35 Boxes

You know how when your birthday is coming up, you tend to look back on how you spent the past year? It’s a natural thing to do. The goal is to use what you’ve learned from the previous year to (ideally) make the next year better. The older I get, the more important this is.

My (56th)  birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, but I didn’t see any reason to wait till then to look back on the past year. Normally I just do this in my head. I don’t write anything down. I don’t make lists or concrete plans. I just think about it while going for a walk, cleaning the house, working in the garden…any task that I can do on autopilot while my brain is busy with other things.

But this year I was inspired by Tim Urban’s article Your Life in Weeks. This article was like a giant slap in the face, and made me realize that I had to get serious about this life planning shit. I grabbed the nearest piece of paper and pen and hacked out a quick-and-dirty graphic of the 35 boxes that represent the 35 years I have left to live (provided I have the good fortune to make it to age 90).

It looked like this:


The box with number 56 written in it represents the year that starts on my 56th birthday (15 Novemver 2020, if you need the exact details). The box that says “Dad” will my “age 66” box. Alzheimer’s took my dad from us when he was 66 years old, after he’d already spent several years on the unimaginably cruel slow-train to hell of that godawful disease.

If life has the same fate in store for me, I’ll only have a couple more years to enjoy the feeling of having a (relatively) normally functioning brain. I can hardly type this without breaking down thinking about how horrible it must have been for my dad to gradually realize what was happening to him, and to finally get his diagnosis. It was heartbreaking for the rest of us, but holy fuck — how awful it must have been for him.

As far as I know, my female relatives usually live to reach a fairly feisty 90. So if I manage to dodge the most likely health-related bullets, that means I’ve only got 35 boxes left to work with. 

That’s not a lot of boxes.

I’ve ghosted in another 10 boxes just in case I manage to follow in my grandparents’ footsteps and make it to my late 90s in relatively good mental and physical health. NB: Of course I know that there are no guarantees, and that I’m not entitled to live a long, healthy life, and that I should be thankful for every single day. I’m not even COUNTING ON reaching box 57. But what the fuck, I’m also allowed to be optimistic and lay out a plan for the best-case scenario.

By revisiting and redrawing the boxes each year I’m hoping to avoid letting day after day disappear into a fog of “What the hell happened today, and what did I actually do?” That happens so easily when you’re living as if there will always be more boxes. There won’t.

So, what to do with box number 1 of 35? What will I do with the 56th year of my one life? I’ll keep the deeper, personal stuff private (something that too few people do these days, IMO) but don’t mind sharing something more general. What have I always wished I could do, but never really devoted time and energy to really learning? There are many things, but learning to draw is what I keep coming back to. So box 1 of 35 will be my “Lori learns to draw” box. You can read about that process here

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