“I’ve been feeling somewhat frustrated the past few years,” I said to my imaginary future self Fannie, as I helped her unpack a picnic basket on a cloudy and windy afternoon in July 2083. The corners of our disposable red and white tablecloth fluttered briskly in the breeze. Although the sky had gotten dark enough that a storm surely had to be close by, we didn’t have to worry about losing the tablecloth to a sudden gust because a thin strip of some futuristic temporary adhesive kept it firmly secured to the park table.

Picnic table with red and white tablecloth on a cloudy day, with dark trees behind it.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Sipping her iced tea, Fannie gave a nod of encouragement, waiting for me to go on. I was distracted, however, by a pair of unusually large bluish-green flies that hovered above our tuna sandwiches for a moment before they both flew away.

“They’re harmless,” Fannie informed me in a cheerful tone. “Genetically engineered to eat mosquitoes and other pests, while leaving picnic food alone. Also, they glow in the dark—that gene was inserted to help the biologists track them. They’re really quite pretty on summer evenings. Look, there are more of them glowing under the trees where it’s dark.”

In all honesty, I thought the genetically engineered flies looked a bit creepy; but in the interest of being polite to my future self, I didn’t say so. Instead, I went back to my earlier topic, which had to do with the frustration of trying to imagine my future work in a rapidly changing world.

“My job is comfortable enough,” I said, “and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe I’ve been doing the same work for too long. I feel like I ought to have a better sense of what comes next, but I can’t seem to get it clear in my head.”

“Let’s talk about what happened when you first took the job,” Fannie replied, putting down her salad fork. “Did you have any clear future plans then?”

This obviously was a rhetorical question because Fannie, as a future version of me, already knew what had happened. Still, I gave it serious consideration and got my thoughts in order before I answered.

“No, I didn’t really—and that seems strange now, given the fact that I started in a temporary position and had no assurances that it would become permanent. I was mainly focused on the skills that I was learning, and I felt confident that I would be able to use them in a future job, whatever it might be. At the time, I didn’t worry about not having long-term career plans.”

Fannie took a bite of her tuna sandwich and chewed thoughtfully, as the sky grew darker and I heard a faint rumble in the distance. It sounded like thunder; but considering the sci-fi surroundings, I guessed that it might be traffic noise from flying vehicles instead.

“Well, then,” she finally asked, “what changed?”

Several potential answers came to mind before I was able to settle on one. “Mainly my perspective. By now, I’ve seen what can happen to people who wander through life without plans or who get overconfident in their assumptions. A lot of comfortable jobs disappeared during the recession, and the economy still feels shaky—but it’s not just that. With the world changing so fast, I now feel like I could easily miss out on something good because I didn’t know where to look.”

Although a faint pattering of rain had by now started in the nearby trees, our picnic table was still dry. Fannie poured herself a little more iced tea before starting to put away the remnants of our picnic in the basket, which looked like old-fashioned wicker (but a closer inspection showed it was a synthetic material instead).

“To sum up,” Fannie stated in a matter-of-fact tone, “you’ve gained more awareness of possible different outcomes, and you understand that present-day choices have great power to shape your life going forward. But rather than feeling empowered by these insights, you worry about making bad decisions—or failing to make decisions when they’re needed, which amounts to the same thing.”

I nodded, feeling somewhat embarrassed. “Yeah, that’s about right. I guess I’m being kind of silly, when you put it like that.”

“Not at all,” Fannie declared firmly, as she took from her handbag a small item that looked like a key fob and pressed a button on it. “More choices always mean more uncertainty; that’s just the natural way of things. But what usually happens is that although we may feel unsure of our decisions, they end up all right anyway. Even when we think we’ve gotten ourselves into a bad situation, we find that a solution appears.”

The rain was coming down in earnest now, splattering on the now-cleared table. A moment later, I heard a mechanical whirring, and then Fannie’s flying car came into view. Evidently it had been parked somewhere close by. It landed on a concrete pad not far from the picnic table, and Fannie walked briskly toward it while carrying the basket. She winked at me as she got into the car.

“See, things work out—rain or shine. It’s not that hard.”

