Birthday Cake

It’s yet another birthday, which means that I’m officially one year older than yesterday. But I’ve had some thoughts lately that I’d like to share with you on my birthday.

For years I’ve heard about people creating something called a Bucket List where they list all the things they’d like to do before they die. Heck, in fact, there was even a movie with that title that was released a few years ago. To some extent I can see the value in clarifying what one wants to do in his/her life. The big problem I have with these Bucket Lists is what happens when one is close to death and, for whatever reason, he/she had only achieved less than half of what is on that list. Would the person focus on what he/she had accomplished on that list? Or would the person be more likely to spend his/her remaining time on Earth fretting over the things on that list that he/she didn’t do?

Having such a Bucket List might help a person focus on goals but it could come at a price. Some people may use that list as a reason so cram so many activities within a short period of time (like 5-10 years) in order to fulfill all of the Bucket List items at the expense of actually enjoying the experience for its own sake. Or some people may be so focused on fulfilling the Bucket List at the expense of an unexpected opportunity that may show up and that opportunity may turn out to be just as fulfilling as any of the items of the Bucket List.

What’s more, people’s ideas of what they want to do in life may change over time and they may not even reflect some Bucket List that a person may have written up when he/she was 18 or 19. Sometimes you’ll get exposed to things that weren’t on your original Bucket List but you’ll become glad that you were exposed to them. If someone had asked me when I was 18 if I ever wanted to travel to Arizona, I would’ve scoffed at the idea. At the time everything I knew about Arizona and the Southwest in general came from watching Road Runner cartoons and episodes of Westerns like The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid on television, which left me with an impression of the state as being little more than one large desert with tumbleweeds and cactus. Arizona was the furtherest thing from my mind when I used to fantasize about places I wanted to travel to when I was 18 or 19.

But then my mother-in-law decided to get married for a second time to an old classmate of hers from Oberlin College and move from the New York City metropolitan area (where she had lived for many years) to his home in Phoenix. Because of that situation I ended up visiting Arizona many times over the years with my then-husband. I found that Phoenix is a pretty cosmopolitan place and it’s a far cry from the desert wasteland that I’ve seen on TV shows. While the state has its problems (most notably with those people who decry the number of Mexicans who have crossed the border into the state illegally yet these same people will knowingly hire illegal aliens, which only encourages more Mexicans to illegally cross the border into Arizona), there are parts of Arizona that has a lot of natural beauty. There’s the Grand Canyon. There are the numerous Native American ruins throughout the state. There is the Sonoma Desert Museum. There is the Heard Museum, which is one of the best museums devoted to Native American culture. There is the excellent Changing Hands bookstore in Tempe, which is one of the few non-chain, locally-owned bookstores left in the United States.

I haven’t been back to Arizona since 2011 (a few months before my marriage suddenly imploded) but I’m glad that I had the chance to visit the state when I did, even if it wasn’t a place that I originally wanted to visit.

That’s why I personally don’t believe in Bucket Lists. If I had such a list and I didn’t achieve everything that was on that list, I would probably be on my deathbed bemoaning what I didn’t accomplish on that list and it’s totally counterproductive. Sometimes life throws an unexpected curveball at you and it’s one that’s not on your Bucket List but it impacts your life nonetheless. For example, a woman who’s about to realize her big Bucket List ambition to climbing Mount Everest suddenly and unexpectedly gets pregnant and she decides to have the baby. Over time she becomes more focused on raising her child and she gradually begins to forget ever climbing Mount Everest and, instead, is just content to read the book Into Thin Air. Does it mean that she’s a failure because she didn’t uphold her original Bucket List pledge to climb Mount Everest? I don’t think so. It’s just a matter of her ambitions have changed because of this unexpected pregnancy.

Yes, the scenario about the mother who originally wanted to climb Mount Everest is entirely fictional. (I don’t know anyone in my life who had ever expressed a desire to climb Mount Everest.) But unexpected curveballs do happen in real life. In my case I had my marriage suddenly collapse on me when my husband left me for a friend of ours whom he subsequently married just two months after our divorce was final. No sane person would ever put getting a divorce on a Bucket List yet it happens to many people. Since my husband left I’ve met numerous new people. Granted some of those people I probably would’ve met anyway had my husband not left me but the vast majority of these new people I’ve met were through attending weekly support group meetings for people who are separated or divorced. It’s highly unlikely I would’ve ever met any of them in any other circumstances if I was still happily married.

