In which I explore the Internet, tell how I discovered my favorite hobby whilst looking for a pirate hat, discover a Little Treasure, ponder copyrights, talk of more hats, and explain how to be cool.
“Hmmm.” I said as I peered over my phone’s tiny screen, my eyes squinting to see the millimeter sized thumbnails it displayed. My comparably massive thumb lumbered over the screen, and with a rapid sweep sent the thumbnails hurtling. I looked at the newest batch of thumbnails that Amazon had for me to peruse. There were seemingly a thousand options, and all of them hovering at possibly overpriced or slightly underpriced. The underpriced ones were the tricky ones, for the underpriced ones usually make up for that lost cost with the cost of shipping. “Hruuum” I added with another thumb swipe.
There has been one hobby which has outlasted all other hobbies of mine, and that is the collecting and painting of miniatures. Now miniatures is the fancy, snooty, top-hat-and-monocle term for them. The word ‘figurine’ also fits into this category, but ‘miniature’ is the fanciest of the fancy. Popularly they may be known as Toy Soldiers, Army Men, Little Green Army Men, and if you wish to be exceedingly incorrect and get on many insiders’ nerves, Action Figures. My involvement in this hobby had a rather zany and outlandish origin. It all came about because I desired a hat.
Specifically, I wanted a Pirate’s Tricorn.
It was middle school. I was in seventh grade, to be precise. I had recently gotten into history, and felt that a properly historical hat was what I needed. This was before I started to wear hats daily, as I was but a humble middle schooler and far from free to choose my own style. Besides, I had yet to learn how to fully cope with headaches (this was only a few years into the development of my condition) and so wearable shade was substituted with just never going outside. Middle-Schoolers can be so pragmatic, no?
So, I desired for myself a tricorn hat. I cannot really remember what I wanted with it, besides of course to wear it on occasion. I still wonder if I would have actually worn it to school. That is a mystery of the ages; besides, college is when strange hats can be worn. Middle schoolers, although marveling in such things as pirates, have no mercy when it comes to anything outside of the norm. Even if everybody would secretly agree that those things are totally sweet. In college and beyond (if you are not lame) sabotaging the norm is a virtue that people only refrain from through fear of themselves.
But I still sat online, going from site to site (this was in the halcyon days before Amazon) looking for a tricorn. I found many, but none of them could be had for a Middle–Schooler’s humble allowance. Who would have thought that companies that made historically accurate hats that had been out of fashion for three-hundred years would demand large sums of money for their work?
At first, not me. But later, me.
However, in my searching I stumbled upon affordable tricorns, of sorts. They were plastic tricorns, molded onto a plastic figure. I had found many pictures of toy soldiers from the eighteenth century, lined up in shiny dioramas with vividly painted uniforms and moss and rocks glued to their bases. Deep within me, my slumbering artistic side awoke. The tricorn could wait. I saw a challenge before me, and a new field of artwork that I could dive into.
A few weeks later I was at Michael’s Arts and Crafts buying paint. I did not know what sort of paint to use, so I used simple acrylic paint. At home I had a box of new miniatures sculpted to depict British infantrymen from the American Revolution. Or, as popular imagination here in America (I cannot speak for other nations), Redcoats. Naturally, then, I needed red paint for the red coats. And some blue, for their cuffs, and of course some white for the rest of their clothes. A bottle of brown for the muskets and the strange spear that the officer carried would also be needed, and on that note, some metallic silver. Finally, and most importantly, I needed a good bottle of black for the soldiers’ tricorns.
It was the beginning of ten years of joy.
I was sitting at lunch, careful not to get residue from my sandwich on my phone. That sort of thing can greatly hinder the thumb’s versatility in the art of tapping and scrolling. I had settled on a miniature, and with Amazon’s keenly designed website, I was a tap away from summoning It to my apartment. Or, more specifically, Him. I’d found a rare thing: a page full of Hobbits. Just like people in most fantasy worlds where hobbits live, most miniature companies focus on armies: dashing captains with swords or hairy brutes with axes, and rank upon rank of soldiers. Very few companies mind little folk who are three feet tall, run around barefoot, and dress like characters in a Dickens novel. But here was a company I had never heard of, Stonehaven Miniatures, with an entire line of hobbits. Well they called them Halflings, but that is the non copyrighted generic term for the lil’ creatures. I call them Hobbits in honor of their creator and favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien.
So I was overjoyed to find out that a bunch of this mysterious Stonehaven’s Hobbits had recently hit Amazon. I absolutely positively had to purchase one. There could be no question. But which one? I scrolled through the options, and found my man. Well, found my hobbit. He was labelled “Hobbit Bannerman”. Besides the technically incorrect nomenclature, it was a dashing model. He held up a banner, was wearing a little suit of armor and was wearing a cape and a Breton cap.
The multiple dichotomies were beautiful to my eyes, and with a click he was mine. And I smiled. Hobbits have a special place in my heart, and soon a hobbit will have a special place on my shelf.
My hobby of miniature collecting and painting is one of my ways of relaxing and finding joy in life. I have found that involving myself in it, my mind is taken away from the negativity and, of course, the pain associated with my illness. A distraction can be just as good as a medication. My friends notice changes in my personality when I paint or not paint, and I’d believe it. Life is better when I am pursuing my artistic side. So, I encourage you to find what makes your life better, and pursue it whole-heartedly. It won’t cure whatever you are going through, so its not a complete fix, but it will make it easier to bear.
Oh sure, the darkness will be back eventually. I have no delusions about miniatures, or any diversion for that matter, being the cure. But as I said before, diversions can be just as effective as medication. If life is going to be difficult, there is no reason that you should let that hamper your ability to have fun and pursue the hobbies and things that you enjoy. There seems to be a growing movement to dissuade people from doing what they enjoy in favor of doing what society deems is enjoyable. Don’t listen to them. Do what you enjoy doing. If you happen to enjoy the popular thing, then that is a rare moment of serendipity. But, if you enjoy something ‘uncool’, take it from a random person writing about hobbits on the Internet, its far lamer to sacrifice yourself in the name of what is cool. Because this time next year, chances are, it won’t be cool. Instead, is it not much cooler to do what you will always think is cool? I have been collecting miniatures for years, and I do not regret a single moment of it. They have made my life much better, and I am so glad that I forged my own path. You should forge your own path too, no matter what obstacles or difficulties you face. That to me, is the definition of cool.
And now, to prove to you all that I am not pulling your leg, here is a very small gallery (I think the smallest possible, actually) of my most recent miniatures project, the commanders of a regiment of Irish Mercenaries fighting on the Royalist side of the English Civil War.
The pipes are calling indeed.