If you are like me, you are fascinated by miniature representations of the world. You love model trains and ships and trucks and tanks and planes. You could look at them and read about them for countless hours—and you have… for years and years. We’ll talk later about the possible reasons why you have maintained this fascination with things that look like toys long after most of your peers have let it all go, but for now let’s just explore this obsession of yours a bit more.
You own many miniatures yourself, and most of them you built yourself, perhaps 40 years ago, perhaps just this morning. You have a creation space, sacred to you, where you settle in to your trance, your meditation, your calm. Maybe it is your garage or your basement. Chances are it is not in any of the normal living areas of your home. When you dream of winning the lottery, it is for no other reason than to be able to secure for yourself a mansion with a workshop, a train room, a gaming hall, and museum space enough for your entire collection to be on display all at once, all the time.
You probably allow your mate and children into whatever special zone you have now, under conditions that must be strictly observed, of course. If you are lucky, the children are drawn to all the “neat stuff” they see there, and they may even be invited to participate at times, as long as they have their own projects to work on. Cute as their desire to help might be, the kids will not be allowed to paint your new aircraft for you. For reasons that demand examination, that new aircraft is too important to you to put in the hands of a five-year-old. If you haven’t acquired some already, you are looking for viable decoy projects to occupy the attention of the young.
By the way, you already have more completed projects than you know what to do with, and far more than your spouse thinks you have room for. Meanwhile, the line-up of projects waiting to be started has mushroomed out of control, especially since the advent of online shopping relegated the dear local hobby shop to the dusts of time. Now it is too easy for you to buy, buy, buy. You used to think: “I have a few Japanese destroyers, a sufficiently representative sampling; I don’t need the whole fleet, or even one of every class. It’s enough.” Now that your choice of kits is no longer limited by the stock on the shelf at your local retailer, and the finance part of your lizard brain is no longer troubled by the guilty feeling of walking to the register with an $80 armful, at this point you do in fact buy the whole Japanese fleet—and the British, German and American fleets as well. In this era of limitless subjects, you even have a token French or Italian warship waiting in the wings.
In fact, you have so many un-built kits, and you have reached such an age, that the backlog begins to bring your very mortality to mind. Will you be able before you die to build all the kits you have waiting, including that Airfix HO scale tank you’ve had in its box since 1978? Maybe. Maybe not. You wonder what it would say about you or your life if you actually spent the time it would take to get them all done. Would it mean you were insane? Or another Dostoevsky “underground,” just with less nobly articulated reasons for your hours of solitude? In the end, you don’t really care. The ships, planes, tanks and trains are just too cool. You’ll go on building them, albeit sometimes more and sometimes less assiduously, for as much time as you have left with functional eyes and hands.
But why? When wisps of sooty, black polystyrene smoke were curling up to heaven from the countless funeral pyres of other kids’ old models, you were still hoarding some of yours away. So what is it with you?
Here’s one thing we know about you: even though it takes some pains to get these avatars to look the way you want, ultimately you love the slow, quiet, patient process they require. As you contemplate beginning a new project, you might even let slip a sigh or groan at the thought of the hardest things to do perfectly—like the rubber rims of a tank’s running wheels, the raised metal bits atop the wooden deck of a ship, or the detailed interior of a B-17—but you know how satisfying it will be when you are done, and so you start. That’s when your mind clears out and you find a peaceful focus.
Why do you crave the peaceful focus, then? Can it be that life feels somewhat chaotic to you, and deep down you may not believe you deserve or have the strength to impose your desired order on the world, especially where other human beings are involved? Yet, not having the order you want is stressful, so instead you create sub-worlds where you have perfect control. You have fleets and armies under your command, undertaking operations that are imaginary and as such cannot disturb anyone.
You are not an executive or entrepreneurial type. While others found and run companies of real people, blithely imposing their wills on these entities as needed, you paint a company of 1/72 soldiers and order them about in the yard, on the gaming table or in front of the camera. In your profession you usually prefer to work behind the scenes to make sure things go well, as long as the potential for interpersonal conflict is minimal. You might be a researcher, an engineer, or a programmer, among other things. Or you might be a teacher, since most teachers do not need to exert command over their age peers.
You also like history. History is undoubtedly useful as a social science, if it can help us to understand and ultimately solve today’s problems, but you are just a history nut who loves ruins and old roads and ghost towns, because they allow you to experience other times. Truth be told, you love imagining the past for the same reason that you love the miniatures: these by-gone worlds offer a similar refuge from the stresses of the present.
Maybe your childhood felt unsafe to you, either because in some way it was, or because your genes are set to tell you life is fundamentally unsafe. You might be the descendant of the tribal alarmist, living now in a time when most mortal dangers have been tamed. The miniatures, by affording you a feeling of control, serve as an antidote to your acknowledged or unacknowledged anxieties.
Lastly, but very importantly, you love military miniatures (more than, say, farm miniatures) because the martial subjects exercise a deep urge (maybe just yours, or maybe humanity’s; you are not sure) to practice noble conflict. Although you never served and don’t know what real war is, you’re pretty sure it is terrible; games and miniatures, like waking dreams, allow you to engage in battle as your warrior forebears did, but without the painful consequences. Many, many people today act out these urges through video games, and maybe you, too, like some of those (yeah, you definitely do), but your specialty remains the construction and appreciation of a model world that is all your own. That is probably why you are here, in Schopenhauer’s Workshop… if you are like me.