The weeks leading up to October 13 were a whirlwind of organising activities, taking on challenges, writing posts and doing up photos and videos to accompany them. The whole 30 Before 30 project has been a lot of work.
And yet, nothing has been as difficult, as time-consuming, as agonising, as this final wrap-up piece.
Because, essentially… how to say it… I, well….failed.
I made 27 things by the day of my birthday. If you’re generous, and count “having these challenges published by Brisbane Times”, that’s 28.
But still, I fell short. And after officially turning 30 I was struck with a sort-of paralysis about trying to finish. “It’s cheating,” I thought. “I can’t just sneak a few more and pretend I made it.” My overdeveloped sense of guilt obviously hadn’t vanished come midnight on my birthday.
My big day itself was low-key, but lovely, and I completed two challenges. The first was gliding, up at Caboolture. That was simply brilliant. I’m not great with planes – but for some reason I felt safer and more at ease in a tiny two-seat glider than I ever have on a jumbo.
Maybe it was the fresh air and lack of a pressurised cabin. Maybe it was the legroom, and not having anyone pushing their seat back into my knees.
Or maybe it was simply because for 35 minutes, I forgot everything else but the sensation of flying. Truly flying, Wright Brothers and Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith style.
I went up with Mike from Come Gliding, a veteran pilot well experienced in the art of “soaring”. Our glider had its own engine, meaning it took off under its own power, rather than the traditional tow method. But it also meant turning the engine off IN MID-FLIGHT.
I thought I’d get more upset than I did. But as the propeller slowed, then stopped, and the only sound was the wind flowing past the little window – I felt… calm.
All the turmoil, and the work, and the stress, and the frustration, and all the small things that regularly give me the irates – they vanished. It was just me and Mike, and the low-lying clouds, and the light mist of rain, and Pumicestone Passage and Bribie Island to one side; the Glasshouse Mountains and verdant farmland to the other. It was exciting, but peaceful at the same time, if that’s not too trite.
I really understood the serene look on Mike’s face. I understood for the first time why mankind took to the skies.
My glider flight had been a very generous present from my parents, but the final challenge was done all on my lonesome.
Most Brisbanites would be familiar with our city’s very own Marilyn Monroe. As a lifelong fan of the real blonde bombsell, I’d always been fascinated by the idea someone would adopt Marilyn’s image and style so wholly.
On my birthday, I wanted her to sing me Happy Birthday.
I shouldn’t have been worried about how Marilyn – sorry, Diana – would react when I approached her in the Myer Centre. After plopping down on the ground beside her chair with a cheery “How are you doing?”, she simply flashed me a million dollar smile and said “Fantastic! I’ve been clothes shopping!”
It was like we’d been firm friends for years. She pulled flimsy bits of bright material out of plastic shopping bags and told me about her best $12 bargain.
“I’m going to put a belt with this one,” she said, holding up a red and white polka dot chiffon minidress. “I just love the Snow White puffed sleeves.”
She laughed like Marilyn did, with her chin tilted up and her lips slightly pursed, the sound a sweet, girlish tickle. But sadly she refused to sing with me.
“I studied with a girls’ choir, so yes, I can sing,” she purred. “But the lighting here is not good.”
A reply worthy of Marilyn herself. I forsook singing in favour of just hanging with Diana for a while. She’s obviously an eccentric, but what I find myself envying is her absolute self-confidence.
“It’s that raw natural beauty,” she said, when I asked her why people take photographs of her, often from a distance. “Marilyn had it, and so do I, you know?”
Diana doesn’t ever apologise for who she is or why she does what she does. Marilyn herself once said “I’m not interested in money, I just want to be wonderful.” Diana IS wonderful, and spending part of my birthday with her brought me tremendous joy, even without the song.
And that’s as far as I got. 27 things – some big, some small, some wacky, some confronting – all incredibly fun in their own way, and all bringing me into contact with some truly amazing people (thanks to everyone who helped me out; there’s too many to list).
Looking back, I feel like perhaps I didn’t do enough “big ticket” items – but you know what? I had to work full-time and continue all my regular extra-curricular activities while doing this crazy scheme. Perhaps I need to cut myself some slack.
I think what I wanted was a Mighty Ducks ending. Slacker kids rally around a common cause, discover their inner spirit, and triumph over adversity, yada yada yada. I think my post-birthday ennui may be the result of feeling like I’d failed to deliver the climax of a dramatic narrative that I’d promised readers – and myself.
Instead, I need to accept that instead what I wound up with was a Cool Runnings ending – almost made it, derailed at the end, but can still hold my head high at my own effort. I think much of what makes us human is dealing with regular failure; of trying and so often falling short, and yet carrying on and trying again. So perhaps the real result of the 30 Before 30 challenge is not that I failed this particular project – but that I’d be willing to try it all over again.
After all, in a year’s time I turn 31.