A Next Life Bucket List
“I have a next life bucket list: More sex, better singing voice, the ability to tan.”
–Billie Berlin, interviewed in Aphrodite’s Pen: The Power of Writing Erotica after Midlife
I don’t believe in reincarnation. I don’t believe in much, actually, except an objective external universe and that our task on earth is to apprehend it. So I’ve been startled lately, when confronted with the ills that flesh is heir to, to find myself thinking: That will be fixed when I get my next body.
(Have you thought that too? Write to me. Please. I’d like to know I’m not the only one.)
That odd impulse may be why I love Billie Best’s concept of the Next Life Bucket List. Notice that Billie wastes no time on regrets. She’s not beating herself up for some rude thing she said twenty years ago, or wondering what would have happened if she’d changed majors in 1970. Her list has just one focus: It’s an attribute wish list for when she revisits this orb. If you know Billy, you know she already has many fantastic qualities: great energy, a fine wit, and a terrific acting talent.
And when I imagine my own next life, much of what I’d like to be I already am, in my seventies: I know when to speak up and when to walk away. I have a fully functioning BS detector. And I know how to string together words on a page.
But why wait until my seventies? I’d like to speak my mind, positively, earlier in life, even as a kid. I’d like to possess the perspective I enjoy now, but starting in my teens. I’d like to begin writing books in my twenties so that I could fit more books into my allotted span. Many of us are Late Bloomers, enjoying our best lives after sixty, and that group definitely includes me.
My Next Life Bucket List
But if I could do anything, be anything, right from the start, my Next Life Bucket List might include things like:
- Good manners – Definitely lacking in this lifetime. Is it easier to be gracious with a couple million dollars in the bank? Are good manners a luxury enjoyed by the wealthy? So it has always seemed to me. Or is that opinion just an excuse for my curmudgeonly ways?
Looking back on my twenties in New York City, I attended parties with the descendants of railroad robber barons and still recall their poise, their understated dress, and their ability to engage people of different backgrounds in meaningful conversation. Of course, their old money had been new money once, generations earlier. Thinking back on those gatherings, I wonder if that smooth gentility was a distraction from a history of exploiting marginalized workers. Could I acquire just a smidge of that gentility without the exploitative backstory? Something to aim for next time around.
Or, on the other hand, do good manners lead to wealth? A five year study of the newly rich showed that certain behaviors we associate with good manners are actually skills that build a network that leads to financial opportunities. The study showed that habits like sending thank-you cards, remembering people’s birthdays, and introducing one’s self properly in social settings led to better financial outcomes. Next life? Or maybe just cultivate better habits now?
- Optimism – Happiness and emotional intelligence are traits of optimistic people. But is it possible to be smart and optimistic? Some research has found that optimism is associated with lower cognition and poor decision making. Humans have an inborn tendency to absorb information that is favorable to them and ignore unfavorable information, according to this analysis, and it takes good critical thinking skills to overcome that bias.
But on the other hand, unrealistic pessimism about our older years based on internalized ageism, can shorten our lives according to research by Dr. Becca Levy and others. Another reason to focus on objective reality. Never mind the unfettered optimism, then. On my next visit to Earth I’ll keep my smarts and my scepticism, but order a pair of rose-colored glasses.
- Fine motor coordination – Women who can sit in a meeting and crochet without looking at their hands amaze me. Surely this is an underrecognized superpower. I’d like to see a guy try it.
Maybe who I am is pretty much okay – with a few tweaks in the manners department. Maybe I can spruce up my social skills without dying first. And maybe unbridled optimism is overrated. As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s hard to keep up.” But being able to crochet without looking down? I’ll take that one in a heartbeat.
And so, to whatever part of my mind thinks I’ll be issued a new body when this one goes kaput, get cracking on that fine motor business. You have at most three decades to line up the next life. Or perhaps I should say “please,” and start practicing my manners.