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.”

I didn’t feel inclined to do much writing last week because, among other things, I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to imagine the future. What with the entire world having been totally upended this year, I felt as if I’d lost whatever intuitive sense of direction I might once have had. Because telling stories to make sense of a confusing modern world is the central theme of this blog, it seemed rather pointless to write about being lost in a sea of befuddlement. (Well, except that putting the word “befuddlement” into a sentence just now was kind of fun.)

Then I started reading an apocalyptic business book that projected automation would destroy most of the world’s jobs in the near future. Before this year, I had dismissed that scenario as highly unlikely because it looked like we had plenty of jobs, with more coming open because of retirements and lower birthrates. But now, with a pandemic that could go on for a long time, what business owner wouldn’t want to replace sickly, unpredictable, and expensive humans with robots and intelligent software?

Large robot leaning over a wall.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

That line of thinking put me into quite a funk, and I considered talking it over with my 119-year-old future self, Fannie the Fantastically Adventurous. She might be able to offer some helpful insights and encouragement. But no, that wouldn’t do; I already wrote a post last year in which I asked Fannie for career advice. Something more was needed.

“Yoo hoo!” A waving hand appeared in my imaginary inner landscape, connected to an arm that was nicely toned, if a bit wrinkled. The rest of the body soon came into view, dressed in lime-green workout shorts with a matching tank top and sports bra. This visitor had just been outside on a humid afternoon, judging from the damp, sweaty curls tumbling in all directions over her shoulders. A thin line of gray roots was barely visible under the brown curls.

“I’m Kass,” she informed me, “your 76-year-old future self.”

“Is that short for Cassandra?” I asked, wondering where a future me would have gotten that name. Usually when new characters introduced themselves, I knew their origins; but this time I had no clue whatsoever.

“No, it’s Kass with a K. And it’s short for kicking yours.” Kass smirked in a way that made her look more like a juvenile delinquent than a respectable lady of her claimed 76 years.

I briefly considered tossing her back into whatever murky pool of my subconscious mind had spawned her. Curiosity got the better of me, though; and I decided to take her bait, even if doing so might have been against my better judgment.

“If you’re from my future, aren’t you supposed to be kind and forgiving toward me?” I demanded. “That’s the whole point of imaginary conversations with younger selves, right? You help them to put things in perspective and to understand that their mistakes weren’t really as bad as they might have thought.”

Kass waved a hand in a dismissive gesture and made a “pfft” sound.

“Yeah, right—like you were kind and forgiving when you told our past self Queenie to take a hike?”

“Well, okay, that wasn’t very nice,” I had to admit. “But I did it without thinking, I apologized to her, and then I went back later and told her she was brave for standing up to social pressure.”

“Aren’t you the noble one.” Kass sneered, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at me. “I’m not feeling nearly that altruistic right now, and that’s mainly because I am still recovering from all your ridiculous fears and insecurities. Fannie has had a much longer time to mellow into a wise old woman; I’m not nearly there yet. Just this afternoon, I was out for what should have been a nice relaxing jog in the park, until your annoying self-pitying thought loops about life’s unfairness showed up and ruined it.”

“Queenie had a few things to say when I felt like that,” I pointed out. “She told me that it wasn’t fair to blame a bad day on a younger self, who was likely finding it hard enough to stay positive without the added stress of being responsible for how her future selves might feel. And I would add that is especially true in 2020, when everyone in the world is stressed out.”

“Aw, boo-hoo-hoo, so unfair, poor tragic long-suffering little you. Cue the violins.” Kass made exaggerated fiddling motions in the air. “We both know that you’re super lucky, compared to what happened to a lot of people. So get over yourself already.”

She dropped her hands into a more relaxed position at her sides and took a deep breath before going on. “And in particular, you need to stop judging yourself as a stuck-in-a-rut failure for not having a clear sense of career direction—or any other kind of direction that you feel you’re lacking. You live in a time when the world is changing so fast that almost anything might happen. Recognizing that fact doesn’t make you less insightful or motivated than anyone else.”

