RSS Transitioning from clinical to practicing reefer, once again

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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It’s been a while, huh?

Amazing what changes while you’re “away.”

Amazing what happens to you when you drift off from the stuff you love so much, isn’t it?

Of late, I’ve made a (for me) wonderful and long-overdue transition from “clinical” reefer to “practicing” reefer once again, and it feels incredible.

I found myself slipping into the role of what I call “clinical” reefer.

What do I mean by “clinical?” Well, there are a lot of people in my position, owning and building hobby-related businesses, perhaps writing, speaking, and “living the fish geek life”, who don’t have a tank that they maintain everyday; who perhaps ply their stock in trade in the aquarium world without maintaining an active aquarium. Yes, they’re in touch with the hobby, and the animals, and the gear…but they’re not in “the final few inches” of what is really happening.

I’m not saying that this is bad, I’m just quantifying it.

Where it can get bad is when you find yourself regurgitating stuff from a long time ago that is woefully outdated when rendering advice to others; or perhaps you are staying current on the latest and greatest and preaching it without actually practicing it…THAT is a sin in the aquarium world, IMHO. There’s lots of that percolating around the hobby, especially when you find yourself “in the know”, speaking and traveling around hobby-related conferences and events.

Then, there is an even smaller fraction of people, who spend much time criticizing others in the hobby and industry, slinging negative publicity for practices/products/people they don’t “approve” of, and generally rallying their buddies to give them a social media “pat on the back” while they spew forth their vitriol with unabashed nastiness…all while not even being a “practicing” reefer.

Yeah, there are a bunch of people who are just like that, and it’s sad. It’s sad, because they don’t experience the real pleasure of actually keeping an aquarium. It’s sad because they are so myopic in their focus that they can’t get past themselves, their self-appointed grandeur, and the adulation of their small “rooting section” who heap on the “attaboys” whenever they pop up on social media discussions, etc.

They don’t get it. At all.

It’s also sad, because some of these people are immensely intelligent, focused, and dare we say, experts about certain things, yet they can’t get beyond their negativity and disdain for others who they feel have “violated” the sanctity of “their” fields of expertise. Rather than sharing something useful, they choose to simply criticize.

Rather than disseminating their immense knowledge in a useful and helpful way for hobbyists, they find it far easier to thrive in a sea of negativity, attempt to diminish others, and thrive off of the virtual pats on the back from their small, yet vocal groups of friends, none of who have the courage to stand up on their own and let their individual voices be heard, lest they suffer the “wrath” of their demigods.

Totally sad. And not a place you want to go.

I realized not too long ago that I was drifting into the larger category of “clinical” reefer, who, although I run a coral facility and am semi “hands-on” with the animals, equipment, and practices on a daily basis, found myself without a home aquarium of any significance, and felt oddly “detached” from the “real world” of the hobby. Sure, I talked to hobbyists everyday, but rather than relating to them in a manner based on “Yeah, I’m going though that algae bloom, too!”, I was falling back on my experiences of the past (“Yeah, I had an algae bloom back in, 2009- maybe 2007? Anyways, it sucked…”).

I have spoken or presented at 9 consecutive MACNAs, several Reefapaloozas, Reefstock, IMAC, and dozens of clubs and smaller conferences around the world. I’ve guest blogged on Reef Builders, been published in magazines- all that stuff. My daily “rants” and blogs on Reef2Reef are syndicated and read by thousands of reefers around the world…I’ve been told I’m the “morning coffee”- the “cold pizza” for a lot of reefers to start their days.

Satisfying to a great extent.

Yet something- I was never able to quite get a finger on what it was missing.

That was sad. And oddly unsatisfying….I mean, all of this cool stuff, friendships, etc. and the very reason for it all was not in my life: Being an active hobbyist on a practicing personal level.

We (Joe Caparatta and I) built this amazing company (Unique Corals), which deals intimately with the art and science of the reef keeping hobby, and yet, I feel like somewhere along the way, I actually forgot how cool it is to be a real hobbyist. I don’t know if it was the personal tragedy I experienced when my father died, or the life changes I went through, or just spending 24/7/365 hyper-focused at building up Unique Corals and my other company, Tannin Aquatics…Don’t know. But it doesn’t matter now.

What matters is that I knew that I wanted to be myself again. A reefer of the geekiest type.

And that’s why I decided, as one of my friends eloquently put it, to “come home” and become a “practicing aquarist” yet again…and I’ve never enjoyed it more. It never meant more to me. I’ve started work on a new reef system, and have never enjoyed the process more..It’s awakened the familiar, yet seemingly atrophied feelings of excitement, anticipation, engagement, responsibility, and true camaraderie that you encounter when reefing, which have been amazingly satisfying thus far. As someone who likes to write, every day provides new topics and ideas about things to share, question, laugh at myself, discuss…I feel like part of the community again.

That’s really good.

And I feel a bit more, I don’t know- mature, perhaps? Like someone who’s lived a bit, and can take those experiences and apply them to his everyday aquarium practices.It’s super empowering. It’s not like I have been “away”- but it sort of felt like I was “on the outside”, watching others enjoy this amazing thing that I could only sort of longingly stare at through the dirty window. It’s definitely going to make me a better industry person, too. Relating even better to my customers- my fellow fish geeks.

I remember many days, when hobbyists would call or visit, giddy with excitement about receiving that cool Acro frag or new fish, and we’d talk about it…And they’d ask questions, and I’d answer them and discuss their issues, feeling just a little twinge of…I dunno- jealousy, perhaps- that they were enjoying this amazing little thing that I just sort of took for granted. And it just kind of built from there..the need to get back over the fence.

I actually feel like apologizing a bit for not feeling it for too long.

Working daily with guys at Unique like Jake Adams and Dave Botwin- two guys who practice geeked-out reef keeping at its highest level- just kept the fire burning. Jake must have just known- sensed it…He would always pull me away from my desk to check out this or that coral, light, crazy project he was working on…or to cut frags, help move some corals- whatever- just to get me away from the darned computer and get my hands wet. Dave would urge me to “go fishing” at the wholesalers with just geek out on the cool fishes and corals.

And it worked. It was like waking up out of a coma…

I learned that you can come home again- I learned that sometimes you have this wonderful thing right in front of your eyes- and you just need to appreciate and enjoy it for what it is…this hobby, this culture- this WORLD that we have is amazing, precious…and beautiful. I now walk my raceways gawking at the corals, thinking exactly what other hobbyists who visit our facility think: “Man, I’d love to see that Acro in MY tank!”

Why am I sharing this strange personal journey with you? Well, perhaps it’s a bit therapeutic for me…Perhaps it’s almost a public apology for “being away”, if you will. Perhaps it’s simply a public affirmation for me about being back and never wanting to stray from the path again. I offer this to you as less of an explanation of my hobby journey, and as more of a “life raft” to those of you that, for whatever reason, feel like you’ve strayed away from the hobby that you love so much.

If you’re out there, drifting in the current. Just know that it’s never too late to climb back aboard.

And never more satisfying than now.

Stay wet.

Scott Fellman
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