Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 2013 Letter: Bucket Lists

Note:  I never give a caveat in these letters.  This time I will, given the subject matter.  If you, or a loved one, are facing a serious or terminal condition, you may not want to read this simply because it is about things we want to accomplish before we die.

I started off wanting to write a humorous piece about bucket lists.  The funny thing about wanting to be funny is that it is really really hard to commit premeditated humor.  It is even harder when the topic at hand is basically not funny.  I set out to mock Bucket Lists and make fun of them.  Somewhere during the second draft, I realized that while in the hands of a deft humorist this could be scathingly funny.  I had to admit that in my hands, in whatever mood I have been in while writing this, I have to make it a tad more serious than I had originally wanted.
In the 2007 movie, The Bucket List, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two cancer patients that take their leave from the hospital to go on a road trip with a list of things to see and do before they die.  Ever since then I have been hearing people talking about having done this or that and saying that crossed that off their bucket list. 
We all have hopes and aspirations.  We accomplish some and others are out of reach or never happen.  Often times for the things that have not happened, we have to face a certain reality at some point.  That reality is that we might not have the time, money, or talent to actually accomplish a particular goal or set of goals.  Yet, our hopes and aspirations do not seem aware of our age or economics.  We may have less big dream goals as we age, but those we have or continue to hold on to are as strong and dear to us as when we were in our teens. 
I do not like the term Bucket List.  For some reason it rubs me the wrong way.  It sounds morbid and contrived.  It must come from a list of things that we would like to accomplish before we "kick the bucket." 
Kick the bucket?  What does that mean?  A short internet search provided two theories both of which bring rather harsh images to a rather benign slangy phrase:

  1. In days of yore, people that were to hung often stood on an inverted bucket.  With the noose in place, the bucket was kicked to finish the deed.
  2. Also in days of yore, the word bucket also referred to a wooden frame from which animals were hung by their feet for slaughter which the animals would kick while being slaughtered.

Like anyone else I have a list of things I would love to do.  The list includes career and lifestyle things I would love to accomplish.  There are places I would love to visit.  There are books I want to read.  There are things I would like to experience.  I have not bothered to write these things down.  As I have not written them down, I have not prioritized these things. 
Furthermore, the list is always changing with my changing mood and insights into life.
When I was in grade school, during the first manned flights into space, I really truly wanted to be an astronaut.  It was exciting.  It was adventurous.  I was very much interested in it.  I followed each launch.  I sent a letter to NASA to get materials on the program.  They sent me bios of the astronauts and pamphlets on the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.  I read about rocketry and history of rocketry.  I was locked in and committed.  I was going to do this!
In my readings, I learned about the very the rigorous training astronauts had to go through.  I learned about the various exercises that mimic the forces and rocky nature of both the launch and re-entry.  I then realized that maybe this was not for me.  In those days, I would get car sick on long trips.  I got nauseous on roller coasters.  As a result, I dropped being an astronaut off of my list.  The fascination did not stop.  I just changed my priority and wanted to learn about engineering and physics.  Over time that interest intensified and became even more abstract.  I ended up majoring in mathematics an interest which I still have today. 
This month, l learned that Richard Branson is about a year away from providing a flight into space for those that can afford the $200,000 ticket.  Money aside, I really have no interest at this point.  But, this certainly would be something one could add to Bucket List.
Also, when I was younger, there was a time when I really wanted to be a concert violinist.  Achieving that goal, would have required total focus and dedication.  Even with total dedication and focus, the probability of achieving that lofty ambition would have been low.  Frankly, I just had too many interests, like being an astronaut, and thus could not really take on anything that required total focus and dedication.  So, again my list changed at least in terms of priorities. 
These kinds of aspirations are not really what people think about when they talk about their bucket list.  The line items on Bucket Lists are activities that do not require a large investment of time to acquire a specific set of skills and competencies.  When most people talk about bucket lists, they are talking about taking a trip to see an important site or place such as the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower.  Others want to do things like go to a fantasy baseball camp of their favorite team.   Some of us want to jump out of an airplane or walk the Appalachian Trail.
I will do what I sometimes do in these letters and take a simple concept like this notion of a Bucket List and make it unnecessarily complicated.  In this spirit take this one "bucket" and make three.  Let's call them: 