I started to walk around to the passenger side, thinking that it would be great fun to go for a ride, even in the stormy weather. But alas, that would have to wait for another blog post. Fannie and her surroundings vanished into the mist, and I found myself back in my own time.

May 18, 2019 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags: ,

One of the suggestions that financial advisors often make, for purposes of motivating people to save for retirement, is to imagine how an older self would view today’s decisions. That is to say, at 80 or 90 years old, will we feel confident about our finances and believe that we planned well in our younger years?

I haven’t actually done anything that resembles conventional retirement planning because I look at saving in more general terms, as being about future flexibility to make choices. Trying to construct a detailed list of everything that I might need or want, many years from now, doesn’t strike me as useful in such a fast-moving world. The future could—and likely will—turn out to be very different from whatever we envision now.

It’s a pretty safe bet, though, that having more money will improve just about any potential scenario set in this century. Even if the future turns out to be a sci-fi utopia in which robots cater to our every whim for free, it’s going to be a long time before we get there. That being so, I decided to go ahead and try the older self exercise, given the fact that I already have an imaginary 119-year-old self—known as Fannie on this blog—with whom I’ve had several creative conversations.

At first I thought about picturing Fannie at a bank, to be consistent with the topic; but she had her own ideas about that. I found her taking a leisurely walk along a well-kept path in a public park. It was a cool spring morning, and she wore jeans and a light sweater. New leaves and lush grass made everything around us look beautifully green and refreshing.

Path surrounded by greenery in a park.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

A black poodle trotted next to Fannie, with impeccable grooming and a remarkably even gait. It had no leash. A closer look revealed that there was no need for a leash because the poodle was, in fact, a robot. Fannie turned toward me and smiled, opening her hands as if to embrace the surrounding landscape.

“Seriously, a brick-and-mortar bank? I can’t remember when I last saw one of those. Decades ago, I’m sure. Don’t you think this is more pleasant? I was transferring funds with my phone just now, before you arrived.”

I took a breath of the fresh air, which was fragrant with spring blooms, and had to agree that managing bank accounts while taking a stroll in the park certainly was more pleasant than doing it the old-fashioned way.

“So, would you say that the money I saved was enough for you to be comfortable?” I asked.

“That question has both a simple and a complicated answer, as with most things.” Fannie grinned. “By now, you’ve had enough conversations with me that you probably already figured I was going to say something like that.”

A bird trilled cheerfully from somewhere in a nearby tree, as if to share in a little good-hearted amusement.

“The simple answer is yes, I live comfortably, and in part that’s because of your discipline in saving, which I do appreciate. As you know, I have a self-navigating flying car; they’re pricey even in 2083. And of course Maxie here,” and Fannie reached down to pat the dog, “wasn’t cheap, were you, sweetie?”

The robot dog gave a very realistic happy-sounding yip and wagged its tail.

“But the more complicated answer,” Fannie went on, “is that the culture of your time had tremendous uncertainty about the future, and nobody had a clue how to deal with it. Although people had started living much longer, they hadn’t yet created new stories to shape their expectations. So they tried to plan for everything imaginable, which of course stressed them out. Let me turn this conversation around for just a moment, if I may, and give you a question instead: Do you feel totally responsible for my comfort?”

“Well, yes, or at least mostly. Sort of. What I mean, I guess, is that I wouldn’t want to mess things up and leave a future me stuck in a bad situation. You know, this question is a lot harder than it seemed at first.” I made a frustrated gesture, which caused a squirrel in the grass nearby—though evidently unafraid of the robot dog—to hop back a few steps.

“That’s why I asked it,” Fannie calmly informed me. “Now, what would you say to past versions of yourself who felt afraid of making bad decisions about raising children, for instance, or finding the right job?”

“I’d tell them not to worry because the kids and the job turned out just fine.”

There was a comfortable-looking bench to our left, and Fannie took a few steps off the path and sat in it. She gave me a smile. “Sit down and take a load off your feet, both here and in real life. Just relax—you know it’s going to turn out fine, right? You’ve got this.”

Maxie, now sitting next to the bench, yipped again as if in emphasis. I sat down next to Fannie as the scene began to fade; and then, just a moment later, I found myself back in my own time.

