On Wednesday in Melbourne, it was 38 degrees. The sun beat down furiously and my walk to the corner shop felt like wading through a bath.
But as I left the house that afternoon it began to rain; heavy and unstoppable. I grabbed an umbrella and walked to the bus stop. By the time I reached the stop my shoes were soaked through and my dress stuck to me. Thunder cracked louder than I‘ve ever heard. A man at the stop was drinking bourbon and Coke from a can. “Woah,” he said “That was terrifying.”
Within twenty minutes, drains were overflowing and the water ran in torrents down the street. It was still 38 degrees.
I’m an obsessive checker of the iPhone weather app; if you live in Melbourne’s changeable climes, you have to be. But this had not been on the menu.
As I sat under the bus shelter with unholy vengeance being hurled down from above, I perfectly embodied everything Gen X hates about Gen Y by taking out my phone and checking the weather. Cloudy, it said. Just cloudy.
It is days like this that drive our fear of packing for holidays. Anything might happen and so we must take everything. The need to be prepared for all eventualities can keep us up at night.
The dawn of a new year always brings with it a great weight of expectation and a blind scramble to predict the future. As with most modern predicaments, this situation is exacerbated by the media.
Once the insufferable saturation of ‘best of’ lists finally comes to an end in December, we must prepare ourselves for the onslaught of ‘ones to watch’ and meaningless forecasts for the coming year, in all areas of the arts, sports and politics; everyone desperately grasping to know what we’re about to walk into.
It is safe, however, to cynically assume that a large proportion of the ‘ones to watch’ won’t make it to the ‘best of’.
We make personal predictions too; some resolutions of habit or behaviour and some aspirations for career, love life, friendships, travel. Goals are good; I have resolutions this year too. They’re a way of asserting a quantum of control over the unknown, but it still remains the unknown, no matter how much we plan for it.
On the 18th January 1915, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.” Woolf herself was still recovering from a recent suicide attempt, whilst the world around her was in the clutches of the Great War. The future was, in all senses, in darkness.
In Rebecca Solnit’s essay ‘Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable’ she examines this quote at length: “It’s an extraordinary declaration, asserting that the unknown need not be turned into the known through false divination or the projection of grim political or ideological narratives; it’s a celebration of darkness, willing – as that ‘I think’ indicates – to be uncertain even about it’s own assertion.”
Both Solnit and Woolf suggest that it is better to state categorically that we don’t know, than to pretend that we do. A hundred years on, our future remains dark, but we are still unwilling to take Woolf’s advice.
I had a meeting this morning in which I was asked “What’s your year looking like?” I floundered. “I’m going to Sydney next week” I said. That was as far as I could get.
The truth is I have no idea what I’m doing this year. Last year I moved to Australia, but this year, who knows? But that’s better, isn’t it? That’s much more exciting than certainty, I think.