Turning that over in my mind, I couldn’t dispute her point. Clarity wasn’t easy to come by these days; and framing its lack as some kind of personal failure did not, in truth, make any sense.

“As for work,” Kass concluded, “just think what might have happened if you’d felt inspired to change careers or start a new business in 2019. Many people did just that—and then the pandemic hit, and they lost everything. So, your uncertainty turned out to be a blessing, even if it didn’t seem like one. Be grateful for it, give yourself permission to chill out and relax for now—and be open to new opportunities finding you later, when the time is right.”

She gave me a smile that actually looked like it might be a real, good-natured smile this time. “And then, maybe, I can finish my next jog without interruption.”

May 28, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

After another damp, overcast morning here, I was wishing for a tropical vacation with plenty of sunshine. Because that didn’t seem likely to happen any time this year, I decided to visit my imaginary future self, Fannie, and ask her to tell me about a fun vacation she’d had.

She was sitting comfortably at a table on the balcony of her townhouse, surrounded by flowers and small potted trees, when I showed up. There was a pitcher of iced tea on the table, and she poured some for both of us before starting to tell the story.

“I particularly enjoyed a trip I took in 2042,” Fannie began, “when I traveled to several countries in Africa and Asia. On a warm sunny morning, when I was feeling jet-lagged and sleepy, I dozed off beside the hotel pool in a lounge chair. When I woke up, I thought at first that I might still be dreaming when I saw an elephant standing right there across from me, with its trunk in the pool.”

Elephant with its trunk in a pool.

“I’d known people who retired to Florida and found alligators in their yard or pool,” Fannie went on, “but an elephant? I had no idea what to do. Was it dangerous? Would it charge at me if I made any sudden moves? I sat as still as possible while I tried to work out what I should be doing.”

She took a sip of iced tea and continued, “Then a hotel staff person came outside and began scolding the elephant and waving a broom at it. I didn’t know the language she spoke, but the tone sounded just like someone telling a misbehaving puppy to mind its manners. The elephant backed off and casually strolled away, as if trying to look innocent. The staffer turned to me and said in English, with a smile, ‘All good, no worries,’ as calmly as if such encounters happened every day. Maybe they did, for all that I knew.”

“Your vacations certainly have been more interesting than mine,” I said. “Oh, well, maybe one of these days I’ll have epic adventures abroad.”

“Of course you will,” Fannie replied, with a cheerful laugh. “I’m your future, after all.”

May 16, 2020 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Early in the week it was dark, cold, and blustery around here, with the temperature far below normal for the middle of May. It felt like winter had decided that it was never going to yield to spring. I didn’t even feel like going outside to get the mail and newspaper. The thought of planting annual flowers left me totally unenthusiastic. I was having a tough time picturing a good future, in general.

Given the lack of real-life places where I could go to cheer myself up, I decided that an imaginary visit with Fannie, my 119-year-old future self, would be the next best thing. I found her standing in the garage of her townhouse, next to her flying car. She wore blue jeans with a bright pink blouse, and she had shimmering pink hair to match.

The garage door was open. A warm spring breeze blew in, carrying the fragrance of flowering trees and shrubs. Fannie gave me a friendly smile and said, “Well, hello there! I was just on my way out to pick strawberries at a nearby farm. You look like you could use some more time in the fresh air, too. Hop in the car, and we’ll be off!”

(Photo credit: Donald Lee Pardue)

Picking berries on a sunny spring day sounded like the perfect way to put the winter blues to rest. And a ride in the flying car, too—what could be better? I walked around to the passenger side, got in, and started looking for a seatbelt.

“It retracts completely when the car is off, and then it automatically dangles in front of you when the car is turned on again,” Fannie explained. “That design is an improvement on those annoying automatic seatbelts that nobody ever wanted to buy. Hildegarde, set destination: Wildland Historical Farm.”

Lights blinked on all over the dashboard, motors whirred softly, and the seatbelts made their appearance as Fannie had described. “Destination set,” a female voice replied, with an accent somewhere between Midwestern and Scandinavian.

