Living By The Lists

When I was a kid I had lists for everything. I retained them in my head and I’d review them over and over until I could recite them perfectly. Whether it was some game which I would not allow myself to play until I mentally reviewed the instructions and object of the game precisely, or the lay out of a house in which I would not feel comfortable until I examined and approved every tiny detail. If I thought something looked off, I’d try to adjust it so that my mind could make sense of my surroundings. This was freakishly weird! (I thought at the time.) I assumed something was wrong with me and that I was the only one to ever suffer from the same obsessive mental madness. Years later, when I would go on to take various psychology and sociology courses, I realized that while still weird perhaps, there are actually people out there with similar Obsessive Compulsive Disorders …and there was a name for it! Of course, by then I no longer carried the lists around with me. At least, not to the same extreme.

However, now as an adult I find that the lists, while different in content and intensity, still define my life. And I have so many lists: things to do, things to buy, places to go, people to call and email, projects to complete… The lists are never ending.  Yet I write them with the anticipation of being able to cross things off, one accomplishment at a time, as if to prove that I am doing something with my life.  And as though there will soon come a day when I won’t have anything left to scratch off.  But then what?  Because I also realize that the day there isn’t anything left for me to do–no errand to run, no groceries to pick up, no person to get in touch with–is the day I will draw my last breath.

There will always be things to do.  And there will always be chaos. Making lists has just always been my way of bringing order to my life; of feeling in control. I suspect that even as I was growing up, when things around me didn’t make sense, this too was the purpose of my wacky lists.  I can’t see myself ever fully functioning without writing things down; my lists are little reminders of all that there is to do.  (And as a single mother of two, there is always lots to do.)  I just can’t help but feel sometimes that by living by the lists, I am also dying by them one check mark at a time. 

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