My Obsession With Lists

When I was younger, making lists used to be about order in times of mayhem, and maybe they still are

Photograph by Flickr Hive Mind
Making a list, checking it twice.

I like lists. Lists that name things such as commonly misspelled words, bird species of California, the Billboard Hot 100. I’m discerning about lists and can’t stand the recent trend of useless information in "listicles" like “10 Best Bathrooms in the World” and “20 Funniest Texts from Grandparents.”

I especially like random lists. My favorites are lost or left behind grocery lists at the market, any list of anything found on the sidewalk and Jorge Luis Borges' 1942 list from “an ancient Chinese encyclopedia” (so he said) of categories animals belong to:

· Those that belong to the emperor

· Embalmed ones

· Those that are trained

· Suckling pigs

· Mermaids (or sirens)

· Fabulous ones

· Stray dogs

· Those that are included in this classification

· Those that tremble as if they were mad

· Innumerable ones

· Those drawn with a very fine camel hair brush

· Et cetera

· Those that have just broken the flower vase

· Those that, at a distance, resemble flies

My whole life I have kept lists. As a child, lists of snow globe, license plate, and matchbook collections; of records, books, friends; later, of concerts, backstage passes and a groupie “fuck list.” Lists were about order in times of mayhem.

When I went to college and had two young children, lists meant I could free up my mind and didn’t have to remember the zillion mundane things a mother and an undergraduate has to remember.

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If I went to the grocery store and realized I left my list at home I went home to get it. I’m not a wander-around-the-aisles, free-spirit type. I’ll always keep a grocery list, even if I need only one item. “Bread” it said on my lined notepad not too long ago, and I picked that up and carried it to the bakery. Not that one item constitutes a list, to be technical, but it suggests the start of one.

The other day it occurred to me that I had not checked the list on my iPhone’s Note app. I tried it out for about a week and now it was like a month later. I saw:

· Grace and may

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· Don’t know who I slept with

· Snap judgment

· Shpongle

· Fictionaut

· Eyes tue 2pm

· Where is dictaphone

I groaned. What am I talking about? Who is Grace? Did I go to the eye doctor?

Technology and lists don’t go together for me. Lists have to be a visible, tangible thing. I keep stickies and a notepad in my car, next to my bed, on my desk, in my gym bag and on what used to be called a telephone table. I use very sharp Mirado Black Warrior pencils, medium soft, #2, but I use pens in places that aren’t near my Boston-brand electric pencil sharpener (circa sometime in the 1970s). When I got fired, I took it as I left.

On a different note, I have lately been thinking of people who are 50 as “my age.” They are not my age. I am going to be 57 on July 4th of this year. I was born in 1957 and I’ll be 57. “That and 15 cents will get you on the subway” (… they said in 1957).

I can’t believe I’m this close to 60. (::primal scream::) 50 was okay, but 51 — difficult. “I was just getting used to 50 and now 51 so soon!?” I said to friends.

So, I decided that on my birthday from now on, I will make two lists: one called “old” and one called “young.” On “old,” I’ll list 10 traits that are typical of aging, and on “young,” 15 traits that keep me young.

Here are some entries on the lists for my next birthday:


Hesitant to travel alone

Always bring a sweater to the movies

Deep wrinkles around eyes

Can’t eat everything anymore

Afraid to flip off idiots


Read up on and understand youth culture

Chat with young people at cafés

Exercise hard almost every day

Don’t leave home without lipstick

Dance while cooking

And if I find that I have too many olds and not enough youngs, I’ll have to come up with something new that makes me feel young and just do it.

Tags: memoirs

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