A Drop in the Bucket

I didn’t really plan much for today. Earlier this week I painted the nursery closet a nice, clean white. I wrote all my thank you cards from the shower. I washed the baby clothes and sorted them by size. I packed my hospital bag. I scheduled interview dates and generally kept the ball rolling for the nonprofit. Last night we set up the crib.

But I didn’t plan anything for today. I finished reading The Uncommon Reader in bed this morning. I put stamps on the thank you notes and tracked down addresses I didn’t have on hand. I joined Pinterest the other day and spent a few minutes adding pins to my still very bare wall.

It’s nice not having anything to do. I feel almost bored. Not the kind of boredom that leads to channel surfing and irritation. The good kind. The kind that opens up enough space for creativity, for long walks and mulling things over.

I think a lot about being a mother, how that will change things and how it will feel to have my sense of identity shift and compensate and try not to capsize. How much bigger life seems, more ocean-like in the vastness of love but also in the corresponding capacity for loss. There are no maps for these kinds of journeys.

I think about my books, too, and how much longer it will take to write them. How much I still want it all, how much less time I have for it…

And I think about turning 30 this year.

It seems—not old, because there’s nothing like saying you feel old to prove how very young you still are, but grown up. Adult. One is supposed, at this age, to know what one is doing, to be competent, to speak directly and take charge when circumstances warrant.

And the funny thing is that I am competent for the most part. I can speak directly when I have to. I do make things happen (after hyperventilating quietly to myself first). And I know what I’m doing.

I just didn’t really notice when I became this person…

I blame Pinterest.

When you join Pinterest, they start you off with a bunch of sample boards. I don’t even remember what they all were, but the one I started because it sounded like fun was one devoted to my Bucket List. I like reading people’s bucket lists, and you know how much I love goals, so what better way to start a visual board than with picture of all the fabulous things I want to do and experience in life?

I started pinning.

It’s harder than you’d think. After I got the first half dozen things done I sort of dried up mentally. Baby stuff and creative writing and pugs are always on the radar, but after that things got a bit sketchy. I needed a refresher with my bucket list, so back I went to the document I hadn’t opened in a couple of years.

And wouldn’t you know at the very top it said:



Well, crap.

That gives me 8 months, during which I must also give birth. Slightly dampened, I scrolled down the list. Some of them I’d done. Most of them I hadn’t.

  • Write five essays and publish at least one
  • Publish several poems
  • See the Hudson Bay
  • Visit the Smithsonian museums
  • Publish a novel
  • Read 75 novels from a list of 100 most influential novels in the world

I did actually go to my reading list after seeing that last one to see how far I’ve gotten, and it turns out I’ve read 49 books from that list, so… only 26 to go. Which would be doable if the books left on the list weren’t things like Tom Jones and all of Proust and The Tale of Genji.


And I don’t want to talk smack about my 25-year-old self, because I was very 25 then and was, as the zen master would say, the best 25-year-old self I knew to be. Furthermore, I worked hard. I made choices that prioritized my time for writing, and I wrote two novels in those years and large chunks of a third while working and getting married and occasionally freaking out. I needed that narrow vision. I needed to stay focused.

In the same way, I’m almost thirty now and need bigger dreams. Not necessarily new ones, note.  Publish a novel will always be on my life list, even after I get to highlight it in blue and put the date of fulfillment next to it. That’s part of who I am, and those kinds of things don’t change. Well, not at thirty anyway. You can ask me when I’m forty, I guess.

I don’t want to get rid of my old dreams, but I do need to add some new ones. I need big, expansive, roomy ones that can stretch like a soft knit handbag to carry all the odd pieces and unwieldy experiences of my growing life. To nurture curiosity and interest in the world, yes, but also to validate the parts of my life that aren’t showplaces, just places where I live.

So I started a new list today. I’m not finished with it, and some of them are still unreasonably out of reach, but I think the magic is in the mix.