Ever since Fannie, my imaginary 119-year-old future self, suggested a few months ago that I might want to invite the archetypal Crone to play tennis, I had been turning that idea over in my mind. It made sense on a basic narrative level—if I wanted to explore possibilities other than the usual negative beliefs about aging, then I needed to be more creative in how I pictured older people. That included expecting the Crone to do more than just sit and tell stories, as in my previous post about her last winter.

Tennis didn’t work, though, for several reasons. First, I never played the sport or had much interest in it, and an imaginary outing where I bumbled around cluelessly on the tennis court didn’t hold much appeal. Of course, I didn’t have to be as realistic as that; but I didn’t want to be the Crone’s opponent in a sporting event anyway, or even her doubles partner, which would carry another well-defined set of adversarial socially-scripted baggage about pushing one’s body to the limit and always competing to excel over others. I really did just want the Crone to tell me stories, but without the typical cultural strings attached.

So, after I recently spent some time browsing through winter landscape scenes and imagining myself (as I mentioned here) on a snowy forest adventure, I decided to invite the Crone to be my companion on a mountain-climbing trip. That would be active enough to dispel the old-woman stereotypes, but we wouldn’t be opponents in anything, and there would be plenty of time for insightful conversation. I’ve never been a mountain climber in real life either, but that was okay—a hiking trail along a mountainside, without need for rock-climbing gear, would be sufficient.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

The crisp mountain air carried the scent of pine trees and snow. The wind was just right—enough of a breeze so that the Crone and I wouldn’t overheat as we hiked up the trail in our heavy winter gear, but it wasn’t blowing hard enough to make us want to pull our scarves up over our faces.

“Oh look, just over there!” exclaimed the Crone, as we went around a curve dotted by rocks and small bushes. I didn’t see much of anything else, but the Crone sounded quite excited indeed. She bustled over to a spot of green in the shelter of two rocks, where glossy leaves and a few bright berries could be seen poking up through the winter’s debris.

“It’s just another wildflower nowadays,” she explained, lovingly brushing away twigs and snow to give me a better view. “But long ago, skilled herbalists would have come out looking for this and other healing plants, even in winter. Many of them were older women, you know. They brought apprentices on mountain hikes very much like this, pointing out where the medicinal herbs could be found and how to recognize them.”

After carefully replacing the small twigs and dry leaves that protected the plant from the cold air, my companion stood up and went back to the trail. We continued around another bend, winding between several thick pines, while I considered the message in this little interlude.

“It’s just a myth, then, that old women didn’t do much but sit by the fire and tell stories,” I said after a minute or so, as I took a few quick steps to catch up to the Crone. She had gotten ahead of me while I was preoccupied with my thoughts, and she walked with plenty of vigor.

“Life was much harder in those days,” the Crone noted in a reflective tone, as if describing her own past. She slowed her stride a little. “Every pair of hands was needed. If an elder didn’t have the strength to work outdoors, she might indeed sit by the fire—but there would always be chores she could do while sitting. Of course, that didn’t prevent her from telling stories at the same time. When surviving through the winter couldn’t be taken for granted, stories and song went far toward keeping joy and vitality in the soul, just as herbal remedies kept the body healthy.”

We came out of the pines onto a steep ascent. The snowy peaks loomed majestically above us, just as they would have done thousands of years ago. I felt grateful for their enduring wisdom, as well as for my companion’s gentle words, as the imaginary adventure faded away.

Last week the rowing club was more adventurous than usual, traveling to a large regatta in Florida. My husband and I stayed with another club member at his mother’s house not far from the race course. She is a delightful English lady who loves to have guests and is very outspoken, making blunt remarks such as “Absolute rubbish!” when, for instance, my husband suggested that we might take our clothes to a laundromat rather than inconvenience her by using her washer and dryer.

She is 86 years old and very active, going sailing once a week and doing charitable work regularly. When the heat got to me on the practice day before the races started, she sympathized with me by saying that she recently had gotten rather dehydrated playing tennis for two hours on a hot day.

That evening I still didn’t feel quite right after rowing and being outdoors for a long time in the heat. When I got in bed, I felt as if it might be rocking gently, like a boat. That reminded me of reading Kon-Tiki as a child and pretending that my bed was a balsa-wood raft floating across the Pacific Ocean. So, as I couldn’t get to sleep right away, I decided to populate this imaginary scenario with my adventurous future self, Fannie. I pictured us looking up at the stars from a natural-fiber mat on the raft, with plenty of comfortable pillows.

