July 10, 2034

I Have a Great Imaginary Life But Sometimes I Need Things to Happen for RealOne of my dearest friends recently posted a meme that started, in its present iteration, with author Catherynne M. Valente: List 25 Things I Want Before I’m 50. I saw Cat’s list (which seems to be gone now, or at least no longer public), with some of her items already crossed off or progressing, and felt very insecure and unaccomplished. Seeing my friend’s list made me want to do it. Maybe it’s easier not to quail when your friends share extravagant dreams, and maybe it’s more thrilling watching someone you know be so deliciously ambitious.

I’m sure this is a twentysomething thing, but I have many days where I can’t shake the feeling that, even as I push and act and do, I’m still waiting for something to start. My list seems full of novice things, and there are days when I wilt, comparing my life to others’. Of course, one of my most salient, obvious features is being terrifically hard on myself. Clearly one of my less concrete goals is to shed that tendency as much as I can.

Putting this list together was hard. I am not good at planning for the future, and never have been. The exercise was a good one, though, because I began to see patterns in the things I want for myself. All my angst about finding a career especially becomes a little funnier, because it’s obvious to me that I have a career: it’s just one that’s tremendously hard to get hired for, in effect. My career is storytelling. It’s my day job that I need to solidify.

These are in no particular order, other than the first one.

