The idea is simple. Show up at the appointed place on a specific date and time. Bring a small portion of your collection or hobby to discuss, show off, or work toward a new goal. Come ready to share ideas and criticisms and to accept suggestions for improvement on your efforts.
Sound like a class or a poetry meeting? It’s not.
You’ve entered the land of the Adult Fans of LEGO, or AFOLs for short.
LEGO? Adults? Seriously? Just give it a chance.
Once per month, at least two dozen adults, some accompanied by children, but most not, gather at a library in Fairfax County, Virginia to build LEGO, discuss LEGO, trade LEGO, and design with LEGO for a few short hours. They call themselves WAMALUG, or Washington Metro Area LEGO User’s Group.
The treats littering the folding tables set up in conference rooms range from buildings and cars to trains, military installations, and models from science fiction movies and shows. Most of the AFOLs come from the Washington metro area, which is loosely defined as the towns and cities nestled inside the Beltway, the capital city itself, and a small portion of out lying suburbs.
The personalities vary as much as the works of creativity. Sitting at a corner table is a bewhiskered man, probably in his mid-50s who has been building some sort of edifice since his arrival at the meeting. He builds intently, rarely raising his eyes to look at the other people in the room. He hasn’t spoken to anyone in at least an hour. Others behave similarly. They quietly sit at a table, hundreds of dollars of LEGO spread out before them, building sets or original creations. In one breath, they express desire for someone to notice what they’re doing, but decry those who come around to look that have a less matured understanding of their project.
In a word, they are socially awkward. Other, more technical terms might be used to describe them, but the most accepted term is socially awkward. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing - the hobby thrives on awkward. Awkward types are usually creative, deep thinking individuals. The best awkward minds of our time have produced things like the theory of relativity (I’m looking at you, Albert Einstein). Creativity is a must when it comes to breaking outside “the set” with LEGO.
But the silent awkward types are not the only ones who have an interest in this hobby. Sitting across the room from the table of silent sentries is a group of younger, but still adult enthusiasts. Conversation revolves around finished models and works in progress, but has covered topics including Yul Brynner, Disney rides, the online virtual world Second Life, medieval weaponry and more. This is the nerdy socially awkward type.
Farther down a neighboring table, enthusiasts trade the latest fad from the LEGO Company, scouring bar codes to determine what their mysterious packages hold and discussing the merits of each different surprise that may be found once the packages are opened.
Still farther, a small cadre discusses their plans for a military diorama consisting of LEGO and LEGO men.
At some point in time each person in the room has felt outcast because of their hobby. Some do not bring up their interests at work. Some are initially apprehensive about telling romantic partners about what they do. All would probably describe themselves using terms like “geek,” “nerd” and “dork.” They have been decried as childish and unsophisticated – by even this writer.
But one thing remains clear. To be able to build original creations with LEGO is largely a creative gift, and is practiced by people with well-honed critical thinking skills. Putting this much brain power in one room has huge potential. The revolution is coming, and it’s starting in the back of a library, fueled by plastic brick.