100 Things: Hows, Whys, and Whatsits

Posted by Whit Barringer , Saturday, August 28, 2010 10:18 PM

When I first started my list of 100 Things to Do Before I Die back in October of last year, my friends had two reactions: they asked if I had really made a “bucket list,” and they promptly told me which items they had completed.  Several said that they would contemplate lists of their own, or that they admired my will to even attempt something so ambitious but they could never do so themselves (for the record, I disagree vehemently).

I really had no idea of what to expect when I made my list. I had only a few ideas when I began it, and I didn’t let myself get up until I had finished it. Several ideas turned into a hundred.  When I finished it, I told myself I couldn’t change it, which immediately led to those moments of regret (“Why the hell would I make chain mail [#73] and a suit of armor [#74]?”) and worries about sheer possibility (finish a novel [#87], learn a second language [#63], and, er, #1).  I felt some of the options I had were too stupid to be life goals (ten Halloweens with beard-wearing [#94]), or were too materialistic to really be worth accomplishing (seven mention “own” [#99, 92, 91, 81, 79] or “buy” [#67, 66], and those are only the ones that are explicitly about acquiring).

After I made the list, I would only remember bits and pieces of it. I’d have to return to the list to know what the hell I had written, and each time be surprised by what I found. Half of the list is in some fog of amnesia, and most of the other half is on hold until I have the means to complete it. A small part of the list, such as watching all of Mystery Science Theater 3000 [#89] and drinking 250 different beers [#85], are ones I am constantly working on and toward.

I was in the first semester of grad school when I completed the list. To put it bluntly, I was in an existential depression about the path I had chosen and my prospects along that path.  Things had happened in my personal life that had threatened to upend the precarious balance my life had been put in by leaving home and to uproot what I had thought was my foundation. It was a scary time for me, being in a new place with adult responsibilities, and suddenly being saddled with problems that I could not possibly solve. 

The time that I would have spent reflecting upon my list was taken away and has been on hold literally until now, nearly a year later.  And yet, while the reflection upon on what my list could mean was on hold, the list itself began to have its effects on my life. Moments where I would have spent unproductively moping about my situation were suddenly filled with purpose. Instead of sleeping the semester away, I stayed up and watched movies. I wanted to go out with friends to the bar because I actually had a mission to drink. I went to more concerts than I have in my entire life in my first semester, simply because I had a purpose.

And while it’s really taken me until now to climb out of that funk, I partly owe it to my 100 Things in the first place for making it out in one piece.  I never thought it would mean much to me. I think I had originally envisioned it as a more of a rainy day endeavor than something that gave me drive and purpose. But here I am, planning for beards on Halloween and making blueprints for suits of armor as if it were as serious as finishing grad school or finding a job.  

Sometimes the things you do on a whim end up being the best things you ever did.