LIVING BY LISTS

I am an avid list-maker. Involved in many projects, with many responsibilities, I’m often overwhelmed by the chorus of voices in my head, yelling, ”Remember to do this! Don’t forget that! Did you take care of that?”

I find myself paralyzed and immobilized until I find a piece of paper and write down every task I can think of that is nagging for attention. I call it a brain dump, and at the end of it I’m enormously calm. It’s like gathering all of your wildly running-around children and putting them together in one room. You still have to feed them and give them baths, but there they are, corralled and ready to be organized. Once I have a list, I can stop thinking about missing something important, and get busy doing it. Unless I lose the list. Which has happened, with tragic results.

The other day, while reading the delightful book Frog and Toad Together to my four-year-old grandson, I came across this wonderful tale of every list maker’s dilemma. Toad wakes up and makes a list of everything he has to do that day. He even writes “wake up,” and then crosses it off, because he has already done that. A Toad after my own heart. Then, on a walk with his friend Frog, the wind blows Toad’s list away. He doesn’t want to run after it, because running after his list is not on his list of things to do. He now has a problem. “I cannot remember any of the things that were on my list of things to do,” he says. “I will just have to sit here and do nothing.” This is what happens when the brain dump is so complete that your mind is now completely blank.

But let’s say you don’t lose the list. The best part of a list is crossing things off of it. I confess that sometimes I cross something off right before I do it, as an incentive to get it done immediately. Like Toad, I’ve even been known to write down something that I just did, that was not on the list originally, for the satisfaction of crossing it out and enjoying the feeling of productivity. But the most fun is doing four or five things in a row, and then crossing them off all at once. Slash! Slash! I’m a list addict. Or maybe a crossing-off addict. It’s kind of sad when I get to the end of the crossing out. But never fear, a new list is on its way.

List-making overtakes me at odd times, like when I’m sitting in church on Sunday morning, and all sorts of things come flying into my mind that I must get done in the coming week. I know that everybody thinks I’m taking notes on the sermon, but the back of the sermon notes sheet is blank, a perfect canvas for a list. I do apologize, but if I don’t write all that stuff down then and there, I won’t hear one word of the sermon for agonizing over the possibility of forgetting to do something important. It only takes me about two minutes anyway, and then I can concentrate on what’s happening in the service. And if something comes to me later, how easy to flip over that page and write it down.

I’ve been accused by various family members of leaving little pieces of paper strewn all over the house. Those little pieces of paper are lists, and essential to my existence. They reside in several locations, including the kitchen counter, the piano bench, on the refrigerator and bulletin board, in documents on my laptop, and the notes section of my smart phone. I really should compile a list of all my lists.

List Central is the bathroom counter, next to the sink. As I get ready for bed each night, the list topics come at me fast and furious. The space that holds all my getting-ready-for-bed paraphernalia is also littered with wrinkled, water- and steam- damaged sticky notes. Often, after I’m tucked in, I suddenly remember something I forgot to put on the list. Then comes the battle. Is it worse to have to get up and write it down, or to lie in bed worrying that I will forget it?

Here’s a weird trick that works well. If I decide not to get out of bed, I select something from the nightstand – a book, a CD, a pair of glasses – and lay it on the floor, while I silently intone, two or three times, whatever it is I need to remember. “Thaw chicken for dinner. Call (whoever).” The idea is that when I wake up in the morning and see the object on the floor, I’ll remember whatever needs to go on the list. This has almost never failed me. Warning: If you put your glasses on the floor, don’t step on them when you get out of bed the next morning. If you do step on them, just add getting new glasses to your list. See how easy this is?

You may think me slightly over the top with this list thing. But after I’ve crossed everything off a list (or quite honestly, transferred the remaining two or three items to tomorrow’s list), I am free to sit and do nothing. Doing nothing is made even more delicious by the fact that I have all these lovely cross-outs to delight in. I’ve earned the right to do nothing. Or maybe to make a new list.

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