Like so many aquarists, I never set out to keep a room full of tanks, to breed scores of species, to write and speak about the aquarium hobby. It simply started with just one tank (February 1988).
That 50 gallon tank went in my living room - intended as a piece of furniture, a visual display. Something about this living beauty under glass mesmerized me. I kept thinking about the next fish I would acquire and how I might rearrange the aquascape. As happens to most of us, that first tank led to a second, third, and so on.
My quest for species took me to the all the local fish stores, and I would strike up conversations with the attendants. My quest for information led me to the tropic fish section of local libraries. I remember reading what was probably an Innes book. Each page told about a species. I was intimidated by the notion of spawning fish, so I tended to ignore those paragraphs.
my local aquarium society
After two isolated years of being a "lone aquarist," I stumbled into my first meeting of the Minnesota Aquarium Society. I still remember rather vividly that first night, January 1991. Since then I've missed only a handful of meetings, each time because I had to be out-of-town. Joining one's local aquarium society had truly made me a better aquarist.
Within months I was participating in the club's Breeders Award Program (BAP). For my first two months I turned in guppies, angelfish, and neon tetras. I also participated in showing my fish at the annual shows and in the bowl show. Early on I felt that I needed to my focus on just one of these programs: BAP or showing fish. I was a bit frustrated about showing fish because success is so dependent upon the judge's opinion - too much subjectivity. Conversely, success in BAP is quite objective - no one disputes breeding accomplishments. Furthermore, breeding fish constantly causes me to marvel at the whole event - from spawning to the sure development of fry. So I chose my role within the aquarium society to be a fish breeder.
Within my first year of club membership my interests shifted heavily towards the tetras, barbs, and labyrinths - small, peaceful species that prefer soft water. A new friend gave me some lake cichlids, and I spawned them - but for some reason lake cichlids never "pushed my button."
Why did I prefer the tetras and barbs? For one thing, I was a grad student in those early days and these cheaper fishes fit better within my budget. But I suspect that another reason was the early influence from the Innes book - content heavily weighted to these fish groups. Those early interests carry through to today.
My first volunteer position for the club involved a book purchasing program. From that position I founded the club library and joined the board of directors. Everyone recognized the guy who loaned out books, and when someone nominated me for president (it was not my idea), I won the one-year term. In the few years to follow, I served as treasurer and three years as show chair. Somehow I started to schedule weekend fishroom tours with a guest speaker, a rare fish auction, and a banquet.
By the late 90's I felt the urge to reach a little further (writing and speaking nationally), so I let go of my local club responsibilities. I needed a few years off of these commitments, but my heart has always been engaged with MAS. Recently, I've been falling back into duties, first as programs chair (booking speakers) and now as co-BAP chair (as a promoter of this breeding program). As MAS entered its 75th anniversary, I was drawn into even more involvement.
Another activity that I stumbled into early on was writing. I would read my local club's AquaNews with great interest. Soon it was my turn to contribute. A very memorable moment came when editor Anchor Sarslow publicly recognized my article "The Three Rummy-nose Tetras." I kept writing with enthusiasm and won several FAAS awards in 1993: Article of the Year, and runner-up Author of the Year. (FAAS is Federation of American Aquarium Societies.)
As happens to too many people, club positions and club obligations start to dominate over the reason for being in the hobby. When I realized that I had fallen into this trap, I stepped back from those duties (as mentioned above) and sought once again to focus on the fish, on breeding, and on writing.
Shortly after that decision, I landed a quarterly column in TFH magazine (The Art of Characins). Other aquarium societies started to ask me speak. I was back to talking about aquariums and the fish. Details of my writing and speaking saga can be found elsewhere on this site.
Around 1995 I discovered the Internet. I was quite skeptical at first, but I quickly became enthused. Within a year I posted my first page of Randy's Fishroom. I suspect that at that time only two- or three-dozen aquarium-related sites were on the 'Net, and maybe less. The site went through many changes. A few years later I bought "characin.com" and moved the site there. Because the hobby and web sites are highly visual, I explored aquarium photography. As I started to get usable results, Randy's Fishroom became their outlet. My photography saga can be found elsewhere on this site.
Once I started focusing more on fishkeeping again, I came to a watershed moment as an aquarist (Fall 1999). For nearly a decade I had grown my fishroom from a few tanks to eighty-some. The fishroom is a major part of an aquarist's life. As I started to assess the "values" behind why I am in this hobby, I realized I had drifted quite a ways from those values that drove my enthusiasm for keeping aquaria. I became an aquarist because of my fascination of its visual aspect.
So I tore down my fishroom and rebuilt it around my values. When I finished, I recognized an analogy: Just as a fish tank can be transformed into an "aquarium," so can a fishroom can be transformed into an "aquaria room." The emphasis shifts from just keeping (or "collecting") fishes to displaying aquaria. This watershed realization changed not only my fishroom, but also my perspective as an aquarist.
As a result, I treat my aquaria room as a studio -- a room for experimenting with the visual, a room for creating and displaying visual beauty, and a room for capturing this beauty through photography. Such a room deserves a name. Since my watershed moment came in '99, I dubbed the room Studio '99.
In 2003 I joined an apprentice program of the National Speakers Association. (I enjoy giving public presentations, and I wanted to be inspired by those who do it for a living.) My new circle of friends quickly branded me as "the aquarium guy."
As we discussed our work and listened to each other, I realized that I could not use the same jargon with them as I would use within the circle of serious aquarists. Everyone in the speakers group understood what an aquarium was, and most appreciated them, but they didn't speak the same language as the "fish heads."
My realization was not instantaneous, but it came to me. Interest in aquaria is much larger than the small circle of serious aquarists, and to reach this interest, one has to speak the common language of aquaria instead of the cult-like talk of "fish heads."My site Randy's Aquaria was written for serious aquarists. It communicates on the appropriate level. Unfortunately, that level does not relate to most people who are interested in aquaria. (I'm keeping Randy's Aquaria as an archive of valuable information, but I am no longer adding to it regularly.)
I am feeling the calling to reach the common interest in aquaria, so I have launched this site, TwoWetHands. The site's slogan tells my intention: to explore the beauty and intrigue of the personal aquarium. The idea behind that phrase is something that all my friends can understand and appreciate.
Obviously you can appreciate it, or you wouldn't be reading this far into the site. Whether your hands are wet or dry, as long as you appreciate the beauty and the intrigue of the personal aquarium, this site is for you.