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From the Publisher — Issue 155

A Happy Amateur

By John K. Hanson, Jr.

A recent piece in the New York Times hit home for me. Entitled “In Praise of Mediocrity,” it had nothing to do with politics or government. Rather, the author lamented that so few people today seem to have hobbies. One big reason, he argued, was that we are afraid of being bad at them. I know what he means: I suffer from just that problem, but I am joyously fighting it. The truth is that I am bad at most of the things I love to do.

I love boats, and I happily do my own small-scale boatbuilding, rather poorly. In my life and line of work I meet many expert boatbuilders. I watch them work, completing complex tasks effortlessly and beautifully. They make things of great beauty. I, on the other hand, wind up making lots of mistakes, such as a bilge lined with epoxy splotches where epoxy splotches should not be. 

I’ve watched an expert eyeball a changing bevel on a plank and plane it to a perfect fit. I’m still trying to figure out how to get started on the same task, while the expert has moved on to something else. My ineptness used to bother me, until I figured out that the joy was in the doing, not the final end result. 

Now that summer has ended, I have returned to my shop, as befuddled as ever, but raring to go. My son Sam and I made a little progress on his Moth last summer (it’s tough to squeeze boatbuilding into a teenager’s social schedule). Meanwhile, iceboat season is right around the corner, and I have a half-done mini skeeter to finish. So I am not lacking for projects; and there will be plenty of frustration mixed in with my fun—isn’t that life? In my world full of experts, I am a proud amateur, a word derived from the Latin for lover. I’m fine with that.  

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