, an Iraqi refugee now living in Turkey.
Mr. Alamedy builds miniature room settings and street scenes in what looks like 1” to the foot or perhaps 3/4” to the foot scale. In the video he shares the inspirations and motivations that drive the work and how he hopes people will respond to it. He also speaks about how building miniatures helps him cope with the stress of being a refugee living in a foreign country. Much of the remaining dialogue in the seven and a half minute video is about his life as a political refugee being separated from his extended family and homeland.
Running as background throughout are scenes of a work in progress as well as other finished works. It is an interesting piece but if you come to it expecting an in-depth discussion of model building, you won’t find it here. It’s a human-interest story about how one man uses model making to find meaning in his life.
My friend who sent me the link, posed several questions in his email, suggesting that this man is doing the same kind of work that model railroaders do, and wondered how a paper like the Times would see our craft? With due respect, I think that’s the wrong question. I would rather ask, how would we present our work to a media source like the New York Times?
If a news reporter asked for an interview, would we immediately drag them down to the basement, past piles of our stuff to an unfinished layout full of the usual construction debris? Would we bombard him or her with all our jargon about modeling scales and such? Would we talk incessantly about how much fun it is, all the while wearing our engineer’s hat and an “I love trains” badge?
If it sounds like I’m being overly sarcastic and cynical, well perhaps, but am I really? All of the aspects about this craft that fascinate us often have no relevance to others. Our preoccupation with the minutia of scale and railroad operations and our diatribe about how the 3400 class locomotives got a total rebuild in 1947, come across as strange to people who know nothing about any of it. They wonder why anyone would be so wrapped up in such odd things and see no connection between it and their own lives.
We are woefully blind to how the rest of the population sees this craft and ignorant of the narratives we could share to help others understand our world. Wait, wait, wait; come on back. This isn’t another empty piece about getting others interested in the hobby. I’m sick of that discussion. This is about sharing the human side of the craft. A story of what model making brings to your life and how it makes a difference to you. It’s about what you see and why it’s compelling. Most of us would rather have a root canal because what I’m suggesting a much harder story to tell than justifying why you simply must have a helix around the water heater, so you can have that second level of mainline.
Speak From The Heart
I see beauty in the most ordinary of things. A pattern of winter grasses, the texture of an old wall or weathered wood; the quality of the early morning light of an autumn sunrise. Creative work like photography, painting and yes, model building allow me to share what I see with others in a tangible way. Model building opens the door to experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise. It combines aspects of many different crafts and connects me to memories that are meaningful. Working with my hands helps quiet my mind from the clutter of everyday life. My workbench is a good place to relax.
Model building also challenges my mind as I look for solutions to problems that crop up during a build. How is this formed, can I make this shape, what’s the best material and so on? Model making involves many disciplines and a needs sharp mind to break down the complexity of a thing. In addition to the component aspects, there is a subtlety and nuance to a subject that is easily missed by an inexperienced eye.
A conversation like this isn’t about selling anyone on the hobby, or even about trains; it’s about making a connection. Lot’s of people want ways to relax, or meaningful activities that help them make sense of this life. They might look at our craft in a different way or may not. That isn’t the goal, sharing a moment of human connection is.
Our craft isn’t as removed from the commons as we think. There’s a tremendous humanity to it that we all but ignore. Many of us can share stories of the deep life-long friendships that we’ve formed or the experiences shared. It’s only our shortsighted vision that prevents us from sharing with others, or even among ourselves in more meaningful ways.