by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger
Every so often, words or phrases seem to implant themselves in my mind and not let go. Over the past few weeks, the phrase that keeps appearing and reappearing for me is “bucket list.” Or, as I like to call it, “Your Basic ‘Type A’ Marching Orders.”
Maybe it’s because it’s summer, when many people enjoy travel and vacations, away from daily routines. Those experiences are perfect “bucket list” fodder. Or it may be because I’m getting older, and more and more friends appear to be upturning some imaginary hourglass every chance they get, terrified as they see sand piling up on the bottom. Maybe everyone I know is living a madcap existence full of fun and adventure, and they are rapidly depleting their bucket lists as they pile up experiences and milestones. Luckily, it’s the 21st century, so I get a front-row seat to their lives.
I don’t have a bucket list. There, I’ve said it. I’ve never understood how people enthusiastically draft their own lists, much less embrace those “100 Books You Must Read” or “100 Songs You Must Download” or “100 Trips You Must Take” before you die lists.* The pressure! No, thank you. I have quite enough to do without some nameless, faceless entity handing me another 100, 200, or 300 tasks.
I might be some kind of freak, but I do hold out hope that there are at least a few other bucket-free adults out there who are willing to go on record with me. Like every marginalized group in America—and let’s face it, who isn’t part of a marginalized group in America?—we could have our own support group: BLFFs (bucket-list-free friends).
It might be the Capricorn in me: practical, logical, sensible—and that’s my wild side. Capricorns tend not to get “carried away by fantasies” and are risk averse, rarely taking on anything that could upset their lives. I know, a party just waiting to happen. All this would mean so much more to me if I believed in astrology (but I’m too practical, logical, and sensible for that).
I’m far from an adrenaline junkie or someone with the attention span of a gnat. Activities like falling out of airplanes or climbing mountains as high as a plane’s cruising altitude sound horrible, and flitting from one activity to the next then to the next has never enticed me. Yet, I love travel and appreciate the beauty that this gorgeous planet and the people on it offer us; I savor a good story; I enjoy lots of different types of music. But have I written, or am I consulting, a list of places I need to run around and see for the next—fingers crossed—decade or two or three? Keeping a stack of books by my bedside? Racking up hours of recorded music for “someday?” Nope.
It’s not that I’ve seen everything, been everywhere, and done it all—far from true. I have dreams. It’s just that I don’t hold any of them dear enough to make them mandatory. (Is “mandatory dream” an oxymoron?) For me, a “bucket list” wouldn’t be inspiring. Rather, it would mock me, a relentless reminder of everything I hadn’t accomplished. An eternal “to-do” list while—bonus!—the meter’s running. What a nightmare.
And then there’s that tiny shred of competitiveness that creeps into this whole thing. People seem to crave that moment when they publicize the fact that they’ve crossed one more thing off their bucket list. Almost as if the announcement is the highlight, not the thing itself. Abstruse question of the day: If you experience something you’ve long desired to and don’t post it on Facebook, did it really happen?
But the truth is, it’s not the list itself that terrifies me. Suppose, in a moment of irrational exuberance, I were to create one. Suppose I checked off every blessed thing on it. Super. But I know myself. I’m positive I’d experience a ghastly “Is that all there is?” feeling. Can you imagine? Instead of basking in the glow, I’d find myself wondering why it all mattered so damn much. Yes, maybe I did treasure the moments, but really? This was what I had to do and where I had to be before calling it a life?
Maybe that makes me fearful and rigid. Paralyzed into inactivity. Maybe. But as I think about it—and that’s usually what happens when I try to capture these random yet troubling thoughts—I remind myself once again that perspective, while not everything, counts for a lot. Having a list doesn’t have to be a bad thing or result in endless brooding and self-doubt. It’s possible the point of the list is not to gaze outward and “demand”; it’s possible it may be to gaze outward and “offer.” In fact, I’m starting to hope I leave behind a list with everything not quite done, because they are things worth doing over and over again. I have a feeling that very few of those items—if any—will require a passport or a checkbook.
* Another reason I love The Guardian newspaper: The paper published a piece by Richard Osman, titled, “The 100 Top Things You Honestly Don’t Need to Do Before You Die.” It’s perfect.
Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.