Staying in the present has never been my strong suit. History and memory give my life context. Visions of the future give it purpose. Since my memories pull up more good times than grievances, and I usually look ahead with interest rather than dread, this seems pretty harmless unless it blinds me to the moment.
The problem comes when I’m half paralyzed by future unknowns I can’t control. Will my application be accepted? What will the medical tests show? Telling me “Don’t think about it now” is about as useful as saying not to think of a pink elephant. I do better to choose something absorbing to focus on instead, whether a game or a beautiful sunset. On a good day, stopping to smell the roses can crowd out anxiety for minutes at a time.
On a bad day, roses aren’t enough. Then I try to reframe my nervousness as excitement. What makes mystery novels engrossing is precisely the fact that I don’t know what will happen next. Suspense is the point. If worrisome unknowns won’t leave me alone, I try to watch events unfold as if in a movie. Curiosity draws me forward. I won’t know the outcome until it happens, and maybe that’s okay.
Image: On Grouse Mountain, Vancouver (cropped). What lies ahead?
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.