Season Without Desire
Do you, too, suffer from seasonal amnesia?
The arrival of autumn is always surprising. You were just resigning yourself to a life of never-ending sweat—and then the air snaps. Suddenly everything that was impossible becomes obvious, and irritation turns to mourning. How sad that the summer is gone, that marvelous, roaring summer, gone too soon! Never mind that you were cursing it twenty hours ago, begging for relief from its unendurable tortures.
We suffer from seasonal amnesia. The Me of October doesn’t understand the Me of July or the Me of February. We’re different people. On an icy night around Valentine’s Day, February Me announced: “Man, I can’t wait to roast!” And pictured himself on a beach, unshaded, un-sunblocked, soaking in catastrophic amounts of UV radiation. He even imagined the sweat, the awful, sticky sweat—but somehow it was delightful, like condensation on a glass of lemonade. What an idiot.
It’s not like February Me hadn’t experienced a summer before. He experienced thirty three of them. You’d think he’d be able to recall those sense memories. You’d think July Me would understand that freezing is equally unpleasant—but no, he’s lost in fantasies of cable knit sweaters and apple cider. Somehow, he imagines the muscle-seizing shivers of winter are soothing, leaves shaking in a sea breeze.
Human beings are famously bad at predicting the future, especially future emotions—what psychologists call “affective forecasting.” These forecasts get skewed by all kinds of cognitive biases, so when the future arrives, it doesn’t feel the way we expected it to. Maybe we overrate the heartbreak of being dumped, or the joy of winning the lottery. Maybe that gold medal makes you happy, but only for a week. Maybe being laid off is painful, but not even close to the end of the world.
Back in 2003, George Loewenstein, Ted O'Donoghue, and Matthew Rabin published a study in The Quarterly Journal Of Economics about “projection bias,” the tendency to project current preferences onto future events. Projection bias, they explain, is why we order too much at restaurants, why new smokers underrate the intensity of nicotine addiction until it’s too late. And it’s why July Me is so narrow-minded. He wants immediate relief, so he casts his imagination into the coldest part of the year, failing to notice any distortions in the lens he’s looking through.
What actually is winter to July Me? Is it anything more than an abstraction? I can’t recall past thermoception (the perception of temperature) like a memory. If I could, I’d simply conjure up the sensation of Christmas as I wait at the sweltering bus stop, and my problem would be solved. Someone take me to that universe. In this one, cold is unimaginable in the heat. In summer, winter lacks reality.
We’re doomed to this cyclical forgetting, this greener grass fantasizing. Summer and winter are seasons of desire—the desire to cool off in the shade, in the ocean, with iced coffee, ice cream; the desire to get cozy by the hearth, under the covers, with hot soup, hot cocoa. Though part of me loves this desiring (I am American, after all), I love Autumn more for the opposite: the abrupt absence of desire.
On that day when the air snaps, I mourn the loss of summer, but I don’t want to return to it. I look ahead to the festivities of winter, but I don’t want to hasten them. I see the silliness of July Me and February Me, and while I don’t fully understand those guys, I don’t judge them either. The late September morning is too crisp for judgement. The scent of dying leaves, carried on a soft wind, triggers a Pavlovian response, and will accept no craving, no restlessness, no emotion today but contentment.
Autumn, the Goldilocks season, is here. Let its just-rightness saturate your life. Let its calmness shield you from what the world needs you to want, like AirPods and zero body fat and Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Fuck Starbucks for evoking desire in the season when we can finally, briefly let it go. Is nothing sacr—but I shouldn’t get aggravated; other seasons are better for that, and they’ll be here soon. Too soon.
In these weeks without desire, I’ll walk the gardens of Montjuïc and bring a fantasy novel to the Greek amphitheater. I’ll watch the alpine swifts race overhead, never touching the ground on their long journey to Africa. I’ll meet friends for drinks on Aribau, some new post-Covid place, and listen to their stories. I won’t dream of the future. I won’t long for the past. And when the first leaves drop from the plane trees, I’ll let the changes gathering in me, the changes I’ve been denying for a year, finally find a foothold and turn my life, very slightly, in a new direction.