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I woke up shortly before 4:30 am today.

I stumbled downstairs and cranked a dial, preheating our espresso machine. No one should be awake at 4:30 am without espresso.

I made myself a double shot and downed it as I made two for my wife: one as a latte to go, the other for an iced drink later in the day. I groggily emptied the dishwasher and ate a bowl of cereal. Slightly refreshed, I made another double shot.

Then I headed downstairs.

With ceilings maybe two inches above my head in places and floors either damp or spider webbed, my basement is more accurately a cellar and resembles something of a lair. I set my condensed, medication-strength caffeine on a surface covered in a protective layer of cardboard, and then I got to work.

Behold: an unpainted orc!

Behold: an unpainted orc!

I complain more or less constantly and to anyone who will listen about my lack of free time. I have recently decided (somewhat pushed by a wife in need of pick-me-ups in the morning) that, in lieu of evening hours, I can make the morning my own. I’ve read. I’ve cooked. And now: I paint.

I will tell anyone unfortunate enough to make something approximating eye contact with me that I’ve recently come into a rather large collection of minis, miniature figurines of varying subject matter (mostly fantasty-based) that I received as my bounty for having backed the Reaper Bones Kickstarter project. Somewhere between 200 and 250 dwarves, orcs and demons, roughly two inches tall and unpainted white plastic.

“What are they for?”, the people usually ask. I mumble something about “if I ever play roleplaying games” or “when my son gets older” or “too good of a deal to pass up.” In actuality, though, it’s currently a hobby in itself.

There’s something calming about focusing so intently on the leather straps of an orc. Making sure the brush moves just so: smoothly, filling in all of the area I want and none that I don’t. An hour and a half or so later, as an alarm goes off telling me it’s time to shower and start my actual day, progress has been made. Sometimes it’s a small amount of detail work. Other days I’ve managed to dry brush “yellowed bone” paint onto an army of skeletons.

Either way, I get a sense of satisfaction out of accomplishing something. I’ve done a good deal of research, learning about brush sizes and quality, painting techniques, necessary equipment. Trips to craft stores have become a regular occurrence, daisy chaining 40 and 50% off coupons to maximize my savings.

It’s a new hobby, and one that I enjoy, but it’s familiar all the same.

Justin bought a hookah last week. He told the Risk group about it over beers at Sterling Place, as we met and got to know Julia’s replacement (but more on that in a few weeks). He joked about his postings on hookah message boards, as they echoed his pattern of posting about e-cigs and safety razors.

He’s not alone, of course. Recently I’ve been gaming focused, snapping up cheap indie RPGs and diving into online Werewolf with reckless abandon. The only thing stopping me from ordering an Arduino starter kit is the knowledge that I won’t have time to use it any time soon. That didn’t stop me from gazing longingly at the MakeyMakey listing on Amazon today of course.

The very same orc, painted

The very same orc, painted

Before BoardGameGeek there was Homebrewtalk, with Halowiki before that.

We are hobbyists. Diving headfirst down the rabbit hole in search of cake is what we do. We set out saying “I want to know something about a topic,” and almost immediately we find ourselves saying “I WANT TO KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS TOPIC.”

It’s taken me an inordinate amount of time to get here (the sound of my own voice being my first and dearest hobby), but beer and miniature painting are two sides of the same coin (or die, if you want to be thematic about it). You can play Pathfinder with an unpainted mini (or cardboard token, or any marker) if you want and have a perfectly good time. Similarly, you can go to good beer bars and order what sounds good and drink it with no regard for style or brewery history (Did you know brewery X was owned by AB-Inbev? Do you know the history of corporate mergers in the beer world? Did you know brewery Y has been strongly anti-union in the past?).

The email signature of a member of a local homebrewing club declares that homebrewing is like making mac and cheese. It is: you heat water, dump in a bag of extract and a few ounces of hops and boil it for an hour. Cool it, put it in a fermenter, add yeast, wait two weeks. You have beer. Then you can go as deep as tending a fire to heat chunks of rocks up to make an authentic German steinbier, or doing a triple decoction to get the character if your Belgian tripel just right.

I’m no Objectivist, but I enjoyed the journey through the world of architecture in The Fountainhead. The Intuitionist did the same for elevator repair, which I found even more compelling and entertaining (because, you know, elevators).

That’s what appeals to me about hobbies, I think. If you hold the door for someone, sit across from someone on the subway, honk at someone cutting you off in traffic: chances are that person is deeply passionate and knowledgeable about something. Maybe they have an encyclopedia knowledge about early 90s hip hop. Maybe they review horror movies online for no reward but the pleasure of writing them. Or maybe they not only understand but have strong opinions about the differences between a Northern and Southern English Brown Ale.

A collection (flock? murder?) of skeletons

A collection (flock? murder?) of skeletons

That’s beautiful. The world is a fractal, infinitely complex and wondrous no matter how closely you look.

I dabble in other pursuits, but beer has been my main hobby turned passion turned occupation for quite a while. Like the best rabbit holes, it contains within it the possibility of any number of other hobbies: DIY, but for beer (we’ll be talking about homebrew chillers and mash tuns sooner or later, I’m sure). Microbiology, but for beer (just ask the Big Ditch fellows). Writing, but for beer (hello there).

“And I suppose you’ll keep on rambling?”, ends Lemon Jelly’s Ramblin’ Man, a song about a man who travels extensively. “Oh yes,” the titular man replies. “Have to.” Here’s to rambling through the beer world for years to come.