When it comes to our botanical-style aquariums, there those of us who do them, and those of us who think about doing them.
And then, there are those of us who plan like hell, and do them.
Sometimes, the results are better than you expect... However, when you take the time to plan, you often kind of know what to expect, even though the results of your execution on the idea might pleasantly surprise you now and then!
Yeah, I'm big on planning of new aquariums. I keep a notebook with ideas, diagrams, scribbles...have for decades. Every detail of protective setups is usually there, somewhere, scrawled out or sketched onto those pages.
Like, I think through all of the tiny details. Stupid shit, really.
I'm the kind of guy who will spend an entire day just looking into what color and type of background material I intend to use for the tank. Plumbing parts? Sure, I'm a shitty plumber, but as a reefer, I can literally lose myself in a hardware store for hours trying to find the right 45 degree elbow, ball valve, or whatever....
Of course, with aquairums, there are so many components of the plan, right?
Driftwood? Which one? Yikes.
And don't even get me started on substrates!
You know I'm obsessed with them. Not only do you have different materials, but you've got a choice of grades, colors, "live", and dry, botanical, etc. it's enough to make a fish geek's head explode!
Below is literally how my mindset was for decades on the whole process. It sounds great on paper, and there is a certain simple logic to it. But it's also where things seemed to go terribly wrong for me:
I mean, every tank should start with some sort of plan, idea, or concept. You need to know what kind of fish you're intending to keep pretty early on in the game...like, literally, at the very beginning. The stocking plan is pretty much mission-critical, I'd say. And then, you should decide what kind of environment you're going to keep the cool fishes that you decided upon in. And then you need to figure out what equipment you need to achieve this.
And of course, then comes the "fun" part- the "scape." I mean, all the planning in the world is kind of a wasted exercise if the tank looks like shit, right?
Well, you know what I mean.
By my estimation, and using this tried-and-true "process", the planning of a typical tank takes like roughly "3 days per gallon." So, by that accounting, a great 50-gallon tank should take...150 days. 5 FREAKING MONTHS? JUST TO...PLAN?
I am crazy.
Well, I should say- I was crazy for a while, at least. For like, most of my fish-keeping career... And I suppose that the phrase "am crazy" is still up for debate!😆
I wasn't always a "human glacier", however.
When I was a kid, I would literally be re-configuring my 10-gallon community tank like monthly.
In January, I'd have a Tetra community tank. February would be time for Kribs. March would be Mollies in a brackish tank. By April, it was back to fresh in time to mess around with a group of killifish. Well, May was one of those months where my thoughts tuned to..Barbs...and...well, you get the picture.
I was fast. Really fast. I think, likely too fast. I was trading in fishes so often at my LFS that they literally cringed when I walked in the door, plastic bucket in hand...
I think part of it was because I was an impatient kid with extremely limited resources and a desire to try tons of different things. Absurdly diverse interests. How else can you explain a 14-year old with memberships in the IBC, AKA, ACA, and ALA? I mean, I had one tank, and ultimately, a couple of tanks, dozens of plastic boxes, and two very understanding, but oft-times frazzled parents, who knew exactly why we were always short of clean towels in the household!
All of those little tanks and containers...
So that's how the concept of a "fish room" got started!
Over time, I slowed down quite a bit.
Yeah, there was a big chunk of my aquatic life that had me fall victim to my own "obsessive planning thing." I mean, it was like "analysis paralysis." Fortunately, as I got older, my hobby friends viewed my slow progressions from concept to completion as "disciplined", but the reality was that, inside, I knew I was somehow just spending way too much time and placing way too much emphasis on the planning part of the hobby equation.
I mean, when you're debating on different -sized substrate materials for like two weeks, something is up, right?
I did enjoy it a little, even if it seemed, well- slow. I think I've been on both ends of the extreme of this process, huh?
Flash forward to today, and at any given time, I'll have 4-5 home aquariums, each in varying stages of the planning/building/operating process. Each one radically different from the other. Financially, I'm slightly better than I was as a 14 year old (I mean, I'm in the aquatics industry, right? 😂), and, yes- I still have absurdly diverse interests.
Yeah, not much has changed, right?
I'm faster. And I multitask!
It's weird, but I"m getting used to it. I mean, I have a sort of "justification" for speed now. With Tannin, we need to try out and execute new concepts frequently, and get them photographed and documented to serve as a source of inspiration for our community. It's actually a responsibility for me to do more- and do it faster!
And to document it more- for better, or worse.
My, how times have changed!
