Monday 9 May 2022

Mourning lost futures

These are bad times for many of us. There are all kinds of insecurities and anxieties. Even if everything seems OK for you or me personally at any particular moment, there are still the looming terrors of war, climate change and a society devastated by poverty and inequality. It's enough to make anyone look longing into the past. But as someone asked of a friend who had expressed nostalgia for the 1990s, 'would you want to go back?', I realised that it's not really a going back I want. No, I don't want to go back to the 1990s, or any other time. But I want NOW to be the future I imagined in those times. It's not a matter of mourning a lost past, but mourning a lost future. I would have liked — and expected — a future in which we did something about climate change, society became more rather than less tolerant, inequality decreased rather increased, Russian soldiers stayed in Russia, and covid stayed in bats or pangolins or whatever. What we've got looks like the shittiest of all possible futures. It's as though we hit Pandora's piñata with a big stick and all the bad stuff cascaded down on us.

We have this experience on a smaller scale with individual things. You write a book, full of hopeful imaginings about how good it will be and how well it will sell. When you've finished the book it never, NEVER lives up to the Platonic ideal of the book. It is always disappointing. It might or might not be published. It might or might not sell well. It probably won't live up to your hopes for it. (Even if it does, you will probably tell yourself it only won all those prizes because there wasn't much competition this year.) What you are mourning is the lost future, the promise that book had. 

I wouldn't go back to being with my ex. But I do mourn the loss of the future that we planned. I also mourn the loss of the next future I planned, moving from one European city to another over a period of two or three years, spending six months in each, when my younger child went to university. Brexit put paid to that one. And covid put paid to many futures for many people. Do we need to re-imagine new futures? Or do we give up moulding proto-futures and wait to see what happens? I'm echoing Dawn's post from yesterday as she said she's learning to do things without thinking of whether they can monetized (difficult when you're a freelance creative, used to having to monetize everything to get by). But now I'm trying to keep some things away from being futurized. I'm doing them for the enjoyment of doing them now. If I write a story and it's not actually commissioned from the start, I'm going to write it with no expectation or plan of publishing it, just for the pleasure of writing. Its future can be decided later. I'm not applying a live-in-the-moment or carpe-diem approach universally, just as Dawn isn't deciding not to earn any money again. It's just that some things will be freed from the future, freed to be their own reward in the here and now. I think preparing for an unknown future is the way to go, rather than planning a desired future. We can't go back to the futures that might have been, and I'm not really keen on building up any more futures that will be ripped away. There can be hope for the future, probably stuck somewhere in the tail of Pandora's piñata, but planning — no. Been there, done that. That kind of future can stay in the past.

Anne Rooney

Out now:






You Wouldn't Want to Live Without Democracy, Salariya, 2022


Rosemary Hayes said...

Such a brilliant and wise post, Anne. I no longer strive and I no longer have any real expectations but goodness I'm really enjoying living in the here and now and writing for the joy of itxx

Nick Green said...

"Strung out behind us, the banners and flags
Of our possible pasts lie in tatters and rags"

(A Pink Floyd lyric... seems to express the same thought as your post.)

Susan Price said...

"...I would have liked — and expected — a future in which we did something about climate change, society became more rather than less tolerant, inequality decreased rather increased, Russian soldiers stayed in Russia..."

My gods, you said a piece there! Excellent post.

Paul May said...

Great post, Anne. I recommend listening to Jackson Browne's 'Before the Deluge'. 'Some of them were dreamers, some of them were fools, who were making plans and thinking of the future . . .' 'Let the music keep our spirits high, let the buildings keep our children dry, let creation reveal its secrets by and by.'

Lynne Benton said...

Brilliant post, Anne! Many thanks for putting it all so succinctly.

Sue Purkiss said...

Very wise and well put!

Rowena House said...

What a great quote for a great post.