Given that death is on my doorstep, I figured it's about time that I start knocking some things off of my "bucket list." This term - bucket list - gets thrown around quite a bit, so I think it's best to start with the textbook definition of the idiom.

"Definition of bucket list: a list of things one has not done before but wants to do before dying." -Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

The first use of the term was but a scant ten years ago in 2006 (likely from the movie of the same name, The Bucket List), deriving from the phrase kick the bucket, or to die. I recently made a bucket list and, with any luck, I'll accomplish most - if not all - the items in the coming years of 2017 and 2018. After all, this next year could be my last. No time like the present to get started!

Curious what's on my wild and wacky bucket list? Read on.


  1. Go to Burning Man

  2. Hand out money every day for a month just to make people happy

  3. Start an "outsider art" installation project

  4. Organize a team to participate in the Red Bull Flugtag

  5. Accompany Atlas Obscura on a trip uncovering the world's hidden gems

  6. Take a flight with Reggie Miller for the express purpose of a #SeatmateSelfie

  7. Self-publish a bestselling book

  8. Vacation in North Korea

  9. Win season tickets (again) to the Indiana Pacers

  10. Find ways to relax as not to rely on any substance

While I could get into the intimate details of each activity on the list, there are always a few people who say, "Huh?!" or "Really??" or "I'm pretty sure you'd die doing something like that." Eh. I live dangerously. Here are some extended details on the who, what, where, and why on just a couple of items on my bucket list, tying it all together with my ultimate "Last Wish."

Burning Man

IMG SRC: Wayne Stadler

IMG SRC: Wayne Stadler

When I speak of Burning Man, there are some who have no idea what I am talking about. Yet others, familiar with the event, absolutely insist, "You can't go to BURNING MAN?!?!" Citing my favorite source of condensed information, Wikipedia, Burning Man is "an annual gathering that takes place at Black Rock City—a temporary community erected in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada. The event is described as an experiment in community and art, influenced by 10 main principles, including 'radical' inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression, as well as community cooperation, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy and leaving no trace." I recently went to an event hosted by Chip Conley, who is on the Board of Directors for Burning Man, and this particular happening he described as "his baby," or "Burning Man Lite." Chip said this festival in downtown LA would be a "transformative experience." It was a BLAST! Count me in for Burning Man. I'm going.

Start An "outsider art" installation project

The term "outsider art" can be polarizing, and what discerns an artist from one that's an "outsider" is up for scholarly debate, re: not my website. No less, after singing a piece by Wolfgang Rihm, who set the words of Adolf Wölfli (truly the quintessential outsider artist) to music, I have been fascinated. Not familiar with outsider art? According to Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, one of the premier institutions on art brut (the original term, credited to Jean Dubuffet), non-traditional folk art, self-taught art, and visionary art, this menagerie is defined as follows:

[Outsider Art can be] defined as the work of artists who demonstrate little influence from the mainstream art world and who instead are motivated by their unique personal visions.

While my other half is a bona fide artist I can tell you - as would she - that I am the farthest thing from an artist that you'll ever meet. Want someone to demonstrate little influence from the mainstream art world? Check. I can't draw a circle. Want someone motivated by their unique personal visions? Check. Unique Personal Visions = Derek's Insane Life.

Let's talk about the "installation" part of this bucket list dream. What is generally accepted as "installation art" is a) it's three-dimensional, b) it's site-specific, and c) the term is usually used for interior spaces, but this is debated. Since I like to dwell in a world of blurred lines, my installation piece will be outdoors. Let me show you a couple of interesting examples, then I will show you the preliminary site for my chefs d'œuvre, or what will also be known as my magnus opus (and first attempt) in visual art.

Rubelia (or Rubel Castle)


Rubelia covers a large swath of land in Glendora, Californa; it's just a "quick" drive north to get there from downtown Los Angeles. The history of Rubel Castle - like most outsider art installations - is a storied one. Purchased by Michael Rubel in 1959, it is the former site of a citrus packing house. Dorothy Rubel, the mother of the young owner moved in with her son and soon became quite famous for the raucous parties she would host, lasting through the wee small hours of the morning. Dorothy transformed the former fruit packing house, constructed with tin, into an enormous dance hall. Known as "The Tin Palace," it would be filled, shoulder-to-shoulder by party goers nearly every weekend. So popular were her soirée's that it wouldn't surprise you to see the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, and other people of said ilk in attendance (admittedly, while ol' Ike may have been on the guest list, I do have my doubts about him making a trip from Washington, DC to hit up Dorothy's 1960's style mosh pit).

While Mom was getting hammered with a former World War II general and a man that could spit self-deprecating jokes faster than any comedian past or present (except for George Carlin, but I'm biased), poor Michael just wanted to get some damn sleep! He converted an old citrus refrigerator, complete with thick, cork walls, into a bed to keep out the noise. This didn't help. At all.

IMG SRC: Long Live Luxury / Inside wall of “The Bottle House” illuminated by the morning sun

IMG SRC: Long Live Luxury / Inside wall of “The Bottle House” illuminated by the morning sun

Being one of those creative types, in 1968 Michael started building a small, cement structure - as far from The Tin Palace as he possibly could - made mostly of concrete and, SURPRISE, champagne bottles (wonder where he found those). Dorothy had The Tin Palace. Now, Michael had The Bottle House, which became the beginnings of Rubelia.

