Typically, people makes lists of the things they’ve learned about life around their birthdays. Well, not all people, but weird people who like to post about their life on the Internet. I am turning twenty-three tomorrow and wanted to post something to commemorate the occasion, but, crucially, I don’t really feel like I’ve learned very much about life that the average twenty-three year old hasn’t also picked up. I’ve learned things about love, friendship, work, failure, the nutritional value of pesto pasta and the importance of peeing straight after sex – but a lot of other young people have probably also figured out some of this stuff too. At the tender age of twenty-three, I am fundamentally unqualified to be dispensing life advice like some sort of oracle.
No, I am just getting started with learning about the world and my place in it. To that end, I have written a list of twenty-three things I want to learn about; facts and skills and perspectives that I would like to gain as the years go on. These aren’t concrete goals or plans, just things I am interested in and would one day like to make the time to explore.
1. Shark physiology
Yes, this is the kind of stuff I wish I knew more about. I love sharks. I have seen the Meg more than once. Don’t judge me.
I’d also like to learn about dolphin and whale physiology too – any marine creature, really. I am an avid ocean lover, scuba diver and marine enthusiast, along with having studied biology and physiology extensively at university, making marine physiology a perfect intersection of my niche interests.
I want to know more about the universe! Doesn’t everyone?! Space is SO COOL. I want to learn about galaxies, nebula, red dwarfs, stars, planets, moons and any cool feature of our universe. I would also like to learn more about multiverse theory because that’s where things get really trippy. Studying science at school and university has equipped me with the basics of astronomy and physics but I am super interested in learning more.
Anyone who has read a few of my blog posts knows that I love photography. I mean, I have a weekly series dedicated to improving my pictures and sharing them with the world. Given the hours I have spent reading photography blogs and obsessing about whether I added too much contrast to a photo, it feels fair to say that I am not a complete beginner when it comes to messing around with a camera. But while I am half-heartedly making my way through a quick online photography course I bought last year, I haven’t spent much time learning how to use a camera properly and take good pictures. I would especially like to learn about technically challenging photographic disciplines, like astrophotography, underwater photography and film photography.
4. Classical music
I am not a musician. Jake is very musical, as are his whole family, and so are most of my friends. Kate can even play the accordion. But while I am unfussed about actually picking up an instrument and learning to play it myself, I would like to listen to more classical music to develop a better knowledge of the genre. I go to quite a few concerts in London – which is unsurprising given that 50% of Jake’s immediate family are professional musicians – and have a few pieces I love, but I have never made it a task to listen to famous composers and familiarise myself with their music. I would love to make time for this at some point.
This could not be more generic but it sums up how I feel. While there are certain languages that I feel more inclined to commit to than others – I am dedicated to improving my French and Polish but don’t feel too badly about never taking a look at Khmer – the truth is that I would happily pick up vocabulary and basic sentence structure in any language. Languages are amazing! Does it not blow your mind that there are certain sounds you can compute well enough to discuss philosophy or declare your love for someone and others that leave you completely in the dark about what’s being said?
I love being able to communicate with people (and I love to talk) so for me there’s nothing more gratifying than speaking another language rather than needing to rely on other people speaking English. I would like to eventually be competent in French, German (though I know quite a bit of these two already), Spanish, Italian, Polish, Japanese, Russian, Mandarin and Arabic. A girl can dream.
Fun fact about me: I love playing cards. My whole family are dedicated card players and we have spent so many hours over the years playing hearts, cheat, whist, nomination whist, cribbage, canasta (my favourite game ever), bridge and quango, among others. There have been many tears and many triumphs. We have also played some poker, mainly Texas Hold ‘Em, though quite a lot less than the other games. I am fascinated by poker theory and would love to one-day play poker in a proper casino – ideally in Moscow or Monaco – and really know what I’m doing.
7. 20th century history
I’m not really a history buff – while I like having an overarching sense of how civilisation has developed over the past few millennia, and there are certain time periods and topics that grab me, there is too much to know and I’m fairly nonplussed about most of it. The minutia of various battles and the history of the British monarchy are not subjects I want to spend time researching. There are a finite number of hours in the day and using even part of one of them to learn the difference between Edward V and Edward VI is just not worth it, you know? However, a glaring exception to this general ambivalence is 20th century history. Perhaps its proximity to the present is what makes it interesting to me, but regardless, the political, economic and social history of last century is full of amazing, shocking events and facts about which I desperately want to know more. There are pockets of 20th century history that I am well-versed in, and I could sketch out a broad timeline of world events, but I would like to really get into it and read lots about all the massive socio-political drama that defined much of last century.
