2020 vision

I had one of those Covid stress dreams last night. We’ve all had them. Somehow they’re more vivid than regular dreams, there’s a vague feeling of dread or sadness that overhangs them, which sticks around for hours after you wake up.

Although I have way fewer reasons to be stressed than most. Career-wise the pandemic has probably been beneficial for me. Online learning has suddenly been forced upon people, and those who are doing it well find that there are benefits, and students appreciate it. Not only that but people are working out what in-person teaching is good for, and what it’s not necessary for. After 23 years of researching how online learning works, and teaching people how to teach online for 15, for the first time everyone is listening.

So 2020 hasn’t been the worst year of my life by a long chalk. I started a new job, and then four months later I got another one. I finished (and passed) my MA. VR got a boost through the introduction of the Oculus Quest and so I found a renewed interest in my research specialism. I managed to get my hands on a pair of limited edition Scooby-Doo Converse.

The lockdown didn’t affect me greatly. My colleagues are all experienced in remote team-working, so I didn’t feel any disconnection from them starting a new job. I helped run a successful conference, and chaired a great panel session with colleagues from the UK and Canada. There were low points, not being able to see my wife for several months because we were locked down separately, not being able to see my mother when she was admitted to hospital with a stroke (she’s fine now). Missing Christmas with the kids just now because we were all put into Tier 4 just days before.

The lack of impact on my job is partly by design (one of the reasons I chose to specialise in online learning was so I could work at home), chiefly by luck (I got to exercise that choice because of financial security, if I hadn’t owned my own house I’d long ago have been forced out of HE and into something with more job security). There was an aphorism that did the rounds a few months back, “there was no lockdown, the middle classes stayed at home while the working classes brought them things”. That’s bullshit, obviously. True it’s 10 times worse for someone who’s also experiencing financial stress, but we’ve all experienced lockdown to some extent, gigs cancelled, families out of bounds, holidays at home. And for someone who actually likes being stuck inside with just a pile of books, a TV and an Xbox, that’s not the same hardship as it is for someone who doesn’t have the space at home, and needs to do social stuff for their mental wellbeing.

I guess the fears that we all have are the longer term impact, economic ruin, food insecurity, civil unrest. Those continue, and it’s that that has obviously been preying on my subconscious. I’m assuming this because this is what it foisted on me this morning.

The pandemic is over, but before it ran its course, it drove civilisation into collapse. I am now part of a nomadic people travelling through a post-urban landscape. There is an attack, someone fires on us, one of the loners who preys on such groups. He kills one of our group but the attacker is killed too. I scavenge the belongings of both of the dead. I lay the weapons to one side, but then the camera (I dream like a movie, establishing shots, two-shots, reversals, jump cuts) zooms in on the backpacks. The attacker’s contains clothes, neatly folded, and (the music swells into something poignant – yes i get a soundtrack too, wanna make something of it?) amongst them is a copy of Newsweek, bagged and boarded, with the attacker’s image on the cover. The implication is clear; this scavenger was once someone powerful, wealthy, and is clinging to his prepandemic identity – a reminder of his life before. I return the magazine to the backpack, dig two shallow graves and lay the corpses in them, placing the backpack as a pillow, burying his past with his body.

I’m not sure what I’d make of this. Probably it’s just random shit my brain is pumping out, but the pathos inherent in trying to cling to something that’s gone is quite a strong image. I mean; we could be going through this for years to come – and even once the pandemic is over, there’s the fallout from it (and Brexit) and more pandemics possibly to come. Should we be so worried about what we don’t have any more, and are we wrong to keep clinging onto it, is it holding us back and should we move on? Or is it something that we retain as being important to our identity, even though it’s gone? Our glory days as a society bagged and boarded and weighing us down past the point where those things are at all useful.

Well, OK, that turned out to be a bit more depressing than I expected.

Maybe next time I’ll just post some pictures of my cats.