In this debut memoir, a woman devises a plan to yank herself out of a midlife malaise.
Stanfa-Stanley found herself mired in a safe routine as she entered her mid-50s, becoming increasingly discomfited by her lack of spontaneous adventure. Divorced and now an empty-nester, she devised a scheme to shake things up: over the course of a year, she would attempt 52 new activities that would push her to the edge of her personal boundaries, a combination of exhilarating and frightening, what she called an “unbucket list.” The only other criterion of selection would be that her experiences be laughter inducing. The remembrance divides into five seasons of experimentation (summer to summer) and each new endeavor receives its own chapter. Most of the chapters are only a few pages long, and for the most part can be read out of sequence. The list itself is an eclectic one—some of the pursuits are designed to be educational; for example, the author visits a synagogue, a Hindu congregation, and a Baptist church. Others are eccentrically challenging like beekeeping, entering a pizza-eating contest, and going vegan for a week. And there is some travel as well, including a totally unplanned trip to Fort Myers, Florida—the author tasked herself with getting on the first plane to wherever—and a solo trip to Italy. Along the way, Stanfa-Stanley learned a lesson about the value of self-imposed discomfort, and the fortifying effects of testing one’s mettle: “Life is full of hurdles, but the biggest obstacle is our decision to stop at a bump or a crossroad, fearful to move on.” In her quirky account, the author writes with an informal charm and delivers each anecdote almost intimately, like the reader is a trusted friend (“Here’s the thing about belly dancing: You seldom look as sexy as you hoped. Given my middle-aged figure and history of uncoordination, looking sexy was a long shot”). The tone is consistently lighthearted and comedic, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to giggle. But many of the author’s self-directed dares are a bit predictable and less than terrifying: she visited a nude beach, conquered a fear of public speaking, collected donations for the Salvation Army, and watched an evening of horror movies.
A delightfully breezy read about experimentation, often humorous and companionable.