It’s hard to believe three years ago we were living in a much different world.
This is no exaggeration, for life in 2023 is a lot different than it was on March 13, 2020 when the first of the Covid lockdowns began. A world before masks, before social distancing, before Zoom meetings, before antivaxxers and trucker convoys all became part of the lexicon.
Or, as Galadriel said in the beginning of The Lord of The Rings;
The world has changed.
I see it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.
Much that once was is lost.
For none now live who remember it.
Well, that last bit may not be completely true, but it’s hard to recall a time before all that happened actually happened. Even going to the movies has changed. I have been back in theaters, but nowhere near the frequency I used to. Going through last year’s receipts for taxes revealed to me that after seeing Top Gun: Maverick in early July of 2022, the next time my butt planted itself in a movie theater seat was to see Avatar: The Way Of Water on December 31st of the same year. That’s roughly six months time in-between movie showings.
I used to go to the movies once a week, more or less. Sometimes more than that.
So that changed.
And it seems change just keeps on coming. Rapid change. Everyone in my business is talking about AI and Chat GPT rendering huge swaths of the creative business unemployable. But while I do worry somewhat, until an AI is capable of yanking the pencil out of my hand* and writing something that doesn’t sound like it was written by a computer I can comfortably hold the line.**
*Though if I were say an editor, an agent, or a development executive I would be VERY worried.
**and if you really want to know what I think about CHAT GPT/AI, let me just say the general rule of thumb for me is if Silicon Valley tech bros backed by their hedge fund vampire overlords are for it, it’s bad for you and should be avoided at all costs.
At the beginning of the pandemic I wrote this popular entry on this website about how to cope with working from home. The rules I outlined were pretty succinct. I’d also add that part of what helped me successfully navigate the pandemic with only a few rough anxiety-filled months in total, was following those rules … and one other thing …
That’s right; I’m going to talk about Lego.
Specifically what this modular brick building system taught me about life.
It began, interestingly enough, with this set;
It was a Christmas gift given to me in 2017 – the last Christmas I spent in NYC. It promptly went into the closet because I told myself I didn’t have time to build this set, and nowhere to display it where a toddler couldn’t reach it and thusly return a 1,969 piece set back to its component parts. I received it at Christmas 2017. It accompanied us from New York to New England in 2018 and remained in the closet storage space until March 2022 when I saw it there, confronted myself with the fact I wasn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon because everything was closed, and decided there was no time like then and there to start building the thing.
It was probably the most fun I’d had sticking little bricks together.
It took about two weeks to build. I didn’t rush things. I opened one bag of pieces a day (12 bags in total – this thing is huge). And at first it barely resembled its finished product. But as I sat there piecing white and black bricks together I entered what I would call a Zen state. Maybe not Zen but I reflected on the past, on my life. My trip to Cape Canaveral to see the Challenger on its launch pad less than a month before it exploded shortly after takeoff in January 1986. Two separate trips to Space Camp in Huntsville Alabama. I think of repeated viewings of The Right Stuff. I thought of a lot of things and when the rocket was constructed and put on display I had been well and directly bitten by the Lego bug.
It happened slowly from there. We spied a Hogwarts Express set on sale at Target and as our child was very much into trains back then, decided to buy it and assemble it for him, and thus provide him with countless hours of playtime. More sets followed; mostly for him, some for my wife, some for me. Lego City trains and construction equipment, Jurassic Park and Jurassic World sets, a Lego Creator London Double Decker Bus, multiple Star Wars sets, and so on …
I think a line was crossed when, after the lockdowns had subsided and we were at one of the local malls, after browsing their Lego store for a bit, I ended up spur-of-the-moment-ing a purchase of this nice Batman 1966 set:
But what has all of this Lego building taught me?
That it all starts with one piece connected to the other. It can be the first two pieces of a 200 piece set or the first two of a 2000 piece set.
That’s probably my favorite part of the journey with every set I’ve built. However big or small the set is, it all begins the same way; that first small step.
Like any writing project, home improvement project, like any task to complete that sometimes seems unsurmountable, it all begins with that first connection. Small wonder my favorite parting is frequently the first page or so, when it’s just beginning to roll forward.
It also has taught me a lesson more people could stand to learn.
Here’s an example. At the beginning of the previous month, Lego released this;
In case you don’t know, this is Rivendell, the Elvish refuge from The Hobbit and LOTR. One of my favorite books, possibly my favorite movie trilogy (sorry Star Wars). It’s beautiful. 15 minifigs, impressive design, interiors and exterior. Detailed in every way you could imagine. An iconic location from one of the great novels of the 20th century.
It’s also $500.00
I can go admire it in the box at the store, but I can’t spend that much on a set. Not that I don’t have the money; I don’t have the space either.
And you know what? That’s okay.
Life is frequently about not getting things you want. You can be upset by that fact but believe it or not it’s actually a good thing. It’s not unjust or unfair, it simply is what it is.
I’ve been down this road before. A couple years ago my Lego holy grail was this Star Wars set, the Mos Eisley Cantina.
It was a more reasonable amount of money, but again, space considerations killed that dream. Sure I could buy it, I could build it, but where would I put it?
Of course if I had a much larger home I would have the space for Mos Eisley, and Rivendell, and maybe this Titanic set. But I’d also have higher monthly costs, for heat, for electricity, property taxes, mortgage, all the adult stuff.
I’ve since scaled back on my Lego builds, preferring smaller sets, like this nifty Aston Martin DB5 from No Time To Die that includes a Daniel Craig as James Bond minifig.
Though I did splurge for this BTTF DeLorean time machine for sentimental reasons. If you’ve read my Celluloid Heroes series you’ll know why. If not you can do so here.
In the end, while we can all aspire to greater things, I think far too few of us appreciate what we do have. You can complain about the cost of Lego sets. Or you can just find something in your budge (that Aston Martin cost only $22.00).
It’s like steak; tasty, but expensive and really, maybe not being able to afford it every day or week is a good thing. Healthier too. My anxiety has dropped substantially and I credit both Lego and appreciating the smaller things in life to be a factor.
Building Lego also taught me some lessons about work. Well, maybe not taught but certainly reinforced. For if a Lego set begins with one brick connected to another, so too does writing begin with that first word, then the next, connecting letters and words to sentences and paragraphs and thoughts and ideas.
Writing takes a long time to do, and a lot longer to get right. but a little patience and perseverance goes a long way. Sometimes the only way.
Our journey through this life proceeds in one direction; forward. How you spend that journey is up to you. But if there’s anything the pandemic, that Lego, that life has taught me it’s that the view ahead of you looks a lot more appealing than the road you’ve travelled. Behind you is accomplishment; before you is the promise of something else. Something new.
So what are you waiting for? Get building!