With January’s cold days at an end and thoughts of spring break and beaches in my head, I chose an image for my digital art display of a river flowing into the ocean. Waves swirled around stark rock formations and over golden sands.

Photo of a river meeting the ocean.

The picture wasn’t animated, but as I looked at it, I could easily imagine the ocean shaping the sand into different patterns around the rocks. Each wave traced tiny rivulets along the beach, always changing, impossible to hold constant. Then I began to feel that my future was like the sands of that beach, rearranging itself from one breath to the next.

“Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

In an imaginary corner of the picture, my future self Kass was sitting comfortably on a rock, with a folded beach towel for a cushion. She wore pink denim shorts and a tropical-print blouse, and she had taken off her flip-flops to let the waves splash over her feet.

“Just think about how easy that makes changing the future,” Kass elaborated. “And not only the future—with every breath we take, the present moment changes, and even the past looks different. Time’s patterns are always getting rearranged.”

She pressed her feet deeper into the sand, letting it cover much of the rose-gold polish on her toenails. Another wave came, splashing over her feet and carrying the sand off.

“Let’s look at it this way: What are you doing right now?”

“In real life I’m indoors because it is still winter,” I said, which was the first thing that came to mind, “and the dry air has been irritating my sinuses.”

“Okay.” Kass drew spirals in the sand with her toes, and the next wave washed them away. “And what are you doing now?”

I took a deep breath of the imaginary ocean air and tried again. “Just now, I was putting together my grocery list and thinking about what snacks to buy for the Superbowl party.”

Kass lifted her feet to let the next wave flow gently underneath them. For the third time, she asked, “What are you doing right now?”

The wave crested and then slowly receded, leaving the rock unchanged.

“I am feeling glad because, right now, I’m in a warm, safe home and have a loving family.”

With a smile, Kass put her flip-flops down on the sand, slipped her feet into them, and stood up. “There, you see how easy that was? You just changed your life in the present by refocusing your thoughts. My past also changed because you’re a past version of me, and, of course, that also means your future is now on a different path.”

Kass faded out of the picture, leaving the next wave to carry away her footprints.

June 30, 2022 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

After waking up to a cloudy morning on Sunday, I deliberated for a few minutes about what kind of image I wanted on my digital art display. I chose a photo from the online library showing a garden path through a window, with flowers blooming on both sides. The shade from a wooded area in the background went well with the ambient light in my house on this overcast day.

Photo of garden path through a window.

Something about this cozy, refreshing view of a garden in bloom reminded me of the illustrations I had used for blog posts about imaginary conversations with my future self Fannie. This image didn’t look at all like the view from Fannie’s futuristic townhouse, however. I came back to look at it again in the afternoon, still not sure what kinds of associations my subconscious mind had made.

“I take it you don’t think of visiting with me as cozy and refreshing? Now I’m feeling slighted.”

The voice in my mind came from Kass, another version of my future self, who—at age 76—was both younger and snarkier than Fannie. Instead of her usual T-shirt with jeans or shorts, Kass was wearing a plain, modest, long-sleeved burgundy dress befitting an elderly lady welcoming a guest for tea and—could that enticing aroma be fresh-baked blueberry scones?

Conversations with Kass could always be counted on to prove interesting, but cozy and refreshing—not so much. I decided to ignore her trolling and greet her as if this really had been a friendly social visit.

“How lovely to see you again, Kass. Your garden looks beautiful. Shall we go for a stroll before tea?”

“Not today. It’s about to start raining, any minute now.” Right on cue, thunder rumbled in the distance.

I turned away from the window and surveyed what looked like a comfortable, old-fashioned parlor. A long oval table of dark wood, with chairs upholstered in forest green, held the tea service and scones. Ornate floor lamps stood sentinel on either side of the room, burning dimly. A parrot in a gilded cage squawked something that sounded like, “In the world!”

Kass poured the tea while I settled into one of the comfortable dining chairs. She had chosen Earl Grey instead of my usual vanilla caramel. I reached for a scone from a generously filled platter.

