Saturday, 30 January 2016

What's On Your List?

Do you list?

A friend asked me that question the other day. She’d recently discovered the joy of listing – making a list and ticking things off as they got done –  and wondered whether it might be a good subject for me to blog about. She didn’t offer to write the blog – it wasn’t on her list.

But it sure got me thinking. My first reaction was NO! I am not a "listoholic", someone who is addicted to the writing of lists. I don’t want to be afflicted by "listitis" – a chronic condition that limits your life to slavishly following lists. And I certainly don’t want to have a fit of "listeria", which would be the panic attack that happens when I lose my list.

But on second thought, I’d have to admit that I do write lists. Almost everyone does, just to get through life. It starts early, I'm thinking, this list-making penchant, if you have it. My cousin's daughter posted this one at her sleep-over party:
Kassandra's list: good one! I especially like Have Fun.

 I do know how valuable lists can be: grocery lists, bills-to-pay lists, packing lists, party-prep lists. If you’re a scatterbrain (check) or easily distracted (check), they keep you on track and help you avoid disaster. It’s just that when it comes to lists, I’m list-impaired, a checkmark or two short of accomplished. I have no problems writing lists; my problem is actually keeping them. They seem to get lost between the making and the doing. I find them later, stuck into a book as a bookmark or cluttering up a junk drawer. What I really ought to do is make a list of hints on where to find my lists, and another list of instructions on what to do with my list after I make it.

So I decided to take a refresher course on lists, turning to my old friend Google. Let me list for you the things I learned:

Psychology Today offered a good read on “how making lists can quell anxiety and breed creativity.”  Scribless Online List Maker offers a program that allows you to quickly and easily make a list: “Drag your list items around or throw them in the trash if you don't like them. (Ooh, I like that.) You can then email your finished list or print it on paper.” There’s an online study guide on how to make a good list at (Don't click on this link, however: it's no longer listed at Google.) I found a list that Johnny Cash wrote:

And then, for something completely different,  there’s this quote by author Umberto Eco.

“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible… And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists…”

I had to read this quote several times, just to get the gist of it. Lists are the origin of culture, you say, Umberto?  That’s deep, very deep. I’d add that thought to my list of things I might wish to blog about some day, but that list is lost, too.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of listers. There are the detailed listers who write out their lists and who, with great glee and satisfaction, tick off the things they’ve done (I’m so envious!) Sometimes they even add things to the list that they’d done that day that weren’t on the list, just for the joy of scratching it off (you know who you are!). Making lists and then checking them off gives them joy. By creating a box in their minds for the to-do lists, they have found a way to “quell anxiety” (as Psychology Today phrases it, above) about the day-to-day tasks, making so much more room in their minds and hearts for creativity. Three cheers for detailed listers.

And then there are the big-picture listers, who use lists to refine their thinking. The process, not the completed item, is the important thing. That would be more like me. When the resident sweetie and I were considering our move to the Island, we created two lists; a list of things that were important to us as we aged, and a Pro and Con list, charting the benefits and drawbacks of moving. The big picture helped us clarify our thinking. 

One day, I wrote out a list of the First Ten Things I Love About Al (the resident sweetie). I do not use this list to tally or measure or check things off. It’s just a reminder of how blessed I am (and bonus, I can add to it every day.) I have a friend who posts a gratitude every day on Facebook – at the end of the year, her list is very long, a great way to reinforce a positive attitude.

So the answer to my friend’s question, Do I List? is, Yes, I list. The detailed lists help keep my life on track (sometimes, if I can find the list and discipline myself to follow it.) But if you want to hear my heart sing, give me the job of creating a big-picture, open-ended list, the one that is never finished, that leaves a whole lot of room for surprises and unexpected opportunities to learn and blossom.

I call it my life.

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