This morning I received, in the post (quaint!), a letter with an offer to “cross see the Northern Lights” off your bucket list. (£995 pp 5 day trip!)
And it’s made me so angry.
This bucket list thing. This commodification of experience. This reduction of one of the wonders of the world to something I might ‘cross off’ a list.
Who on earth thought it was a sensible promotion strategy and why the hell would I ever want to treat something Shelley and I have often talked about doing as something to be ‘crossed off’?
That’s the antithesis of an engaging experience, the opposite of something I might dream about, save for, plan for, one day hope to do. (Shelley loves the ice and snow, I love the sky and water, we both love the stars, what’s not to like about seeing the Northern Lights??!!)
As well, many of the best experiences of my life have been things I didn’t plan, I didn’t set out to do, I didn’t know were going to happen before they happened. I’m sure that’s true of most of us. That it’s the incidental, the accidental, the mistakes, the other turnings taken, that have led to magic.
I’m not averse to planning, I think it can lead to great things (the planning and prep and pre-work going into the Fun Palaces Project for October 2014, the work that’s been put into it by Sarah-Jane and myself, since early this year, is a testament to that), but to have a list of things that are not there to be experienced, to be engaged in IN THE MOMENT, but rather ‘crossed off’ – a list of things to HAVE DONE – seems to me a profoundly depressing idea.

And it leads, as everything seems to at the moment, back to the Fun Palaces. To our hope of engagement in a different way, to our dream that if we get it right (I don’t mean Sarah-Jane and I in this ‘we’, I mean all of us trying to create a thing never before done, a true public engagement on a national level, at the same time, from the biggest venues to the smallest groups, the 130+ companies and venues and 100s of individuals signed up so far and the many many more I’m sure will want to join in) – IF we get it ‘right’, it won’t be about ticking this and that off a list. It will be about being prepared to say, on the morning the first Fun Palace opens “Oh look, there’s a group over here who are working on a dance project and up the road at another venue, a bio-medical scientist has just walked in and asked if they can share a 15 minute mini-lecture on the effect of a lifetime’s dance on the body of a dancer. How can we get these groups together? And if we can’t get them together, can we get their audiences to engage, can we get their audiences to share what they’ve seen/heard/learned/felt?”

IF we (all of us making the Fun Palaces) get it ‘right’ we will have done all the preparation possible to make an astonishing event, we will have uploaded it to the website, and shared it with the PR company, and made it as accessible as humanly and digitally possible, and then, when it happens, as it happens, we will also be prepared to be surprised. (Why yes, that is an Open Space maxim, funny that.) We will be actively looking for the joins, the divergences, the moments, the points, the possibilities. And we will be encouraging those who engage with the Fun Palaces – the co-curators, the users, the players, the audiences, the passers-by – to look for those moments too.
We will most certainly not be saying “Done that? Good, now let’s cross it off the list.”
Instead, couldn’t we try to keep our lists open, ever-changing, 3-d rather than 2-d, maps rather than lists?

I might one day get to see the Northern Lights. I hope I do it with Shelley. I hope it lives up to my dream. And if it does, or if it doesn’t, I might want to see the Northern Lights AGAIN. I might want to engage with the Northern Lights so very much that I become a Northern Lights groupie. I might want my experience seeing the Northern Lights to be something that stays with me, that affects me, not something that is ‘crossed off’.
It’s one thing to ask those who engage with us to give us one evening/day/week of their time, and to never come back, to cross us off their list. It’s a very different thing indeed to try to make our work, whatever our work is, in such a way that they feel they are us. That we’re in this together. That this is all of ours.

That’s what we’re hoping to achieve with the Fun Palaces Project. We may not get it right first time. Good, then we’ll learn and do it again. And again. And again. And one day, we in the arts, and we in the sciences, and we in industry, and we in commerce, and we in technology, might stop putting up those barriers and those divisions and the boxes it’s easier to divide people into, and we might just be we. With our experiences and our differences and our sharing. That’d be cool.
Meanwhile, I will have no bucket list, nothing to cross off, nothing to tick off, nothing to HAVE DONE. I will keep doING. It’s so much more useful to be alive in the present tense.