“You know, I never meant that you couldn’t do cozy,” I said, as Kass took a seat across from me. “It’s just that whenever you show up, except for now, you’re always outdoors and doing something active.”

Rain spattered on the window, and lightning flashed.

“Maybe you should think about why you see me that way,” Kass suggested.

“Just because I’ve spent more time working on my fitness, probably. I haven’t had as many cozy afternoons.” I took a bite of my scone, which, in all fairness, was delicious. “And this scenario is a bit of a stereotype, wouldn’t you say? A little old lady sitting quietly in the parlor, looking out the window at her flower garden and waiting for a guest to arrive. The only thing it needs is a cat, or several.”

“Herbert would be very unhappy if I had a cat.” Kass gestured toward the parrot. “He would much prefer that there be no cats anywhere in the world.”

Bobbing his head and echoing, “In the world,” the parrot hopped from one wooden bar to another in the cage. He kept looking at the scone that Kass had put on her plate, evidently hoping for a treat.

“Let’s unpack some of those assumptions,” Kass continued, leaving her scone untouched for now. “Why do you feel that coziness has to be such a major production that it can’t fit into an active life?”

I pondered that question as thunder sounded, not far away. Meanwhile, in real life, the sky had brightened a little, and I had finished my tea (vanilla caramel, with a healthy whole-wheat muffin). Putting this post aside for the time being, I decided that I’d write the rest of it later when I came up with a good answer.

Kass showed up again on Thursday, while I was standing in the kitchen.

“So, have you thought of anything more to say about coziness? Not to nag, but the storm outside my window has blown over, and your tea and scones have gotten cold.”

“No, I’ve been too busy with work and rowing,” I admitted. “And that, of course, is the problem. Cozy afternoons and rushing from one activity to another just don’t go together. I wouldn’t really say that coziness has to be a major production, but it does need a reasonable amount of unscheduled time.”

“Do you need to rush off and do anything right now?”

“Well, sort of. This is a regular workday, and I am on the clock. I just came into the kitchen for a minute to get some water.”

Kass tilted her head slightly. “Tell me what you see.”

I followed her gaze, wondering what she was up to. “Not much. Sunlight coming through the blinds.”

“Stand in it for a moment, and just breathe.”

Feeling a bit silly, I took a step to the side. The sun-warmed linoleum felt comfortable under my feet. I took a deep breath and let it out again just as slowly.

“There, doesn’t that feel better?” Kass smiled encouragingly. “I don’t disagree that rushing, when you do it all the time, is indeed a problem—but coziness can be found in small moments.”

April 13, 2022 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I shelved a potential post in February about a future me acting as a guardian angel to my present-day self because my first attempt to imagine that scenario didn’t go as planned. Instead of a refreshing visit with my wise and kindly 119-year-old future self Fannie, I caught a glimpse of a smirking Kass in fake wings, obviously getting ready for a snarkfest. Although Kass, also an older and wiser me, generally has had good intentions, I wasn’t in a mood to deal with her satirical version of my future.

After letting the idea percolate for a while, I circled back around to it, this time holding an image of Fannie more clearly in mind. I pictured myself sitting across a glass table from Fannie on the sunny balcony of her townhouse. Birds chirped at a feeder, water burbled in a fountain, and pink climbing roses bloomed all along the balcony rail.

Photo of pink climbing roses and mostly blue sky.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

The breakfast table was set for two, with coffee cups and small plates. Steam rose from the full cups, along with an enticing mocha caramel aroma, and a box of assorted donuts occupied the center of the table. They looked delicious: glazed twist, chocolate-topped custard…

“Hey, wait a minute, this isn’t right.” Instead of giving in to the temptation to load up my plate, I gave Fannie an accusing glare across the table. “How can you eat a box of donuts if you’re a future me? I gave up the bad habit of donuts for breakfast many years ago—they’re so unhealthy. If you are my guardian angel, then you ought to have the table set with something that’s good for me. What happened to the food I really eat, like fresh fruit and multigrain toast?”

