Things are evolving, changing, and advancing in our little sector of the hobby. Ideas are percolating, hobbyists are executing, and "naysayers" are being seen for what they are.."naysayers."
We toss out a lot of crazy- and not-so-crazy ideas here. We cover a lot of ground and present and ruminate on some ideas that may or may not work in aquariums. And we try them. And so do you- our community.
It's important to push ourselves- and the hobby- along. And sometimes, that means pushing out into uncomfortable areas. Areas that offer a different look, a different function- and the promise of different results and benefits.
I think that this may be the most important function of Tannin Aquatics:
To facilitate this fearless effort from many of you.
I mean, sure, we sell "stuff" for aquariums- but the most important thing that we "sell" is the idea of trying something different; something new...ideas which might take you a bit far afield, out of your hobby "comfort zone."
Perhaps these ideas and attempts at new things might open up some entirely new pursuits in the hobby. Maybe it's as simple as looking at a natural aquatic habitat and asking yourself why it looks the way it does, how it evolved...and how you could replicate its form and function in the confines of an aquarium.
Your ideas and efforts might inspire others. Perhaps they'll stimulate some vigorous discussion, a little debate. Maybe they'll piss some people off. Perhaps, they might simply open YOU up to some criticism from your fellow hobbyists.
As awful as that sounds, I think that worse things could befall you as a hobbyist.
Being original, different, and unique is powerful. It can change the hobby.
Cliche' "graduation-speech" quote time:
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steven Jobs
There's a lot of good stuff to unpack in that oft-quoted passage.
To this end...
I was speaking with a friend last week, who is a very talented marine aquarist. She was relating to me a sound thrashing (there's simply no other way to put it) she was receiving on a hobby forum from some self-procalimed "experts" about an approach that she was taking to breeding a certain fish (with considerable, repeated success, mind you) which went against the grain of what "they" said was "the correct approach." She was told she was the recipient of "dumb luck" by one, and that her approach was "reckless and flawed" by another. And some other things not worth repeating here!
The usual shit.
And the bottom line was that she was successful. Her idea was correct, if not a bit unorthodox. The rationale behind her approach was spot-on. It was just not what everyone else was doing, or even considered to be a way to go...And some people just didn't like it.
It went against what they held dear. What they felt as perfect.
Rather than commending her for her success, or even just asking questions- the "attack dogs" came at her, full force.
She was near tears.
Years of work, successful spawns, and she simply was getting trashed.
I mean, there literally was no other reason. She was an "outsider" to this particular forum and specialty, and "they" didn't like it. There was simply no other explanation. She came with humility and was open-hearted about sharing, and received a full-on beat-down because her ideas challenged the prevailing thought in this self-immolating dystopia she had somehow "infiltrated."
Now, sure, it's easy to simply say, "Shake it off" and just deal, but that's an easy way out. Mental toughness is important, but what about the underlying issue which brought this all up? What about the bigger picture here? This is not entirely uncommon in our hobby.
Fear, elitism, and disdain for outsiders...
I've seen this crap before in the hobby. And it's poisonous.
Time for a gentle ass-kicking, and I might as well do it.
As you know, I tend to get a bit..."worked up" about some stuff- particularly when people are unfairly negative and so cruel to others. And particularly when it's not deserved, and focused on friends of mine! You know, THAT kind of bullshit. I'm sure there will be many who take this wrong- as if I am up on some "high horse", spouting my own form of dogma or hate.
If that's how this is interpreted, I suppose I might have already failed. If not- please read on...
I think I have a valuable mesage- based on decades of being in "aquarium cutlure." Yeah, I need to air my opinion here. So, rather than go on that particular hobby forum and make an ass of myself, I figured it might be just as therapeutic to do it here, in the "relative safety" of my own blog! 😜
Seriously, though, this little rant is for those of you who occasionally face grief from the self-proclaimed "gatekeepers" in our hobby. It's for you to take some comfort in knowing that, regardless of if your idea works or not, the fact that you're even doing something different, bold, maybe even contrarian- in the pursuit of knowledge and success- is a HUGE victory.
