March 7, 2008

"You should be outside, far, far away from here, right this minute, visiting Machu Picchu ..."

"... or a former Hungarian brothel that's now a cute artisanal bakery run by tiny singing lesbians, or visiting a giant musty old castle in Leipzig, or maybe taking lousy digital pictures of that Amazonian tribe that makes cute little earrings out of dried capybara testicles. Do it. Do it now."

A publishing trend
about lists of 1,000 things you need to do "before you die."

Personally, I don't understand why getting all in people's faces about their impending death is going to get them going. I see those titles and think: Oh, I'm going to die? Well, then why make all the effort? I do these 1,000 things, and then it's not that I'm some wonderfully complex and enriched human individual. I'm just a corpse. Yes, yes, I know, you're about to tell me about the afterlife. But if there's an afterlife, I should be praying or doing good works, not galavanting around the globe or reading hundreds of novels or whatever these books want death to stimulate me into doing.

48 comments:

Henry said...

We were given a lovely Rizzoli book this year on "100 beautiful small towns in Italy".

They are all very beautiful.

So make that 1100 places to visit.

Henry said...

p.s. C.S. Lewis' brother Warnie wrote a well-regarded history of Versaille without once taking the short trip across the English Channel to visit the place.

So back at you, listmakers.

Roger said...

why in the world would we want to do all that mundane stuff when we can watch project runway, dancing with the stars, american idol, and the democratic campaign? (sarcasm tag off)

Ann Althouse said...

Roger, for one thing, it avoids many, many hours spent on planes and a spending a lot of money that you have to devote time to working for. If you can enjoy and truly appreciate your immediate surroundings, it's a much more efficient use of time and money.

Middle Class Guy said...

"Let us now enjoy, for example, 1,000 places to touch your lover's skin with a long feather from the headdress of a shaman."



Now that could be number one on my list.

Bullwinkle4Amy said...

My problem with these asinine lists is that they act as if cheap airfare and reliable roads and cars have existed forever—that is, as if no one living before the invention of the internal combustion engine could possibly have led a fulfilling life.

I'm no Luddite (I'd better not be; I write software for a living), but I see nothing wrong with being born in a place, growing up in a place, working in a place, getting married in a place, and dying in a place, all without ever having gotten more than, oh, 20 miles away from that place. This mad insistence on some editorialist's notion of cosmopolitanism is just that: mad.

MadisonMan said...

I will say that if you have to do all this stuff before you die to be fulfilled and/or content, then maybe the life you are leading wasn't right for you. It's tough to learn that when you have a death sentence, I suppose.

Flying all over the world just to complete some list is the same thing as working in an office and having deadlines. Just the venue and surroundings have changed. I enjoy my cozy little corner of the World here too much to spend time away from it.

Palladian said...

A publishing trend about lists of 1,000 things you need to do "before you die."

I'd rather read a book about the 1,000 men I need to do before I die.

Pogo said...

WALLY: "Tell me: why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality? I mean...I mean: is Mount Everest more "real" than New York? I mean, isn't New York "real"? I mean, you see, I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! I mean...I mean, isn't there just as much "reality" to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest? I mean, what do you think? You see, I think that not only is there nothing more real about Mount Everest, I think there's nothing that different, in a certain way. I mean, because reality is uniform, in a way. So that if you're--if your perceptions--I mean, if your own mechanism is operating correctly, it would become irrelevant to go to Mount Everest, and sort of absurd! Because, I mean, it's just--I mean, of course, on some level, I mean, obviously it's very different from a cigar store on Seventh Avenue, but I mean..."

Paddy O. said...

If you can enjoy and truly appreciate your immediate surroundings, it's a much more efficient use of time and money.

One of the desert monastics wrote about 1400 years ago, "Stay in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything."

He was noting the tendency of the discontent to break their spiritual/emotional growth by searching for continually new experiences. Indeed, the constant need for more and more distraction by travel or visits or other frenzied living was one of the sure signs a monk was caught in acedia, "spiritual depression", and a deadly sin.

The idea of staying in your cell doesn't always mean being content with your surroundings but it means realizing that not being content isn't a sign of maturity. Learning how to understand the place and the self is one of the more profound teachers.

Also a person who just moves around brings nothing to these places. They become a checklist with no real value besides comparison. I know so many people with lots of countries on their life list who are quite surprisingly very shallow and empty.

I like what Andy Goldsworthy says in Rivers and Tides, "It takes about ten years to really begin to know a place." And then the learning and understanding can start. Just flitting around has the appearance of achievement but doesn't offer too much depth, either eternal or temporal.

Palladian said...

"I'm no Luddite (I'd better not be; I write software for a living), but I see nothing wrong with being born in a place, growing up in a place, working in a place, getting married in a place, and dying in a place, all without ever having gotten more than, oh, 20 miles away from that place."

"One can know the world without going outside. One can see the Way of heaven without looking out the window. The further one goes the less one knows."

Tao Te Ching, Ch. 47, S.1. Sanderson Beck translation

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, Pogo. I was thinking of exactly that when I was writing my 9:18 comment.

Ann Althouse said...