Fannie calmly brushed back an unruly strand of hair, which was purple today, a soft lilac hue that suited the gentle spring breeze. In a mild tone, she answered my question with another.

“What have we always said about assumptions?”

“That it’s best to avoid them.” I picked up my coffee cup and took a sip, enjoying the flavor while I tried to make sense of where this scene was going.

“And leave space for improvement.” Fannie smiled as she reached for a donut. “Yum, cinnamon almond crunch. You know, nutritional science has improved a lot since your primitive times. Donuts nowadays are made with a healthy mix of grains, just like your toast, and baked with good oils. They have natural flavors and no added sugar. Recipes can be adjusted to suit each customer’s individual needs, as determined by genetic testing. Basically, these are prescription donuts, designed to enhance my longevity. Because you are a younger version of me, they’ll be very healthy for you too. Go ahead, take one.”

A small bird hopped down from the feeder and took a few steps across the smooth floor of the balcony, tilting its head to one side and gazing up at me. Hoping for crumbs, I supposed.

I picked up the glazed twist donut and looked at it dubiously. It appeared to be just an ordinary donut, as far as I could tell. But then again, this was a scenario in which my future self was still alive and healthy at a very advanced age. Fountain-of-youth donuts made about as much sense as any other explanation.

Fannie sipped her coffee quietly as I bit into the glazed twist. It tasted like a regular donut and had the soft texture of one.

“Avoid assumptions,” I said, speaking mostly to myself.

The bird, perhaps disappointed that there were no tasty crumbs to be found, took wing. After watching it fly out of sight, Fannie spoke again. “What do you imagine I have been doing as your guardian angel?”

“Rescuing me from danger, I suppose, and from bad or unlucky situations generally. Isn’t that what a guardian angel is supposed to do?”

“Well, sort of. Danger and bad luck often are a matter of perspective, however. From my perspective at more than twice your age, in many ways you are still a baby. I don’t mean that in an insulting way—you are navigating a very confusing, often-changing world as best you can.” Fannie gestured expansively toward the blue sky beyond the roses. “Now, let’s think for a moment about how a baby learns to walk. At first, standing up feels scary and dangerous. The baby wants to be rescued and kept safe. But the parents—and the baby’s guardian angel—know that learning to walk calls for practice and, occasionally, a few well-timed words of encouragement.”

“So, when we’ve had these conversations,” I clarified, “you have been acting as a guardian angel by encouraging me to stand tall, rather than swooping down to save me from my circumstances.”

“That’s part of it, yes. Of course, a baby first has to become aware that the possibility of walking exists. When we tell stories about our past and future selves, we are keeping space open for possibilities that we are only just starting to imagine—or, put another way, holding the future lightly.”

This morning I ran the Turkey Trot, which has become a family tradition; we’ve done it for almost 20 years. Before we started the race, I told my husband that I was just going to take it easy. I still felt somewhat tired and achy from training so hard to get in better shape for rowing at regattas, and also from sitting in the car for hours on long road trips to those regattas. It was a good year—we both had much better rowing speed and endurance, and we won more medals. There’s no doubt our online coach, Christine Cavallo, did an excellent job of improving our fitness; but it was exhausting.

My husband ran next to me all through the Turkey Trot and set what I thought was a nice steady pace. I had no trouble keeping up with him and did not feel tired. As we got close to the end of the race, I thanked him for being my “pace car” for a comfortable race. He was being kind, I thought, in staying with me instead of running on ahead, when he would have preferred a faster pace. I felt that I was slowing him down and that I was not putting much energy into the race.

We ran the five-mile course in 49 minutes. Then I made sure to walk around for a while to cool down, although it was raining and there was a chilly wind. It wasn’t until after we got home, when I started looking online at past results, that I realized this was my best time ever for the Turkey Trot. There had been years when I got close to 50 minutes, but never below it. I also felt pretty good after the race; the cool-down walk was good for keeping my joints loose, and I did not seem to have any new aches or stiffness afterward.