It's a "do things" phase, and I couldn't be happier with this. It's a remarkable transformation for me, evolved over years of working the hobby from multiple angles and viewpoints. It's about being true to a mission I dedicated myself to: To push the state of the art in the hobby just a little bit forward, each and every day.
I love it.
And having multiple aquariums up and running hasn't hurt, either. Not too many, mind you. Just enough to keep things humming along.
I'm actually working on each one regularly, putting them together on a very accelerated pace. I decided on concepts, system designs, sourced/selected everything, curated all of the stuff, and started assembly on two of my tanks within three weeks a while back.
A record for me!
Sure, it didn't hurt that they were "nano-sized" tanks, but hey- after decades, it's a significant achievement for me!
Progression in my hobby lately has been pretty rapid.
Okay, sure, there are hobbyists out there who've put together entire fish rooms and had multiple spawns of Plecos in that kind of time frame, but this is progress. I mean, for me, that's practically "breakneck speed!"
Has a lot changed?
Actually, it really has.
When you get to live a certain amount of life, you realize that your time on this planet is- well- finite- and if you want to accomplish stuff, you need to do it in less than a geological or stellar evolutionary time scale! You need to be decisive, to mark and move. "To fish or cut bait"...whatever. You need to DO something instead of PLAN to do something.
You know, all of those cliches.
But they're actually pretty correct. And useful to apply.
So, the impatient kid in me is back!
Oh, and I will even "kill" ideas I don't see a way forward with quickly, instead of keeping them on "life support" indefinitely.
That's another huge thing for me.
I've learned to approach aquarium keeping like I've learned to approach my business: Methodically, yet "organically."
And I have a lot of ideas that I want to get to. And evolving my mindset AND the process has helped immeasurably:
Not to overthink stuff, yet to use a good approach that's coaxed along and evolved relatively quickly. Iterate and reiterate rapidly, yet within the context of the larger time frame. Realizing that the processes which you use to get things moving should be executed quickly, even if the journey to the ultimate goal is a longer, slower one.
Because sitting with a pen and paper staring at the ceiling doesn't get anything done, be it in business or building a 50-gallon biotope aquarium.
Wow, I've finally married action and theory in a way that works! And enjoyment in my hobby is back and bigger than ever!
Yes, I still have a ridiculously tight aesthetic concept of how a tank should look, and how the overall aquarium should fit into my world, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I still don't' like dangling wires, noise, and blatantly obvious gear on display. But I am also coming to grips with the reality that, even if you have a few electrical cords showing, or a maybe a plumbing return or three in the tank, that I'll somehow live.
Then again, I'm feeling better and better about those "all-in-one" aquariums!
I mean, I'm just dealing with my absurdities now, instead of losing myself in them! I've learned to compromise a few anal retentive attitudes for the sake of the greater good here! Your have to at least try some of those ideas, no matter how absurd they are- so that you CAN move on.
And I've tried a LOT of lame ideas, trust me.
Yet, they don't bog me down. I gain what I can from them, and move on...fast.
Moving forward quickly never felt so good.
Pushing the boundaries on what is considered "attractive" and "viable" have been the "North Star" of my aquarium practice in recent years. Questioning everything I did before, and how I perceived an aquarium should look and function. It required numerous "mental shifts"- the same ones I ask of you and our community...
It's "exciting times" for me.
We're just scratching the surface on what we intend to do. In 2020, we're going to such harder to show you things that you may not have even thought of before- or perhaps, in some "fever dream", you might have...However, we'll execute. And we might fail on some stuff...Or succeed beyond our wildest dreams- and hopefully, inspire others to do the same!
What seems "odd" might just be "beautiful" in ways that we haven't yet come to grips with.
This crazy stuff we all do. The weird ideas we execute- they're all indicative of a very interesting time.
A hobby renaissance.
A time to do instead if just plan. And most important- a time to enjoy. To enjoy the process of taking an idea from concept to completion. To enjoy the challenges, benefits, setbacks, and triumphs of pushing out further into a new frontier. To enjoy the whole essence of this crazy-cool hobby that we're all obsessed about!
So the takeaway here, fellow fish geeks, is to learn from my hard-earned hobby knowledge gained over many tortuous, yet thoroughly enjoyable decades, and not to let your ideas get in the way of your execution!
Stay driven. Stay focused on your goal, but open your eyes and increase your flexibility. Be nimble, agile, and open-minded.
Stay on task. Stay progressive. Stay creative. Stay excited. Stay engaged...
And Stay Wet.