The Charm of Lists

I’m charmed by the philosophy of lists. They keep my day organized. Well, at least from that first moment these daily agendas pop up on my Google calendar.

Handwritten lists are more satisfying. There’s kinesthetic action involved. I jot down ideas in a flurry,  usually late at night or early in the morning, and find them waiting next to my computer when I arrive. I use an assemblage of paper. Everything from yellow post-it notes (medium-sized) to plain white note pads. The key has to do with removeability. Once I cross out a task, and complete a full page, I have to be able to rip the list from its home and crumple it up. Such fulfillment in that act. Tossing it in the waste basket is the finale.

I started keeping lists on a regular, daily basis about ten years ago. Recalling that time, dimly lit, it was one marked by need. I simply did not have enough, starting with income. Ten years ago, I worked two jobs part time, and was enrolled in a paralegal degree program. The absence of a full time occupation has a correlating effect on list-making. And that has to do with time. With more time available sans the 8-hour job, I needed accomplishment. My hours had to be packed with stretches, with mundane goals, with the frugal accretion of stuff done. Much more immediate was the need to care for myself, my home, my pets, my car.

Listing is a compressed memorial to action. I might name these tasks, roll them off as I change into my pajamas or recite them with the first cup of coffee. But. The auditory list is not a permanent list. Those ideas flee quickly from room to room and from hour to hour. Not only is the speaking of lists an ethereal thing, it cannot be tested . There is no signifier of completion. And, there is no satisfaction. There must be imprinting to make the list real. My eyes need the witness – the red stripes across the completed tasks.

Nowadays, I’ve taken up with my list-making again. And again, need is in the room.

Google makes things easier for me. That is its purpose. It keeps me glued to the screen. There’s the news, the conversations, the email, the calendar, the tasks. But the Google lists fail to generate the tactile or the kinesthetic joy of list-making. And the system  cannot duplicate the pleasant completion of crumpled paper in the trash.

These Google lists appear as linear urgencies. I see them in my email and grimace. For days now, the same tasks reappear (that’s my fault). “Complete paperwork for mortgage assistance.” And “Call City Welfare” and “mop kitchen floor.” I chide myself. Berate myself for failing to complete these tasks. I grow angry. This is now day three of these same damn tasks. What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I take care of business?

Perhaps I need to return to what works. The scribbled list late at night. The tear-out notepad. The black ink scrawls and the red line of completion.

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