My Life in Lists
I come from a long line of list-makers. My mother had beautiful penmanship. She wrote lists each morning on the backs of used envelopes. Mostly they were grocery lists. She liked to do her “marketing” every day so she’d be sure to get out of the house. My maternal grandmother also wrote lists every morning in small dainty writing. She would sip coffee and chew on toast at the breakfast table each morning cataloguing what she had to do or buy that day. Her “to do” lists were also most often scripted on the back of an envelope. Both my mother and grandmother tossed their lists into the trash after they were completed. This is when I should have realized I was meant to be a writer, because when I began making lists, I couldn’t bear the thought of discarding them. Nor could I consider writing them on the backs of used envelopes. For one thing, I started making lists long before I began receiving mail. I fell in love with notebooks at an early age, particularly spiral ones that I could open and close many times without damaging the binding. They were a perfect place for my own daily lists. Before long, I had dedicated a separate spiral notebook for my daily lists. At the beginning of the notebook I would enter a start date and when it was full, I would return to the first page to enter the end date. Every day had its own page dated at the top, sometimes with a notion about why that day was special. “March 14, XXXX HBD Uncle Buddy.” I tried to prioritize what needed to be accomplished during the day. As I completed each task, I took my favorite pen de jour (that’s another topic for another day) and crossed off the item with delight and sometimes, relief. “Sit for bar exam” or later in life “colonoscopy prep” were crossed off with an added notation. “Whew!” “Yay!” Usually my list was filled with more mundane chores. Pay bills, email or call so-and-so, buy paper towels. When I didn’t complete a task, I would circle it and sometimes scold myself. “Bad girl.” Then the item would go on the next day’s list. I saved all of these notebooks until a few years ago after viewing the mountain of spiral binders and wondering why. Why save notebooks with daily “to do” lists, especially when I also journal? I found a place to perch next to the piles and began perusing them. In short time, I realized these lists chronicled my life better than any journal I had filled. “Buy food for post-funeral party.” (You might have to be Irish to understand why it’s a party.) “Lose weight for wedding.” “Take daughter for G.I. test.” “Ballet recital.” “Finish taxes.” Many “to do’s” were personal, but most were the meat and potatoes of the daily life I have led. “Grocery shop.” “Prep for class.” “Yoga” I tossed the notebooks and almost immediately regretted it. When my daughter asked about a family event, I could no longer play family historian and reach for the list that recorded it. I realized I should have chucked my journals, which are filled with my interpretation of what is contained in the list notebooks. But the notebooks are a form of history. I’ve resumed the practice of keeping my “to do” lists, but now I am more conscious of what I write. I’ve decided that by writing what I want to do and what I need to do, elevates my commitment to what is important to me. I write each list with intention. Writing is always at the top of my list, but buying tissues and toilet paper also has its rightful place. And I’m planning a big bonfire for those journals. How about you? Do you write lists? What do they tell you about your life?