8. Packing light
I have a confession: I am a terrible over-packer. I am getting better – due to taking many weekend trips with a single backpack – but overall I am prone to packing far too many tops, dresses, shoes, swimsuits and books while only bringing a single pair of socks for a whole week. I once brought five books with me for a single weekend abroad and, somehow, not enough pairs of underwear. I have a problem.
I need to know myself better and realise that I am far more likely (at home or abroad) to wear the same pair of shorts for four days straight rather than change my outfit multiple times per day. I am a gross person. I will happily wear clothes that are a little bit dirty. I know so little about fashion. And yet, I continue to pack like I’m expecting to spill food on myself every hour of the trip. I need to figure how to stop doing this.
9. Climate science
The world is burning and drowning at the same time and it is hella depressing. I am trying to educate myself about the true issues of climate change, beyond the basics of rising sea levels and the fatal implications for many humans around the world, so I can honestly understand just how screwed we all are. I have read a few books recently that have brilliantly elucidated the political, social, historical and economic implications of climate change but are light on the actual science. I studied global warming as a teenager and learned about CFCs, free radicals and ozone while studying chemistry at university, so it’s not all new, but I’d like to slot this scientific knowledge into the framework I already have of the politics of climate change.
I love the sea. I love playing around in big waves. I look good in a wetsuit. Need I say more?
11. Bike maintenance
If I could learn the basics of bike maintenance, I would save myself so much money over the years. Jake is a capable bike mechanic but I refuse to fall into the trap of expecting my partner do it for me and not taking the time to learn how to do it myself because I am strong independent woman who can pay a a man to fix it for her for an extortionate price (though to avoid this I’ll probably make Jake teach me for free, ha). This is one of those practical skills that I need to develop, especially as I use a bike every day and Jake and I are planning some long distance cycling trips for the future.
I would love to be a good cook, mainly because it would spare me the massive stress I feel when cooking for other people. We all know what it’s like to be served crappy food but pretend it’s delicious anyway and I hate to think that my friends are ever secretly struggling their way through a plate of food I’ve made them. Beyond that, I want to make good food, not just adequate food. However, this desire is tempered by the fact that I am super lazy when it comes to cooking. There’s always something I’d rather be doing than charging around the kitchen, especially as the ratio between preparation and clean-up time and actual time spent eating is so poor. I am working on this.
The skill of making good food is a useful one for any adult, particularly someone who loves hosting and receiving praise when she’s made something delicious. Cooking also helps me switch off my busy brain when my thoughts are being too loud. I made a banging pea and mushroom risotto the other day so fingers crossed that’s a sign of things to come.
There’s something lovely about taking time to stretch, breathe and sit with your thoughts, all while working on your core strength and flexibility at the same time. I have done a little bit of yoga in London but only because my local studio had a super cheap intro offer. After that expired, I had no interest in paying almost a hundred pounds each month for classes, no matter how much I enjoyed the discipline. But I would like to be good at yoga, both because the history and culture is interesting (I would love to learn a bit of Sanskrit in the process) and for my health.
14. Social justice
Yes, I am that middle-class white girl who spends a lot of time on liberal Twitter, reads books about intersectional feminism and uses words like ‘privilege’ and ‘patriarchy’ and ‘imperialism’ on a regular basis. But as much as I am a millennial stereotype at this point, I do believe it matters. It’s important to have perspective on your own life and the way other people’s lives are different from your own, especially when you have lived a very privileged life. It makes you a more compassionate, self-aware, nuanced human being, who is better placed to move through life conscientiously and contribute to a better world for all. I have so much to learn about the world and other people – I want to go forward with my eyes and ears open, always.
15. Mayan, Aztec and Inca history
I just want to learn a little about South and Central American history to fill in some of the gaps I have from that part of the world. I know a decent amount of European history, having grown up in Europe, travelled widely in Europe and studied lots of European history in school but I have not touched at all on the history of South and Central America, despite the European powers playing a key (negative) role in the development and history of these countries over the past few centuries. I have a little more backstory from Asia, though not a lot, by virtue of visiting Asia a few times – while I have never been to the Americas other than the US – and (in my experience) news from China, India and Japan often being reported as a global news. But my South American history is essentially non-existent, which is something I would like to change.