As far as I can tell, whatever tiredness I still have is more mental than physical. I’ve read about research studies that suggest the brain is always subconsciously calculating how much effort to put into each activity. This can cause feelings of exhaustion not because the body is in fact overworked, but rather because brain circuitry detects a risk of overexertion and sends a “this could be too much, it’s time to slow down” warning. I’m guessing that those risk-detection circuits got put on heightened alert when I exercised much more this year than in the past.

So, I’ve been left with a few questions: How do I update my body image to match my improved fitness level? What amount of rest do I need to (1) actually keep my body well rested, and (2) persuade those Nervous Nellie brain circuits that everything is fine now and I’m not on the brink of collapse? And, on top of all that, how do I sort out what’s true and what’s not in the cultural messages about slowing down with age?

After considering it for a while, I decided to ask Fannie, my imaginary 119-year-old future self, for advice. Fannie is short for Fantastically Adventurous, and I envision her traveling a much-changed world in her trusty flying car (named Hildegarde) while staying healthy and full of energy.

She wasn’t in the car when I created a mental picture of her, though. Instead, she was walking beside a river on a sunny autumn day. As usual, her robot poodle, Maxie, trotted along with her. Maxie gave a friendly, welcoming yip when I appeared on the scene. Fannie smiled and motioned toward two chairs overlooking the river, which looked like a good place for a conversation.

Photo of two chairs facing a river.

(Photo credit: Elizabeth Wallace)

We settled ourselves comfortably in the chairs, with Maxie at our feet. Although the breeze coming off the river felt just a bit chilly in the shade, both of us were dressed warmly enough that it didn’t bother us at all.

“I seem to have gotten my subconscious mind in a bit of a tangle,” I confessed. “Although my fitness is better than in past years, I’ve been feeling that I am more vulnerable and need to be careful with myself. I have been wondering what you do to avoid such worries. You always look so confident, about your health and everything else. Do you ever feel like this?”

Fannie considered the question, gazing out over the river as a few leaves drifted slowly by in the current. Reddish-gold reflections danced across the water’s smooth surface.

“Those feelings used to be part of what was called a midlife crisis,” she observed, “way back before people started living long enough that the idea of midlife lost its definition. But yes, however it might be described now, I still have such worries in the back of my mind. No matter how much the world changes, we can’t ever get completely away from the culture we grew up in. Medical science has advanced enough that it is now possible to be healthy at a much older age than mine, but still, there are moments when I feel as if I’m living on borrowed time.”

She reached down to pat Maxie’s furry black head.

“I wouldn’t really say that I avoid those worries,” she concluded. “They’re just going to come up at times. What helps, I’ve found, is to give the mind more possibilities to explore, so that it can keep on expanding its maps instead of simply assuming things must be the way they’ve always been.”

Even on bright mornings with sunlight streaming through my windows and a forecast calling for a clear, warm afternoon, I haven’t looked for summer landscapes recently when I’ve been choosing images for my digital art display. Maybe it’s the angle of the sun or the crisp blue of the sky that makes plain it is autumn, however unseasonably warm. So I’ve been picking autumn images with a little haze or fog, even if they don’t quite match the ambient light in my house.

This forest image wasn’t new; it was one that I had displayed about two years ago. When I pictured myself standing under the trees and breathing the cool, still air, I remembered how different the world had felt two years ago. Same image, but a very different strand of time.

Imaginary twigs crackled, disrupting the quiet scene. I glanced to the right and saw my future self Kass ambling up to me. She was dressed for a casual hike in faded jeans, a plain green V-neck top, and matching green cross-training shoes with thick soles.

“You called?” Kass stretched lazily, brushing a stray strand of moss from her jeans.

“Not that I’m aware of.” Taking a step down from the rock where I’d been standing, I heard another twig snap underfoot. “What I had in mind just now was the past, not the future. So I’m not sure how I could have been calling a future self.”

