Jon Ronson's things to do before I die
Jon Ronson, bestselling author of The Psychopath Test and So You've Been Publicly Shamed, shares his bucket list.
1. Reach that moment when ambition dies and I just feel unaccountably happy with what I’ve got. This does happen. According to my mother. She said to me, ‘You know how every day for you is like a scream of panic and anxiety and the need to always be achieving. Well, you may not realize it, but that fades. Ambition fades.’
2. If it does fade I can take up gardening or something, I don’t know.
3. Or yoga. Although the only time I’ve ever done yoga – my wife forced me into it – I got a trapped nerve and I was in so much pain by the time we got home we had to call the ambulance. It was chaos. I was in spasms. My son was yelling at his mother, ‘YOU CAUSED THIS!’ The ambulance man evidently felt I was overreacting. He said, ‘Different people react to pain in different ways. Then he shot me a quite withering look and told me I didn’t need to go to hospital. So not yoga.
4. I’m already a keen walker, so maybe I’ll just walk for longer distances. Although I can’t just keep walking for years until I die once my ambition fades. I’ll get exhausted. Imagine the damage to the knees. I’ll need to intersperse it with something else.
5. But what? God. I don’t know. Sitting? Gazing out?
6. Maybe I’ll become an inventor. I’ve already invented those Heely shoes that turn into roller-skates when you walk on them in a certain way. I invented them in my mind before I knew they already existed.
7. I rather like the idea of being a sort-of kindly, eccentric inventor, like Caractacus Potts. Children will delight in my kooky ways.
8. Stop going to parties. I just don’t enjoy them. What’s the point? You have to talk loudly to strangers about nonsense. Where’s the benefit? As the night wears on I see others grow increasingly effervescent whereas I feel a crushing need to go home and be alone.
9. I’m thinking that this crushing need to go home after an hour or two out of the house probably means that, in practice, children won’t delight in my kooky ways when I become an inventor. Basically I’ll be able to be delightful for a short time, then a look of tiredness and self-doubt will cross my face, and I’ll have to excuse myself. This unexpected mood-shift will confuse and disappoint children.
10. Now I’ve read Susan Cain’s book on introverts, Quiet, I realize all this isn’t just me. It’s a trait shared by introverts the world over. We feel this way because our brains are especially sensitive to overstimulation. So: that aspect of my personality I had found shameful is actually an indicator that I’m amazing. I never have to go to another party again.
11. In fact all that’s stopping me from turning down every party invitation right now are my wife and son. ‘But we have to go to this party,’ they say. Well I’m going to start saying, ‘You go. I’m staying home.’
12. What am I doing, sentencing myself to twilight years of insular misery? There has to be a better way than this.
13. Stay in one of those Polynesian hotels on stilts where tropical fish swim underneath. I can wake up in the morning and climb out of bed and dive into the crystal waters.
14. I’ll swim out as far as the eye can see. ‘Come!’ I’ll yell to my wife and son. And they’ll dive in after me. And we’ll swim and swim, throwing our heads back and laughing.
15. But later, if they want me to have a kind of traditional Polynesian massage I’ll say . . .
16. ‘No thank you. I just don’t enjoy massages. I find them too intimate.’
17. Take heroin. Maybe when I’m about seventy. When there’s nothing to do for the rest of the day and there’s enough money in the bank that I can just buy more without having to commit crimes if it proves to be too moreish.
18. I reckon the heroin will definitely help with point 16. Although not with points 13 or 14. And definitely not with point 7.
19. Start smoking again. When I’m on heroin.
20. Take crack.
21. Climb Mount Everest.
22. Visit the Taj Mahal
23. Have a threesome
24. Go back to Cardiff. A young child will come up to me and say, ‘What are you thinking about, mister?’ I’ll bend down and tell them a moving story with a powerful message about following their dreams. Their eyes will light up. And I’ll just walk away into the fog, nobody knowing who that old man was or what he did.
25. While I’m in Cardiff I’ll track down and apologize to a boy I used to know called Richard. We were best friends in Cardiff High School for a while. Years ago I wrote a column for the Guardian in which I mused upon why the most popular kids in school didn’t do so well in their subsequent lives, whereas the bullied nerds tended to soar. I cited Richard as an example of the popular kid who failed to excel. I named him. What was I thinking? Why would I do that? These memories of shameful things I have done follow me around like dogs. So I have to either find him and apologize to him or just wait until I’m old enough for the memory of the whole incident to fade.
26. Speaking of memory loss, I’d like to know why we forget the good stuff but remember the bad stuff. Whatever happened to repressing bad memories? That doesn’t seem to happen to me at all! My bad memories jump out at me in the dark like intruders. Whereas, say, the nice, simple romantic summer days with old girlfriends are just flashes of blurry colours now, just flashes of nothingness.
27. Write Quiet, by Susan Cain. It is driving me nuts that she wrote this wonderful book and not me. So to achieve this I’d need to . . .
28. Invent time travel. Go back in time, grab her manuscript.
29. Also, now I’m back in time, I’ll take the opportunity to tell myself, ‘Jon, you needn’t worry every time you try and call home and they don’t answer. It will turn out that they’re never dead. They’re always just at the shops or in a different room or they can’t hear the phone or they just haven’t bothered picking it up. All that worry – every second of that prickling anxiety – is pointless. You could have been having fun.’
30. Stop feeling embarrassed. The other day the human-rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said to me, ‘Imagine how much better the world would be if we all had our perversions and our communicable diseases tattooed on our foreheads. Then nobody would be able to use them as weapons against us.’
31. I don’t feel anywhere near as embarrassed as I used to. It’s as if my amygdala – the part of the brain that shoots the feelings of fear and guilt and remorse up and down to my central nervous system – has been deadened by chronic overuse.
32. You know what? Feeling no embarrassment, stopping going to parties, and hopefully one day forgetting the bad things I’ve done are surely the three greatest advantages of growing old.
This article originally appeared in The Picador Book of 40.
'It's about the terror, isn't it?'
'The terror of what?' I said.
'The terror of being found out.'
For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The shamed are people like us - people who, say, made a joke on social media that came out badly, or made a mistake at work. Once their transgression is revealed, collective outrage circles with the force of a hurricane and the next thing they know they're being torn apart by an angry mob, jeered at, demonized, sometimes even fired from their job.
A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people's faults. We are defining the boundaries of normality by ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.