Joanne Palmer: Longing for lists
September 11, 2012
Johnny Cash knew how to write a to-do list. He wrote one that was so funny, so readable and so endearing that it sold at auction for $6,250. Here's how it read:
Not kiss anyone else
Not eat too much
Go see Mama
The Man in Black must have liked lists. When his daughter, an aspiring musician, turned 18, he created a list for her titled "100 Essential Country Songs."
I have a love-hate relationship with lists. Sometimes I write them, and sometimes I don't. I'm more productive when I write them, but I guess a tiny part of me rails against being so busy that I have to create them. Part of the problem with to-do lists is that they are just that — things to do, which, if it was something like "plan a three-week trip to Tahiti," would be just fine. I'd happily scribble that right down in capital letters and then underline it. However, jotting down "rotate tires; change oil" makes me want to hit the snooze button on my alarm clock.
Writing the list is one thing, finding the list is another and accomplishing what is on the list is an entirely different matter altogether. I got fed up with Post-It notes stuck all over the place — steering wheel, cellphone and wallet — that I decided to go high-tech and create an electronic list. I thought it might be helpful to have something beep at me as a reminder, but now I'm not so sure. I already have a teenager who does that. Besides, I really like paper and pen, so for now, I'm leading a hybrid technology tsunami life — part Post-It notes, part electronic to-do list.
It is not working.
Content also is a problem for me. Because I take words seriously, I deliberate about what to write. If it's something I do habitually, like walk the dog or take a shower, I don't see the point of writing it down. The world's greatest boyfriend and I disagree on this point. He writes down everything he is going to do, such as unload the dishwasher, do laundry and eat breakfast, just so he can check it off and feel a sense of accomplishment. This makes no sense to me, but after reading a few other lists, I see I am wrong.
The "engine out" checklist that Capt. Chesley Sullenberger consulted when he was forced to land his plane in the Hudson River included "Land ASAP." Isn't that obvious? Maybe not.
Lists, I've discovered, don't always have to be logical, orderly or full of things accomplish. Jazz musician Thelonious Monk once wrote on his list:
"IT MUST BE ALWAYS NIGHT, OTHERWISE THEY WOULDN'T NEED THE LIGHTS.
YOU'VE GOT TO DIG IT TO DIG IT, YOU DIG?
THEY TRIED TO GET ME TO HATE WHITE PEOPLE, BUT SOMEONE WOULD ALWAYS COME ALONG & SPOIL IT."
Cool dude, that Thelonious.
Then there is the list you make when you are weighing the pros and cons of a situation. Charles Darwin created such a list before his wedding when he was contemplating the merits of children. He wrote:
"Children — (if it Please God) — Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, — object to be beloved & played with. — better than a dog anyhow." Not only did Darwin get married, he had 10 kids. No mention of a dog.
After reading up on lists, I feel better about writing them. They can be funny, poetic or factual. They can help organize my life or my daydreams. Many people feel the simple act of writing it down increases the chances it will happen. So I'm going to make a new list and put a trip to Tahiti right on the top.
I'll send a postcard when I get there.
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