Doug Hamm is one of my best friends in this hobby. We’ve known each other for nearly thirty years. He is without question the best painter I’ve ever known, combining quality with uncanny speed. Doug is dedicated to the hobby in a way that I once was for a few nanoseconds, but unfortunately have I’ve had to change my approach to the hobby. As you may know, Doug writes the Larry Leadhead cartoon. Yes, I know nothing new in a while, but it is my hope the cartoon is just on hiatus and may make a return some day. The thing you should know is that Doug is a lot like Larry. We write about what we know best-typically ourselves, and Doug is no different. Though there are elements of Larry in all of us, Doug is mesmerized by the lure of new, bright, shiny things, and we frequently exchange e-mails about new figures and I will beg off 80% of the time. (However he did really get me when the Perrys announced the release of the Volunteers of Ireland.) I am not a magazine person, but Doug follows them fairly carefully, those online and not so much, and if he thinks he finds something useful will often share it with me. While my nose is often in the Washington Post website, as well as any Seattle Mariners news, Doug is carefully scanning the internet for new or useful gaming news, which he generously shares with me. Doug has wrapped his life in this hobby, as I’m sure many of you have as well.
There was a time, not so long ago when I would rank my miniature wargaming intensity with anybody, even Doug Hamm. Unfortunately, I’ve had many diversions the past five or so years. Some of them are choices I’ve made; some were made for me.
Time-Six years ago I made the decision to change my career. I went from being a pretty busy elementary school teacher to a very busy high school teacher. High school is different than elementary school in lots of ways, but one way it is a significant departure is the culture of high school. It takes over your life. There are tons of out-of-school activities that are associated with the older kids-sports, debate, drama-that just aren’t a part of younger students’ school program. I won’t for a minute say that I am involved or attend all of these, but I am the adviser of the high school newspaper. Every month I allot 40 hours just to get out the paper. Yes I get a stipend, which works out to almost a dollar an hour, and I also really enjoy it. Nonetheless it does cut into my gaming time and painting time. Due to my commitments to school, I’m really unable to take part in the weekly evening game activities many of my friends participate in. I’ll try to do better this summer.
Aging-I am 57. That’s not so old. I’m really fortunate that I don’t have any significant health problems. Yes, I’d really like to take off and keep off about 30-40 pounds, but aside from that I don’t have anything chronically bad going on. No high cholesterol, no high blood sugar, no diseases or allergies. However, I am sleep bereft. I am a bad sleeper. This morning I was awake at 2:50, though I did manage to sleep for an hour before I awoke for good at 4:50. I tire easily in the evening. I am always asleep well before 10:00-unless the paper is on deadline. That also makes evening gaming problematic for me. It also cuts a bit into my painting. I used to be able to paint 2-3 hours a night, but I simply run out of gas after about an hour and a half. Painting raises my next aging issue that we all seem to confront and that is deteriorating eyesight. I can still paint, and do most nights, though I can be distracted by a great book. Unfortunately, I can only do so with 2X reading glasses. I haven’t had to make the transition to a special viewer or magnifier, but that day may be coming. Today I only have the inconvenience of keeping track of my cheaters, though I do find my eyes tire more quickly.
Personal-This has been a difficult seven or so years for my wife and I. We’ve been married nearly 34 years and I can honestly say marriage to Lorri has been the best thing that ever happened to me. I never believed the adage that when you take a wife you marry your in-laws too, but it’s so true. Seven years ago my sister-in-law, always a difficult person, committed suicide. The year after that my father-in-law died. While I was never particularly close to either, their loss caused deep emotional difficulties for Lorri and added responsibilities for me. Though things are better now, it’s been a long road. Lorri’s mom, suffering from severe health issues lost her husband three years ago. Together with my brother-in-law we’ve been responsible for insuring her living situation is okay. She’s had multiple hospitalizations and several moves, added tons of stress to our lives. However, she’s now in adult family care and so far she’s been more stable and much healthier than at any time the last few years. All of this has kept me closer to home.
