Are you a list maker? I am.
Oh, god, how I love lists: the simple ones, like Groceries, Things to do , and the more complicated ones, which bring on sub-lists and sub-sub-lists. When I plan a party, my party list separates itself into People Who Are Coming, Menu (which splits into Recipes, then What I have and What to buy), Tasks To Do (which splits into the Days I am going to do them).
Lists can make you feel in control of your life and time. They help you organize. There is something about seeing things in black and white that makes a difference, and seeing them in the simple format of numbered and lettered items, in neat columns, with spaces between. (Sometimes I do it on the computer, but I still prefer handwritten lists, which I carry around, folded, and transfer from pocket of my robe to pocket of my jacket, and lose and find again in the pocket of some flannel shirt.) Listing what you have to do keeps you from worrying that you will forget to do it or leave some important task out. (I feel such relief it’s almost as if I have already done it.) And talk about lightness of being. What’s lighter than that sense of security when you jot down all the phone calls you have to make, or check your list of birthdays and anniversaries for the month?
Lists can actually help you live. For example, every New Year’s Eve, I list all the things I want to accomplish in the coming year. (I used to subdivide it into long-term and short-term, but now that I am older, I consider everything short-term.) Putting the goal on a list is like making a commitment to it, and also reminds me that my every day acts are rooted in deeper soil. Once I made a list of places I wanted to visit, and I checked them off as I went. (All right, that one was a mental list, but it started out as a physical one, which I found, years later, in an old handbag). I believe that one of the reasons I went to each place was because they were on my list.
Lists can be a way of self-assessment, too. For example, what if you made a list of all the things you knew about in life? Love, marriage, childrearing, ping-pong, baseball, banking, loneliness, loss, saving, spending, siblings, real estate, moving, movies, television, travel, psychology, illness, Italian food, cooking, grammar, spelling, pre-euro coin names like deutschmarkand escudo and franc. Oh, you could go on and on, couldn’t you? And isn’t it great to see that list grow and realize that you are a fantastic work in progress, and the work has been going on for a long time?
Here’s a thought. Make a list of all the things you once enjoyed doing but do not do anymore. Read poetry aloud? Play the piano? Doodle? Eat late at night? Drink too much? Wear tee shirts or spike heels? Bike ride? Play the trumpet? Now, do as many of these things as you can manage without killing yourself. Do them at least once, or as often as you want to. Note which ones are worth repeating and which ones it makes sense to have left behind with your youth. This could yield a double benefit: you’ll stop talking about everything as if it is in the past, and you’ll know for certain that you are not missing anything.
Here’s another thought. A list of all the things you planned to do and did not do, like learn tennis, read Moby Dick, take a course in pastry making or bookbinding or piano tuning. Now cross out the ones that are not feasible AT ALL, like tennis, if you happen to be in a wheelchair. (But even then, do not ignore the possibility of virtual tennis, or reading tennis strategy so that the next time you watch the U.S. Open you’ll have a new outlook.) Then cross out the ones you no longer want to do, the things that do not give you even the smallest zing when you see them written down. Maybe those will include the pretentious things you thought you should want to do but never really did, or the good-for-you things you really always hated the thought of, or the things you pretended to want because everyone else seemed to want them. Whatever is left, do them! What a thrill it will be to finally bind your first book or make your first Napoleon. That can be the start of a new list, of first experiences. Or things you’ve only done once.
Or make a list of all your lists.