  1. Bucket List:  This is the list as we have been taking about it thus far. It is the list of things and places people either want to experience or visit before they depart this life.
  2. Waste Bucket List:  The items on this list are things, people, and places that I was once interested in but have little interest in now or moving forward.  Of course, this list may be populated with things that I did not have the time, aptitude, or drive to accomplish e.g. learning Japanese.  It could also apply to thing I once I had intense interest in but I have almost no or low interest in now.  Here I am talking about things like stamp collecting, baseball, and Beethoven.
  3. Chuck-it List:  This is the list that I want people to stop bothering me about.  The items on this list are clearly delineated in two previous blog postings STFU and Curmudgeon or Just a Crumb.  Basically, with each passing year I have less and less patience for hearing anybodies advice on how I should think, vote, pray, work, and eat.  So, for me, this list is mostly populated with people I don't need to be around and mingling with.  I was going to call it the F*#k-It List.  But as my wife, daughter, and mother read these letters, I thought Chuck-It might be more appropriate. 

Do I have a Bucket List?  I guess I do but it is not definitive.  Things come and go off of the list depending on what I have been thinking which in turn is dependent on what I might have read or recently watched on TV.  It is constantly changing.  As of this writing, there are only two places that stands out in my head that I feel I would like to see.  One is the Grand Canyon and the other is to visit the towns and villages in occupied Western Armenia that my grandparents were born.  But it is not pressing.  I am ambivalent about The Great Wall of China, Mardi Gras, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, The Sistine Chapel, and any of the six claims of The World's Largest Frying Pan (why?).  Other than that there is nothing I can really think of.  No place is calling out to me. 
As for activities, I would like to ride a century (a one hundred mile bike ride in one day).  This I definitely want to do.  There are so many books I haven't read and there, of course, are the books I haven't written yet.  There are places I want to go and see.  Heck, there are even places I think I would like to live and experience as a resident and not a tourist. But, nothing is on any kind of serious list.  If they happen cool.  If they don’t that is OK too.
We have all known people who plan the major events of their lives and then make the plans happen.  This is a small minority of people.  They know they want to be a doctor, attorney, business owner, or whatever and they go out and do it.  They have a list of places that want to either live in or visit.  They make it happen.  They want to do this or that and they make it all happen.  It is impressive but something only a select and focused few can achieve.
For most of the rest of us make it up as we go.  We act more randomly or as things randomly happen to us.  We have notions more than goals.  If Plan A doesn't pan out, it morphs into Plan B or Plan C.  That is OK.  It works.   This either due to indecisiveness, lack of focus, and an element of randomness that cannot be ignored.  Getting ill or winning the lottery is certainly random and would definitely have an impact on ones plans. 
Randomness can be more subtle.  For example, let’s think of choosing courses a particular semester.  A course critical to Plan A is closed or otherwise not available.  You choose and elective course to fill some other requirement.  You fall in love with new subject and voila... You are suddenly operating on Plan B.  In another case, you get recruited for a job in a new city that you never ever considered living in.  You take the job, fall in love with the new city, meet the love of your life there, and embrace Plan C which was never premeditated. 
That is the way my career and where I live has evolved.  I had plans but circumstances provided opportunities to change the plans.  Almost everything has had an element of randomness to it.  Within the randomness, it was and is up to me to choose how to react or not react.  Does randomness provide an opportunity or a distraction?  I have gotten to the point where I appreciate the randomness.  I look for the randomness and make decisions as I go.  That is a good thing for me.  I realize it is not a good mode for everyone. 
The other thing that bugs me about the concept of Bucket List is the very idea of death.  Everyone has to die.  Some of us are in a race against that inevitability.  Some of us would rather live like we will live forever.  Some of us know that the end is closer and more certain.  All three of the lists become more important.  Things are then in a different light and with very different priorities.  It was clear to the Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman characters in the movie exactly how they wanted to spend their precious time. 
Often, we are not confronted with having to make such decisions until the time left is preciously and clearly finite.  Hopefully when we are, we still have the ability to act on, fund, and travel to whatever is in our Bucket Lists.  The acts and activities that are most fulfilling might just be appreciating friends and family.
Not everyone has the funds to fulfill a bucket list full of travel to exotic places.  Let's face it people with little time and full Bucket lists are probably not up to the travel and their cash is all tied up in caring for themselves.  Everyone, however, can afford both the Chuck-it and Waste lists.  They do not cost a thing.  They can be wonderfully delicious lists to add to.  Truth be told, I spend more time populating these lists than my actual Bucket List.  The older I get there are things that I definitely do not care to be bothered with or about.  What are on those lists?  That is for each of us to decide.  If you want to know mine, read the two blog postings noted above.
I wondered if anyone else has shared their Bucket Lists on the internet.   There is only one way to find out, so, I googled “example of bucket lists.”  The first on the list took me to a website of one Danny Dover.  He has decided that it is inane for one to make a list only when they are ill and infirm.   So, he developed the idea of a Life List:  things he wanted to do in his life.  In his own words,, are what he has set out to do:

A life list is a list of goals you are fully committed to accomplishing before a specific date while you are living. This is different from a bucket list which is a list of things you would like to do before dying. Who wants to wait until they are dying to start living? Not me!

