D-I-Y: Developing and Designing 2DO Before I Die

by Michael Ogden and Chris Day
The Internet Writing Journal, May 2005
Cover of 2DO Before I Die by Michael Ogden and Chris Day
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This is our first book. In all honesty, we're surprised we've made it this far. Three years ago, the idea of publishing a book was a left-field fantasy neither Chris nor I seriously entertained. But over time, this particular project took on its own "do-or-die" flavor. Appropriately - given the book's subject -- we learned as we went along, and following some highs, a few lows and around 337 pots of coffee, here we are.

Like most things, 2DO Before I Die started small. Inspiration came as a direct result of two conversations. The first was three years ago. On the last day my sister and I saw our grandfather before he died, he told us his life story. He was not a sentimental man and we were surprised by what he chose to highlight. Talking for two hours, pausing only to answer our questions, he described a mixture of small triumphs and passing regrets over his 91 years. We hadn't heard half the stories.

Driving back home, my sister and I found there was a lot to talk about. She was 24, I was 30, and though we figured we had a lot of years ahead of us, it was impossible not to consider what we would remember when we looked back. Would the last couple of years even get a mention? What would we regret not having tried?

My sister and a friend of hers had each recently made a list of things to do before they died. To her credit, my sister shared hers with me. Ranging from the serious to the scandalous, it was as good a self-portrait as I had seen. The next day, I enjoyed writing my own list and wondered why I hadn't considered making one before.

2DO Before I Die really began to take shape following a second conversation a few months later. Over beers at a local bar, my friend Chris and I started talking about the list. Unknown to me, he had made his own a few weeks before. Provoking an entertaining debate about ambition, family, travel, charity, death and regrets, we thought it was a rich topic and were curious to develop it further.

What made us think we could put a book together? A friend put it this way: "A triumph of tenacity over common sense." In other words, we didn't know any better. But we did have a clear vision of what we wanted the book to be.

We were aware of the minefields that could sink a subject like this. We tried our best to steer clear of any hint of self-help mantras, "dream harvesting" or dolphin swimming. We were also wary of building a showcase for wacky, outlandish ideas most of us would never do. Instead, we wanted to create a conversation-starter featuring tales told with honesty and a sense of humor that provided some insights into what people believed to have been important, fun, intriguing or memorable.

We built a website (http://www.2dobeforeidie.com) and -- through word of mouth—it slowly percolated and extended surprisingly far afield. We began receiving visits from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Stories of things people had done -- from large ambitions to small, everyday pursuits -- started to come in from visitors as young as nine and as old as 81; whole families participated.

Producing 2DO involved a lot of D-I-Y. Learning as we went, we picked up a number of skills in order to design the book's cover, lay-out its 224 pages of text and graphics, and select and edit 70 first-person stories.

After two years hustling for stories, climbing a steep learning curve and surviving on a diet of tuna sandwiches, we realized the book had ironically become our own "before I die" project, demanding resources, time and energy we didn't know we had. With any luck, readers will find the end result entertaining and provocative.

While not attempting to provide a "definitive" list of things to do, 2DO Before I Die seeks to stir up the possibilities, bounce around some ideas, and explore both what's important and what's possible. Our hope is that through the stories, questions, games and graphics included in the book, others will want to join that conversation as well.

To read our own 2DO Stories: Mike's "Record an album": http://www.2dobeforeidie.com/album.htm
Chris's "Join a protest march": http://www.2dobeforeidie.com/protest.htm.
You can also submit your own stories at 2dobeforeidie.com

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