“Time isn’t always linear, as we both know. It’s full of unexpected twists and turns. Often when we think about the past, we’re really looking for insights on how to frame our experience of the world going forward.”

We walked companionably together under the trees until the bare, stony soil gave way to grass and brush. The canopy thinned, allowing glimpses of blue sky and high clouds. I stopped there, looking for a path, but I saw no signs of human passage. Cobwebs gleaming with dew stretched across tall brambles.

“You’ve been here before.” Kass spoke in a calm, reassuring tone as she walked on farther, through tiny white asters dotting the grass. “The landscape of imagination changes from one day to another, but it never becomes impassable.”

Just around a fallen tree, the sound of trickling water became louder. A stream came into view, with plenty of open space along its banks and a trail that looked familiar, although I couldn’t quite recall where I had seen it before. Kass took a step toward it and then turned back to smile at me.

“Paths are always a matter of perspective.”

When I went down to the river on Monday evening to row with my husband, the earlier sunset made plain that autumn was coming, although the scorching days haven’t felt at all like it. I’d been outside in my backyard during the afternoon, setting up a soaker hose to water what little there is left of my poor bedraggled willows. Before climate change hit, I had a lovely willow hedge all along my back property line, but not much remains of it anymore.

On Tuesday morning I woke up after dreaming that I was walking alone in a clearcut forest. All the way to the horizon, I saw nothing but stumps and dry, dead weeds. The heat was intense, and I heard no sounds at all—not even crickets.

Clearcut forest

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

I thought of it again later that day—but this time, I wasn’t alone in the unwelcoming scene. My satirical future self Kass was perched on a stump, wearing very short jogging shorts and a skimpy tank top with a built-in bra. The cap shading her face had a bright red logo proclaiming APOCALYPSE-R-US in bold letters.

“Yeah, right, Kass, you would think this was funny,” I grumbled.

Kass bounced up from the stump, with dead leaves crunching under her flip-flops. “Let’s go for a little stroll through the Forest of Collective Angst,” she suggested cheerfully.

Dust rose around our feet as we made our way through the desolate landscape. Other than the occasional small hill or dip, there was nothing to distinguish one place from another. After we had been walking for a few minutes, we crossed a dry gully full of pebbles and silt. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a skeleton or two, but I didn’t even see any dead insects. Everything looked totally lifeless.

“Okay, so was I supposed to have learned anything from this?”

Wiping sweat from her forehead, Kass replied, “Well, now, that’s up to you, isn’t it? I’m just a projection of your overactive imagination, after all. But, given that I am you in the 2040s, the fact that I’m alive and in reasonably good shape means that the world as we know it hasn’t collapsed. You haven’t perished of starvation in a howling wilderness. Right?”

I thought for a moment about disputing the point because, obviously, my imagination—however active—wasn’t in charge of what might happen to the world in real life. However, I didn’t really feel like arguing about my chances of dying in a hellish future, so I kept quiet as we slowly trudged up another little hill and started down the other side.

“So—what does the world look like in your time?” I finally asked.

We took a few more steps and went around a particularly large stump before Kass stopped to glance down at a scraggly dandelion that had sprouted in its shade. One stalk held a seed ball. Plucking it, Kass held it to her lips and blew, her eyes closing as if to make a wish. The tiny bits of fluff drifted away on an almost imperceptible breeze.

“We’re still reseeding,” she answered quietly.

July 8, 2021 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

Although I’m feeling much more relaxed because of taking vacation this week, all of that unscheduled time has been provoking what-comes-next thoughts. Everybody seems to be having them now, according to a news article I came across, which reported on a survey that found 95 percent of workers were thinking about quitting and 92 percent might change careers. Burnout was cited as the main reason.

The survey came from a jobs website, so it’s obviously a skewed sample and the real numbers are lower. Also, just thinking about doing something different does not necessarily mean that a person will take the leap and actually do it. The U.S. Department of Labor has calculated the number of quits for May 2021 at 3.6 million, which is down from April’s record high of 4 million, though still much higher than in past years.