As some of you may know, I love dogs. We’ve had miniature Australian shepherds at Chez Smyth for nearly a dozen years. Not miniature as in eeny teeny lap dogs, they’re about the 30-40 lb variety. Since 2001, we’ve had five of the little varmints, and I just love ’em. Spend most of my time with them just laughing at them. Last year we lost our Jack at age 10 and it nearly undid me. Last summer we added Amos and in November one more, Rusty. Together with Lucy, age 12, we are a family. That all goes into my game time calculations too. The dogs need my attention and I’m happy to give it to them, but it means the time has to come from somewhere, and that means games.
Enough is enough-I used to be like Larry Leadhead. I’d buy scads of miniatures on spec. Maybe I’d paint them, maybe they’d sit. I’d often buy on credit. Not a good thing, as we were buying lots of things on credit. Another problem, I don’t really want to get into. In any case, I’m much more careful with money now and I’m much more careful with figure purchases. In fact I’m a lot more careful with the projects I’m involved with and have set rules for myself:
- No new projects. There are certain historical eras that really get me, and I intend to continue enjoying them. That may mean figure purchases to fill out projects, but really, I’m serious, no new endeavors. The following is a list of my projects: A. 28mm American Revolution in the South; B. 28mm Lewis and Clark/Wayne’s Legion/hypothetical war with Spain 1792-1810; C. 28mm War of 1812 on the Chesapeake; D. 28mm Hundred Years War ; E. 15mm DBA (though no new armies until I’m playing regularly again and all my unpainted armies are painted;) F. 15mm Spanish Civil War; G. 15mm Lord of the Rings; H. 1/600 American Civil War naval; I. 15mm American Civil War for Fire and Fury brigade rules; 28mm American Civil War for Fire and Fury Regimental; J. 1/285th WWII and modern air gaming; K. 1/700 WWII and modern coastal naval; L. 28mm Irish uprising and civil war; M. 28mm Maxmillian’s Adventures in Mexico; N. Hydroplane and air racing miniatures; 28mm Space 1889. With the exception of Maxmillian, all of these projects have unpainted figures numbering from just a few to many hundreds.
- Buy what you need when you need it. I still buy figures, but not as many as I used to. I have a plan and I stick to it. I buy figures as I need them to stick to that plan. I have two very big projects I’m working on. One is the Battle of Bladensburg and the other is the Battle of Poitiers. I usually stick to painting figures for that period leavened with other bits of projects so I don’t get bored. That seems to work, and it prevents ordering more than what I need or undertaking a lot of impulse buying. I paint an average of six days a week for at least an hour a day. I can get a lot of painting done in that time-almost enough to finish all my unpainted lead in my lifetime.
- Be honest with yourself and honest with your friends. I don’t allow myself to be talked into anything new. I just say no. As you can see I have plenty on my plate, with plenty of accompanying unpainted lead. As best I can tell there’s only so many hours in the day and only so many figures I can paint. Maybe I’ll feel differently another time, but for now I have plenty and taking on another project or buying more figures just because they are nice and new doesn’t make sense to me.
- Try building your own-The last couple of years I’ve made my own stuff. In 2011 I decided to build miniature cogs to host the Hundred Years War Battle of Sluys. The miniatures available were costly and the shipping from the UK was prohibitive. I decided to try my hand at scratch-building and for four weeks my workroom became Smyth’s shipyard. Last year I scratchbuilt a Native American fort, cornfields and houses for my Chickasaw Bluffs project. All of them looked fine and it felt really good to actually make something myself.
Competing interests-Finally there are a couple of activities outside miniature gaming and school that compete for my time. I’ve become a bit more active in board gaming the past couple of years. Usually it’s just the group Euro-games that grab me. My son Casey plays with me and some of my dearest friends, guys I’ve known for many years. The games are fun and it’s a great opportunity to do something good with my youngest. Another activity that takes my time is blogging. You may know this isn’t my only blog. I have two additional place where I write. Tales from the South Sound is a hodge-podge of book, movie and concert reviews, tales of my dogs, and even some politics. I also blog about baseball on Chatter From the Cheap Seats. My usual topic is the progress of the beloved Seattle Mariners. I try not to take my stuff too seriously, but I do enjoy the opportunity to write.
So that’s about it. I game with toys about once a month. Occasionally more, sometimes less. I always have something painting, and I work on it regularly. I buy miniatures, but at a reduced rate, and usually only when I need them.