  1. Be widely read. Get published. Do the work and finish things and share them. Make art. Tell stories. Engage with people. Maybe inspire some of them. This is the Thing I Have Wanted virtually my entire life. It’s a little uncomfortable and strange to be so brazen about it, but of all my ambitions, this one is the foundation. I want to talk to people about the world, and I want to do it with art.
  2. Develop musical talent. Learn to sing for real. Play instruments again. When I was a kid, I played piano, oboe and bassoon, and I always loved singing. I miss that, and now that I have a better idea of my tastes (this item could have read “Learn to be Neko Case”), I have a better idea of what to pursue. Someday, Old Town School of Folk Music. Someday soon.
  3. Own custom-built vintage-inspired clothing. I love lines in fashion. I love how clothing of a certain era is both feminine and strong. People often tell me I should have been born for anytime between the ’20s and the ’50s. Personally, I’ll stick with contemporary civil rights, modern medicine and the internet, but oh, do I love those looks. I’m tall, 5’10”, so period clothing rarely fits me. But reproduction designs are becoming more available, and I like the future very much.
  4. Spend a significant amount of time traveling abroad. Take a year and just go. Optimally, before grad school. Leave no room for regrets. There’s so much I want to see, I can’t even begin to get into specifics.
  5. Own a dog. Be a responsible dog owner. I grew up with a basset hound, and before that had wanted a dog almost from the time I knew what they were. It’s a constant longing. I just love dogs.
  6. The Great American Road Trip, at least part of it by train. I’ve done a little of this, and it’s always been the highlight of my year. In 2006, I took the California Zephyr from Oakland to Chicago, and I fell completely in love. (Did you know Amtrak makes a great hamburger, by the way?) In 2007, I outran winter that February and headed south, into Georgia and the Carolinas, and it gave me what I needed to get out of Ohio and move to Chicago. I need more Great American Road Trips, even if they’re only a week at a time.
  7. Take photography classes. I love my camera. I love taking pictures. I would love to be able to justify one of those gorgeous DSLR cameras and get really inventive and attentive.
  8. Take acting classes. I’m not a Theater Person, who lives and breathes the theater and who can devote myself to the stage the way that life requires, but I love acting. I also think, like improv, it would challenge me as a human being, and I think that would help me in a lot of areas of my life.
  9. Find a career. Figure out what to do and how to do it. Go to grad school. As soon as I articulate to myself how I can go to grad school in being Studs Terkel, I will be set.
  10. Be more bodily active. I have a love-hate relationship with sports. There’s some measure of snobbery and shame that I need to overcome, leftover from public school, because I surprise myself with aggression from time to time, and I clearly need an outlet for that. Kickboxing, biking and roller derby all sound kind of amazing to me.
  11. Have a family. It interests me how far down the list I put this, or rather how comfortable I am with bringing it up. I want to be putting kids through college when I’m 50, or at least working up to it. But yes, I do, in fact, want to marry and reproduce. I don’t think it’s inconsistent with any of these other wants.
  12. Live abroad? My ambivalence on this one is also interesting to me. It’s certainly, at this point, more important that I get to move and travel, rather that live somewhere else. I wouldn’t mind it, though. I think I just have to be sure of the circumstances.
  13. Write that book. The nonfiction one, about transformation and war and a few other things.
  14. Have a hand in making a movie. Or a TV series. The most consistently good filmed entertainment is in TV these days. I think it’s more suited to my love of long stories too. My only problem is I don’t think I could bear living in Los Angeles.
  15. Do something drastic with my hair. Cutting it, dyeing it, whatever: I want to challenge myself and try something new and less safe.
  16. Have a writer’s circle that meets in person. Whether this means we’re all local and meet once a week, or whether we communicate online and get together once a year, I would love to have that, a small community of people I trust who want to tell stories as much as I do.
  17. Collaborate more. I am a bit of a control freak, and have not entirely learned how to do collaborative creative projects. I am intensely envious of those who can, whether it be co-writing a story or creating a comic with an artist or doing something amazing and multi-media. I would love to create things in conjunction with other creative people. I think improv gives me a taste of that, and I’d like to branch out.
  18. Lose my fear of bullies. Speak out more and earlier. This is a lifelong thing of mine. I imagine I will write about them a lot, as practice.
  19. Have a greenhouse. And a garden. Alternately, acquire discipline and a green thumb.
  20. Have a rural space I can always come back to. I grew up in Appalachia, and I miss it, dearly. I also have something of a desire to live there again, even given how much I love cities. I’ve seen what it can do, and I know what I get out of it. Someday, hills, I’m coming home.
  21. Learn to dance. Especially swing. I would really love to get out of my head about dancing, because while I’ve long convinced myself that I am awkward and possessed of two left feet, I think I really just need to not be so self-conscious. I also have a secret desire to be part of a group with a dress code and an ethos, inasmuch as you dress up for swing dancing. See #3 for more.
  22. Sort out the place of religion in my life. I’ve been an atheist since I was 4 and realized that Genesis had left out the dinosaurs in the Garden of Eden. I am also Jewish, and I consider that a very important part of myself and my family. The atheism and the Judaism are far from mutually exclusive, which is one of the things I love about it. As it turns out, I have opinions on what services should be like, and I would like to find a community I’m comfortable in, even if it’s just for the holidays. (Trust me, no one was more surprised than I was.) So far, no dice, though I haven’t been looking like I could be.
  23. Give. Be secure enough to support the causes I love financially. One of the hazards of working in nonprofits, I guess, is being impressed on the importance of giving. I would love to be a consistent, change-effecting donor.
  24. Be a better correspondent. How much I stay in touch with someone is never any measure of how I feel about them. I love many people dearly that I utterly fail at communicating with on a regular basis, and it eats at me. I never quite know what to say, especially if the silence has been long. I need to get over that, and to make it not be a problem in the first place.
  25. Go whale-watching. The oldest want of all.

A few times, I was tempted to be more whimsical. “Screw world travel!” I thought at one point. “When I’m 50, I want to have gone into space!” A few other times, I thought, “Oh my god, I am only 23 and a half years away from my 50th birthday, I am running out of time.” In both of those instances, I had to stop and laugh. Somewhere on a writing blog, I read a reminder that the Sears Tower was built by lots of little actions, lots of individual bolts and rivets going into lots of smaller pieces of steel. It didn’t happen all at once, but it was accomplished, because of many actions that seemed too small to matter. As someone who works in the Loop close by, I can appreciate the weight of that analogy.

I’m glad I have this list now. I’m looking forward to coming back, maybe revisiting in a year, and crossing a few things off.

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