I took a short break from writing this post to bring in a package from the porch, addressed to my husband. He opened it to find an unexpected gift from his employer—a little toy helicopter to commemorate the successful launch of the project he has been working on. Once upon a time, I used to get small gifts like that too. After a while, it started to feel like ancient history, and seeing them on my desk felt demotivating because management plainly didn’t care enough about the workers to ever do it again. So I boxed them up and put them in the basement.

Since then I still haven’t found an intuitive sense of direction. As my fictional 76-year-old future self Kass pointed out in an imaginary chat on this blog last summer, that turned out to be fortunate because most people who changed careers two years ago ended up in very different circumstances than what they expected. Now that the world feels like it’s settling down into a more recognizable pattern, I feel that my subconscious mind ought to be able to sift through the details and come up with something meaningful.

So I decided to take a virtual stroll down to the stream where I’d found Kass casting a net for symbolic images last year. The low water was murky and full of lily pads, and at first I didn’t see her.

Photo of a lake with lily pads.

(Image credit: James St. John)

After I went a little farther upstream, around a wide bend, I spotted Kass standing knee-deep in the water. She had on wading boots and some kind of drab uniform, and the curly hair under her cap had been dyed a darker shade of brown since I last saw her. A gloved hand carefully tucked away a test tube into a backpack.

“I’m taking microbial samples,” Kass explained, in response to my curious look. “The river of time needs regular monitoring, you know, just like any other body of water does. Can’t have it getting polluted with all kinds of random garbage, can we? And didn’t you have a few thoughts about going back to college to study biochemistry?”

“Not that seriously. And the last time I was here, you said this was the stream of consciousness.”

Kass shrugged. “It’s whatever it needs to be.”

A fly bit my right arm and zoomed mockingly away before I could smack it. The failed attempt left me off balance, and I took a step backward into squishy, smelly muck in which the geese had left their calling cards.

“I’m really not seeing myself in this job you’ve got.” Scowling at my future self, I scratched my arm while wiping off an icky shoe in the grass as best I could.

“That’s what imaginary scenarios like this are for, you know—narrowing down the possibilities. If this one won’t suit, how about I’m happily retired and living in a beachfront cottage in Aruba with the money you saved, snapping my fingers at the cabana boy to bring me another margarita.” Kass raised a hand before frowning slightly and dropping her arm again. “Except that you never learned how to snap your fingers properly, which is a bit annoying; and that margarita is much more likely to be delivered by a cabana robot. Workers are hard to come by in the future economy, what with the low birthrates.”

“Retirement never had much appeal to me anyway. Sitting around for decades with nothing productive to do sounds like it would be awfully boring and unhealthy.”

“Doing the same work forever, without trying out other possibilities because it seems too hard to pick one, wouldn’t be ideal either.” Kass took a few steps and came up on the shore, her boots dripping. “It’s best not to judge. Everyone in the modern world is struggling with the same issue—so much change, so many decision points—how can we have any idea where we’re going? My advice, at this point, isn’t so much about picking careers, but simply about discovering what the world has to offer. You’ll know what makes you happy when you come across it. And, be sure to set aside enough time for minding the river’s health.”

Sunshine on Wednesday morning left me feeling cheerful, especially after I went outside to get the mail around noon. The air felt warmer, and the sun was noticeably getting higher in the sky and farther north. Spring didn’t seem that far away, even though the calendar clearly says winter is not nearly over.

Of course, we’ve also had our share of cloudy mornings. Still, I feel much better than last year, when a long string of dark winter days left me so blah that I ordered a sparkly sleeveless top from a catalog to cheer myself up (much to my daughter’s amusement). This year, the winter blues have mostly stayed away. To match a hopeful mood, I chose an image of a peaceful landscape for my art display, showing trees with leaf buds opening at winter’s end.

River in winter with brown grass and budding trees.

