I’m no fan of the term ‘bucket list’. It elevates the idea of peak experience, and thus diminishes the reality of life in the moment. Still, among guys my age (emphasis on GUYS) it’s a topic that comes up time and again. What do we want to do before we die?
Some friends have dozens of feats on their list – a litany of physical exertion and frequent flyer mile expenditures that leaves me dazed. I’m never going to run a marathon or traipse through Machu Picchu, and will turn to dust content with those shortcomings. But I must admit to harboring three long-time bucket list wishes: write a book, be published in The New York Times, and ride my bicycle to the 48 contiguous states.
I accomplished the first item – writing a book – last year. I’m very satisfied with Architecture by Moonlight, but the gestation process was unnecessarily painful and some people I value terminated our connection over my depiction of them. Filling my bucket brought unanticipated downsides.
On January 11, 2015, ‘Haiti’s Economics Aftershocks’ was published in The New York Times, bestowing a legitimacy every writer craves. Reading my essay under that letterhead was eerie. I sounded just like someone who writes for The New York Times. I wondered to what extent I shaped my voice to the medium versus how the medium I’ve read for so long shaped my voice. The amazement didn’t last long. Within hours I became the target of a malicious Tweeter who spewed vitriol about the article – and me – all over cyberspace. My rational side recognized the distorted rage of an ill informed person misappropriating fragments of my argument. But the human part of me hurt. It’s discomforting the think that to thousands of Tweeters, @paulefallon is nothing more than a neo-liberal, paternalistic purveyor of tribal stereotypes who should stop meddling in Haiti and close his twitter account from shame. All things written about me until I abandoned following the Internet’s indictment against me. I stopped reading the tweets to preserve my dignity. My NY Times editor was pleased with the article, and that byline will zoom to the top of my writing resume, but the bucket accomplishment has tarnish.
It will be some time before I embark on my bicycle odyssey – Spring 2016 is the soonest I might pedal out of town. The reality of the adventure is more difficult to arrange than the easy flowing fantasy that rolls through my head. Though by now I realize that the journey, like any other bucket pursuit, will contain its share of bitterness along with the sweet.