I would like to meet someone who never makes lists. Do you exist? With the up-to-date ability to make lists on smart phones, computers, etc. it is hard to imagine that even list scoffers don’t partake. I have multiple lists going all the time, although I have never made a list of my lists. There are priorities associated with each list: ‘to do today’, long range planning to schedule appointments, a list for the mechanic about car issues, guest lists and gift lists, grocery lists and lists of recommended books and movies.

I have pads of lined paper in all sizes on which to make lists. I also use unlined paper, the back of envelopes and the Notes app on my phone. As a lifelong grocery shopper, I have to say that a grocery list on my phone doesn’t work for me. The phone keeps shutting down, so I have to wake it up, over and over. Also I don’t carry it in my hand – how can you reach for food or packages with one hand occupied? – so I have to take it out of my pocket all the time. I also keep lists on this here computer, especially long lists and lists that need to have information updated frequently. Mostly I write lists in pencil, so that I can keep them neat, if changes are necessary. Occasionally ink is fine, but I will generally seek out a pencil before using a marker or other odd writing implement.

Most of the time, things are crossed off, as they are accomplished. I’ve experimented with erasing each finished task, but then I missed the pleasure of seeing exactly what I had done. There was just a piece of paper with eraser crumbs and ghost writing on it. Nah, I need a little more feedback, approbation, you know? Sometimes the quantity of lists, or half completed lists becomes chaotic. Then I have the opportunity to rework the lists by combining and reprioritizing. As time passes, I discover that some ‘to do’ items can become more urgent, or they can slip out of the picture altogether.

And then there is the disposal of lists. There is a certain satisfaction in crumpling up the paper into a ball and tossing it across the room, into the recycle bin. The eternal question is whether list keeping reduces stress or adds to stress. If trying to remember things, trying to carry too much in my head stresses me out, then a list is good. It can take up the burden. However, listed items become ‘shoulds’ far too often. They sit there on the paper – where I wrote them – and they shake their fingers at me, scolding. This is not right. When I was younger and trusted my memory more, I would sometimes try not making a list and just do whatever came to mind in whatever order it arrived. That was way before becoming a mother.

Now, for my traditional visit to the dictionary. I wanted to see what it had to say about the word ‘listless’. Curious – does it mean without a list, plan, priorities? Well, Webster says:

listless, adjective (of a person or their manner) lacking energy or enthusiasm

ORIGIN: Middle English, from obsolete list [appetite, desire] + -less .

Wait a minute! Does that mean that list once meant appetite or desire? Better check up on the definition of list itself: [Please note that I am leaving out the definitions that relate to jousting and fabric.]

list , noun

1 a number of connected items or names written or printed consecutively, typically one below the other

a set of items considered as being in the same category or having  a particular order of priority.

ORIGIN: late 16th century, from French liste, of Germanic origin.


 list, verb [transitive]

1 make a list of

(often be listed) include or enter in a list.

ORIGIN: early 17th century, of unknown origin.

list, noun: desire; inclination

ORIGIN: Old English lystan (verb), of Germanic origin, from a base meaning, pleasure.

Okay, there we have it. I think?

Old English maybe, or Germanic or French or unknown in origin. Obsolete, maybe or perhaps early 17th century.

Maybe having to do, originally, linguistically, with appetite, desire, inclination or even pleasure. Hmm. Does that relate at all to how I/we think of or use lists today?


Mind noise

So, I wrote a blog post about lists the other day.  You might wonder why I was so intrigued that I wanted to write about it.  How does it connect to the de-construction of shame?

Allow me to take a few steps back.  First of all, I attended this workshop on sleep and dreams because I am passionate about them.  Most of the folks taking the workshop were there because they ‘suffer’ from insomnia.  I was the odd ball for sure, stating in my self-intro that I loved sleep and naps.  The presenter shared a lot of information about the ‘whys’ of insomnia and suggestions for modifying common behaviors that work against sleep.

What I got from the sessions was validation of my (I don’t know where it came from, but I have always felt it) belief in the significance of sleep and dreams.  There were many obvious (once you hear them) insights into how our cultural norms are stacked against valuing sleep, rest & dreaming; about the mechanistic way that sleep is addressed medically and colloquially.  Generally sleep is considered a matter of bodily maintenance; the personal, emotional, psychological and spiritual realities of sleep and dreaming are widely disregarded.

I absolutely love it when someone offers language to describe and explain what I have been feeling or intuitively knowing.  I guess that’s why I write, in the hope that I could offer that sensation of “Yes, that’s how I feel or think” to another person on the planet.  Speaking of the planet, of course there are other cultures where sleep and dreams are highly esteemed.  Our loss (rejection) of this fundamental human experience appears to be part of the post-Industrial Revolution cultural shift that includes so many other de-humanizing elements.

One of the behaviors mentioned as being detrimental to entering and remaining in the world of sleep was referred to as Mind Noiseimages-2

That’s where the lists come in.  I know I regularly go to bed with a head full of ‘to do’s swirling around.  If I don’t drift into sleep easily or if I awaken in the night, it is ‘to do’ worry that keeps me revved up.  Tomorrow plans:  which errand, chore or task to prioritize, what to wear (is it clean?), what to cook for supper… It’s a mess.  Not surprisingly, when those are my final conscious thoughts, they are there waiting for me first thing in the morning.

How many times have you read or heard these words… “I woke up and at first I felt good and then I remembered…” The sentence is often finished with the mention of a tragedy, like the death of a loved one, or one’s own illness, but it can also be a less dramatic, but very real worry like not having a job or enough money to buy food for your family.  Or having a report due at work or school.  The point is, we often awaken to some form of dread.

I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s 2012 book, Daring Greatly.  Her thoughtful words on vulnerability and shame always resonate for me.  But I was gob-smacked (love that  expression) while reading her chapter on Scarcity: Looking Inside our Culture of “Never Enough”.  I encountered this quote from Lynne Twist’s book, The Soul of Money.

         “For me and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’  The next one is ‘I don’t have enough time.’  Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it.  … Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something.  And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day.  We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…”

And there you have it; my day is book-ended by lists and worry, which perpetuate the nasty shameful feeling that I am not good enough.  No matter what I do.  So, as part of this battle to deconstruct shame, I am taking a closer look at the verbs that occupy my lists and the adverbs that inform the actions.  Can it be that this strategy, which I have presumed to be useful and benign, is actually a way that I participate in self-shaming?  Maybe it’s not that simple, but I need to look into it.

Your thoughts are welcome…