Photo of the Kon-Tiki raft in its museum.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)


“So, Fannie,” I asked her, in my best faux-English accent, “would you say that the stories our culture tells about aging are absolute rubbish?”

“No, I wouldn’t actually,” she said, drawing out the vowel into an absurdly long ‘ah’ sound, “and by the way, you are rubbish with ah-ccents, and I never got much better with them over the years. So we might do better to stick with ordinary American conversation, though there’s nobody around but a few imaginary flying fish to hear us embarrassing ourselves.”

Fannie snuggled deeper into the pillows and went on to say, “Putting energy into rejecting a cultural narrative only feeds it more power. What we resist persists; that’s from Carl Jung, a very wise man. When you feel that society has you in a box, there’s no need to kick and beat on the walls. Just look up, and you’ll see the sky and feel a breeze flowing through. The box is not solid. All you have to do is step out of it. Dance and skip out of it. Do handsprings and cartwheels out of it. Oh, was there a box around here somewhere? I hadn’t noticed. Where it went, I can’t say. Maybe it’s in that field over there, behind all those tall weeds.”

“Once upon a time, long, long ago,” I said, getting into the spirit of it, “there were people who thought they had to stay in boxes; or at least, that’s what my great-grandmother told me.”

“Lost in the mists of time,” Fannie agreed cheerfully. “And while we’re on the subject, maybe instead of picturing the archetypal Crone just sitting and telling stories, you might want to invite her to play some tennis. Yes, I know you are rubbish at tennis, but the Crone hasn’t played in many years either. Of course, I’m no better at it, since I am you, so that’s nothing personal.”

I thought that I heard Fannie chuckling quietly to herself, but a fish leaped out of the ocean just then and landed with a particularly loud splash, so I couldn’t be quite sure.

This year my husband and I have been rowing singles many days, rather than only sculling in our double. We bought the singles to celebrate our 30th anniversary, which was in May. It was my husband’s idea and a surprise to me. I had suggested that he might want to look into buying a single because he had been taking a very old club boat to the regattas, and it was too big for him and poorly suited to his rowing style. I never thought about getting one for myself, though. The club boats did not fit me any better (worse, actually), but I was happy with the double, rarely rowed singles, and never had considered racing one.

Now that I’ve had a few months to get used to rowing a single that is the right size and is set up the way I like it, I’ve been starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of taking it to regattas. My husband suggested that I enter an October head race on our favorite course in Tennessee. (Head races are 5K races during the fall season, so-called because they often take place at the head of a river.)

One double and two single sculling boats.

I was wondering how many women would be competing in my age group. When my husband looked up last year’s race, he told me that there was only one rower in the category of women over 50 racing a single. Other regattas that we like to attend are much the same, with very few older women rowing singles; and my practice times are competitive with their race times, despite my lack of experience.

Although that should mean I can expect to win medals, it is also a bit disconcerting. I understand that much of it is generational, in that most women my age were not encouraged to be athletic when we were growing up. A woman of my generation might enjoy racing in a mixed crew with her husband, but she is not as likely to think about signing up for individual events. Younger women often are more adventurous and competitive because the times have changed.

So, it doesn’t mean that I am now so old that my competition has started dying off. Nor does it have any logical bearing on how many years I might be healthy enough to row. The fact that such thoughts even briefly came to mind bugs me anyway, though.

Last year I began writing occasional stories about my fantastically adventurous future self, aka Fannie, mainly to remind myself that there are many other possible futures besides the usual culturally-conditioned aging scenarios. I decided that Fannie should be 119 years old, not because I expect to live to that age or any other particular age, but simply to kick all such expectations much farther down the road.

Some folks really do live that long in the present day, and it seems likely that longevity will increase as a result of scientific advances. That puts Fannie within the bounds of reasonable possibility, although I never intended my stories about her to be realistic, or close to it; they’re aimed more at liberating my thoughts from other people’s overly narrow ideas of what is or should be realistic.

