There’s a Hole in the Bucket (List), Dear Liza

I’ve never been a bucket list kind of person. Which is weird, because I’m a list person. “Girl of 100 Lists” is one of my favourite Go-Gos songs because it feels as if it was written just for me. But the “bucket” list, that big, big list of dreams, goals and aspirations, has never appealed to me. It feels too grand, too fantastical, especially when it’s full of things that just don’t seem realistic. My lists are, if nothing else, pragmatic.

For instance, my imaginary bucket list would include jumping out of a plane. I would love to do this. I would never do this.

My imaginary bucket list would include travel to lots of places, but pragmatic me, for reasons both environmental and personal, is fairly anti-travel. I’m sure we were promised Star Trek-style transporters by now, weren’t we? Until those are available, I’m happy to stay home.

A Google search reveals that some of the top 10 bucket list items are “swim with dolphins” (oh, please, don’t do this… who says the dolphins want to swim with you?) and “reach my ideal weight” (oh, fuck off). Also: get married, do a perfect push-up, and visit Machu Pichu. So the average bucket list doesn’t even seem that interesting. (Psst, the people of Machu Pichu would like it very much if you stayed home!)

I’m also intrigued by the bucket list items that should be just life philosophy or everyday actions as opposed to a one-off tickable item, such as, “perform a kind deed without expecting anything in return.” Once you’ve completed that activity, do you get to live the rest of your life being an unbearable jerk to everyone? “Nah, man, I did a good deed once back in 2004, I’m done! Hit my quota.”

Also disturbing is the number of Google pages with lists of suggestions for your bucket list. Really? These are the things that would give your life meaning and importance and you don’t even know what they are?? You can’t come up with these yourself? I’m thinking that if you need help coming up with a list of life events or goals that are important to you, then maybe these are not your real and actual goals, yeah?

The reason I’ve been thinking of bucket lists is that many of us, if we have bucket lists, have had to set them aside for the past few months. Or at least scale them back to something more… well, practical and pragmatic. Ain’t nobody hiking Machu Pichu these days (and again, the people of Machu Pichu thank you).

If you’re not reassessing your bucket list, scaling it back, making it more reasonable, at least in the short term, and learning to accept that those items might not be practical, or even desirable (both in the short and long terms) then maybe “reassess life goals” should be added to your bucket list.

Because, let’s face it, only a very small cohort of very specific Type A people are achieving their goals during pandemic times. And more power to those people, but if you’re not one of them, you’re in no way a failure.

Over at Extraordinary Routines, writer Madeline Dore celebrates both the state of not having choices, and the the lack of action caused by having no (or at least fewer) choices. Fewer options gives us the opportunity to ensure that the choices we do make are serving us well and are not just for show, ego, or to assuage some form of missing out.

On a similar theme, Leah Fessler of The New York Times suggests that with all of the big bucket list items currently inaccessible, there’s more potential in the small things. And that, in these stressful times, achieving small goals each day, even if those small wins are just tasks like getting groceries, doing laundry, or taking the time to read a book, should be celebrated and viewed with joy and pride.

Basically, we all need much smaller buckets right now. We need to re-write the lists to a kinder, more pragmatic scale. Fewer cruises and safari expeditions, more basic self-maintenance, and accessible goals. And we need to celebrate those goals; not necessarily by bragging about them online as you would with a trip (no, I really don’t want to see your vacation photos, nobody does really, they’re just being polite), but with a nice cup of tea, or a moment to sit and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment as the world passes by.

So, I’m making a list. It’s full of little things, small things I’ve always wanted to try or perfect, things that I’ve never made time for, a few things that I tried once or twice and failed at. I’m also taking the time to edit the list of things I know I’m never going to do. If I let go of those goals and aspirations that don’t serve me anymore, then I make more room for the things that truly bring me joy and a sense of purpose.

For the most part, I’m not inclined to share that list; nobody cares that I finally touched up the paint in the hallway, or that I’ve realized that I’d much rather eat professionally-made sourdough than to try to make my own.

In the After Times, when we’re done with months, or maybe years, of lockdown, social-distancing, and family bubbles, when we can finally greet old friends, acquaintances, and frenemies in person, please feel free to walk away from anyone who insists on talking about pandemic accomplishments; yours or theirs. (Heck, feel free to cut those people out of your life right now… I mean, why wait?) Now is the perfect time to cull competitive feelings, bragging about accomplishments, or people who make you feel like crap because they are competitive braggarts.

In the meantime, if your main accomplishment of the day was showering and eating some semblance of a meal, praise yourself. If you went to work, read a book, wrote a story, made anything at all… pat yourself on the back. If you did any of this without feeling the need to announce it to the world, treat yourself to something nice. You deserve it — both for choosing the smaller bucket, and for not dumping its contents on anybody else to deal with.