16. Baking bread
In the past year or so, I have really come to love baking. I have baked four-tiered birthday cakes, lemon tarts, brownies, blondies, cookies and cupcakes – but there is one super common baked good that I have yet to attempt: bread. At some point, I want to buy some yeast, mix it with flour and water, leave it to rise and pop it in the oven in order to produce a loaf or some rolls or something. I don’t eat that much bread but I will start if that’s what it takes.
17. Not procrastinating
I’m convinced that being able to not procrastinate is the closest thing we have to a real superpower. Imagine all the stuff we could do if we weren’t constantly distracted by Twitter or didn’t feel a compulsion to set up a new bank account or tidy our bedroom as soon as we have a task to complete. Imagine how freeing it would be to not have a constant niggle in the back of our heads of all the small errands that need doing that we have somehow managed to put off for weeks. It would be a magical thing.
18. The history and politics of China
I know what you’re thinking. And no, I am a fun person, thanks very much. I am merely convinced that understanding the social, economic and political actions of China is going to be absolutely fundamental in understanding the 21st century. As China is now the only real threat to US hegemony and a key player in determining if the planet can curb climate change, it is highly relevant to know something about this massive nation. China also has a different political system and different social attitudes to many Western democracies, differences that we don’t know much about due the disappointing lack of widespread information, study and media coverage of non-Western nations and regimes. Maybe I’ll get drunk while I do it to make it less like studying for fun.
Similar to my experiences with photography, I have never studied writing in any great depth. Sure, I have written many essays in my time and studied literature at school, but I have no further education into what it takes to write well. Of course, by writing for Restless multiple times per week and reading countless books, articles and blogs each year, I am doing things that will help me improve my writing skills. However, there is concrete information that could help me and I’d like to seek more of it out rather than bashing away at my keyboard and hoping for the best. I would also love to write fiction in the future – though I am already terrified at the prospect of sharing it – and would need to learn about plotting, character development, building tension and story structure, among numerous other things.
Okay, hear me out. The politics of oil are fucking fascinating and I do not know enough about it, especially as I work in the financial sector. Oil plays a significant role in foreign policy, diplomacy, economics, war, climate change and global politics, along with having a long and dark history. I feel like understanding the tensions and politics of oil would shed a surprising amount of light on the mechanisms of power, money and influence that govern global relations today, along with providing valuable insight into the high-level forces opposing the climate crisis.
21. Human anatomy and physiology
As you might have guessed, I am a biology nerd. While my degree ended up focusing on neuroscience and psychology, I also studied cell biology, human and plant physiology, chemistry, mathematical modelling and medical sociology to round out my biological education. One of my favourite courses of my whole degree was an eight-week set of lectures on reproductive physiology. Also, as part of my neuroscientific studies, I got to touch a human brain. It was wild. I am still awe of how so many of us function so well for so many years. Seriously, if you’ve never studied human biology, you cannot imagine the genetic and cellular complexity that underpins even the simplest of biological processes. It is truly astounding.
While not everything about my education grabbed me – by third year, I could not even pretend to muster any interest in understanding insect hearing mechanisms – I did enjoy lots of my subjects, most notably anything to do with human physiology. I have always loved learning about the human body and seriously considered going to medical school for many years, though ultimately decided I was too fickle to commit to such a rigid career path at seventeen. However, my love of anatomy and physiology remains strong and I would like to expand on everything I know about human science as time goes on.
I like the image of me on a boat with the wind running through my hair, manoeuvring a little craft through the waves (except if I was actually sailing a boat I would obviously have my hair tied back, making my cute sailing dream already a fantasy). Being able to sail just seems like a cool skill and one that suits my desire to master all skills and hobbies that can be performed on or in water.
23. What to do with my life
Oh, has it got a little heavy up in here? I’m not in rush, but at some point I’d like to sit back and think “shit. I’m doing something I love and am good at that pays me well and that I could do for years.” Maybe that’s unrealistic, maybe wanting new experiences and challenges is just a feature of my personality, but one day I would like to feel so secure and confident in my career that I’m not regularly dreaming of other options.
So, there you go. 23 things that I’d like to learn more about after I turn 23. I know that any future self of mine who knows all of this stuff will still have plenty she wants to learn and improve, so it has to be about the journey, as the destination doesn’t exist. But maybe I’ll be thinking up another one of these lists sometime in the future, while doing yoga on a sailboat and discussing Chinese history in Spanish. You never know.