Maybe everyone should a list of 1000 things that you've found worth seeing within 20 miles of your home. And it's not a list for other people to do and check off. It's an exercise to teach yourself that you are completely in the fascinating world wherever you happen to be. (Excluding some disastrous places.)

Pogo said...

1. My neighbor a half block away wrote this book about his terrible experiences during the Cultural Revolution and then his eventual escape from communist China to teach in the US.

ricpic said...

Some sit around the house all day and mope,
Others race around the globe in hope;
Either way the pendulum swings closer,
There ain't no way to stay it, no sir.

PatCA said...

Those books are also impossible gifts for anyone over 40. It's like getting them a gift certificate for a mortuary.

John K. said...

One day, during a particularly depressing period of my life, when it seemed there was sparse outlet for my good intentions, my best friend asked the ordinary innocuous question, "How's it goin?" Despite not having done a damn thing all day, I replied, "One day closer to the finish line." That struck him as hilarious, and it's remained for us a shared code-phrase, signifying something.

rhhardin said...

Take a dozen trips across the Pacific in a DC-6, is my advice. That pretty much cures wanderlust.

Pogo said...

2. The infant area of the cemetary behind my house. Flowers still appear on some of them, even though they are decades old. Probably a birthday, celebrated silently, and mourned.

Roger said...

Ann: I take your point and my personal philosophy is "bloom where you are planted." that said, if a person does have the time and money to see "sights" then by all means go for it. The sights, however, should not be dictated by the fashionistas (ie macchu pichu, kilimanjaro or himalayan trekking).

Beth said...

Maybe everyone should a list of 1000 things that you've found worth seeing within 20 miles of your home.

Ann, this suggestion struck me perhaps more deeply than you intended. The past 2 1/2 years have been filled with us (my partner and I) making an informal list of "what used to be there?" before the storm, and its aftermath. Things are still disappearing. We've made it a habit now to list things, buildings mostly, that we love and want always to remember and then go photograph them.

former law student said...

I would put it this way: Do whatever you've always wanted to do, and see whatever you've always wanted to see before you die. In fact, do it as soon as possible, because no one knows how long they may live.

But trying to adopt some other clown's idea of the essential is pure consumerism, as useless as reading the Nieman-Marcus catalog vowing to own one of everything they sell.

Pogo said...

as useless as reading the Nieman-Marcus catalog vowing to own one of everything they sell.

It's much cheaper, and more fun, to try to own most of the items from this catologue.

Trooper York said...

"or a former Hungarian brothel that's now a cute artisanal bakery run by tiny singing lesbians"

But, just think about the muffins!

Roger said...

or the buns

Middle Class Guy said...

I have never met any tiny lesbians who could sing.

Middle Class Guy said...

Trooper York said...
"or a former Hungarian brothel that's now a cute artisanal bakery run by tiny singing lesbians"

But, just think about the muffins!

Think about visiting 1000 places on an international muff diving expedition.

Trooper York said...

You know since it's a Friday during Lent I wonder if they could make a tuna muffin?

Bullwinkle4Amy said...

John K.: One day, during a particularly depressing period of my life, when it seemed there was sparse outlet for my good intentions, my best friend asked the ordinary innocuous question, "How's it goin?" Despite not having done a damn thing all day, I replied, "One day closer to the finish line." That struck him as hilarious, and it's remained for us a shared code-phrase, signifying something.

"The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older/Shorter of breath and one day closer to death." — "Time," Pink Floyd

Jeremy said...

Maybe everyone should a list of 1000 things that you've found worth seeing within 20 miles of your home.

That's brilliant.

I'm gonna (try to) do it.

(Jeremy adds one more thing to his list of Things to Do Before He Dies. Notably "Watch The Bucket List is not on his Bucket List)

Bill said...

the definitive list is really pretty short.
things to do before you die:
1. invent immortality device.

Middle Class Guy said...

"...all the cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole and i'm much too young to feel this damn old."
UNK

When my life is ended, my time has run out
My friends and my loved ones, I'll leave them no doubt
But one thing's for certain, when it comes my time
I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind.
Porter Wagoner

OBIT: " He valiantly fought off police trying to rescue him after falling into the vat of beer."

AJ Lynch said...

My nephew likes to ask "How are you treating life?"

Seems like a good outlook for those who seek fun stuff whether near and/or far.

TMink said...

Interesting posts in this thread. Even the muff diving tangents!

It brings up two ideas for me. One is how we look for that brain buzz and find it in different places and situations. And there sure is economy in being able to find it on a Fountains of Wayne cd or a walk in the neighborhood.

I guess we should pity the jaded or less easily amused who have to travel far and wide to find it. Now I did some traveling, and still do a little, mostly to Beth's neck of the woods, and I really enjoy it. But a nice walk in the woods or fishing in the Smokies can be a peak experience too.

Then there is the whole deal with travel snobs. They are just snobs who place drop instead of name dropping. You can catch the difference between people who travel and share and people who travel and lord their somehow superior experience over you.

Trey

Smilin' Jack said...

Palladian said...
"One can know the world without going outside. One can see the Way of heaven without looking out the window. The further one goes the less one knows."

