Christopher Wink in blue jacket with arms spread wide on the Great Wall of China

My List

When I was 14, I sat down in my childhood bedroom in rural northwest New Jersey, and I composed a list of 26 things I had to do before I died. This was the late 1990s — before the ‘Bucket List’ phrase was been widely popularized, but, yes, this was essentially that. I suppose it was a strange thing for a teenager to do then. But, well, I was a strange teenager.

By my twenties, as I took my first hesitant steps into adulthood (and online writing), I rapidly expanded the list and was trying to exhaustively chronicle my pursuits. I did this by experimenting with blogging and social media. (For example, I launched a WordPress installation for just that, later making it a subdomain of this site.)

I was learning plenty during that process, and I’m thankful for that even today. But somewhere between having a list of 26 amusingly specific items as a teenager to having a nearly 400-item sprawling list by my early twenties, the whole concept broke. If my primary goal as a teenager was to make sure I prioritized having new, challenging and important experiences, then I had accomplished that.

I built the habit of habits. I use annual resolutions and the occasional age-based deadline to drive me to do big things still.

So though I still sometimes share big personal and professional updates on this site (still in proper early 2000s blogging style), mostly this page here is a place to point to that original, quirky list from when I was fourteen. I feel unburdened from the lifelong list-making. Now I just live the life I set out to have as a kid. But even I’m charmed by my interest in a list as a teenager, so I’m honoring that here.

Here are those original 26 items from the “Life To-Do List” I made as a fourteen-year-old kid (and their status):

  1. Buy on December 3, 2007 — It may seem self-involved, but I suppose in April 2000, when I wrote my original list, the Internet was an amazing concept. I thought owning your own name was about the most futuristic thing I could imagine.
  2. Complete a marathon — I’m less interested in this goal, particularly having felt completing the 10-mile Broad Street Run several times (the first in 2009) was enough.
  3. Complete a novel — Not yet
  4. Complete a Philly Cheesesteak on July 13, 2004 — When I was 14, little did I know I would go to college and fall in love with Philadelphia. But cheesesteaks sounded delicious and Philly seemed a world away. I can remember traveling to Philly when I was less than 10. I was scared to eat one. I recall my father indulging, but not me. I finally got my wish after a tour of Temple University. I’ve had plenty since from all the great locations, but, of course, I started at Pat’s.
  5. Get a tattoo — Not yet
  6. Get an article in a major newspaper on January 13, 2006 — Seems I had an early interest in newspapers. My first article in a major newspaper likely couldn’t have come under better circumstances. As an intern, I wrote a double-byline with Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Vitez for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the third oldest daily newspaper in the country and among the 15 largest. It was a story about anti-violence events held by community groups in Germantown and Center City. It’s no longer on, but you can find it here.
  7. Go backpacking in Europe on November 4, 2008 — From Oct. 1 to Nov. 4, 2008, my friend Sean Blanda and I backpacked Europe. We chronicled our experience at Click here for a map of where we went, see above or read below. The route was subject to change from late buses, bad train schedules, and Belgian strikes.
  8. Go into outer space — Uh, not yet.
  9. Go skydiving on May 15, 2004 — It was my first tiny step into owning my adulthood.
  10. Hitchike on July 13, 2006 — I hitched across the great state of South Dakota! In that link, watch the story of the first time I went hitchhiking.
  11. Learn how to ride a horse on March 27, 2005 — I accomplished this with the help of an early mentor-like figure of mine, Ike Johnstone. I shared another memory of that time here.
  12. Own a firearm on June 2, 2007 —  I was no gun zealot. Despite growing up in hunting country, I didn’t even have much experience with firearms as a kid. So, the desire to be a firearm owner wasn’t part of a healthy family tradition, nor was it a less healthy teenage-boy violence obsession. I suppose I instead understood early that it was important for me to experience and be comfortable with a potentially dangerous, but popular, widespread part of the American tradition. In 2007, through the loss of my paternal grandfather, I inherited four .22 caliber rifles. They are small and not even especially nice, but I expect to keep one around for a family tradition to begin.
    I am happy to think of someday teaching my kid about safety and maintenance of these low caliber rifles that I got from my grandfather.
  13. Perform guitar live — Not yet.
  14. Perform stand-up comedy on Nov. 2, 2011 — One of the earliest items on my list was to perform stand up comedy. After a lot of hand wringing, I took a spot at an open mic at Helium Comedy Club in Center City. As a first timer, I was given a three minute set and it went well enough that I didn’t even get the red light.
  15. Running with the Bulls on July 12, 2012 — It was the highlight of an incredible eight days in Spain.
  16. See a lion in the wild — Not yet.
  17. See gondolas in Venice, Italy on March 8, 2007 — How worldy of me. Apparently when I was 14 I knew about gondolas in Venice because seeing them was on my original list of 26. Not the most exciting and fortunately I didn’t decide I had to ride in one. While I was visiting a friend in Florence in March 2007, I took a trip to Venice and found it rainy and the gondolas awfully expensive, more than $80 for a 20-minute ride.
  18. See Halley’s Comet (2061) — Uh, not yet.
  19. See the aurora borealis — Not yet. The northern lights in Iceland?
  20. Touch both the Atlantic and Pacific in one day — How romantic of me. I touched them both on one trip.
  21. Visit all 7 continents — Not yet. I’m missing Antarctica and Australia. 
  22. Visit Mt. Rushmore on July 13, 2005 — As part of my first proper road trip.
  23. Visit the Eiffel Tower on October 12, 2008 — I studied French in high school and so was apparently always something of a Francophile. At least I liked playing basketball there too.
  24. Visit the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt — Not yet.
  25. Visit the Great Wall of China on December 1, 2006 — Yes!
  26. Work construction on August 20, 2004 — During the summer 2004, before going off to college, I spent three months working with a Stillwater, N.J-based construction company. It was the first of a string of construction jobs I kept while studying at college. (I wrote a college newspaper column about that here)