For whatever reason, though, I couldn’t manage to shake off a persistent feeling that my energy level is not where it should be. I have to confess, I started ruminating about how long it might take me to improve it (which, of course, broke my New Year’s resolution to stifle my unhelpful mental chatter).

“Do you really want an answer to that question?”

Oh, great—my snarky future self Kass had chosen that moment to pop out of my subconscious mind and lecture me on my lack of mental discipline. I sighed.

“I have a feeling I’ll get one regardless.”

Kass grinned cheerfully in response. I pictured her wearing faded jeans and a matching denim jacket, ambling lazily along beside the stream in the art display image.

“Not necessarily. If you told me no, you didn’t want to hear it, then I would leave you alone. But, of course, you are a past me, which means you wouldn’t be that much of a wuss. So, I can feel confident that you do want an answer—right?”

After mentally unpacking the various parts of that statement, I sighed once more and grudgingly told her, “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Okay. Well, since you’re expecting to get criticism, and life has a way of giving us what we expect to get, I’ll start by saying that you asked the wrong question. Energy level isn’t something that stays constant until you improve it. Rather, it changes all the time because it’s a reflection of everything coming into, and going out of, your life. It’s sort of like water level,” and Kass gestured toward the stream, “which can go up or down very quickly, depending on how much rain falls upstream and whatever happens downstream. So, what you really want to consider is flow, rather than level. Does that make sense?”

“Sort of.” I looked at the quiet little stream, which didn’t seem to be moving at all. “When I row on the river, a low water level isn’t necessarily a problem if there is enough flow to prevent weeds from clogging the riverbed. And when there is heavy rain, the water level can go from low to high in a matter of hours.”

“Yes, exactly—it’s those pesky weeds that are the problem.” Kass snapped off a long blade of dry brown grass and tossed it into the stream, where it sank very slowly. “Weeds in the mind are all those distractions that interfere with the flow. Such as, wasting your time worrying about expectations and whether you measure up to them. Just do something fun, rather than feeding the weeds. It really is that simple.”

“Thanks.” Just to troll her a little in return for her unsolicited criticism, even though I had to admit to myself it was helpful, I asked, “Are you something fun, or are you a weed?”

Kass laughed out loud. “Either or both, of course!”

I ran a Halloween road race on Saturday afternoon with my husband. Because of the pandemic, that meant we ran our 5K at a nearby park by ourselves and uploaded our times to the race website afterward. We missed seeing the usual crowds and costumes, but it was at least nice weather for a run, with plenty of sunshine and colorful leaves on a newly repaved path.

By Sunday morning the weather was not so nice. The first thing I heard when I woke up was howling winds, and the temperature was forecast to drop steadily all day. I got myself a cup of coffee and some toast, and then I sat down on the couch and changed the picture on my digital art display to a country lane with falling leaves on a windy day.

Autumn leaves falling on a country lane.

(Image credit: Elizabeth Wallace)

Because I hadn’t done any other running this year, my legs felt a bit stiff. I have been rowing regularly, but that works the leg muscles differently. While drinking my coffee, I thought about the common New Age advice to visualize future circumstances as a way to bring them into one’s life. Maybe I ought to be visualizing myself as having wonderful future fitness?

At that point, my imaginary older self Kass suddenly popped out of my subconscious mind and into the country lane picture. She was dressed in the black tights and purple shirt that I had worn in the park on Saturday. Unlike most of my encounters with past or future selves, I wasn’t in the picture but was observing it in a split-screen way, with Kass under the trees and me still in my living room.

“Or, you could get up off the couch and walk around the house for a few minutes to loosen up your legs,” Kass suggested, in a tone midway between helpful and snarky. “Besides, what more do you need to visualize when you already have perfectly good future selves—including yours truly. And my fitness is nothing to sneeze at, if I do say so myself.”

A gust of wind sent leaves tumbling along the lane as I imagined it (although in reality, the picture on the art display was not animated). Kass tugged at her shirt and unfurled a superhero cape, which hadn’t been part of my ordinary, non-costume clothing on Saturday. The cape billowed out behind her.