IMG SRC: Long Live Luxury / The drawbridge at Rubel Castle

IMG SRC: Long Live Luxury / The drawbridge at Rubel Castle

As the years went by, disparate and somewhat odd structures started popping up here and there. Local children and teenagers would help Michael, and today you'll find a full-fledged castle - complete with a clock tower fit for Rapunzel - in the middle of suburbia. Random objects like typewriters and bikes protrude from the walls, the only rhyme and reason for their placement is that there's no rhyme or reason at all. That's what makes it all the more beautiful. I had the opportunity to visit Rubel Castle on more than one occasion (and almost moved into their singular apartment on site), and I write more about Rubelia here.

Don Justo and The Rogue Cathedral


Trappist monks are seriously hardcore when it comes to being Catholic. They are dyed-in-the-wool, uncompromising, and make Jesuits look like liberal, lazy pushovers. Don Justo was so hardcore that his holy brothers, just before his ordination, asked him to leave the order. So after years of studying the hardest, working the hardest, and being the most faithful, he was unceremoniously kicked out because the rest of the boys felt upstaged.

Being the bad ass that he is, this would not stop a man determined to dedicate his life to God. So, for nearly 60 years, this 91-year-old man has been building a cathedral - meant to rival Saint Peter's Basilica - on a plot of land left to him by his parents. As with nearly all "outsider art" installation pieces, his glorious cathedral is being constructed almost exclusively by him, by hand, and with found materials that would otherwise would have been discarded.

Don Justo standing near his yet-to-be-completed dome of the cathedral

Don Justo standing near his yet-to-be-completed dome of the cathedral

The pillars are concrete, cast on old oil drums. The dome is made from repurposed plastic food tubs. Piles of building materials lay everywhere. If one weren't paying attention, these piles could be mistaken for mere garbage. Old newspapers. Broken brick. Various rusted hooks and such. Don Justo proves: one man's trash is another man's treasure.

At the age of 91, he knows he'll never see the cathedral finished. He works none-the-less. At peace, he is self-aware that he is likely to meet his maker relatively soon, despite his above-average health, and he is proud of what he has accomplished for God. While The Rogue Cathedral is controversial in some circles, it's his hope - and mine - that others will take up the task of completing the great structure that he has started. While he built it for the glory of God, and his humility reflects his background, the name Don Justo should not be lost to history.

COMING SOON: Dereklandia

CLICK ON MAP TO ENLARGE / The site of my grandparent's former home, farm, and airport in the bustling metropolis of Alexandria, Indiana

With a slight tear in my eye, I look at the satellite view of my grandparent's former home, farm, and... airport, and can't help but remember so many joyous times. My grandfather, now in the clutches of advanced Parkinson's disease, was once a strong, sturdy man and, while he leaned towards the quiet side, is just as insane as his grandson. Grandpa always wanted to be a pilot and, essential to flying airplanes - safely, at least - is a way to get them off the ground and back to the earth without harm to pilot, crew, or the passengers. So, grandpa told great-grandpa that he was going to plow down several acres of very valuable, very prized farmland... and pour a long strip of concrete for a runway so he could become a pilot. Legend has it that great-granddad went ape shit. Undeterred, grandpa ripped up the corn and soybeans, poured the longest strip of concrete he could, laying between two country roads, and proceeded to put in runway lights, running the electricity for each individual beacon himself. Alexandria is a small town in Indiana and, needless-to-say, most people thought he was the village lunatic.

Until, of course, he became a wild success. He got his pilot's license. He started a flight school. He would plow the remaining farmland in overalls, get off his tractor, shower and put on a suit, then fly rich clients coast-to-coast in his Beechcraft King Air. Getting bored with farming and corporate flying, grandpa purchased a T-28B Warbird, one of only 489 produced by the United States Navy, and taunted the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) with his acrobatic prowess and audacity for unprecedented stunts. It wasn't long before he leased the remaining farmland, free to roam the friendly skies full time.

On May 11, 1998, my grandmother took her last breath as cancer systematically destroyed her. It wasn't too long thereafter that my grandpa, the strongest man I've ever met, started exhibiting signs of Parkinson's disease. The farmland was sold, as was my grandparent's home, the only house my grandpa called home... his entire life. The airport went up for purchase and was sold to a glider club. The members of this club are swell individuals and greatly respect my grandfather's legacy, but admittedly, he cried when he saw that the runway lights had to be torn from the ground to make room for the decidedly longer wings of a glider aircraft. If there's any comfort in his having Parkinson's disease, at this late stage, he doesn't even remember it.

So what are the large white squares in the map above? Potential sites for DEREKLANDIA, of course! All the land belongs to the glider club these days, but perhaps an appeal to the soft spot in their hearts will kindle a sense of generosity and goodwill as I plan my public art project. Will I build a cathedral? Will it resemble something more like a castle? That has yet to be determined but, like most ideas, without a doubt it will be judged harshly at the beginning. Whatever I construct, I have no doubt my contemporaries will think I'm crazy. That's okay. I'll let history decided if I'm out of my mind and, if I am, that's perfectly fine with me.

My Last Wish

I titled this ditty "Bucket List vs. Last Wish," and my naming of the article is quite intentional. So many of us live to work, not work to live. For years and years I chased money because, after all: money = happiness. Uh, no. Happiness = Happiness. The ten items I listed at the beginning of this article, I expect, to be the first of many bucket lists I concoct. Habitually I will mark one thing off after another, then I'll start a new bucket list. Then another one. Then yet another. If the fates have determined that I shall live a long and healthy life, when I'm finally facing my defeat as we all must, I will ask the universe for one last thing. "Let me finish my bucket list, then I will go."

Go live your life. It's the only one you've got.