"Comfort zones" are fine. If your goal is simply to be comfortable.
However, if you're trying to do something a bit differently; forging a new direction because you have a hunch or a theory about something, "comfort zones" can often be metaphorical shackles, keeping you from pushing forward boldly...
All of you out there who have those ideas that are perhaps a bit "unorthodox" by hobby standards, maybe a bit "unusual", even...take heed.
And keep fucking going...
Just because you reject the "status quo", the popular, or the safe, doesn't mean that you're wrong.
Just because your idea of a compelling aquascape features soil and decomposing leaves instead of a cliche-ridden "Middle Earth Hobbit-Forest" doesn't mean you're not creating "aspirational" work. Just because you're breeding Danios instead of this month's "Apisto of The Month" doesn't mean you're not talented. Just because you're specializing in Anacharis instead of Bucephalandra doesn't mean that you don't have "plant game."
Maybe you decided to start a company that sells seed pods, leaves and plant parts to recreate specialized habitats... (Yeah, had to throw the personal reference in there...I took some heat, too when I started out!). And you didn't give a shit what anyone else thought.
Sure, you could "crash and burn" spectacularly- but you're doing...instead of sitting on the sidelines and pelting those who are forging ahead with stones- metaphorical or otherwise...
You're doing something.
I've seen this a lot over the years- more in recent months. I've had a few friends tell me about similar situations they've encountered "out there", and I say, it's time for the hobby at large to lighten up a bit.
As the second decade of the new millennium starts to settle in, the “state of the art” in the aquarium hobby is in total flux. New technology has worked its way into what we do daily with our aquariums. LED lighting technology is delivering on the promise of energy-efficient, highly focused, “nutritional” illumination. Water movement has become “intelligent”, with microprocessor-based controllers commanding powerful, low wattage electronic pumps to create currents and flow that mimic nature in ways previously unthinkable.
Okay, we still have unreliable aquarium heaters (hey, I didn't say that we're living in goddam utopia, did I? We have a few things to work out still...). Foods based on fishes'specialized nutritional requirements have entered the market that promise levels of nutrition for fishes and corals that were simply considered unsustainable in years past.
Crazy cool shit.
This stuff puts incredible results in reach for even aquarists with relatively modest experience. Maybe it levels the playing field a bit. It helps facilitate experimentation and implementation of ideas which were just thoughts on paper a few years back.
Ideas are always good, even when the gadgets aren't available off the shelf to support them. Effort to push boundaries is never a wasted one.
We shouldn't be afraid to try.
It’s not just the technology that has evolved, of course.
Today’s hobbyist, with convenient access to the latest science, Internet connectivity, and the ever-evolving benefit of an expanding global aquatic“culture”, brings new energy, creativity, and imagination to the game. The courage to break free from convention is more apparent than ever. Marry the progressive hobbyist with groundbreaking technology, and you have a formidable combination. It is out of this milieu that the biggest breakthroughs and hobby advancements are arising.
Think about it: You can google obscure, perhaps even seemingly mundane facts from scientific papers which might just hold the key to...everything...all from the comfort of your own living room, or wherever your iPhone, iPad, or laptop take you.
And those of us who have been in this game for decades need not be afraid. We need to celebrate. Don't hate on people who are utilizing some of the new advantages to further the state of the art in the hobby.
It's simply not constructive.
Individuals who feel that the “status quo” of the aquarium hobby is due for a little shakeup are emerging, proffering new ideas, unique methodologies, and new aquariums that are pushing back the "outside of the envelope" of modern aquaristics- your time has come!
And your space at the table is ready.
We at Tannin Aquatics are proud to be supporting this little charge towards hobby evolution. I'm excited to see some of the amazing work that our community is forging ahead with, despite the curious looks or questions they might be receiving from those who feel compelled to criticize.