Tao Te Ching, Ch. 47, S.1. Sanderson Beck translation


And now for the left brain:

From a drop of water, a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it.

Sherlock Holmes, "A Study in Scarlet"

john said...

Oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like home!

Look, Daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

I'll go home. And I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.

20 miles, hah! Just as far as the couch is all you need to travel.

ricpic said...

I'll leave this old world with a satisfied mind.

That's bunk. Nobody leaves this old world with a satisfied mind. For show maybe, but not in their inner sanctum.

ricpic said...

It's all confusion from start to fin
And nobody knows nada,
With this minor exception --
Bob's your uncle, not your fada.

Ann Althouse said...

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Zeb Quinn said...

For some reason this is all very reminiscent of those Carlos Castaneda books that I read in the early 70s.

paul a'barge said...

There are tiny lesbians?

Who knew.

Original Mike said...

The wonder of flowers, to be covered, and then to burst up,
Thru tarmack, to the sun again,
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing,
To lie in the meadow and hear the grass sing,
To have all these things in our memories hoard,
And to use them,
To help us,
To find...

Howard said...

The frequency of bucket lists increases as the age of baby bombers approaches extinction. Insert self absorbed yuppie scum cliche here_____________

I need to go back to my cell to become enlightened just like Buddha: another tic on a bucket list without the airfare.

Instant Karma, get your Instant Karma while supplies last.

Cedarford said...

Its really a childhood thing of writing down things they want to accomplish (mine at 8 was to fish and catch every species of freshwater fish in America, where the rare Muskie and Golden trout were the Holy Grails on my checklist)

Except all the info an adult can go through these days and cross checking other lists easily makes it possible to compile a list of 1,000, 5,000 - even 10,000 worthy places you MUST visit before you die...which at some point becomes from wealth or time constraints as much an impossibility as my fishing list became once I learned the true number of finned critters I must get on my hook, including one-river rarities and fish found only in remote Hawaii, Alaska, 3 days hike through Montana wilderness fish.

Althouse properly adds, and even if you DID doggedly work your way through a 1,000 place "must visit" list, so what? You die and whatever enrichment that gave is gone, plus whatever you sacrificed and lost from your life to grimly mark off the checklist.

And it bears mentioning that the beautiful things you see on your life's journey are best appreciated with the experiencing of the ugly. Drinking tea next to a scrap pile in an indescribably grotty Romanian town rebuilt Stalinist-style makes that stone cachement you find on a hike in Kenya full of huge iridescent blue butterflies, orange green black ones more beautiful and intense.

The joy of living my son on his first breaths of life hammered into new levels of poignancy by literally feeling the life leave my mother through the hand I held at Hospice.

Maybe as we build our interconnected world we will visit those those thousand places, even 10,000 places from our homes with 3D/HD virtual reality screens and for a fee, even go from gawker to participant and interact with locals like the singing lesbians by phone link. Pay per view, pay per interaction. Maybe even with and expensive odorant assembly that gives us true "Smellaround" of the scent molecules in the air as we visit a Manila garbage dum and say hello to the pickers, or the dusky scent of a cobra being handled by a Fakir at the 850 year old famous snake temple..

Tourism may dramatically increase if it can be done effectively remotely. Pay 40 bucks for a three hour walk around the the City of the Dead in Cairo with an Egyptian guide squiring 20 of us remote located tourists around? Sure. I and 30 million others would pay for that. Or the cheaper 5 dollar recording of someone elses visit, with the 3.50 fee for the "Smellaround" code that gives us the scent of mutton, fava beans baking, onions, a spice medly, scent of donkeys, limestone dust, and smell of hard-working poor people.
What if a "tourist" folder had 5,000 such known places ready to order for an evenings entertainment? Better, what if new experiences of discovery were offered where you didn't know what would happen and the people on scene didn't either. An Ancient Etruscan Tomb (not Al Capones vault) is scheduled to be opened at 9PM Wednesday. Want to be there with the archaeologists?


For now, we can pick and choose given our limitations and relish that being forced to chose makes our choices personal and important to us from the beginning. To treat our physical visits to those desirable and undesirable places as what they are - enriching life's experiences we combat routine, boredom, burnout, everyday life with..

Elliott A said...

Mike- It is amazing that those very beautiful and deep meaning words can be followed by a see-saw ride.

Elliott A said...

Perhaps the ultimate point of a list is to aim for a state of contentment in that final dim moment as your life dims away,that you accomplishe all you set out to do and thus do not feel cheated by leaving things unfinished. Ann's prayer idea is right there for those of deep faith who can reach contentment. Knowing you left a positive mark could be another, as could fulfillment through your family, children, grandchildren, etc.

I think that the places by themselves without a true context, sharing or purpose are all empty

Blake said...

I recommend waiting till after you die to travel. It's much easier to get around and much harder to get mugged.

TMink said...

Cefarford, call me immature, but I STILL want to catch all the trout! And yes, that golden trout is elusive!

So far, I have caught just four: rainbow, brown, cuthroat, and grayling. The grayling is not really a trout, but this is about fishing, not biology.

Trey