Bucket lists are morbid and moronic. Let’s get rid of them
Before each one of us dies, let’s wipe the “bucket list” from our collective vocabulary.
I hate the term “the bucket list.” The phrase, a list of things one wants to do in life before one dies or “kicks the bucket”, is the kind of hackneyed, cliche, stupid and insipid term only we Americans can come up with.
Even worse, “the bucket list” has become an excuse for people to couch things they actually desire to try doing as only socially acceptable if framed in the face of their death. It’s as if pleasure, curiosity and fun weren’t reasons enough for action.
If you want to try doing something others might find strange or unorthodox –write a novel, learn to tap dance, engage in a rim job, field dress a deer, climb Everest, go out in drag for a night – why do you need any justification at all? And certainly, why would you need an explanation that is only justifiable in terms of kicking the bucket?
According to the Wall Street Journal, the phrase “bucket list” comes to us from the banal mind of screenwriter Justin Zackham, who developed a list of things he wanted to do before he died. Years later, his “bucket list” became the title of his corny 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It’s about two old men with terminal cancer who want to live it up before they die. That, if anyone at all, is who should be using the term “bucket list”. They want to do something with the finite time they know they have left? Fine.
But bucket list has trickled down to everday use by the perfectly healthy, the exceptionally young, and most of all, to douche bags. I realized this at Burning Man last week. Often, when I asked exceptionally boring people what had drawn them to Black Rock City, they’d say: “It was on my bucket list!”
Really? You wanted to schlep out to the desert and face freezing lows, scorching highs and soul crushing techno simply because you’re going to die someday?
If you want to try something, just own that you want to try it. At Burning Man, I was much more drawn to “trysexuals” (“I’ll try anything once”) than to bucket listers. It’s a very different dynamic to say you want to try something because you’re alive, and you’re curious, and you’re open to maybe finding something you might like than it is to justifying something because of your ultimate demise. If you want to try skydiving, skydive. If you want to try going to an orgy, go to that orgy. But be open to the experience beyond it being a mere bucket list check off, with one foot already mentally in your grave. Who knows, you might enjoy yourself.
A bucket list is a way of giving power to others as you nakedly (even if unconsciously) seek their justification for your choices. The bucket list, God help me, is forcing me to validate the one part of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophywhich registered with me when I read The Fountainhead years ago. People often place more importance upon the mirror of others’ judgments about them than they do upon their own desires. If you want to do something weird, don’t worry about explaining why you want to slake your desire. You needn’t rationalize your choices as “bucket list worthy” to others who deem them heretical.
There’s a funny dynamic sometimes when I go on a long trip while I’m out of work. When I backpacked through Asia and Europe in 2013, people (usually friends chained to a spouse, children and a mortgage) would sometimes awkwardly say to me: “Well, it will be the trip of a lifetime!” It was a good trip, but just one of many great journeys I’ve taken in my life so far. My adventures might interrupt someone else’s idea of what’s “normal.” But travel isn’t something I do to fulfil my “bucket list”; travel is a way of life for me. I do not rush into a trip thinking: “Good Christ, I could die tomorrow!” I don’t travel in place of the stable job or partner or kids I may or may not ever have. I do it as often as I can because it brings me joy.
Referring to your eventual death as an excuse to do something privileges the future instead of the present. We are all going to die, it is true. I am not abovemorbid thoughts and thinking about death. But to focus on the end of life as a reason to do things, rather than on the fact that you’re alive right now to do them? I cringe when I’ve hear undergraduates in college talk about their bucket list, having already decided they will work for 42 years, lead a certain kind of life, retire – and at prescribed points in that plan, check off fun things before they croak.
“Bucket list” thinking is epitomized for me in the interactive “Before I Die…” art project”, a chalkboard installation with the words “Before I die I want to______” Viewers fill in the blanks, and one turned up at Burning Man this year. If I had my way, we’d stop thinking so much about our eventual annihilation when we strive for fun in our lives … and we’d kick the bucket list to the curb.
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