Editor’s Notebook: Memories of the future
Sure, it’s hot right now. But we all know what’s coming. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)
For months, I’ve been abnormally fixated on winter weather. How fixated? It is 88 degrees as I write, with only a few fragile clouds lolling in the blue, and I find myself thinking about tire treads and layers of merino wool.
The thing is, unlike columnist Stephanie White Ferland, I actually enjoy summer and am in no rush to shovel the end of my driveway 47 times during each and every snowstorm. Sisyphus had his boulder, I have DOT plow slush in front of the mailbox.
But I feel winter in my bones. Or, maybe, my bones are so dreading the cold that they are whispering to my subconscious about how I will feel: “Yeah, it’s hot now but remember that time your toes turned blue while you were inside the house and you had to stand in the shower for a half-hour just to get the blood flowing again?”
Either way, as I try to plant myself in tomorrow I have fallen out of sync not only with the moment I’m in but the New Hampshire seasons themselves. Not even “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” can bring me peace.
(That said, here’s what the Almanac forecasts for the Northeast: “Winter temperatures will be above normal, as will be precipitation and snowfall. The coldest periods will occur in mid- to late November, early to mid-January, and early to mid-February, while the snowiest stretches will arrive in mid- to late November, mid-December, and early to mid-January.”)
But peace was never really in the cards, because I know human beings (even almanac publishers) aren’t really built for making predictions – about distant seasons, silver linings, or even what will make them happy.
Sure, you get lucky once in a while (“Did I call that or what!”), and you’ll never forget – or forget to remind people – how you nailed it that time. Do you know what you will forget? The many times in a given day that your predictions end up being completely wrong.
There’s a lot of research out there to explain why we’re so bad at it, and most of it amounts to flaws in our cognitive processes exacerbated by inherent biases.
A 2020 BBC article about the difficulties of predicting our future feelings put it simply and well: “When we expect an event in the future to be positive, we tend to focus on the good bits, but when it’s likely to be negative, the bad bits overshadow our expectations.”
Better still, here’s what Paul Ford wrote in Wired a year later: “To ask someone to predict is invariably to ask them to prioritize, and then fantasize.”
Our predictions are built on a foundation of memory, fear, and desire. Consider, for example, my unshakeable sense that we’re in for a rough winter in the Northeast. I remember last winter being a little too easy: I shoveled the driveway much less than in other years, there were no power outages in my part of town, and I was never so cold that I had to defrost in the shower. As far as desire goes, I dream of a Norman Rockwell winter – cozy storms of perfectly timed light, fluffy snow – but I fear the wet, heavy, overnight stuff that not only wreaks havoc but doesn’t even have the common courtesy to be beautiful while doing so.
I remember, I dream, I worry.
Ultimately, I know I should treat my impulse to make predictions about winter weather – or doctor’s appointments, or an upcoming vacation, or work challenges – the same way I try to treat all of my thoughts. That is, to accept that for the most part I know nothing about anything.
So, deep breath. Winter is coming, and there’s no predicting what else along with it. I suppose I wouldn’t want it any other way – and I’m certain it wouldn’t matter if I did.
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