My 30 Days of Culture

One item on my “23 for ‘23” list was “30 Days of Culture.” Culture binge!

I aimed to attend thirty cultural events, for thirty straight days. It was challenging to figure out exactly when the thirty days should start, but I landed on September 5. (To me, the day after Labor Day always feels like the other January 1.)

I created a few rules for myself:

  • Discussion with a group counted as culture, so a networking dinner “counted”; also, a book-club meeting—I’m in three book clubs. (I didn’t count something like a lunch date or dinner with friends.)
  • Engaging with people trumped watching a performance, so when I was invited to a book party that conflicted with a stand-up show for which I’d bought a ticket, I went to the book party.
  • When I traveled, the count paused, and I traveled a lot in September, so my thirty days extended well into October.
  • I could go alone or with others.

Spoiler alert: I LOVED IT. For so many reasons.

It nudged to do things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do, exposed me to culture that I would otherwise miss, gave me adventures, helped me draw closer to other people, and took me to places that I love.

For instance, I love a great indie bookstore, and the McNally-Jackson indies are among my very favorites—such great curation of titles, presented in such enticing ways. So for my 30 days, I looked for interesting book events (book-related culture is my favorite culture), and I checked the McNally-Jackson calendar.

My daughter Eliza has many thoughts about the brand Glossier, so I got us tickets to the event for Marisa Meltzer’s new book Glossy: Ambition, Beauty, and the Inside Story of Emily Weiss’s Glossier.  I spent an evening with Eliza, I learned something about a new subject, I engaged in book culture, I visited one of my favorite parts of New York City.

Here are some things I learned:

  • When we look, we find. Because I had to identify thirty cultural events, I had to search for things to do—and it turns out that when I looked, I found many terrific events that I hadn’t heard about. I signed up for some newsletters, such as the 92NY newsletter, to help me hear about great events in the future. In the future, I’m going to pay more attention to listings.
  • Things that can be done at any time are often done at no time. I’d been very eager to go to the immersive theater experience Sleep No More since the very day it opened, but somehow, I’d never gone. Eleanor and I went, and we loved it, and we want to go back.
  • I could use someone else’s expertise. I wanted to go to the ballet—but which performance should I attend? A friend knows a lot about the ballet, so I consulted with her, and then we went together. 
  • Good things happen when we go outside. My apartment is bursting with culture—so many books, movies, TV shows, performances, lectures, discussions, all on my shelves or on my screens. But it’s different when I’m experiencing something in the company of other people.
  • Living in an atmosphere of growth boosts happiness. When I’m learning, pondering, enjoying, or criticizing, culture gives me the feeling of growth that’s a key to a happier life.

Of course, I recognize that I’m enormously fortunate to have the money and the freedom to attend these events (some were free, some were inexpensive, some were very expensive). I’m thankful for that every time.

Also, I live in New York City, which has so much culture. How I love New York City! But here’s the thing: I don’t take advantage of that culture nearly as much as I want to.

One summer during college, when I lived in New York City for a few months, I saw a public-service poster on the #6 subway, and I’ve never forgotten it.

It was a black-and-white photograph of a container of Chinese food sitting on two  white opaque cases of movies rented from Blockbuster. (This was back when people rented videotapes.) Underneath, the poster said, “If this is how you spend your time, why are you living in New York City?”

I’m haunted by this question. It reminds me how much I want to push myself to experience the treasures of my city and the world—not to just sit at home, even though that can also be a great experience.

I am where I am. I want to experience it for myself, in New York City, Kansas City, North Platte, or wherever I might be.

As I write about in Life in Five Senses, I had a similar realization about the Metropolitan Museum. It was right there, within walking distance of my apartment (yes, I realize how fortunate I am)—but I almost never went. Now I go every day to the Met, and that habit is one of the great joys of my life.

When I told a friend about “30 Days of Culture,” she laughed. “You and your projects,” she said. Very true! If something’s important to me, I do much better when I make it a habit or a specific project, with a structure, an expectation, and often, even a name. (Upholders, right?)

A person might ask, “In a world full of suffering and injustice, is it morally appropriate to spend time, energy, and money on culture?”—Meaning the kind of cultural experiences I sought for my thirty days.

But culture isn’t some bonus feature of human life. It’s an essential part of our existence.

Culture gives us our sense of identity and belonging; it helps us understand the past, present, and future; it helps us grasp different ways of acting, believing, and deciding; it gives us ways to make sense of our lives; it puts us in touch with transcendent ideals; it gives us the exquisite pleasures of ideas, beauty, story, music; it awakens us to our responsibilities as citizens of the world; it educates us…I could go on and on.

Next up for “24 for 24”: 30 Days of Policy. I want to attend lectures and panel discussions, watch documentaries, see exhibits that are related to policy. Send in your suggestions.



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