Snowglobe Utopia

Among my menagerie of desk toys, I have no fewer than seven snowglobes neatly lined up in arrow formation, fond mementos of Northern Ireland, Panama, Disneyland, and beyond. They began as innocently decorative sources of amusement, but after days of sitting idly in my room, staring into these neatly packaged spherical universes, they occupy a somewhat alarming part of my psyche. I’ve spent hours gazing into a ten centimetre-wide globe of a fortress in Stockholm, pondering the possibility of shrinking to a twelfth of my size and migrating into this small yet intricately detailed microcosm of reality. And under our devastatingly complex state of affairs, isn’t it a bit tempting to live one’s days out as miniature Swedish royalty?

While my ambitions to bring about Honey, I’ve Shrunk the Kids: Swedish Edition are perhaps improbable, I’m already living in a snowglobe, in a way. We’ve all spent so much time in our houses that the experience of the last few months is hardly dissimilar from being encapsulated within the glass orbs on my table. I’m a somewhat abnormally detached person at times, and the absence of human interaction has amplified that quite dramatically. My mind is now accustomed to receding from my physical surroundings and darting around my subconscious. As David Bowie would put it, “I’m floating in a most peculiar way / And the stars look very different today.” When I’m not voyaging to Stockholm or Belfast, I’m constructing my own mental snowglobes out of delusion, idealism, and reminiscence in equal parts. They are webs of consciousness, furnished with insecurities, aspirations, memories, thought spirals, and assorted trivialities—traversing them is a tempting alternative to confronting reality.

And yet, there is a lustrous allure to the real world that can’t be replaced by my unique variety of escapism. It’s all too easy to drown myself in the glittery water of the snowglobes, but every now and then, something happens to shake up the detached monotony of quarantine. There’s a strange sensation, for instance, that I experience whenever crossing paths with someone on a walk. It’s a bit unsettling to have others awkwardly swerve around the sidewalk, eyes fixed at the ground, to avoid coming within two metres of you. Two snowglobes are colliding, the water wobbling unsteadily in each. You are forced to emerge from the bubble until the water settles.

Even outside of the sickeningly repetitive landscape of the pandemic mania, Earth is in some ways little more than an oversized snowglobe. We all exist within a self-contained capsule of nature and humanity. We are preoccupied by our microscopic conflicts and dilemmas that to any onlooker would be utterly trivial, in the same way that the elaborately sculpted clay models upon my desk seem far removed from any significance to me. Carl Sagan once wrote that we live in a “fragile, blue-white world, lost in a cosmic ocean vast beyond our most courageous imaginings.” In his words, “What does seventy million years mean to beings who live only one-millionth as long? We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever.” From that perspective, our reality is no more meaningful than that of my miniscule Swedes. And if the world is truly a snowglobe of sorts, someone appears to have been rattling it aggressively for the last few months. We are all holding our breaths as we wait for the glitter to settle, and one day it’ll all be shaken up again. In the interregnum, it might be time for me to emerge from my snowglobe cocoon and return to Planet Earth.

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