Instead of creating a Bucket List for myself, I’m going to spend my birthday post creating a list of things that I had already accomplished or experienced and I would probably never do again because experiencing it once or twice was enough for me.

1. Getting married in a traditional wedding. Like many other American brides, I had one of those traditional weddings complete with a white bridal gown, being escorted down the aisle by my father, having bridesmaids and groomsmen in attendance, and having a clergyman officiate at the ceremony. I tossed my bouquet to a group of single women while my new husband had the opportunity to remove my garter belt from my leg so he could toss it to a group of single men. We cut our wedding cake and fed a slice to each other. For added measure, the wedding was even held in June, which is the most traditional month to get married in. Been there, done that and that wedding ultimately led to a marriage that ended in a divorce. I now know first-hand that having a traditional wedding isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. I got my first exposure to what I call The Wedding Industrial Complex where it is the marketers and companies who decide to convince you what you need to have on your special day regardless of whether you would’ve selected it for yourself or not. There were times when these people acted as if they knew what they felt was best for me even more than I did. One example was when my mother attempted to order flowers from a local florist and they said that they wouldn’t take her order until after my mother and I talked with a special wedding consultant that the florist had on staff. (My mother ended up ordering flowers from Giant’s floral department instead and that supermarket didn’t require any talks with a wedding consultant first.) If I was ever to attempt another marriage again, my wedding would be way different. For one thing, my father is now deceased so he wouldn’t be able to walk me down the aisle even if I wanted him to. I’d end up either walking myself down the aisle or walk down the aisle arm in arm with the person I intend to marry. I would stand up for myself when it comes to The Wedding Industrial Complex and make all of my own decisions on what I want or don’t want at my wedding. I would refuse to do business with anyone who try to tell me what he/she knows what’s best for me more than I do. I would probably wear a color other than white. Black would be cool. Or maybe red. Or purple. Or even a light pastel lavender color. And I’ll probably pick a month other than June to get married in.

2. Attending an American Girl Place store on the day that a new Girl of the Year is formally rolled out to the general public for the first time. Each year American Girl releases a new doll that’s a designated Girl of the Year where she’s available for sale (along with certain themed accessories and outfits that’s supposed to be appropriate for her character and her interests) for one year only. She goes on sale on New Year’s Day on January 1 and she is formally retired on New Year’s Eve on December 31. While the fan sites will spend months gossiping on who will be the next Girl of the Year, American Girl doesn’t formally introduce the new girl to the public until on December 31 (New Year’s Eve). On that day a representative from American Girl will show up on ABC’s Good Morning America show and formally unveil the new doll on live TV. The doll herself goes on sale for the first time on the following day (January 1, New Year’s Day) and all of the American Girl Place stores will have special events to celebrate the new doll’s debut. I attended such a formal rollout at the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia on January 1 when the new doll, Grace, went on sale for the first time. As I wrote in this blog at the time, the store was totally crowded with kids running amuck while they were crowding around the new displays of the Grace doll and her accessories (which included this bakery set that went on sale for the retail price of $500). There was a long line outside its Bistro with people waiting to eat inside. It was total havoc. Grace the doll is now in her waning days until she is officially given the boot in just 16 days on New Year’s Eve and her replacement will be formally announced on television as the new Girl of the Year. As of this writing the various fan sites and social media are speculating on who this new doll is and what her name will be. Some of them have gone as far as actually posting leaked photos that’s supposed to be of this new Girl of the Year. I’ve read some of the stuff and saw a few of the leaked pictures but I’m not going to divulge what I’ve learned because I’m really not into posting rumors in this blog. January 1 will come soon enough when we’ll all know who she is. As for me, I’m going to sit out the next formal New Year’s Day rollout at the American Girl Place because once was enough for me to last a lifetime. I’ll probably wait a month or two or three before I check this new doll out in person but I’ll never attend another formal Girl of the Year rollout in person ever again.