“Well, okay, Kass, I didn’t have you in mind at all. No slight intended,” I said. “You’re many years into my future, and when I thought about fitness I meant something more near-term, like a few months from now.”

“Seriously, you’re in that much of a hurry? What’s wrong with having great fitness when you are older? You know, it’s a good thing I developed more patience since I was you. Sometimes I really need it to deal with a younger self who is so lacking in basic logic.”

With an exaggerated sigh, Kass turned away and started walking along the lane, making sure to tromp heavily through the leaf drifts and make the most noise. A tailwind flattened the cape to her back. When she got around the bend, the wind abated for the moment, and she turned to face me again.

“The trajectory of small changes is the main determinant of where you’re going to end up,” she observed. “That’s not rocket science—well, it is actually, if you happen to be calculating a rocket’s course. But while we’re talking about fitness, you have been getting more exercise regularly all year because of the new rowing machine. Therefore, you have better fitness now than you had last year, and in a few months it will be more improved. No magical visualization is required. If you really need inspiration from a future-self superhero, though, I’m always happy to oblige.”

“Thanks,” I said, with less than robust enthusiasm, while making a mental note never to ask for anything of the sort. I figured Kass knew what I was thinking, anyway—but, of course, that was her problem.

When I write blog posts about my past or future selves, I generally don’t plot out a detailed structure first. Rather, I visualize myself in an imaginary setting, and then I look around to see what turns up there. It’s often a random, stream-of-consciousness narrative.

That was especially true when writing this post on a rainy Saturday. I pictured myself walking outdoors on a similarly dark and wet day, wearing jeans and a light jacket with a hood. An asphalt path, with puddles here and there, meandered through a public park. The rain had stopped for the moment (as it had in real life), and the path had started to dry.

On my right, I saw a wide expanse of neatly mowed grass and well-tended trees and shrubs. A stream ran along the left side of the path and soon broadened into a lagoon, with dune grass and a sandy beach. I could hear the ocean not far away.

Someone was fishing in the area where the stream met the lagoon. She wore a baseball-style cap with brown hair tumbling over the shoulders of an olive-green T-shirt, along with khaki shorts. When she turned her head toward me, I recognized her as Kass, my 76-year-old future self.

She hadn’t shown much concern for polite greetings in our previous encounter, so I didn’t feel at all guilty when I grimaced and said, “Fishing, ew. Don’t try to convince me I’m going to turn into someone who loves fishing when I get older.”

Kass didn’t take offense. She just laughed and said, “Depends on what you’re fishing for. Right now, I’m casting a net into the collective unconscious and seeing what kinds of interesting cultural symbols turn up.”

She reeled in her net, which contained just one lonely domino. Reaching into the net, she picked up the domino and tossed it into the sand at her feet.

Domino in sand with pebbles.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

“Okay,” she challenged me, “what would you say this means?”

Not much came to mind right away. “Well, I had Domino’s pizza for dinner on Wednesday.”

“Uh-huh.” Kass didn’t quite yawn, but she looked bored.

“Playing dominoes as a child.” I tried again. “Or with dominoes. Making them into pretend walls or into paths leading to a castle, that kind of stuff.”

Kass gave me an encouraging smile. “That was always fun.”

I considered it for another minute or so, glancing up into a sky that had started to brighten. A tiny patch of blue could be seen just across the lagoon.

“The domino effect,” I said finally. “Tip over the first one, and they all start falling. Right about now, it certainly feels that way, as if the world is on the brink of huge changes. But will the changes be for the better, or not?”

Kass chuckled again, in a good-natured way. “Oh, I’m sure you must already know the answer to that, don’t you? It all depends…”

Lifting up her fishing rod, she walked around from one spot to another on the sand, making a big production of finding just the right spot to cast her line back into the water. By the time she spoke again, I knew exactly what she was going to say, and we finished the sentence in unison.

“…on where you stand.”