Thirty by Thirty

Although I rarely have the chance to read them, I'm really inspired by the articles in my professional association's quarterly journal.  They always have some interesting writing exercises that I'd love to be able to pull into my class.

A recent article about life goals brought me to a sort of bittersweet nostalgia.  A teacher explains an assignment given to him in junior high -- thirty things he wanted to accomplish before he turned thirty -- which was memorable enough to repeat in his own classes much later:
I wish I had that list today. I distinctly recall how that silly assignment really stretched my brain, asking me to look beyond that which was right in front of my nose, year after year to what seemed like an eternity. Thirty was old. Really, really old.

What do I remember from that list? Not much except wanting a fancy car and hoping to parachute from an airplane someday. I’ve had a few cars, none nearly as nice as the one on my list, and I wouldn’t throw my body out of a plane if you paid me. I still long to see my entries, especially the ones after the first ten, the entries I really had to think about, the quiet ones.

I do the same exercise with my Creative Writing class; I ask students to write thirty things they’d like to do before thirty years old with no category repeats. In other words, they cannot just write thirty different cars they’d like to someday own (some could actually do this). I also ask them to consider items outside consumerism and money—what they’d like to learn or know, whom they’d like to meet, love, or help. This assignment should be a little difficult, I tell them, if they invest some time to think about it.

Of course this made me a little sad.  I wonder about my own middle-school self: what would she have wanted me to accomplish by now?  On the other hand, what would I have done that really impressed her?

So I decided to create a list of thirty things I've done of which I'm still proud, honoring the parameters of the original assignment (no category repeats).  However old you are, I encourage you to do the same; if there are any surprises on my list, I'm sure you can find a few for yours.

  1. Passed (briefly) for a native in several foreign countries.

  2. Graduated cum laude from college.

  3. Learned how to use a real film camera, and took some great photos with it.

  4. Got paid to write.

  5. Been a godmother to five lovely girls and one sweet, cuddly boy.

  6. Survived two years of architecture school and many more of aftermath.

  7. Taught lots of children (and a few adults) how to read, write, think and play.

  8. Cooked many amazing meals from scratch.

  9. Treasured those close to me.

  10. Been interviewed on television.

  11. Failed a class. Fought back.

  12. Ran a 5K.  (Well, mostly ran.)

  13. Aced standardized tests.

  14. Made my cat purr just by talking to her.

  15. Earned scholarships to pay for my education.

  16. Planted a kitchen garden.

  17. Sang (prayed) the most beautiful music in church.

  18. Stayed to help when things came apart: folders, dishes, marriages, lives.

  19. Took actual voice lessons from an actual voice teacher.

  20. Lived and worked in Manhattan.

  21. Discovered I love yoga.

  22. Asked forgiveness. Constantly.

  23. Married the right person.

  24. Watched 70 perfect movies. (Most of the other 1842 belong on another list.)

  25. Sent flowers, gifts and handwritten letters to lonely friends all over the world.

  26. Played a spontaneous concert on Frank Lloyd Wright's concert grand.  Shocked tourists.

  27. Read these.  And others.

  28. Surprised my husband twice (party, guitar) and my father once (engagement.)

  29. Arranged flowers for brides.  Made them smile.

  30. Written 472 posts on a blog that's been lots of fun.