It was probably a mistake to read Psychology Today while my husband was watching The Weather Channel. He’s absorbed by a story focused on the world’s most extreme weather and I’m reading an article about how to avoid toxic colleagues at parties. He’s finding out about the devastating effects of long-term drought and I’m reading about social anxiety at office events.
My husband has the advantage: He and his fellow meteorologists (isn’t every man who watches The Weather Channel a meteorologist?) can see the future through the magical yet scientific power of Doppler radar. I’m stuck with a quiz asking if I need salty snacks and/or alcoholic beverages in order not to run screaming out of the room when co-workers approach me at a party (Answer: If there are popchips, I don’t mind).
After more about floods, tornadoes and erosion (on TV, not in Psychology Today), I decide that what I need is the equivalent of Doppler effect radar for my emotional life. I want to know what’s ahead for the next 24 hours and I want to be offered a 10-day outlook. In addition, I’d like to be reminded of my historic highs and lows for this time of year to know whether my mood this week is going to set any kind of record.
I want to know whether I need an umbrella or whether I need to use my smile as one.
I want this information provided by a well-dressed professional — flanked by cheerfully colored quasi-scientific diagrams and models — who, with undiminished poise and equanimity, will alert me to bright, sunny days or the immediate need to evacuate using only designated emergency routes.
These professionals would receive their information from a national Institute of Mood Safety, and they would keep us up-to-date with “First Alerts” and “Early Warnings”: “After an unsettled and humid night, expect a morning of mixed emotions, with anger gusts sweeping in right before lunch.” After all, predictions, precautions and preparation would keep us far more secure and sanguine if we could arrange, in advance, for whatever changes might be coming our way. Is it going to be gloomy? Is a sense of dread gathering out to our west, or perhaps an unusual amount of high pressure looming right over our shoulders?
Since weather is getting so unnervingly local that we’ll soon be able to tell not only whether raindrops will be falling on our heads but whether they’ll fall on our elbows or on our left foot or our right foot, I would hope that our moods could be traced with the same exactitude.
I want to know if there’s going to be a downpour of sentiment, a drought of generosity, a mix of sun and clouds causing buyer’s remorse and whether there are going to be mood swings coming over the mountains when they come. Is there a chance of a panic attack on Tuesday afternoon? I would like to know not only how to dress appropriately but what to postpone: I would know whether or not a picnic was appropriate or whether a cage match might be more in order.
Finally, I’m not interested so much in tropical depressions as I am in topical depressions, which leads me to believe that we should also have a Doppler radar to predict what’s going on politically. I believe I’m not the only one going through this: I could be having a genuinely lovely day, only to turn on the news and fall directly into the slough of despond. That’s what I call a topical depression —— it will be a sudden change in climate having to do with what happened during the last 15 minutes in Washington, D.C.
“Who wants to be foretold the weather?” asks Jerome K. Jerome, one of my favorite humor writers. “It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.” But foretold can be forearmed. Perhaps we’ll figure out how to protect ourselves against the winds of a changing political climate. Or perhaps we’ll learn how to cope with a suddenly urgent sense of social anxiety aroused by witnessing the end of human history as it comes hurtling toward us. I’ll break out the popchips.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and the author of “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” and eight other books. She can be reached at www.ginabarreca.com.