31 Things, Day 7: Sculpting

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

Today’s post will be somewhat short, because I don’t have a lot to say about sculpting; I’ve never really done it. Okay, there were those few ceramic projects I did in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade (a fish, a hot dog, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, respectively), but they certainly don’t count. Someday I really want to take a sculpting class to get some basics down; I suppose online videos are fine, but it would be nice to ask questions, so I lean toward in-person teaching. There are two types of sculpting I’d like to try.

The first is a recent interest, thanks to watching the Syfy show Face Off, in sculpting facial masks or prosthetics. When I watch these artists lay clay on a face model, then make a mold, then pour in the latex or polyfoam, and eventually paint and apply it to a model, I enjoy all of it, but it’s the sculpting that impresses me the most. I watch them, and I think, “I could do that.” Maybe I really can’t, but I won’t know until I try.


The other type of sculpting I want to try is the hard one: stone sculpting. (I’ve wanted to try this long before I ever played Dwarf Fortress, so no, it’s not because my dwarves know how to sculpt stone.) There is something really interesting about taking a stone and carving it up into a shape that could potentially last thousands of years.


But, as I said, I’ve never done any of it yet. I just want to. That’s all I can say.

So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, sculpting.

31 Things, Day 6: Play Board Games

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

Time for some more geek pastimes. When I say board games, I’m not talking about Scrabble or Monopoly, although those can be fun at times. When I play a board game, I like (surprise surprise) complex strategy and innovative gameplay. Lately I have a soft spot for European-style Economic strategy games, like the ones in the gallery below. These types of games require you to plan, be either directly or passively affected by opponent choices, and to change strategy; the good games offer multiple paths to victory so that you can change strategy. I really don’t mind long game sessions lasting hours, as long what’s happening isn’t mundane (this is where Monopoly fails: round and round and round until you’re bankrupt? No thank you).

There are two problems with my board game choices: First, they tend to be expensive; thus I have to know they are really good before I plunk down the money for them, and that limits me. Second (and most important), it’s hard to find other players to play with. Because of the complexity of the games, most of my family members are not interested. (“Games are supposed to be fun, Rob, not work.”) To me, this kind of work is fun, so this just means I haven’t found enough people like me to play regularly. (I say regularly, because there are a number of people I know who will play with me, but if we manage a game twice a year, we’re lucky.)

My lovely wife will play almost any game with me and enjoy it, but we both agree it’s much more fun to play with multiple people. I’ve got half a dozen games in my collection, and I’ve discovered that there is a “complexity continuum” that I use to help decide what we should play whenever new people come over. From easiest (and usually most fun for all) to hardest (only fun for me), they are:

  1. Forbidden Island
  2. Carcassonne
  3. Settlers of Catan
  4. Puerto Rico
  5. Agricola
  6. Axis & Allies

For the record, I haven’t played Axis & Allies in over a decade.

There are a lot of games out there that I would like to play, but I’m smart enough to realize I shouldn’t buy a game that will never get played. I’m thinking my best bet is to create new players: my kids. That’s not the only reason I had them, just one of many. 🙂

So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, playing board games.

31 Things, Day 5: Model Shipbuilding

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

Along the same lines as yesterday’s Bonsai post, here’s another brief hobby I tried that involved making big things little, and that take a lot of time to get a final result: model shipbuilding. Maybe it was all those years of playing with legos, but for some reason I really like to admire miniaturized things, whether they be models of houses, trains, armies, landscapes, whatever. Maybe it makes me think I’m a big powerful giant or something, I don’t really know. But I consider it art on some level.

With model ships, there’s a unique quality that is different from other miniaturization projects. It’s not just getting the outside to look right, it’s all the parts on through to the inside, too. I tried plastic model cars as a kid, and although I learned a little bit of cars’ components, the ones I attempted were not that educational. The pieces went together so that when you lifted the hood or opened the doors, they looked like a car inside, but you didn’t learn how an engine was built. This isn’t the same with model ships. It seems that a good model ship is designed to be a such a replica of the original that by the end you will know all about every single part of ship. A lot of times you even cover up very detailed things that you’ll probably never see again – but you know it’s there. That’s fascinating to me. Theoretically, I could build a real boat someday just by working on one of these kits.

