The Bucket List was an entertaining, feel-good movie with excellent actors. The message was one of hope and positivity. No wonder so many people embraced the concept of fulfilling all one’s dreams before one dies. Helps to have enough money to be able to fly all over the world at a moment’s notice, of course, if your dreams involve things that can only happen in other countries. And if you’re terminally ill, you might need at least one friend to help you handle the logistical stuff. But let’s not quibble. It was inspiring and a lot of people were duly inspired. I have friends who have done daring things and had exciting adventures after making their bucket lists. They feel altered, their lives enriched.
Me, though, I have a somewhat different idea. Having reached the grand age of 71 and not feeling particularly old (indeed, an internet health quiz assures me my virtual age is 56.2) but still aware that my time is finite, I have come to the delightful conclusion that there are things I never have to do — or, in some cases, never have to do again. I have a very good excuse now to let go of anything I don’t fancy. There are no obligations any more, whether imposed by myself or others. I can just tip them out of my bucket.
Here’s my empty-the-bucket list:
1. I never have to get over my water phobia.
I love swimming, though I’m not particularly good at it, and don’t do laps or anything. I like to float and frolic about and enjoy the water. But I don’t enjoy getting it in my face. For most of my life the merest splash has sent me into screaming terror. It's not that it's unconquerable. In the past I have done things like jumping and even diving into pools, but it never became any easier; I was an emotional wreck after each time I dared. When I took my toddlers to swimming classes I managed to conceal my fear and duck my head in the water and come up smiling at them, because of what was at stake. My Mum was phobic, including this phobia. I didn’t want to pass it on to my kids, and I am glad to say I didn’t.
I have actually done a lot of work on clearing this phobia, and have pretty much overcome it by now. I can stand in the shower and let the water run over my face, without a twitch. If I get splashed when I’m in swimming, I no longer experience panic. In a way, what I have now is the habit of the fear. So what’s the problem? Well, I’ve grown comfortable with not leaping into pools either head or feet first. I’m used to swimming from the neck down while my head stays out of the water, and I have no ambition to learn the Australian crawl even if I am an Aussie. So I am happily relinquishing any further work on my phobia. We get on together just fine, my phobia and me. Having lasted for 71 years, we can continue until the end.
2. Same goes for my height phobia.
I have conquered it at times, with varying degrees of attendant discomfort, in order to climb Ayers Rock (now more properly known as Uluru), see the view from St Pauls’ Cathedral, London, and explore Macchu Pichu. But you won’t catch me bungee jumping or parachuting out of aeroplanes. Do you think I’m crazy?
3. I don’t have to read all the books I ought to.
I’m sorry, but Christina Stead and Henry Handel Richardson bore me. Also I’m not going to keep up with all the terrific new literary novels. I’ll read anything by Tim Winton, David Malouf and Richard Flanagan, but apart from that, I’ll focus on poetry and fantasy, and the great pleasure of re-reading my old favourites. And, for the fantasy, I’m likely to prefer Young Adult novels (Australians Isobelle Carmody and Alison Croggon are among the authors I like best).
4. I don’t have to behave properly.
I can be silly if I want to. I can clown around, I can be an exhibitionist, I can look like a complete idiot. So what? I’m an old lady; not only is less expected of me, but I care a great deal less what people may think of me.
If I want to take off my shoes and dance in the shallows, I will. If I want to to yell out in the street so as to locate my husband, why not? If I’m going to look stupid or ignorant by asking a particular question, who cares? I’ll ask it anyway.
5. I never have to understand the financial news.
The bit they show on telly is comprehensible, just. The in-depth stuff in the more serious newspapers has always been beyond me. I don’t need to understand national or international economics to balance my personal budget. Seems to me that economics is highly theoretical anyway, economists disagree among themselves, and national leaders don’t always make the best decisions. Once upon a time, I thought it was incumbent on good citizens to strive to master that theory; as I haven’t done it yet, I’m not going to bother.
6. I don’t have to prove I’m smart.
I am, and I know that; it doesn’t matter if other people don’t know it. I’m not trying to build a high-flying career, or compete for a top salary.
7. I don’t have to be famous.
Which is just as well, because it doesn’t seem likely. When I was much younger I wanted to be a famous poet. As I got older I observed that (a) even the most famous living poets aren’t really famous, comparatively speaking: very few people know their names compared with those of movie stars, pop singers and sporting heroes (b) being a famous anything robs one of privacy and a large degree of freedom. Anonymity is very nice! I‘d love to be a great poet, though it’s clear to me I’m not. I’ll continue striving to be the best poet I can be, because that’s the way I enjoy myself. If I touch some hearts in the process, that's wonderful — and it's enough.
8. I don’t have to put up with people I can’t stand.
Life’s too short. I can do the equivalent of blocking them on facebook (which may be included) and cut them out of my life so that, as far as possible, I need never have anything to do with them again. So what if I appear rude? I’m not nasty or abusive, just unresponsive and unavailable. Life is much pleasanter and more peaceful this way.
And in the bucket?
Yes, there are a few things I want to do before I go, but they might seem tame to most people.
True, it would be nice to see Paris, Spain, Hawaii … but it’s not a passion, not a must. I’ve seen a lot and done a lot, and I have lived in the 20th and 21st centuries when it is possible to enjoy great concerts, theatre and art exhibitions in the comfort of one’s own home. Believe me, I haven’t missed out on much.
The things for which I have a serious longing are quiet, interior sorts of things. No matter how outgoing I’ve learned to be, I’m still the introvert at heart. (I wonder if all writers are.) So I want to read or re-read certain books — Georgia O’Keeffe, for instance, discussing her artistic process in a big book entitled only with her name, which also includes quality reproductions of some of her work. And I want to see, or see again, certain shows. At present I’m working my way through all of Buffy and Angel, which I did see on TV when they first appeared, and which I eventually bought. Right now I’m frustrated as hell because I have just discovered that the whole of my Angel, Season 4 is damaged and I can’t view the discs. I didn’t keep the receipt. In any case, when I phoned the shop to see if they had more in stock, they said no and they were unlikely to get it again. There will be desperate searching online, I can tell you! Yes it does mean more to me than confronting my fears or travelling to new locations.
For the rest, I like my life the way it is and hope I am long spared to enjoy my friends, my home, and the natural beauty that surrounds me in the Mt Warning Caldera.