Scratch That One Off

I love a to-do list. In fact, I am such a master at list-making I can make lists of my lists. I can subdivide errands, chores, and activities ad infinitum. Sometimes I go numerically, by order of importance to my day. For example:

1. Work out
2. Breakfast
3. Phone calls

Other times, I mix it up to build in fun when I anticipate that drudgery and boredom will be looming:

1. Return emails
2. Make appointments
3. Make a prank phone call to someone you know from sixth grade
4. Laundry

During periods of depression, my lists have taken on a rather frightening level of detail:

1. Get up
2. Shower
3. Brush teeth
4. Get dressed
5. Go to work
6. Come home from work
7. Stay out of bed until it is dark outside

I don’t imagine that I would have forgotten that those things needed to be done, but at those times in my life I needed to be able to cross them off one by one. A scarily basic daily to-do list was one of my only tenuous links to normality.

I have had four vacations in my adult life. I am so connected to my lists that even on vacation I make a list of must-do fun things, or must-see interesting things. Here are three items cherry-picked from a list made during a trip to New York City:

4. Go to a bar and don’t talk to anyone you know
5. Talk to at least six people
6. Do not touch anyone

That kind of list has a “double dog dare” effect, catapulting me into social situations that would never have occurred otherwise.

When I do stand-up I make a set list and carry it with me, even if I don’t look at it or reference it directly. These lists have a terrific surreal quality. If I am ever in some kind of accident, the paramedics will strip away my clothes to find that I am wearing dirty, sweat-stained, unmatched underwear with holes in them. They will pump my stomach and find a semi-digested handful of Sour Patch Kids, four rum-and-Cokes, and an entire rotisserie chicken. And instead of proper I.D., I will have a list in my pocket that says:

1. Clorox Gel boobs
2. Big Lots’ three-legged-pet store
3. Margery Johnson’s Keebler elf pie

The list, of course, will be given to my children, who will understand immediately.

I like to cross things off lists, but I enjoy making them just as much. It gives me a false sense of security, like everything is under control. The greater me realizes this is folly, yet also indulges my compulsion to write down what I hope will, and should, happen next.

By the time you see this article, I should be about one month into the Big Kahuna of lists, my New Year’s resolutions. I make them annually (duh), with widely varying results. There are efficiency experts who tell you not to make big promises to yourself or you’ll just get discouraged. I’ve made yearly lists of very specific things to do, with very excruciatingly detailed steps. I’ve also gone the route of putting only three things on my yearly list so I won’t be overwhelmed.

Who knows if any of this year’s planning will pan out? Maybe yes, maybe no, and I’m OK with that. Two years ago, because of a New Year’s resolution to learn an instrument, I took four guitar lessons. Now I know how to play Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” which would have solidified my status as a hot chick to teenage boys in 1972, but in 2008 makes me feel a little embarrassed when I play it at parties. It’s like I’m Grandma come to call, kicking it old school and playing “Surrey with a Fringe on Top.” But I do it anyway. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be following the resolution that makes it to the top of my list every year:

1. Bring all of you, everywhere