  • keep chickens
  • become an early(ish) riser and get the day started right (tea, breakfast, a little silence)
  • breed dogs
  • develop a beautiful, old-fashioned cottage garden with unbelievably comfortable places to lounge and sunbathe
  • cut my hair really, really short (just to try it)
  • have a baby
  • give said baby the gifts of a home not saturated in media or social commitments, parents at peace, easy access to nature, and room for creative growth
  • avoid totally losing myself in the attempt to actually be this paragon of enlightened motherhood
  • create my dream home, knowing it will never be “done” but enjoying the process and always on one of the burners—forward or back
  • meditate more
  • go on a spiritual retreat (a real one)
  • take the time to reflect on the things I avoid and the things I fear and have the courage to deal with them openly
  • become an activist for women’s rights. I’ve been reading up on it for 5 or 6 years; I should probably do something about it now
  • create family traditions for all the major holidays and invent a few of my own (Dr. Seuss’s birthday always seemed to me like a holiday begging for more traditions)
  • take yoga or tai chi
  • be part of a group of women who meet regularly to discuss their goals (in career, family, creative endeavors). Besides updates, encouragement, and problem-solving, each month  the group would focus on a specific issue (finances, career paths, family issues, assertiveness, time management, etc). I have wanted this group to magically materialize for me for YEARS, but it looks like I’m going to have to start it if I ever want to join it…
  • pay off our school loans and mortgage as quickly as possible
  • consistently earn money by writing
  • read more poetry and memorize my favorite ones
  • rent a beach house and laze around it for a week
  • develop a personal style that does not involve pajamas
  • see every movie Audrey Hepburn ever made (I’m getting close on this one actually)
  • have a place in the house set aside just for scrapbooking and art journaling, where I can leave my projects unfinished, pick at them when I can, and never feel badly about it
  • teach writing and get paid for it
  • play more tennis
  • have a mentor (this probably requires meeting more and liking more people…)
  • have a juicer and make my own juice blends
  • eat a meal prepared by a world class chef
  • be hypnotized by someone who believes in past lives
  • grow my own vegetables
  • host a themed murder mystery dinner
  • take a 365 day challenge (not sure which one; so many good options)
  • Visit Moscow and St. Petersburg
  • Visit Ireland
  • Visit Scotland
  • Visit the Hudson Bay
  • Visit the Smithsonian museums
  • Visit San Diego and go to the zoo
  • see a tennis match at the US Open
  • be in the audience of a talk or tv show
  • go to a film festival (Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca… I saw a film at Tribeca once, and it was amazing. I must see more!)
  • be a brand—have a great website, be awesome at social media, be known for something—and then probably give it up because it’s way more work than it’s worth. But at least then I would know
  • read 75 out of 100 of the world’s most influential novels
  • write my memoirs or a collection of personal essays
  • write a collection of poetry (not for publication)
  • keep a literate, entertaining blog and get 3,000 visitors per month
  • publish a book and maybe someday a bestseller
  • learn to be comfortable speaking in public
  • publish a scholarly article in a literary journal
  • be part of an active writing community
  • win some kind of literary prize (doesn’t have to be big)

It’s good to be who you are, and it’s good to know who you are today as well as who you you were yesterday. Aphorisms are almost never true in any sort of literal sense, but I like them anyway.

Half of happiness is knowing what your life is supposed to be about. The other half is accepting what you find.


3 thoughts on “A Drop in the Bucket

  1. Oh, you’ve gotten on Pintrest? I’m hearing so many tantalizing things about Pintrest. So far I have resisted, but the day will probably come when I break down and try it.

    Your list is incredible. And so hopeful. There’s something delightfully plucky and inspiring about having so many ideas and interests. I was also tickled that “keep chickens” was on it. I LOVE chickens. Sigh. Such happiness to go out on a summer morning and feed my clucking little birds. I hope we get to have them again someday.

  2. LOVE your list! You rock. Can there be any doubt about why in the world we’re friends? May you never be cramped or guilted by your own goals but may you always have them…goals and dreams in quantity! I always think it’s sad when people I know tell me that they think its so cool sounding that I have goals but they just don’t do that…they find them discouraging. Live deep.

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