In that spirit, and without making any assumptions beyond observing that the future surely holds more possibilities than we know, I’ve found myself reflecting on the ideas I had about aging when I was a teenager. Back then, to the (very minimal) extent I thought about it at all, I didn’t see myself living past 80, which seemed ancient and very far away. This morning I put a birthday card in the mail for my mom, who turns 80 next week and is generally healthy. My dad and my husband’s parents already are over 80, and whatever notions I might have had about when a person becomes “ancient” have changed accordingly.

So I’m wondering—now that becoming “ancient” seems much farther away than I once imagined it, and there is at least some possibility I could have another half-century or more of healthy life remaining—why should I feel any closer to old age (whatever that may mean) than I felt when I was a teenager?

Over the weekend I sat down and began writing a few times, but never finished any of it. The weather was sunny, warm, and beautiful, and getting outdoors seemed much more appealing.

The rowing club had a canoe race on Saturday against some members of the canoe club across the river. My husband got in the canoe, but I opted to watch from the shore, which turned out to be a wise decision when the canoe overturned in the middle of the river. No harm done to anything but the rowers’ pride, but I was glad to have stayed dry.

Then I got “Margaritaville” stuck in my head for most of Sunday, which was apparently my subconscious mind’s snarky answer to whatever thoughts I had about being more diligent with my writing.


When I went to bed, I tried to reboot my brain and get ready for a more creative week by listening to ocean sounds on my clock radio and trying to visualize an insightful younger self with a helpful life lesson to ponder. But instead, all that came to mind was an image of Fannie, my 119-year-old future self, sitting in a lively beachfront bar that looked like something out of Star Wars and smiling at me while holding up—yeah, you guessed it—a margarita.

At least there was no Jabba the Hutt anywhere to be seen, so I suppose I ought to be grateful for small mercies. I don’t know the reason I’ve been goofy all season, but I know it’s nobody’s fault. Or maybe, well, it could be my fault…

I opened a few windows in the house on Monday to enjoy the sunshine and a pleasant breeze blowing over the spring grass (which was buried under snow by Tuesday evening). That got me thinking about how my blog entries in which I gave advice to my younger selves had let “fresh air” into my memories. Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, if instead of always being focused on the past, I could invite an older self for an occasional visit to share her wisdom and encouragement with me in the present.

What I had in mind wasn’t the same as my recent post about having coffee with the Crone. Although I envisioned the Crone as kind and helpful, she was a cultural archetype and not a potential future self. I’ve never had a clear mental picture of what I might be like many years from now because, well, nobody really has much of a clue about the future.

The closest I ever came to imagining a future self was a post last summer about my adventures in 2083, which was intended chiefly as an antidote to stereotyped views of aging and wasn’t meant to be realistic. But then, given the fact that nobody knows what the future holds, who’s to say that my goofy sci-fi take on Future Me was necessarily any less realistic than anything else?

So I decided to invite my Fantastically Adventurous Imaginary Future Self—or Fannie, for short—to stop by for a visit. Fannie was healthy and active at age 119, due in part to taking good care of herself and in part to advances in medical science. She arrived in a small flying car, which landed on the street and tucked in its wings neatly before parking itself in my driveway.

Flying car with ocean in background.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)

Her shoulder-length hair sparkled in the sunlight as she got out of the vehicle. The base color of her hair was a deep ocean blue, and she had elaborate highlights in various metallic hues that shimmered and changed color when the sun fell on them.

“Nice hair,” I said.

“Thanks.” She took a step toward me, and the car door smoothly closed itself with a soft whir. “In 2083 they still haven’t figured out how to reverse gray hair, but nobody really cares because we have so many options for hair color. It’s very safe too—not toxic like the primitive stuff you’re using now.”

I must have frowned without realizing it, because she quickly added, “But there’s no need to worry—after all, you’re a past me, so it obviously didn’t kill you!”

She stretched like a cat enjoying the warmth of a sunny day and glanced around the yard, where crocuses were blooming in the front garden and the grass was brightening toward a nice spring green. Without asking my permission—which I supposed was fair enough, since she was another version of me—Fannie opened the gate and sauntered into the backyard, while I followed along.

“So,” she inquired in a cheerful tone, “what’s on your mind?”

