Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Frustrated Pandemic Dreams

 All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”

Edgar Allan Poe

Our subconscious works in mysterious ways, as evidenced by our dreams. Sometimes they’re strange visits to past episodes of our lives, other times nightmares, and often strange and frustrating situations, for all of which wakefulness offers some respite. Goodness knows 13 months of pandemic controversies, news, anxiety, and precautions have weighed heavily on our minds. The media is rife with stories that seem almost routine now: tips on working from home; how students can make the most of distance learning; simple ways to beat the pandemic blues; and typical covid-fueled dreams about precautions and privations we’ve endured. So it should come as no surprise that the pandemic has infected my scarce peaceful hours of sleep at least once a week.

Most dreams involve me participating in a game convention; not a particular convention, but one with elements seemingly from all the ones I’ve attended during these many years. I’m wandering through a strange city, hotel, or convention center with my suitcase and a hand truck of gaming materials. I can’t find my hotel room, the dealers room, or the gaming area (and if I do, I can’t find my table, or someone else has set up on it, and I can’t find the game coordinator or a new table). If I manage to start setting up I realize I’ve forgotten something, my players have all left, and even that someone else starts running a game while I’m setting up at the same table. If I somehow manage to find the dealers room I don’t have enough time to browse, I can’t find anything that interests me, or it’s about to close at the end of the convention. I lose track of my friends, my wife, and my son in the corridors and crowds. In these wanderings I often pass a restaurant or a bar and think I should remember to stop there after running my game...though I never manage even that.

These all play on generalized anxieties I feel in real life when emerging from my introverted shell into the very extroverted convention environment. In most cases my overall satisfaction with how my convention games run balances out my concerns. My recent con appearances focused on miniature wargames, specifically ones geared toward kids and newcomers to the hobby; these have provided me with a good deal of satisfaction for my investment of time and effort. I don’t run roleplaying games much at conventions anymore, as they’re a much more intensive experience and require a bit more energy than I have these days. My most recent convention roleplaying game – right before the pandemic hit – was, alas, a disappointing experience when compared to the time, effort, and anxiety involved.

My pandemic dreams aren’t simply limited to convention worries; they involve other activities we’ve avoided to stay safe, including trips out for non-essential shopping. Sometimes my dreams involve visiting a game store, having trouble finding it, not seeing anything I want to buy, leaving and returning when I remember something I forgot to look for, and wanting to join demo games that don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to them.

Of course all of these dream situations include the sudden panic of realizing nobody around me is wearing a mask, that I’m not wearing a mask, that I can’t find my mask, that my wife will yell at me for forgetting my mask and going out among the unmasked.

These dreams find fuel in the privations we’ve endured the past year of the pandemic: not going out short of getting groceries and essentials; not shopping at game stores; having game conventions cancel; even avoiding having friends over to the house for weekend afternoons of board games. It reminded me of one opportunity lost to social isolation and “distance learning” for my son’s fifth grade year. I’d hoped he might invite some friends over so we could try some games, probably board game with themes that interested them, perhaps some miniature wargames at their level (games for kids being one of my own interests), and possibly even trying some form of roleplaying gaming (again, centered on an engaging theme). Like many lost opportunities and postponed activities we might give this a try next year, assuming school and social life in general return to some semblance of the normal we enjoyed in the “Before Times.”

On another hopeful note the local history museum – where I’d hoped to give an introductory “Wargaming History” talk before the pandemic – has finally opened after closing for 13 months. Although it’s only open Friday through Monday, has a capacity of 12 masked, socially distanced visitors, and has no plans yet for gallery talks, it at least has a temporary exhibit of the museum’s Civil War soldiers manufactured by CBG Mignot in France. Its opening, along with the cautious return to normal a vaccinated and respectfully careful population can herald, offers some hope of someday giving my “Wargaming History” talk,

Among the numerous lessons I – and hopefully others – have learned from our pandemic experience is to use our time wisely, to seize opportunities when we can, to engage others with shared interests, to enjoy those things we’ve deferred to a greater degree and relish them all the more because of their absence in our lives.

Unfortunately, the balance of nature decrees that a super-abundance of dreams is paid for by a growing potential for nightmares.”

Peter Ustinov

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