11 November, 2014 / General

Lists, glorious lists…

list1I love a list. I couldn’t survive without lists. Well, I could, but I’d be in a permanent flap and miss deadlines and there’d be nothing to eat for dinner. Since I was a little girl they’ve been a crucial part of my life – stuff to pack for a holiday, things I hoped to do when I was a grown up, plus lists of favourites – songs, TV shows, possessions. I diddled away with my lists, paying less attention to them during my chaotic twenties – and then kicking into serious list-making on an industrial scale in ’97, when our twins were born.

Suddenly, living haphazardly with nothing in the fridge but a lump of cheese and some suspect milk didn’t seem quite so much fun. One simple factor seemed to dictate whether the day was relatively disaster-free – and that was whether I was organised or not. Which meant writing down everything that seemed crucial to the survival of these two tiny people.

For one thing, I had to learn to cook. In my previous, pre-babies existence I used to buy ready-made bolognaise sauce (nasty) when friends were coming over and bury the boxes at the bottom of the bin. Now it was necessary to cook proper meals, which meant having the right stuff in, which in turn meant remembering to buy it all – thank God for lists! Armed with a notebook, a pen and a Jamie Oliver cookbook, I slowly managed to cobble together reasonably okay-ish things to eat.

There was work to keep track of, too – I carried on freelancing a little during my sons’ nap times, if I could manage to synchronise them (brandy helped. JOKE!!). Notebooks were filled with magazine feature ideas, plot outlines and titles for books I hoped to write one day (I had yet to write anything longer than 3,000 words). Floundering in the fug of early motherhood, I listed ways to rejoin the human race: Drink water. Sort hair. Change out of dressing gown. There were lists, often scrawled in the night, about how to be a better person: Don’t smoke. Donate blood. Read Crime And Punishment. Be nicer to J. Oh, and the usual daily stuff: Eggs. Sterilising Solution. WINE!!!

During those frantic days, the very act of writing things down was somehow reassuring in itself. A list says, ‘This can – and will – all be done.’ It’s excellent for calming the brain. The act of crossing things off, as any list maniac knows, is immensely satisfying. A friend of mine scores things off her list before she’s done them – to make herself ruddy well get on with it.

What I love about lists is the fact that they’re always lying around – forever handy – to be added to the instant you think of something. Dog licking foot obsessively? Call vet. Bad smell in shower? Get stinky egg drain stuff. I list everything: books to read, films to see, Ways To Improve Our House. As I’m in the process of selling Mum’s house for her, that has a list of its own. My list making goes through different phases: in notebooks, on my phone or laptop, on an array of Post-It notes plastered all over my desk. If someone were to steal all my pens, phone and laptop, I’d probably write one in lipstick.


Well aware of my love of lists, Jimmy bought me a brilliant book called Lists of Note, compiled by Shaun Usher (Canongate). Among the 125 lists are the scribblings of Jack Kerouac (his list is entitled, ‘Belief & Technique For Modern Prose’) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (‘Thing To Worry About’).

Marilyn Monroe’s list (‘Must Make Effort To do’) includes:

  • Go to my class on my own always – without fail
  • Work whenever possible – on class assignments – and always keep working on the acting exercises
  • If possible take at least one class at university – in literature
  • Try to find someone to take dancing from – body work (creative)
  • Try to enjoy myself as much as I can – I’ll be miserable enough as it is

And Woody Guthrie felt these things were important:

  • Work more and better
  • Clean teeth if any
  • Drink scant if any
  • Shine shoes
  • Change socks
  • Help win war – beat fascism
  • Love everybody
  • Wake up and fight

That’s Woody’s list in full, above. Makes my own to-do list (mum/vet/blog/accounts/Gracie b’day/cheese/J’s shoes/call Carrie) seem pretty mundane. But I guess that’s the whole point. Whether you’re writing down things to achieve by the end of the decade, or just the ingredients for dinner tonight, everything feels more achievable when set out in a neat little stack of words.




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