“Well, lately I’ve been working on—that is, I’ve been considering how I can shift my mindset toward thinking of my everyday activities as play, rather than as work. It seems like that will take a lot of conscious effort because our language just isn’t structured to describe what we do as adults in terms of play. Just now, I caught myself saying that I was working! I suppose it can’t really be as hard as all that, but what’s making it feel like so much awkward effort?”

Rather than answering right away, Fannie took a few steps along the line of willows that I had spent so much time pruning over the past few years. She reached out to touch one of the branches that I had cut back close to the ground. Thin new growth extended from it, still leafless, with a few catkins dangling.

“It took a lot of effort to cut back these willows,” she observed, “and right now, I’d say they look a bit awkward—all bare and chopped off. But after the leaves open and the new growth fills in, they’ll look lovely, and you won’t need to do much with them. Change always seems awkward before enough time has passed to grow into it.”

A cloud passed over the sun. The highlights in Fannie’s hair went from sparkling green and gold to mostly silver and purple. The breeze started to feel a bit chilly.

“And everything is different from one moment to the next anyway,” I said, “so there’s no reason to overthink any of it. I can choose to look at it as playing with the words I use to describe what I’m doing, instead of always having to make an effort to be precise.”

Fannie grinned. “Yup, there you go. Words do matter, of course—but it’s not the end of the world if they could use a bit of editing.”

I started writing this post last weekend when my rowing club went to the US Rowing Masters National Championship regatta, which was in Oak Ridge, Tennessee this year. The club has only one member who rows fast enough to win medals in such a competitive event, but the rest of us had fun anyway. My husband volunteered to tow the boat trailer with his SUV. Going through the mountains with it was an adventure; but he is a good driver, and all went well.

We have rowed at Oak Ridge before in smaller events. It is a beautiful course and very well maintained. The only problem I have is that being outdoors for a long time in the hot, humid Southern air gets to me after a while. So, while my husband watched some races on Saturday in the heat, I sat in a lounge chair by the hotel pool and stayed comfortable in the air conditioning.

Hotel pool and my tanned legs on a lounge chair.

Masters athletic events are interesting because they are such an attitude adjustment with regard to society’s views about aging. Little old ladies in rowing shorts and tank tops were walking around with 30-foot boats on their shoulders. The boats are made of carbon fiber, so they’re not all that heavy; but rowers do need to be reasonably fit.

While I sat by the pool daydreaming, I thought about what the world might be like in a future where older people could expect to stay fit and healthy. By that I don’t mean some amazing new scientific discovery to prevent aging, but just incremental advances on where we are now: better nutrition, exercise, and medical care, along with a shift in cultural expectations so that older people wouldn’t assume poor health was normal and would take better care of themselves accordingly.

Like all of us, I have my share of aging myths that grow like thorny weeds in the subconscious, whispering that every little ache or twinge is a symptom of decline. In today’s culture it may not be possible to root them all out entirely, given how pervasive they are. Still, as with any garden, a thriving mix of tall flowers and thick shrubs can overshadow the pesky weeds enough to keep them tiny and insignificant.

So—what healthy ideas could I plant in my subconscious to crowd out negative views of aging? After giving that question some thought, I decided to visualize what I’ll be doing in 2083. I picked that year because it will be a full century from when my husband and I met in college. Because some people really do live that long in the here and now, it wouldn’t require major advances in longevity science.

I wasn’t composing a bucket list or anything that I really planned to do; it was just a few random, stream-of-consciousness imaginary adventures. Because I already had rowing on my mind, I first pictured myself traveling to Australia with my husband to row a new boat with the latest 2080s technology at a regatta in Sydney. Then I thought, well, this is far enough in the future that maybe we’re booking a vacation at a hotel in a colony on Mars. Or traveling to California in a flying RV. Or working on interesting projects that involve very cool futuristic technology, getting paid lots of money to work part-time hours because of the future economy’s labor shortage.

As I see it, there’s no downside to imagining myself fit, healthy, and adventurous many decades from now. Maybe it won’t happen, and instead I will have been in the grave for a long time by then; but if it turns out that my imaginary adventures were too farfetched, I don’t suppose my ghost will care.