For my list, I have two rules:

  1. The entire list must be completed by May 25th, 2017
  2. I can not add or remove any item from the list

It is as simple as that!

His list, on the same website, is incredible and he certainly seems on track to accomplish this list by the deadline he set. 
There are other wondrous places on the internet that will help you craft your Bucket List. There is a blog, Daring to Live Fully, has a posting:  525+ Ideas For Your Bucket List -  The other sites all offer the same basic thing:  suggestions of items for your Bucket List.
It does not seem to me that it is really your list of things you want to do if you compiled it by picking and choosing from someone else list of suggestions.  One should be able to compile their own.
So, after all of this, what is my bucket list?  The truth is that most of my goals and wants are still the objectives of a person with career and lifestyle aspirations.  I want:

  • To be decent person and a good husband, Dad, son, brother, uncle, and friend to the people that I hold dear.
  • To be a lean, well dressed, articulate, smart consultant, professor, musician, and writer. 
  • My consulting business to grow and thrive.  Beyond management consulting, I would love it to have components professional writing (publishing books), professional speaking, and teaching.
  • To continue to perform Armenian music for as long as possible and compose my own songs.

 These are all easy to say and harder to do.  As easy as these are to write, they are tough for me to read for some reason (probably another blog).  Yet, as bucket lists go, this is a list that is much more appealing to me than going to see the Grand Canyon as memorable as that would be.

Please leave comments.  I would love to see how others view the concept of Bucket Lists and the items on their lists.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Free Kafka

It was final exam day for my Introductory Statistics Course.  It is 7 am.  The exam was to begin at 8 am.  I was going early to answer any questions the students might have.  I entered Carlson Tower and saw a table with a few books on it and a sign that simply said “Free.”

I like books.  I like free.  This was what they call a win-win for me.  The choices were scant.  I picked up a thin paperback, The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.  At first, I thought it was a Cliff Notes or equivalent for the book.  For some reason, I expected a weighty tome from Kafka.  It was not.  It was either a long short story of 52 pages or a short novel.  Having never read any Kafka and always meaning to, I took this book.  I was happy to be able to sample Kafka for free.

As the students were taking the exam, I read the first line of the story:  “One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams he himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.”   Alrighty then.  This might explain why I have never read any Kafka before.  

It made be think that this might be a more modern version of what the great ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tsu noted after waking from a dream in which he was a butterfly.  “Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”  This I like and understood.  Relativity.  Frame of reference.  etc.  Was Kafka resurrecting this notion albeit in a more absurd or existential framework.

Before reading another sentence, I it seemed appropriate to read a little about my man of the hour Franz Kafka.  He was born in Prague in 1884 and died in Austria, at the age of 40, in 1924.  Kafka’s father was overbearing and demanding both in his business and running his family.  Apparently Kafka was not very fond of this treatment.  He complied in terms of education in which he became an attorney and in his profession as an officer in an insurance company.  He rebelled in his writing and turning his back on his Jewish faith which was important to his father. He spoke and wrote in German.  Kafka preferred that he could write full time instead toiling at his day job.  He became a socialist but was still fascinated with Yiddish literature and the spiritually in and around it.  A few of his works were published while he was alive but the bulk published posthumously by his friend Max Brod who ignored Kafka’s request that his writing all be burned.  Fame came to Kafka with the Brod publications.  The term Kafkaesque came to generalize his style which influenced both Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, and others.  He contracted tuberculosis in 1917 which put him in and out of sanitariums until the disease finally ended his life in 1924.

I read the story and it is very well written, even in translation.  It is a vehicle for Kafka to express his own discomfort with his business and family life.  He expresses his own despair through Gregor dealing with his metamorphosis.   He definitely writes in a most Kafkaesque manner.  It is easy to see to the roots of existentialism in his writing.

Now, I can say I have read some Kafa and I am glad I did.  I can also say that I probably will not be reading anymore Kafka anytime soon.  