3. Celebrating the U.S. Bicentennial. I was a kid when this happened but I still remember it like it was last year. It was a year-long celebration that began in the fall of 1975 and it went on until the end of 1976. It was literally a celebration of America and how far we’ve come since the early settlers arrived from England. It was a unifying event for all Americans. It didn’t matter whether you were a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Anarchist, Communist, Socialist, or even completely apolitical, you were welcomed to celebrate along with fellow Americans. Sure there were the commercial excesses that were foisted upon the American people by the corporations as they released all kinds of tacky patriotic red, white, and blue items. But there were plenty of celebrations done on the local level as well and people were free to celebrate the Bicentennial in any way that they see fit without having to investigate whether a big corporation holds the trademark rights and having to pay some kind of a licensing fee. (I’m especially looking at the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s tendency to threaten to sue any independently organized event benefitting breast cancer research that uses the words “for the cure” as part of its slogan or advertising.) I still remember when someone painted the fire hydrants in my town to resemble colonial figures, which I thought was pretty cool. I also remember when the tall ships came from other countries around the world to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and I went with my parents to see them. In some ways it was a different era long before the election of Ronald Reagan, which unleashed this assault on average people (in terms of cutting funds to social programs which benefitted middle and lower income folks) in favor of giving tax breaks to the wealthy as well as encouraging large corporations to become even bigger through mergers and acquisitions. Then there was also the rise of the 24-hour news channels that seem to focus less on actual news and more on personalities that spew all kinds of opinions and other garbage and it seems like more and more people are mistrustful of anyone who’s different from them because they’ve been influenced by the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter. Given the times we live in now, I don’t know if anything like this could ever be repeated again because of all of the mistrust that’s out there now among Americans and I think it’s sad. But the Bicentennial was fun while it lasted and it provided me with lots of good memories.

4. Attending the Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration in New York City. Like the Bicentennial this one was also a way of ensuring patriotic pride in all Americans but this one was mostly held in New York City for obvious reasons. It was one big party and it was so joyous. Granted it was held when Ronald Reagan was in office but the country was still a long way from being the messed up nation it is now (complete with corporations being rewarded for outsourcing formerly good paying jobs to China and various Third World nations, rampant Wall Street speculation, the difficulties in finding an affordable place to live, etc.). I was very fortunate to have been able to attend that one and I still have photos and fond memories of that event.

5. Attending my high school reunion. I did it once for my five-year reunion and it was a major letdown for me. While I ran into a few of my old friends, the vast majority of the attendees were people whom I remembered as being among the very popular kids and they acted arrogant and stuck up towards me. They still hadn’t changed by the time the fifth anniversary came and most of them either ignored me or talked to me with a touch of disdain in their voices like I was some inferior sub-human. Worse, I made the mistake of talking my then-husband into coming with me even though he never attended my high school (we met in college) because we had just gotten married and I wanted to show him off to not only my old friends but also the former popular kids who had stuck their noses up at me in the hopes that everyone would be impressed that I snagged a guy who worked at NASA. That backfired because my husband ended up being bored because he didn’t know anybody and the popular kids didn’t give a damn about who I married because they still thought of me as being “retarded” (which was an epithet that was hurled at me all the way through school). Despite the few friends I ran into at that reunion, most of them stayed away so even I got bored after a few hours. My husband and I left long before the reunion party formally ended after midnight. I haven’t attended another high school reunion since and I’d like to keep it that way.

6. Attending a big open-air rock music festival. Back in the day when the annual Lollapalooza festival used to travel from town to town (the festival is still held annually but it is now held for only one weekend a year exclusively in Grant Park, located in Chicago), I attended it once with my then-husband when it stopped in Charlestown, West Virginia (which was the only stop it made that was anywhere near the Baltimore-Washington, DC area). We left early in the morning and took a long trip in order to make it to the festival fairground that was held at the local racetrack. The year we attended had a really exciting bill including Hole, Elastica, and Cypress Hill. There was a secondary stage where some of the less known bands performed. There was a tent that had an art gallery inside featuring works of art by unknown artists. There was a film tent where movies were continuously showing. There were places where you could purchase food and drinks. It all sounded fantastic with one major downside: the festival was held on the usual Mid-Atlantic summer day where it was hot and humid with the highs reaching the 90’s. My husband and I dealt with it by periodically going to the art gallery and film tents because those were the only two places that were air conditioned. The art we saw numerous times in the art gallery weren’t really that memorable and, as the long day went by, we grew tired of seeing the same art again and again because we only used the tent to cool off from the heat. As for the film tent, it showed mostly student movies that were originally made for film school classes at various colleges and universities and, to be brutally honest, none of them were all that memorable. I remember standing in long lines in order to buy food and drinks as well as long lines in order to use the portable toilets. By the time we left it was dark and, as we were walking back towards the parking lot in order to retrieve our car, we were treated to the local hillbillies driving by while throwing things at us as they screamed stuff like “YEE HAW!” and “GO HOME!” I remember that I almost got hit by a beer can that one of these yahoos threw from the window as their pickup truck drove by us. (You can’t get any more stereotypical redneck than that last sentence.) Going to that one Lollapalooza festival had forever cured me from ever going to any other open-air rock music festival.

