The Anti-Bucket List

I’m turning 40 soon. Like so many of my cohort who are doing the same, I never expected it to be a big deal. I remember being really turned off by “over-the-hill” jokes when my parents turned 40, and never quite understood the desire to stay 29/39 forever. I’m not so sad to put my 30s behind me.

And I stand by that. But the passage is notable, perhaps more notable than I expected to be, and I have found myself thinking for a while about how to mark it. This idea has been at least a year in the making.

A little over a year ago our CSA was delivering huge bunches of cilantro every week, and I finally admitted to myself that despite most of a lifetime of believing I didn’t like cilantro, in fact all of those Indian and Mexican dishes that I liked despite cilantro . . . perhaps I actually liked in part because of cilantro. Given how many exceptions I’d made to supposedly not liking it, perhaps it was just time to flat our declare that I liked cilantro. It made for a yummier growing season, and some disbelieving spluttering from people who have known me and my tastes for a long time.

Not long after, someone accidentally succeeded where so many devoted beer lovers in my life had failed in making me have a similar thought about beer. I have long refused to drink beer, even after a few good-sport sips I took over the years actually weren’t half bad. But I just wasn’t a beer drinker, see. I was happy with my wine and whiskey, and with my one-liner at parties about knowing more songs in praise of beer than I’ve ever had glasses of the stuff.

“Geez,” part of me said when I found myself entertaining wavering on this point, “if you give in to beer, you might as well just give up and watch Star Wars too.”

Yes, I’ve never watched Star Wars. Yes, the incredulous reaction you are having amuses me and is the entire reason I have continued not to watch it, despite a fairly legitimate argument that this compromises my cultural literacy and occasional threats from various fans to lock me in a room until I do.

The thought of maybe letting that go finally was surprisingly freeing, even relieving. I don’t have to be that person if I don’t want to. I realized that I have accumulated a set of personality quirks—likes and dislikes, things I just don’t do—that I was maintaining a hard line about not because they aligned with my values particularly, nor out of any actual real preference, but simply because they had become part of my identity. “I just don’t do that.”

I don’t drink coffee because someone told me I wouldn’t make it through college without doing so. I don’t run for exercise because after miserable experiences running the mile in gym class in middle school I quipped that I would run if I were playing ultimate Frisbee or late for a train. And that became part of who I was.

And so on.

I decided that my 40th year project was going to be to identify and start shedding those edifices. I would not cling to defining myself by my own accretion of miscellaneous patterns and habits and signifiers. I would challenge myself to make my sense of myself rest on something more important and not be subconsciously afraid that I would disappear or become less interesting if I did the things that all the people do.

I decided I would have an anti-bucket list—not a list of things I’ve always wanted to do, but the things that until now I swore I would never do, for no particularly good reason. (Not martyrdom here. If there’s a good reason, I’m sticking to it. Bell peppers? I try them all the time. Still genuinely, totally gross.)

So I’m eating cilantro. I learned to lead as well as follow in contra dancing, and to really enjoy both positions. I’ve started watching TV. I’ve picked up my viola again after decades and am figuring, slowly, to ignore the part about how I’m just a sight reader and will never learn anything by ear. I tried out listening to podcasts, and can enjoy them—at least on long bus rides when I can’t focus my eyes on anything to read. I’ve gone running around the block with my kids, whooping as we sprinted around the last corner. There’s more to come.

I’m saving Star Wars for the birthday celebration itself.

(This column was originally published in Metroland, the Capital Region of New York’s former alt-weekly, on June 18, 2015.)

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