The work-a-day world seemed very weird. The streets have been taken back by people in dress shirts. Even my comrades have doffed their blue shirts and donned regular clothes. I slid into a seat in the coffee shop at the bottom of the Washington State Trade and Convention Center musing. Sunday I had a 5' tall cardboard cutout of some character reading over my shoulder. Monday, it's a scraggly ficus benjamina trailing it's leaves across the back of my neck with the breeze from the door's opening and closing. Yesterday, this was PAX. Today, it's back to real life.
The contrast makes the dislocation seem more acute. I'd finished my part of tear-down, and come here to get coffee and WiFi so I could begin to divine exactly which precinct of R'lyeh my Inbox had descended to in the past five days. It's just like I do every day back home. Watching my iPad try vainly to download the madness into my mail client, I feel weird. Thin. Like butter scraped over too much bread. It's perfectly natural if you think about it.
I just spent five days or so with 60,000+ or so of my own kind. I was most emphatically not alone. Geeking-out is not only okay, it's encouraged. Even a cursory look around shows that you're not even close to the weirdest guy in the room. You and your buddies stumble from panel to Expo Hall to Freeplay room in a haze of camaraderie and caffeine.
As a volunteer, it can be even more intense. On top of the geeking-out and the challenges to overcome, I had 500+ buddies who have my back and are working tirelessly by my side. Great deeds are done, songs are sung. Even with all the hassle and headaches the whole experience can have a ringing transcendence.
But like all good things, it must come to an end. Over the course of teardown you have to watch as this wonderful little world is disassembled and packed away for another year. Your buddies trickle away in dribs and drab, with a few tears and promises to stay in touch. And then, with hugs and waves, it's time for me to go, too.
I gather my stuff and schlep the bag of games I lent to CFP down to my car, and emerge from the parking lot to face the rest of the world. I'm back to normal life. Even here in Nerdvana, I'm kind of a geek-island; you can't just fly your own flag free in the breeze without getting looked at or worse. Everyone doesn't smile at you when you pass by. It's back to grumbling bosses and teachers and all the rest of the regular round. No great deeds here; you face your usual job/classes/etc with all the stress and skull-sweat they imply. Your buddies are suddenly far away in both miles and flips of the calendar page.
The hardest thing to let go of is the feeling that you can fix things. One of the hallmarks of working for PAX is the empowerment. Within those walls I am uniquely able to look at things that are wrong and gather my troops and fix them. In the real world, that's far from the case. Going back onto my usual trawl and hearing about bad things happening to people and not being able to do anything brings and doubled and re-doubled frustration at my own impotence. I read about a woman who was assaulted at a party put on by a game company and the red haze of rage that spread across my vision when I read the response of security guard she reported it to still hasn't completely faded. I did what I could - sent the info off to someone higher up the food chain than I and he in turn is doing what he can. It's not enough, but there really isn't anything else either.
Home isn't the refuge I was hoping it would be. Instead of facing the crowds, I have to deal with Mt. Washmore, the Zerg creep of dishes and stuff my younger son left in the living room, the prospect of moving, and putting back together what taking the time off did to my schedule at work. This project was already wound tight as a miser's fist when I left. I would have been hosed even if things had gone perfectly while I was gone (and of course they didn't). Some of this nonsense should be forbidden by the Geneva Conventions. No amount of coffee in the world is going to wash this away.
I've had these Post-PAX blues like ten times now, and I have some strategies in place. I know that if I get sick it means two weeks before I can get my head above water. But even if I did manage to avoid any sort of ConSARS, previous experience has taught me it's going to take me a week or so to know it all out. There aren't any easy, on-size-fits-all answers -- each person needs to find their own. For me, it mostly involves finding a way to carve out just a little bit of that same feeling into my regular life.
It doesn't have to be something big. In the past I have tried all sorts of things. Take a half an hour to beat my son's scores on some songs in The Beatles: Rock Band again. Wear my Enforcer shirt to church Youth Group. Go puddle-stomping while waiting for the bus and be a terrible example for any kids nearby. Last year I made spaghetti for dinner while wearing my pajamas and dancing around the kitchen to Ask DNA on my headphones.
I don't know for certain what I'm going to do this year. Tonight I know it will involve someone else doing the dishes and me grinding the Forge Lands like I'm going to use their bones to make my bread. After that, we'll have to see. Anyone have any good ideas?