Sunday, December 15, 2013

Don't put off to your bucket list what you can do today

I've spent hours writing hundreds and hundreds of words the past few days on the idea of a bucket list. You know, the list of things you'd like to do before you kick the bucket...die in other words, for the less faint of heart.

If this were an older movie, you would be treated to the cliche of the waste basket overflowing with crumpled sheets of paper as our plucky writer struggled to finish his work. Not only is it not a movie, but deleting has become the new crumpling, so the waste basket remains empty, except for some paper plates and toast crumbs, and something brown that I'm afraid to look at too closely.

When I think of some of the things I've been able to write about here, some of the fears I've been able to face, being stuck writing about a bucket list should seem laughable.
But, here's the thing... I didn't want to just write about it, I wanted to write something important; something pithy; something with substance. Why? I don't know, but it probably had something to do with impressing you, the reader. Let's face it, though, someone with cancer writing about a list of things to do before you die is hardly a stop the presses moment, is it?

And that right there was the first stumbling block. How to take on the subject without coming across as the poor, sick cancer patient facing the Grim Reaper and bravely writing about doing no doubt noble things before he... you know. Yeah. Sounds like a load of hooey to me too, but it didn't stop me from spending a few hundred words, and a lot of hours I'll never get back, on it anyway. By the time I was done futzing with that, I felt like printing out the pages so I could give them the crumpling they deserved.

There were plenty of words, but no pith to be found. If I may be permitted a salute to the ever-shrinking number of Gene Pitney fans everywhere... it was a tome without pithy, if you will. I decided to come back to all that and moved on to the bigger picture items of death, dying and man's mortality.

I know. I know. That was never going to work, and for so many reasons. No one wants to talk about death or dying, especially their own. As far as being mortal goes... we all live like death is what happens to the other guy and none of us wants to hear any different. More hundreds of words, zero substance, more printing and crumpling please.

When I started working in newspapers in the fall of 1972, I was the editor of two small circulation weekly newspapers in Central New York: The North Syracuse Star and the Cicero Recorder. I was 23 years old, and looking back, it doesn't seem possible that I could have been as full of myself as I was then... and for no good reason. Seriously. I was just beginning to learn how to write; I had no idea of what it meant to live in and write about a small community; and I completely misunderstood the impact of putting unflattering things about people in the newspaper.

Lots of times the people get mad! And when they do, being a small community, they know where to find you. Even when they can't deny the truth of what you've written, they get mad anyway. In my first couple of years, people canceled their advertising, threatened to run me over if they saw me crossing the street, and in one memorable letter to the editor noted: “It's possible that the person who wrote that has brains, without specifying their exact location.”

In the midst of all this, a cooler, wiser friend made me a sign I kept by my phone for years: “When you're up to your ass in alligators, it can be hard to remember your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”

Right. I had spent hours on this bucket list deal and the message of that sign came back to me because that's exactly how I felt. I had been so determined to say something important, that I forgot the message completely.

And here's the funny part: All I was trying to say was that in the grand scheme of things a bucket list doesn't make much sense. Ta da! Message sent. We make the list and then put it away until... until what? Well, for most of us, I suppose, we put it away until we get closer to an age where the actuary tables say we're most apt to kick the bucket.

Does that really make any sense to you? We end up gambling that we'll be able to still do all this cool stuff because... because... a bunch of insurance people say it's not our time... on average? Hmmmm.

Look, I have an incurable form of cancer called multiple myeloma. It's treatable, but even if it does go into remission, I'll still have it for the rest of my life, or until they find a cure. But guess what? That doesn't mean I won't step out the door tomorrow and be run over by a bus. Actually, there are only about four buses, four small buses, total, in and around where we live, so that might be a bad example, but you get my drift, right?

If the things on your bucket list are important to you, you should stick the list on the fridge and start getting them done. That's all I wanted to say. Oh, and if any of them have to do with mending relationships, I'd start with those. Okay. Now I'm done.

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.