Next up Nietzsche!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Getting my FOID

Every once in a while, I have thought about owning a gun.  Really, that is about as far as it goes.  I am not a hunter or a marksman.  So, there is no reason to have a gun.  The outlay of money to buy one (and which kind of gun would I purchase) and the planning of where and how to safely store both gun and ammunition simply overwhelms whatever notion I occasionally have to own one. 

I have friends and relatives that have more than one.  Whatever else they own them and use them for, they all will add home security to the list.  Sure, I have thought of that, but really what is the risk?  What is the real probability that I would ever need a gun to protect home and family?  Compound that with the probability that I could get to said gun, unlock the cabinet, retrieve the ammunition which is presumably in the same place but possibly locked in another box, load the weapon, and then effectively use it.   I have believe we are talking about a really low probability that probably gets lower with each passing year.

Plus I subscribe to the Mike Royko theory of home defense.  In a column back in the 1970s or 80s, Royko queried why someone would keep a gun for home defense.  He laid out a scenario for his thesis.  A homeowner is woken at night by the sound of a prowler downstairs. The fellow grabs his gun that he has rarely used, loads it, and goes downstairs in his skivvies to confront a bad guy.  The bad guy may have a gun and, as crime is his chosen profession, may be more proficient and adept at using it.  The outcome?  One dead homeowner.  Royko reasoned that it was, therefore, better to keep a couple of hand grenades in the nightstand.  Instead of putting himself in harms way, our homeowner would simply pull the pins and toss a couple of grenades down the stairs to clear out the area.  Voila... one dead bad guy instead of our intrepid homeowner.

With the recent debate in both social media and congress on gun control.  I was thinking that this country might actually pass legislation to curtail gun ownership.  All of sudden, I was thinking:

Hey!  I don't really want or need a gun.  But if you tell me I can't or should not have one, I am more motivated to go out and get one... dagnabit!

So I did what I have to do in Illinois before I can actually buy a gun, I applied for a Firearms Ownership Identification Card (FOID Card).  I filled out the form that is conveniently available in any gun shop,  affixed a photo as prescribed, attached a $10 check, and mailed it to the state police.  I can expect my FOID card in the next 60 days or so.  It seems like there is a backlog as there has been a rush of other citizens who are thinking just like me.

I probably still will not buy a gun, but I will have my card to be able to do so whenever I might want. 

The part that thoroughly has entertained are the ten questions they asked on the one page FOID application.

1.    Have you ever been convicted of a felony?

2.    In the past 5 years, have you been a patient in a mental institution or any medical facility used primarily for the care or treatment of persons for mental illness?

3.    Are you addicted to narcotics?

4.    Are you intellectually disabled?

5.    Are you subject to an existing order of protections which prohibits you from possessing a firearm?

6.    Within the past 5 years, have you been convicted of battery, assault, aggravated assault, violation of an order of protection, or a substantially similar offense in which a firearm was used or possessed?

7.    Have you ever been convicted of domestic battery or a substantially similar offense (misdemeanor or felony)?

8.    Have you ever been adjudicated a delinquent minor for the commission of an offense that if committed by an adult would be a felony?

9.    Are you an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States?

10. Have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective?

This sounds exactly like what the folks that are advocating a greater degree of gun control are trying to screen for.  The State of Illinois seems to be already doing that.  We could be a model for the rest of the US except for the fact I am fairly certain it does not work.  Law abiding citizens, like me, probably adhere to it and answer the questions honestly.  Bad guys do not.  Really bad guys don't bother and buy guns off of the black market from which an NPR report says is pretty sizable in the City of Chicago.

These questions are also a joke.  What person that wants to obtain a gun for nefarious purposes would answer yes to any of these questions?  No one.  Everyone that turns one of these things in probably answers no to every question.  I only hope there is an investigation done to determine one's criminal and mental health history... otherwise the only value of this form is the $10 fee the state collects.

It was worth getting this form and filling it out simply for the entertainment value of the questions.  Am I intellectually disabled?  Probably not in the way that means, but the question is certainly up for debate.

"Are you an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States?"  Who would ever answer yes to this in a document that is going to the State Police?

They may as well have asked the following:

  Are you planning to use a gun to commit a crime?

  Are you affiliated with any terrorist organization whose goal it is to topple the United States?

I used to think there was a reasonable middle ground between the gun control advocates and the NRA.  Now, I having filled out this application, I am not so sure.