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.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Just a little grace

I had a blog all written earlier this week, a blog about New Year’s "ReVolutions" instead of "reSolutions". It was a riff off a blog written by Parker Palmer. My blog sounded like a sermon, his sounded so much better. Read his, instead (you can find the link at the bottom of this page).

But that wasn’t the only reason I changed my mind about posting my piece. What I realized is that sometimes we  – okay, okay, I – can just escape my own issues if I get up on a pulpit and sermonize in beautiful words. I speak good ideas, but they are not from the heart, the heart that is a bit bruised and sad and feeling beat up these days.

It’s January, and most people, when they take stock, will admit to a touch of the blues. Those blues may be the aftermath of seasonal celebrations – too much, too much of everything. Or perhaps it’s thinking sadly about all the resolutions you’ve made in years past that haven’t made a lick of difference in your life. It may just be the season – not enough sunshine, short days and long stretches of darkness. Whatever the cause, the January blues hit, and you’re stuck in them.

For me, the temptation then is to escape into my ivory tower and think lofty thoughts – it’s easier to pontificate about vast and airy concepts than to come to grips with what’s really ailing me. And boy, can I pontificate with the best of them. Here’s a line from the blog I discarded: “The enemies of love, truth and justice are many, and we see them at work in our society every day:  racism, xenophobia, lies, favouritism, entitlement, cheating, violence, hate, materialism, and on and on.” Uh-huh. So true. So cliche. So lah-di-dah-di-dah. So what?

Time to pony up and tell the truth. The resident sweetie and I are fussing over some issues in our lives that need resolution. You too? My creativity seems to have gone for a walk. Al has developed a medical problem, so we’re living in limbo till the next step can be decided. We’ve had to kibosh travel plans. Someone who is dear to us is facing a life challenge. It’s January, and looking on the bright side is more difficult in January. These issues occupy quite a bit of our conversation and sometimes disturb our sleep at night. For these issues, we don’t need words in a sermon.

In this frame of mind, I went off to the quilt guild yesterday. For someone professing to like time alone, sitting in a room full of women who are sewing , snipping, chatting, admiring each other’s work, or just hanging around catching up on the gossip, may be a strange choice. But  at least I’d get some worthwhile work done, and also be distracted from my own preoccupations.

Nothing earth-shaking happened. No great flash of insight pierced the grayness. We engaged with each other in the common ordinariness of working together, sharing ideas and tips, catching up on what was happening. We talked about how much we hate it when young newscasters, reporting on a 67-year old woman, might describe her as an "elderly" victim. We laughed. Well, EXCUSE me! We do admit to being older than the young whippersnapper newscaster, but we don’t want to be labelled. We shared some of the ways we know we are older – arthritic hips, frequent bathroom trips at night, sleeplessness. “And what keeps you awake at night, Jessie?” asked someone. I shared a little snippet of my anxiety. They listened. Just listened, and nodded in recognition. They’d been there, they’d faced those same questions and issues. We ate some lunch, chatted some more, helped each other take down tables when we were done. And then we went home.

“Was it a good day?” asked the sweetie, when I walked through the door. “Yes,”  I said, “yes!”

As I wrote in my sermon/blog, there are a lot of enemies of the good things in life and sometimes we can get mired in the muck that the enemies carry with them. It’s easy to begin thinking we live in a grim world, and there’s not a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. But if we open our eyes, we begin to see that there are also moments of grace that shine through. We realize that we are walking through this world in good company, that we are not alone. We exist in a community of others, we form a circle, and the others are so much like we are. We listen, we laugh, we share stories, we share griefs and burdens, and we extend  grace to each other, which goodness knows, we all need.

Crows know: they need each other.
I didn’t need lofty words and big ideas that day. I needed to be with ordinary people doing routine things, just to realize how extraordinary life actually is, with all its shining facets and permutations. I needed the grace of small things, which when you put them all together, add up to a whopping pile of amazing grace.

This mandala was a black and white puzzle which got completed here over Christmas, then coloured with markers -- little bits and pieces, put together, to make a lovely whole.

You might wish to read more of Palmer’s fine blog, and his list of revolutions, at

Friday, 1 January 2016

First Day

As I write this, it is the first day of a brand new year.

And it’s about the 5th time I’ve tried to get this blog to say what I want to say without sounding preachy.

I’ve always enjoyed New Year’s Day, enjoyed the idea of turning to the next page in the book of life and finding a fresh clean sheet, with so many possibilities to fill it. A fresh clean New Year should be an upbeat and hopeful subject for a blog.

But this year, that hopeful thought has been given a whack on the upside of the head. As I was pondering the by-line of my blog, “words and images for the first day of the rest of your life,”  a thought hit me like a baseball lobbed from left field:
  What if this day is the only day you’ll have to live the rest of your life?
The thought knocked the breath out of me. It put a damper on hopeful, inspiring, upbeat, all the things this blog should be.. 

Where do these thoughts come from, anyway? Do they float around in the air, waiting for someone to bump into them? Or are they sent out on a mission: “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write about this topic in such a way that people will not be crying in their beer after they've read it. PS: No sermons.” We all know that there are only two sure things in life: death and taxes. But really, am I supposed to write about that?

Oh. Okay. Here we go again: this is Attempt Number Five.

This is the first day of the rest of your life ...  but what if this day is the only day you  have to live the rest of your life?

That would definitely change my perspective on issues, all right. The argument about some trifling piddling thing which I don’t even remember anymore, which I had with the resident sweetie before I left the house?  Well, I’d be a little less anxious to prove that I was right. I would consciously be more grateful for the wonderful people that bless my life (including him, big time), and I’d tell them so.

I’d quit worrying about whether I measured up in my housekeeping, bodily appearance,  cooking – all the things we sometimes base our identity on. I would not let other people’s opinions  shape my self-image, and I would rest at peace in my relationship with my Creator who has given me worth and value.

I would spend time outside in nature, in awe of the vastness and beauty of the world we live in, and sense my connections to all living things.

I would take some time to sing. Singing is a physical, spiritual and emotional workout that adds joy to our life and wakens our spirits.

I would work, in which ever way I could,  at making this world a better place, which is really why we are here. To show love, to give practical help, to speak up about injustice, to create beauty ... you and I all have our mission and are given gifts to bless others and our world.

Once I started on this list, I knew there were more things I could add – common, ordinary, good things that make our days a joy. And I realize the question is not so macabre after all: these commitments are all the ways I hope to live my life this year. This day really is the first day of the rest of my life, however long it may be.

And how about you? What will you do with the first day of the rest of your life?