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The Art of Making a List

I have something to say about making lists. I absolutely abhor them. Even the tedious task of grabbing a pen and paper and numbering items “To Do” makes me feel overwhelmed and grudgingly committed to crossing them off. I am not a Type A personality. In fact, I usually dislike people who are but that mostly comes from my being jealous of all the things they seem able to get done in a day. When I was student teaching the principal of the high school where I taught gathered up all the 20-somethings from the college who were embarking on teaching careers and listened to us gripe at how difficult it was. We had to continue to take one class while we created lesson plans and taught all day and then met with our cooperating teachers in the after-school hours and it was exhausting. His advice? We all have the same 24 hours in a day, folks. Learn to get it done.

It’s a testament to my strong will and my even greater disdain for failure that pushed me through that time in my life. I was one of only two student teachers who was also raising children at the time and I sincerely wanted to slap the ever-loving crap out of him. Instead, I started writing lists of things to get done. One of them was to finish packing up my college furniture and clothes and all the toys my children forgot to play with while they were captivated by wooden spoons and my spiral bound college notebooks and move to a new town to begin teaching. I had gotten the first job I applied for (which, in hindsight, didn’t teach me much about working hard to get a job) and had only a few weeks left of student teaching. Yet, here I was starting off my career by making lists.

Not long ago I found some old lists of mine and realized how mundane some of the items were. I even came across a piece of paper with the pre-printed title of “Things To Do” on it from 1980 when I was all of 9 years old. That list is hilarious and a little bit sad. It has 25 items on it with things like:

1. Not to talk too much in school

and

2. Do what I am told to do

and, one of my favorites,

3. Not to watch more than 3 hours of tv unless it’s a special

Thinking back to 1980 and the television situation I recall that “The Wizard of Oz” used to come on television once a year and it was a big deal. No, I really mean it. A Big Deal. We didn’t answer the phone those nights and my mom would make me and my sisters some popcorn and apple slices to go with the one bottle of Coke we had to share. There were commercials so it seemed to take hours but we carefully planned bathroom visits. My mother had good timing for commercials so she would whisper to us, “Now, who needs to potty before the end of the commercial break?” as we sat, transfixed, on Dorothy’s glittery shoes or the frightfully scary Wicked Witch.

Lists back then seemed to center around the theme of being a better person and ending bad habits. When I compare that to the lists I started making in college it differs in that they were tasks to complete like paying bills and dropping off my papers to professors and remembering to write my grandmother a letter. The lists I make today center around things to get done before I can do anything fun. And that right there is probably why I hate those lists. They are reminders that I can’t do what I want until I do the things I have to do. Being an adult is nothing like I thought it would be. You, too, huh?

Lists of mine from high school had celebrity crushes (George Michael, what was I thinking?) and clothes journals of outfits I wanted to wear (everything was from The Gap) and places in the world I wanted to live (Costa Rica. I have no idea where my brain was there.) As I cleaned up my den this weekend I found grocery lists and lists of foods I want to try and places I want to explore on vacation. There was even a list of graduate schools that offered a doctorate program in which I’m interested. Some of these lists offer more lofty goals and aspirations and I softened a bit on my list-making angst. That young girl who once wrote “Not to ask stupid questions” is more grown up now and hasn’t quit asking questions. She’s just couched them in such a way that they don’t sound stupid. But they certainly do question authority and those who would tell her such stupid things as that’s the way it’s always been done because that girl? She has a lot of things to do in this life and she wants to finish some of them so she had better practice the craft of making lists and promising herself that she will do important things and hone that craft.

Maybe she should stop being so angry at the lists and see them in a more positive light and teach her children that making lists is a conscious promise to oneself that they’d like some order and sanity to their lives and only 24 hours in which to get things done.

Maybe she just did.

Photo credit to Petit Hiboux

 




Read the list in its entirety at my personal blog, Mocha Momma

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