How do I love lists? Let me jot the ways

April 11, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd

FOR AS LONG as I can remember, I've been a person who makes lists of things to do.

There is, I can tell you, no feeling on earth like the one you get from scratching off "Bring back library books" or "Pick up milk, 2 pct."

It's a feeling of accomplishment, of control, of, well, superiority.

You think: I have my list. I am more organized than you.

I am more aware, more focused, more ready to face the next 24 hours.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but my philosophy on lists is this: If nothing good happens during the day, I can still feel empowered by running a clean pen stroke through "Dog foams at mouth. New shots? Call vet."

On the other hand, not scratching something off the list can send me into a spiraling depression.

When that happens, the list sits there on my dresser, taunting me in the inky darkness as I try to sleep.

"What about 'Bring lawn mower in for tuneup?' You never did that!" the list cries out. "What about 'Call Ed re: Little League meeting?' "

This is what I hear all night long as I toss and turn and twist the pillow over my head to blot out the horrible sound.

Believe me, the guilt that comes with being unable to cross off a task on a list is incredible.

It can bring you to your knees. Hey, I've been there, pal.

(By the way, you'll notice that I use the terms "scratching off" and "running a clean pen stroke through" and "cross off" in the previous paragraphs.

(That's right, I don't believe in Filofaxes or electronic organizers or datebooks or any of those other sissy devices for making a list.

(List-wise, I'm a meat-and-potatoes man. Give me a sheet of lined notebook paper and a cheap Bic. Period. End of discussion.)

The thing about making lists is that you become completely dependent on them.

For example, let's say I attended a track meet and a tragic accident occurred.

I am the sort of person who would have to read "Have javelin removed from chest" before going to the emergency room.

In fact, I'd probably have to scratch off "Dial 911" before getting in the ambulance.

A few years ago, I remember looking at my list and seeing "Visit Nancy in hospital."

Nancy happens to be my wife. And the reason I was supposed to visit her in the hospital was because she had given birth to our son Jamie the day before.

Granted, a normal person wouldn't need a note reminding him to visit his wife in the hospital. (After his son was born, no less!)

But a person who makes lists oh, it's sick, I know. It's compulsive behavior to the nth degree.

Look, I'm not proud of all this. I'm just stating the facts here. I'm just telling you what's roiling in my gut when a slip of paper in my hand says "Bring loafers to shoemaker" and I get there and he's closed and I I can't scratch it off the list!

Maybe that's why, someday soon, I see myself joining a support group for people who depend on lists.

I see us meeting every Thursday night in a damp church basement somewhere in the suburbs, probably in-between a Wendy's and a Hair Cuttery.

In this basement, there will be a dozen of us sitting on folding chairs arranged in a semicircle.

Some of us will be clutching crumpled wads of Kleenex and dabbing our red-rimmed eyes, others will be quietly sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups and eyeing the Danish on the nearby table.

One by one, we'll stand and introduce ourselves ("Hullo, I'm Earl and, well, I have a problem. It started with grocery lists and then laundry lists, but now it's taken over my whole damn life.")

Haltingly and with great emotion, we'll tell our stories of organization gone amok while the others in the group murmur sympathetically and offer encouragement ("We love you, Earl!")

With any luck, we'll feel better when the meeting's over and the Danish is passed around.

At least we'll know that we're not alone, that there are others like us whose lives are controlled by tiny slips of paper crammed into jeans pockets and leaky pens stolen from the office.

"Attend support group meeting." I should jot that down right now.

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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