Ok, that’s probably stretching things a bit. And as someone who’s barely been on a boat, it’s surprising that I even enjoy this. It’s probably the complicated nature of the endeavor, along with the creative aspect, along with the solitary aspect. Once again, I like the idea of it, but the reality of it is beyond my reach right now. Mainly, it’s cost; a good kit starts at $150 minimum. Time is not on my side either because I have other things in my life more important to me, like my family and my writing. Finally, I don’t really have a good work area to keep the work in progress protected in between sessions. But, as I’ve said before and will say again, I hope to someday give this a try again.

The dream ship

The dream ship

So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, building model ships.

31 Things, Day 4: Bonsai

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

I can’t remember exactly why I started researching bonsai, but it was probably 7 or 8 years ago when I bought a couple of books, did my homework, got a couple of plants, and gave it a try. The hobby didn’t last long, maybe a year or two.

I think the first time I saw and heard of bonsai was in the move The Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi was tending bonsai trees when he and Daniel first met. It seemed beautiful, but strange at the same time. Why was it in that shape? How were the leaves so small? It didn’t look like a real tree I had ever seen. Those scissors looked strange too.


It was decades later that I learned that bonsai was not a kind of tree, but the art of making a tree very small. That is fascinating to me, because it means you can “bonsai anything.” Take a maple tree, and make it into a bonsai: it will lose its leaves in the fall, be leafless in the winter, and bud in the spring. You can take a crab apple tree and make it into a bonsai and it will grow tiny little crab apples. How amazing is that?

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But the hard part is the waiting. They take years to grow into a shape. They take even more years to prune, prune and prune some more, before the leaves start coming in smaller and smaller and start looking proportionally correct, like little trees. And all you can do in between is water them (not too little, not too much), and take good care of their delicateness. They are beautiful to look at, but they don’t do much else.

I think it comes down to the fact that I like the idea of bonsai, but the reality is somewhat boring and not very forgiving. That makes me sad, because it’s a part of myself I don’t like: wanting things now instead of waiting. (This is a trend in why my hobbies stop that we’ll see in the coming days. I don’t really know what to do about it, but there it is.)

Someday I’m sure I’ll do it again, probably with my kids. They’re too small now to appreciate it, and they have me running around so much I have a hard time remembering to shower, let alone water a plant. But I think it will be good to instill in them an appreciation for real live beauty.


So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, tending bonsai.

31 Things, Day 3: Watch TV

31 things I'd rather be doing right now

First of all, I realize “Watch TV” comes across as sounding lazy, typical American, whatever. And I know it appears as quite a departure from my Day 1 and Day 2 artistic endeavors.  But I assure you it’s not what you think I mean.

I don’t have a cable subscription, and I live in the Lehigh Valley where cable TV was invented; air channels are nearly impossible to receive here. Thus, I don’t really watch a lot of TV unless it’s via DVDs or internet streaming. But when I do, I have very specific things I want to watch, and it’s not mindless stuff. I like my TV viewing (whether actual Television programs or movies) to do one of two things, preferably both: stretch my mind, and stretch my imagination.

The TV shows I watch are lots of Sci Fi and Fantasy programs, like Star Trek, Stargate, Lost, shows that take me to new realms. The movies are usually of the same genre, but I also especially love what I’ll call “artsy” movies that really make you think and reflect upon, like The Fountain, The Tree of Life, or The Thin Red Line. Don’t get me wrong, I like to laugh too, especially “high-brow” comedy like Frasier, or Big Bang Theory. I even watch a “reality” show (via the internet), though not your typical one: Face Off; again, because it stretches my mind and imagination. And let’s not forget documentaries; I really enjoy those too, if they’re done well; I learned more about US history from the History channel’s The Presidents than I did in a whole year of high school social studies.

Having said all that, what really prompted this post is that tonight is family movie night, something we just started, and on the screen tonight is Despicable Me 2. I know the kids don’t get Steve Carell like I do, but I love when they laugh at those minions and times I wouldn’t expect. It shows me their little minds are working and that gives me hope that they see the world like I do, a place of “What if?” TV and cinema – in moderation – is a wonderful art form. What I’m most looking forward to about TV is introducing my children to my favorite films. I have to wait quite a while, because they’re under five, but it will be really interesting to me to see if they have the same kind of wonder that I have when I watch Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Dark Crystal, and The NeverEnding Story. They’re too little and could be terrified by these things now, but I’m hoping they’ll love them as much as I do.  Someday they’ll be swinging around lightsabers and pretending to ride the luck dragon Falcor through the city. Looking forward to that day.


So that’s another thing I’d rather be doing now, watching TV.