“Hildegarde?” I asked, buckling myself in.

Another light came on as I spoke. Evidently, by saying its name, I had put the car into a mode to process further spoken input. “Proceed to destination,” Fannie said cheerfully, and the car started backing itself out of the garage.

“The car needed a name,” Fannie continued, now speaking to me, “and I thought it was a good fit. Definitely better than all those nameless cars you had over the years, which you referred to as ‘the white car’ or something equally dull. I may be a future version of you, but that doesn’t mean I can’t improve on your more boring habits.”

“Okay, that’s fine, I didn’t mean to criticize the name,” I said with a shrug, not at all inclined to argue when there were a lot more interesting things to do. The car steered itself onto a concrete takeoff lane in the center of the townhouse complex, lined on both sides with blooming purple wisteria. It accelerated quickly and launched itself into the air.

I gawked like a tourist—which I supposed I was—as we soared above tall buildings with flourishing roof plantings. Some also had vertical greenery along the walls. Bright-winged birds swarmed everywhere, almost as if we had been flying over a jungle instead of a bustling metropolis. At first I expected some birds would come smashing into Hildegarde’s windshield, but they all stayed at a safe distance.

“Today’s cars have effective bird-avoidance technology,” Fannie commented, as I turned my head to watch a yellow-winged flock veering away. “They’re designed with features that make them look and sound like raptors on the hunt to any nearby birds. Collisions with wildlife are rare.”

We had reached the edge of the city by now, and the buildings rather abruptly gave way to a mix of woodland and blooming wildflower meadows. This landscape, although pretty, left me with a strange sense of disorientation. Where were the roads, the farms, the small towns? Had there been some sort of natural disaster?

“Where are we?” I summed up my confusion in a simple question.

“America the Beautiful, minus the amber waves of grain,” Fannie informed me. “Almost all food nowadays is factory-grown in vats. It’s much more cost-effective than traditional farming, and safer too—we don’t have to worry about parasites, pesticides, foodborne illnesses, pollution from fertilizer runoff, or pandemics caused by viruses from livestock. Also, the nutritional content is standardized, so we have more awareness of what we’re eating.”

A herd of brown cattle, apparently feral, went thundering by as we flew over another meadow. Huge clouds of butterflies, disturbed by their passage, rose up from the flowers.

“Approaching destination, prepare for descent,” Hildegarde announced.

At first I couldn’t imagine where we might be going, in such a wild landscape. Then a tidy parcel of cultivated land came into view beyond the next hill, with a road on the far side leading to a highway in the distance. Trucks, which surely had to be automated, streamed by on the highway at a steady pace, with an occasional small car or motorcycle among them.

“People are healthier now and living much longer,” Fannie went on, “and some of our new foods don’t seem much different from what they replaced. For instance, I can’t tell tuna made at a factory from the real thing. Still, humans evolved as hunter-gatherers and then spent many millennia as farmers—so there’s an instinctive sense of loss, I believe, that comes from having our food supply so disconnected from anything we do in nature. That’s why I like to get out and pick my own fruit or veggies every once in a while.”

Touching down smoothly in a lane along the edge of the farm’s parking lot, Hildegarde retracted her wings and pulled into a nearby space between two similar vehicles. On the other side of the lot, an ordinary-looking, non-flying school bus had just turned in from the access road.

Fannie and I walked into the strawberry enclosure. A young woman greeted us cheerfully and gave us each a basket. Two robotic folding chairs promptly detached themselves from their nearby charging stations and started rolling along behind us while we looked for a good place to pick.

“How about here?” Fannie stopped next to some tasty-looking berries. The chairs stopped also, and she pushed buttons on one of them to adjust its position and height. I did the same with the other, and we both sat down. Just then, a group of chattering preteens and their teacher walked in from the parking lot, and Fannie smiled.

“I always like to see the children,” Fannie told me. “They’re our link to a good future—however different that future may look.”

Putting berries in my basket, I found myself smiling too. Maybe this hadn’t been quite what I imagined a strawberry-picking trip would look like, but it certainly had put me in a better mood.