Since I found out that life for me was way too complex to handle it, I started to write down lists of chores and duties. That was when I became a mother. There were so many chores during one normal day that I tended to forget half of them, so I started to write them on several lists on my desk, which gave me a feeling of control and power. Especially when I put them into the order in which they should be done. On lists in those days you would find things like: 1. taking a shower (its been 5 days and you smell), 2. laundry,
3. mobbing kitchen floor, 4. paying phone bill from last month, 5. vaccuuming hallway...)
The years before I became a mother were not a listless nirvana or something. I jotted down lists in the back of my journals from the time when I started to keep journals (1976). But they were never lists of chores or duties, rather they were written down collections of the highlights of my life:
Lists of all the people I had met during the course of the journal, there was a male and a female list of course, with the cities or places they were from, added behind their names. Lists of men I really found interesting (Robert de Niro, Lothar from my physics class, Jim Morrison). Lists of places I had been too, (Leverkusen, Cologne, Aachen, Bonn, Amsterdam, Bavaria). Lists of places I wanted to visit (Asia, Africa, America, Sweden). Lists of my favourite songs, which you can nowadays find here and which is so far the alltime favourite post of my blog. Lists of names for my future children (male/female), lists of books I should read (I remember the thrilling moment when I met a guy who used to read all day and night and he volunteered to make a list for me with all the books he felt one should have read before turning 18 - sixtyfive books and I checked them off one by one (mostly they were by Hesse, Frisch, Dürrenmatt, but also philosophers like Sartre, Kant, Heidegger)...so in this former life the lists weren't filled with duties and chores but rather with fun things. I like to read them now and get again a taste of my former life. I might even publish them here.
By now I write lists for everything, even lists about the lists I am keeping in order to not get lost between them or lists of lists I should start like: list of my favourite tv shows over the past decades (for example: The Waltons), lists of stores I should check out, list of favourite actresses and actors, to name only a few.
"I perceive value, I confer value, I create value, I even create — or guarantee — existence. Hence, my compulsion to make “lists.” The things (Beethoven’s music, movies, business firms) won’t exist unless I signify my interest in them by at least noting down their names.
Nothing exists unless I maintain it (by my interest, or mypotential interest). This is an ultimate, mostly subliminal anxiety. Hence, I must remain always, both in principle + actively, interested in everything. Taking all of knowledge as my province." Susan Sontag
In my office I have a list on which I write everything I have to do during a certain day, I have another one for the week, another one for the month and yet another one for the year, all of them are constantly changing. Thats creating a lot of value :-) I feel I could not master my job without those lists. I would forget the crucial things and fail. "Nothing exists unless I maintain it."
Thats by the way especially true for the huge garden in the country and the little house there. I need three more lists just because of it!
Funny thing is the minute I cross out a duty on one of my different lists you can bet I put 5 new items on it or another list. The lists seem to be growing constantly and one day I might have to look into "declutter your lists"- literature. Just kidding! My lists declutter my brain actually. Everything I have on a list I do not have to keep in my brain. So it feels lighter, emptier, better. Much better. Good is also that if you don't do certain things on the list after a while they become unimportant, you don't have to do them anymore. When I found this out I had even more fun with the lists. Write things down, don't do them and see what happens.
At home on my desk I have lists about groceries I need to buy (the grocery lists are divided, they are actually 4: one for the supermarket (Aldi which is like Trader Joe's), one for the non food products, one for the organic food store, one for the little stores around my neighborhood, where I can get everything, pens, notebooks, flowers, turkish groceries, toothpaste, you name it). When I head for the store I ususally forget to take the list with me or I take it with me and can not find it in the store. So my clerks already see me coming and hide, because even if I have the list with me I for sure forgot my reading glasses and have to ask them to read the list for me. Sometimes I restrain from doing this, especially when the clerk is male, young and goodlooking, there is a certain pride in me to not admit publicly that I am too old to read my grocery list without reading glasses. Its a great way to train my memory to try to envision the list on my desk (or in my hand) in every detail. It is frustrating though to come home and notice that I forgot half of the items written on it.
Most lists I still write down in my journal. Up front is a list of all the books I am reading or have read during the period I am writing in this particular notebook, usually about 1- 2 months, another one with the movies I saw. I put a little star behind the movies I liked best. I also write down if I saw them on DVD or in the movie theater and with whom I saw them.
Yes, keeping lists, I always suspected it, has some neurotic sides to it.
In the back of my journal I keep many lists:
1. Lists of writing projects, competitions, I want to participate in with deadlines, publishing companies, anthologies with deadlines and so on.
2. Things I want to accomplish in my lifetime but rather during writing this one journal: immigrating into the US, buying a house on Formentera, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature were things I kept on this particular list for years and years because I thought; if I only visualize them intensely enough they would materialize. I am more realistic now, so I have another list named 3. dreams, and I listed them there.
4. My financial situation. I list all my assets and am really happy when I look into older journals to see that they have grown and that if they continue growing in this speed I will be a millionaire by 2098!
5. Things I gotta do, seriously: dentist appointment, putting colour on the house in the garden before it rots completely, repairing the staircase there before it collapses....
6. Books I wanna read. This list has gotten fairly small since I have another one on Goodreads, where I can go crazy and list books to read for this life and the next 3 incarnations.
What I love about lists is first of all to write them, gives me the feeling to have a structure and that my life has an underlying order. It probably has a lot to do with control, but also with envisioning for the future and starting to make things more real by putting them on paper, black on white, the first step to realization. It also helps me to discard things, I do not find important anymore. They just never make it onto a list or get crossed out, because sometimes just putting them on paper reveals the fact, that I do not want to realize them, ever.
By the way: I really do like these lists by Susan Sontag. Thanks to her and Umberto Ecco I feel like I am in good company with my lists.
This is an adaptation from a post I published first in german on January 18th. Its not an exact translation.
© Susanne Becker