There is nothing quite like accidentally staying up until 1:00 in the morning, because you were busy building a new Lego set. You are probably thinking that I’m about to go into some nostalgia-riddled childhood story, a glimpse into a youth of fun and creativity, granted through the famous Danish plastic toys. I have many stories like that from when I was a kid.
However, what if I told you that this story happened last weekend?
I’m not trying to make building Lego as an adult some esoteric activity, there has always been a large group of Adult Fans of Lego, or AFOLs. It’s a loose, but passionate group of adults who appreciate Lego, be it by building their own creations or collecting the rarest sets. There have been some pretty impressive things to come from this community, such as the many creative models pictured in artist Mike Doyle’s book “Beautiful LEGO,” one of my favorite books growing up. (Give it a read, if you're interested in nontraditional art.)
How does this relate to me ruining my sleep schedule with building blocks? Well, I have to take you on a different story. One about a pandemic, a frustration, and a reappreciation.
The Beginning (Again)
Over the past year, I, like many of us still enjoying newfound free time from the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, took the chance to pick up a new hobby. I was not particularly looking for a new recreational activity; I sort of just happened upon it. I could blame it on one fateful algorithmic rabbit hole that I fell through while browsing YouTube. First, I found a 1-hour retrospective on Bionicle by Youtuber Nick on Planet Ripple. Growing up, Bionicle action figures was one of my favorite toys. From there, I found myself watching tons of reviews of the original sets, custom creations (called mocs in the Lego-custom building community), and news updates on the brand.
The nostalgia hit me like a literal blast from the past. I soon found myself rummaging through my old collection, just like I did when I was a kid looking to Frankenstein my own creation. Seeing what remained intact during the last move, which ones gathered the most dust, which ones broke apart easiest due to their loss of clutch power over time. I dare say that this rediscovery was a near cathartic experience. Quickly, the Lego itch that I had as a kid returned.
Shortly after making this reacquaintance, and with a mixture of leftover Christmas and birthday money, I began to add to my collection. Of course, when I started, I kept it small. A licensed McLaren set, a Star Wars battle pack. Nothing too crazy, because I can assure you that Lego collecting can quickly become crazy. Lego, like any other craft hobby, demands storage and upkeep. You need to dust and rotate sets out of the sun to minimize damage over time. I still have most of my childhood set, either taking up most of my shelf space and sitting in jammed pack boxes. Plus, Lego collecting can quickly become pricey. I’ve seen countless videos online of more seasoned collectors bragging about their new hauls worth hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. One person even managed to get two copies of my dream set, the Ultimate Collectors Series Star Wars AT-AT.
Did it make me jealous, as both a Star Wars and a Lego fan? No.
Maybe a little jealous? Yes.
Admittingly, as the new year came about, the Lego itch that I had rediscovered became a bit more itchy. My money was burning a hole in my pocket. Fortunately for my singed wallet, I remembered I had one more unopened Christmas gift: Set #21042 Statue of Liberty. A 17 inch tall miniature of the iconic American landmark. I had neglected opening the set, due to the two reasons that first took me from the hobby years ago: responsibilities and collectors.
Like many other people with creative hobbies, the pressures of growing up became more demanding. Even now, I’m stretched between school, work, my club, and my internship like a worn rubber band. Then, there is the financial aspect of Lego that’s been promoted by collector’s culture. When new, Lego demands a comparably high retail price to its competitors. But because of the same nostalgia that grasped me, avid collectors gather and appraise Lego as if it was famed movie memorabilia or historic documents. Which is fine, mind you. Collecting is a valid part of any hobby. However, that mentality negatively affected my experience with both Lego and other interests. If my uncle mailed me a collectible figurine from a movie I liked, I felt just a bit guilty from opening it, ruining the mint condition it was graciously given to me in. And now, that same mentality was impacting me as I got back into my favorite hobby.
Then again, what’s in mint condition is determined years after it was made. In that time, it just sits somewhere in a box. Where is the enjoyment in that? So, with a renewed attitude, I decided to open it up for a quick weekend project.
The Weekend Project
So, there I was, one Friday night a few weeks ago. I just got done with my shift at work. Now what to do with my night?
At around 10:00 that night, I decided to start building. The newly opened box greeted me with 5 bags of brick, 3 long red beams without a protective bag, and the floppy, black-covered instruction booklet. It looked like a simple project that would only take a couple short hours.
At the time.
The only noise that night was the signature clicking of plastic parts. Black 2x8 plates lined up to make the signature Lego Architecture brand outline. Little 1x1 pieces stacked upon each other to form perfect patterns. Click, snap, click. It was a strangely exuberant experience. The slight pinch of hard plastic on my fingertips. The gentle shuffle of finding the right piece in a pile of its peers. Double and triple checking if I had picked up the right brick, or if it was just its contemporary masquerading as the one that I needed. Like a time machine, I was taken back to simpler times, when I could just bury my head in the instructions, only looking up to find the right parts for the next step.
Though a side effect of this time machine must have been me slipping through time, as my project progressed into a quieting night. I kept thinking to myself, “It can’t be that late yet.” And even if it was shockingly late by the time I stopped, surely most of my model should be done, if not all of it. By 1:00 AM, all I had before me was three inches of the beige, pseudo-granite base. Two whole bags and three hours had led to this. Not even close to being finished after three hours.
I decided to stop for the night, but that then presented a new problem. I had underestimated the amount of time that I would need for the build, which I had placed on my desk that I do all my homework at. So until I finished the set, I couldn’t use my work area for anything else. I wasn’t sweating it. Sure, I was busy with work and school and my internship over the weekend. I thought I could find the time to finish it before I had to pick up new responsibilities on Monday. But then I didn’t finish it on Saturday night. Nor on Sunday night. By the time I was back in class on Monday, there was still an unfinished Lego on my desk, impeding my ability to do any of my homework in comfort. Next thing I knew, my hobby turned from building Lego to racing against the clock. Knowing that if I delayed any longer, I’d only be getting more headaches.
It was at this point that I remembered the main reason that I had left my Lego-building hobby behind. I ran out of time too easily because of everything else going on in my life. Responsibilities that I worked to earn and need to uphold because people were counting on me. I think many of us are also in this situation. Life gets busy and we have to leave the fun behind sometimes.
However, if there is anything I can teach you after this story, is that the fun in your life is very
important. That's what I rediscovered during my weekend project that spiraled out of control. Even while I was getting nervous about whether I could finish the build before it was too late, I was still enjoying all the little design tricks and details that I came across. It was kind of a rejuvenating experience. One that everyone should feel every once in a while.
Regardless of whatever is going on in your life, you should go out and find something to kick back and relax with. And it doesn’t have to be a childhood hobby like mine, though you might still enjoy some from back then. Likely, you might already have a hobby and might be thinking I’m writing fluff. But, when was the last time you enjoyed it? Take the time out of your schedule for it? That’s what you’ve got to do. You have to think of your hobby as an investment. Not for your career, not for any duty you have, but for yourself. Cause, if you set the time to do it and make sure that you enjoy it, then you can have any hobby.
And it might not keep you up until 1:00 in the morning.
About the Author
Leonard Brattoli is a sophomore Honors student majoring in English. He offers to the Foundation his writing skills as one of its newest Newsletter and Blog Writers. His background is varied, including experience in creative writing, academic papers, review work, and collaboration.