Abused Buckets

My late mother made the greatest cookies. Sugar, peppermint bark, no-bake, chocolate chip–my cousin still claims her copy of that recipe is missing a secret ingredient (I have no idea what she’s talking about). My mom’s cookies were famous with the family; not just the immediate family, but the whole of our extended family.

My favorite by far were her Fudge Puddles–cookie dough baked with a deep depression into which a fudge filling was poured. Mmmm…delectable…

My brothers and I had an inside joke with our mom when it came to this particular cookie. We didn’t call them Fudge Puddles. Given the general shape and filling color, we lovingly referred to them as “shit in a bucket.” How the expression came to be, I don’t remember, but it’s hard to imagine those cookies being called anything other than “shit in a bucket.”

The reason I bring up the memory of my mom’s cookies is because I feel there is another bucket-concept that is infringing on the name of my favorite cookie…and that’s not cool.

Are you familiar with the expression “bucket list?”…I don’t doubt it. It has been famously portrayed through popular culture–there was even a movie…it was called The Bucket List.

In case you missed it, the concept is to keep a list of experiences you want to have before you kick the…well, you saw where that was headed. As you accomplish those goals, they get crossed off the list. This seems satisfying, upstanding, even ambitious, right?

Well, sorry pop culture…I disagree. You’re doing it wrong.

Imagine laying on your death bed, in some lonely hospital room, staring at the crumpled and faded piece of paper that you first transcribed your bucket list onto several years before. There are 20 items on the list and you have only managed to cross off 11. Well, damn–there are still 9 items you didn’t get to. That’s disappointing. As tears begin to well up, you ball the paper and toss it in the general direction of the garbage can. But don’t worry, because you’re empty bucket is there to catch the tears.

Is that really the way you would want to go out? Yeah, me neither.

So, I propose this list be restructured. Instead of being goal oriented, it should focus on achievement. In other words, don’t come up with some random list you are going to focus on for the whole of your life–improvise, add to the list as you go and only as you achieve.

This makes a lot more sense, for several reasons.

First, go back to that hospital room where your taking the last breaths of your life. You pull out the crumpled piece of paper and start to read through the entries. The degree of fading varies across the list and produces a gradient of ink intensity that demonstrates how items were added one at a time over the years. The gradient even holds true across the different colored inks the various entries have been written in. Smirking, you climb out of bed and take your bucket to the window…there you turn it over and stand on it to get a better view back over your life. Look at all you’ve done. There are some incredible items on that list, all of which bring a smile to your face, a joyful tear to your eye. Ahhh…what a life.

Now…which of the two death experiences described would you prefer? Yeah, me too.

Second, the updated concept of this list fosters spontaneity. The old version doesn’t necessarily hamper spontaneity, but it’s difficult to act on a whim if you’re too concerned about crossing off item #11. But when potentially anything can make the list, things remain a lot more interesting.

Third, people change. Yes, even you. As a twenty-something college graduate, you might want to walk  down the Great Wall of China or learn a second language. As you progress into your thirties though, maybe an awesome entry for the list would be “start a family.” In you sixties your list might include buying an RV. Can you imagine a twenty-something globe trekker buying an RV? The updated concept not only allows, but embraces this change, this progression of perspective.

The fourth and final reason is what I consider to be the most important. You’ve got to have passion. It’s too easy to imagine doing something extraordinary and stop at putting it on a list. I wonder if, when you transfer that dream from your soul to that paper, you aren’t transferring some of your passion with it.

It’s easy to write a list and say I’ll get to it next year…I’ll get to it after I’ve accrued some vacation time…I’ll get to it after I get that promotion…I’ll get to it once I’ve retired…

…sure you will.

I completely believe that you’re not full of shit to the point that you’re overflowing with it and filling up your bucket.

When faced with a blank list though…with all your ambition and vigor bottled up…a bottle that’s shaken violently by the excitement and fervor of a long-held dream…the top is bound to pop…and the rush of emotions it brings will carry you forth toward that dream and that list entry.

So please, let’s revise our conception of the bucket list. Let’s tip our pails and dump out the shit we know we’ve been shoveling. Instead of writing a list that encourages complacency and stagnation, let’s work on one that will challenge us and encourage growth. Isn’t being challenged important? Isn’t personal growth important? Isn’t it important to be able, at any point in your life, to look back and feel satisfied?

Of course!

But let’s not get sidetracked here…the most important reason to wipe our hands of the shit we’ve been shoveling into our bucket is too clear up this concept and return the untarnished status to the name of my mom’s cookies–”shit in a bucket.”

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About Nathan Doneen

I'm currently a mid-20s post college grad trying to find my own niche in the world. I studied biology and environmental science when in school and have since started studying philosophy and theory of mind while trying to write in the midst of it all.

3 responses to “Abused Buckets”

  1. richardsenior2014 says :

    Great post and totally agree. A lot of the online bucket list prove your point about changing goals by trying to combine the things a 15 year old might dream of with things a 25 year old and 45 year old might dream of. Either the list constantly changes, in which case you can scrub off stuff like “pass my driving test,” or it stays the same, in which case “leave a job you hate” and so on shouldn’t be there. I love the image of the guy on his deathbed looking miserably at the screwed up bucket list from his youth and seeing that half of it is still undone. I like the idea, as well, of a reverse bucket list of things you HAVE done before you kick the bucket. Then again I often suspect that the bucket lists people post online are privately titled “things I’ve done and you probably haven’t”.

    Like

    • Nathan Doneen says :

      Richard, I completely agree with you—it seems a lot of bucket lists are meant to just feed the writer’s ego. But I wonder if there’s some kind of feedback loop there where the inflated ego gives one the confidence and drive to reach for more and actually add to the list. In any case, I hope we can reframe this notion.

      Like

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