The takeaway is that we all win as a result of you brave pioneers.
You're always welcome here. Always. We'll embrace your ideas, cheers you on...and when you fail, you'll get the necessary words of encouragement and a push to keep going.
Think about the good you're doing.
Later this year, we're going to announce some things that we hope will encourage this kind of original, innovative, and bold work. We'll put our money where our mouth is.
Because it's important.
We as a whole in this hobby are benefitting from this progression, thanks to our open minds, tireless dedication, and the power of the Internet to spread new ideas rapidly. The hobby is changing. For the better. Evolution is becoming revolution, it’s “open source”, and everyone is invited to come along for the ride.
Everyone can contribute.
And the big winner? Our fishes. Our plants. Our corals. And the natural habitats from which they come. Understanding both helps us treasure, protect, and preserve them for future generations to enjoy.
The fantastic fishes and aquariums we see on forums and such are but a small sampling of the dozens of aquatic breakthroughs achieved each year, which represent fundamental paradigm shifts in the hobby. Some are unique for what they do, others for what they represent, and all for how they make us look at what we know to be “conventional” in the aquarium world.
Constructive criticism is important and welcome.
Flat-out hatred, driven by reluctance and fear of change- or worse yet, a perception of being "left behind"- is not. No one should be afraid to be who they are in this hobby. To try what they feel is correct- and most important- to share what they've learned, good OR bad.
Ever changing, ever evolving, the aquarium- and the hobby- has come a long way from the simple glass bowl form centuries past…or has it?
With the benefit of technology, scientific knowledge, and the skill of a “postmodern” aquarist, perhaps we have come full circle. It is now possible to create aquariums as simple as a vessel containing water, or as complicated as a near perfect re-creation of a coral reef ecosystem. In our little world, we're playing with some of the most basic things in nature- leaves and botanicals- and regularly achieving results that may have been eluding us previously with other techniques.
Mind sets are shifting. Old ideas being re-evaluated, reviewed, embraced- or, on occasion, dismissed as unnecessary. The lines between Nature and aquarium are blurring...
We're not just sitting still, accepting "no" or "not possible", or "it can't be done that way."
The marriage of Nature, skill, information, technology, and creativity has allowed aquarists the freedom to create dreams as never before. Our legacy of centuries of aquatic experience provides us with inspiration for new challenges, new approaches, and new executions for aquariums and husbandry achievements once thought of as impossible, dangerous, or non-sustainable.
Please, don't cower in the face of those idiots who would like to bring you down, quash your enthusiasm, or simply lash out. There is a ridiculous amount of that out there these days. Always consider and accept the constructive criticisms of those who are genuinely helpful, and flat-out ignore those who proffer only hate and nothing else.
If I could give you one "gift" in the hobby, I'd give you that one.
It gets really quiet in your head when you do that. Trust me.
Fortune favors the bold.
One can only hope that we will continue to push the state of the art in aquaristics, and follow our dreams to destinations once thought...impossible. It’s time to cast off and head forward into uncharted waters, towards destinations unknown.
Now the future starts.
Be the ripple in the water. Move the hobby forward. Ever forward.
Stay undaunted. Stay unfazed. Stay bold. Stay courageous. Stay original. Stay humble. Stay determined...
And Stay Wet.
Absolutely, a book is in the works…In fact, I’m well into the writing process! We’re thinking it’ll be a fairly in-depth book, with a lot of beautiful pics and such…We’ll be sure to spread the word when it’s out!
Scott, reading the article and taking into account how many contributions and materials you have here in the blog (I was trying to download/organize it, but from 2015 it’s really too much), I was wondering…what do you think about writing a book (hard copy or ebook) on blackwater biotopes? I think that the philosophy of ‘botanical style’ aquarium need somehow a different think-tank compared to a Blog. Don’t you think it’s time for you and for “us” as a community?