7. Attending a Fourth of July concert followed by fireworks on the Mall in Washington, DC. On the surface, what could be more patriotic than celebrating the Fourth of July in the nation’s capital? My then-husband and I only did it once with a few friends of his from his NASA job and the reality is that it’s not much fun—let alone feeling any kind of special patriotic pride. We ended up sitting on the grass far from the stage because it was so crowded so we didn’t see any of the acts and we ended up just hearing the music instead. On top of it, it was the typical DC summer day in that it was very hot and humid. I remember a fight nearly broke out between two guys who were near us and both men were literally restrained by other people. Things became a little bit better after sunset when the fireworks went off and it was such a lovely sight seeing them near the Washington Monument. But the good feeling I got from seeing those lovely fireworks quickly turned sour again when we had to wait in a very long line for an hour just so we could enter the Smithsonian Metro station then wait another hour or so until we could board a train where we were crammed in with so many other people like a can of sardines. I remember some guys on our car tried to lighten the mood by singing theme songs from classic TV shows like Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. One year of that was enough for me. I’d rather see local Fourth of July fireworks held near my home than go through that ordeal again.

8. Camping in a tent in the great outdoors. I did it several times as a teenager, mostly with the local Catholic Youth Organization that I belonged to. Every single time I went camping with the CYO, it rained, which resulted in leaky tents and water seeping through the bottom so our sleeping bags got wet and we would end up shivering. I had gone on so many camping trips with the CYO that had at least one rainy day that I began to feel jinxed. When I was a college student I made one last attempt at a camping trip, this time it was with a group of friends from school. We spent the weekend in Assateague Island. The good news was that it didn’t rain. The bad news for me was that it was very hot and sunny outside and I forgot to pack sunscreen. I ended up with a horrible sunburn and I even had sun poison in one area of my skin. That was the last time I ever went camping in a tent.

9. Hiking the Billy Goat Trail at the Great Falls Park in Maryland. I did it once many years ago. The big allure of the Billy Goat Trail is that one gets treated to picturesque views of the Potomac River. It’s true that those views are incredibly spectacular to behold while hiking the Billy Goat Trail. The bad news is that the Billy Goat Trail is incredibly difficult to hike and it involves climbing up and over numerous rocks and boulders while watching out for any poison ivy that’s growing in the area. When I did it my one and only time, I pulled so many muscles that I didn’t even know exist. I was barely walking by the time I arrived back home. It took me nearly two or three days before I fully recovered from that hiking excursion. Now that I’m older, I have a feeling that doing it again would not only be more difficult (especially since I have a hip replacement) but it would take me at least a week to recover.

10. Visiting Biosphere 2 in Arizona. When I was married and my mother-in-law was still alive, my husband and I used to make a trip to Phoenix at least once a year, where my mother-in-law lived with her second husband. Over the years we visited various places all over the Phoenix metropolitan area. Some places were quite memorable. Then there is Biosphere 2, the controversial science research facility where scientists have attempted to recreate an Earth-like environment inside of a glass-cased building structure. Biosphere 2 is located a full two-hours’ drive from Phoenix and it’s open to the general public. Now for the bad news: It has a steep entrance fee (I remember it cost around $15 per person at the time and the admission fee has gone up since our one and only visit) and the majority of the complex is off-limits to visitors. I remember there was a formal tour but even that tour didn’t go into any of the off-limit areas. The few areas that were available to the public didn’t have many exhibits or information areas. We managed to see all of the areas that we were allowed to see in less than two hours. That place was a major rip-off that was made worse by the fact that we had to take a four-hour round trip in the middle of nowhere in order to get to and from that place. If you want an enjoyable way of learning about Earth science in general while you’re on vacation, you’d be better off visiting Epcot in Florida instead of Biosphere 2.

Those are just among the experiences I’ve had that, for the most part, I don’t regret trying but I have no intention of ever repeating again. I’m sure that the older I get I’ll have even more experiences that I haven’t done before so I’ll have even more things to add to that list of new things I’ve tried once or twice but have no desire to repeat.

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