Listing dangerously

 Lists are for losing

I am an inveterate maker of lists. I create them on scraps of paper, post-its, fat pads, backs of envelopes, corners of books.   Things to do. Things to buy. Things to consider. Books to read. Things to avoid. Questions for the doctor. Shopping lists for my mother. New Years resolutions. Goals for retirement. Pros and cons.

 Then I lose the list. Stick it in a book. Put it in a drawer. Tuck it in the cook book, or some “safe” place that I can’t recall when I need it. As many times as I’ve made a grocery list, I rarely can produce it once I get to the store.  The lists surface sometime later, way too late to be of any use.

Why do we make lists?  Control…  Italian novelist Umberto Eco says:  What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible?  Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.”   But something in me clearly resists the lists, the order, the predictable and prefers the chaos of the misplaced, the forgotten, the scrambled.

 List poems are among my favorite.  The following is a list poem about lists, naturally.  The poet starts with simple lists: a catalog of seasonal, celebratory lists. Quickly, the poem darkens.  Some lists are benign while others exclude, hurt and sadden. These lists touch on the range of the human condition.

List List                                                                                                                                                

Wine list, wish list

to do list, Christmas list,

price list, packing list,

back list, short list,

Passenger list, casualty list,

guest list, shit list,

black list, hit list.
-Stephen Cushman

Categories: wisdom

1 reply

  1. although I hate structure, I admit that I am a list person also but like you….I always lose them. i think that it is the process of writing the list, rather than the list itself, that helps me to focus. Although if, in my ripe old age, I forget what I focused on….it doesn’t matter. Perhaps I should have the list stuck to my forehead or write on my hand like the kids….whoops, in the pressure of forgetting, I would sweat and there would go the list 🙂

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