There are many things this fall that I’m obsessed with: a Chloè leather jacket that is way out of my price range, the novel that I’m working on, and the new show Tell Me You Love Me on HBO, to name a few. But the thing that has absolutely overtaken me lately is the idea of a life list. Now, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s not because you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then it’s just because you don’t know that “life list” is now the official term for the list of all the things you would like to do during your life. A/k/a Things I Want To Do Before I Die.
Let me explain how my obsession with this came to pass. Since my daughter started kindergarten, I’ve begun to realize that a certain chapter of my life is rapidly coming to a close. This chapter, if it were in my autobiography, would be called, “The Time When My Kids Were Little and My Life Revolved Completely Around Them.” Now, it hasn’t closed yet, of course. My son is still only three (actually, he turned three today – Happy Birthday, Davis!), and Harper is only five, but still, I can see the writing on the wall. In just a few more years, they’ll both be in school full time, and my days will once again be my own. They won’t need me to do everything for them anymore, they won’t rely on me so completely for every little task. It’s natural, and healthy, I know, but when I contemplate the start of that next chapter (which I’m tentatively going to call “Now What??”), I do find myself getting anxious about what I’m going to do with myself. Yes, there’s work. Of course. I could throw myself into my career, I could churn out books in record amounts of time, I could explore other opportunities, like writing for tv, or writing screenplays. And maybe I’ll do those things. But maybe there are other things that I could too, too. Because really, where is it written that once you become a mother, you’re no longer allowed to achieve anything outside of your children or your career? Then, right around the time that I started thinking about all of this, I just happened to come across an article in the New York Times about the Life List Phenomenon (see the Amazon.com reference, below). And just like that, my obsession was born.
Now, if you’re lazy, or not particularly creative, then, as with all things these days, you could go out and buy a life list that someone else has already put together for you. Do a quick search on Amazon.com for “before you die,” and you’ll find scads of books with titles like, 2001 Things to Do Before You Die, 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die, and even 101 Things to Buy Before You Die. But in my opinion, this is cheating, and it also takes half the fun out of it. Of course, I suppose one could argue that actually, the fun is in going to do (or see, or buy) the things on the list, and so it doesn’t really matter if the list was made by you or by some random stranger who has never met you and has absolutely no idea what is important to you. And yes, if you want to take the narrow view, then I guess I could agree with that. But for me, I personally think that much of the fun lies in actually making the list itself.
In making a life list, you’re forced to think about your wants, your needs, and your desires. You’re forced to think about what would make you happy. I don’t know about you, but these are not things I’ve thought about very often since leaving the maternity ward back in 2002. But I’ll tell you, now that I’ve started doing it, its fun. And surprising, actually. I’m realizing that certain things are more important to me than I thought, while other things that I thought were important, actually aren’t. Take travel, for instance. I don’t love to travel. I’m picky, I’m neurotic, I don’t like exotic foods, and I don’t deal well with surprises. And yet, I’ve always said that I’m dying to go on an African safari, or to spend a month or two traveling through Asia. When I sat down to make my life list, I immediately thought of these things. But somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to write them down. What I realized in that moment is that I don’t actually want to travel to these places. I’ve just always wanted to be the kind of person who would. But guess what? I’m not. The truth is, I’d much rather spend my time sitting on a beach, reading a good book. So now, number one on my life list is to one day live in a house right on the sand. I don’t care where; it could be right here in LA. And it doesn’t have to be a house that I own; we could rent one for a summer, or even just for a month. But before I die, I want to experience the calm that comes with having the ocean right outside my door. I also want to learn to play the piano, to take a road trip with my kids in an RV, and to see Stevie Nicks in concert.
So no, they’re not ambitious goals. I don’t want to become President of the United States, or fly in a space mission to Mars. They’re also not particularly uncommon, or even exciting. But that’s not the point. The point is that, when the final chapter of my life comes to a close, it can be called “Complete.”