Thursday, January 17, 2008

The List Makers

This may seem ironic after my last post, but I am not a maker of lists. Sure I can reel off more than a hundred things about me, me, me, but that's different. When I find myself in one of those conversations where I'm asked to come up with my top five desert-island albums (thanks, Hornby), or my ten all-time favorite books or movies or whatever, I never know what to say. I can probably come up with something, and you may have heard me do so, but the truth is that the items on those lists always feel wrong to me. Not false, exactly, but...incomplete. Not annotated. Improperly connected and aligned with their fellows.

A list is a concise and linear thing. Linear and concise are two adjectives that do not describe the way my brain functions. If I had to describe what my thought pattern tends to look like, I'd compare it more to a spider's web, maybe, or a ring of paper snowflakes all cut from the same huge piece of paper. Ooh! Or one of those children's toys that looks like a compact ball until you pull on its sides and it expands to be a much larger globe of interconnected pieces, all hinged together and flexible. Definitely circular rather than linear.

This means that if you ask me what my top five desert-island albums are, I will immediately think of albums I've loved at different times in my life, and within each era there will be a network of songs that remind me of each other, and of places, and of people, and I will start thinking of all of those things in sort of a simultaneous flash. It could take me an hour to sort out that layered impression and explain to you my real answer, which is really not an answer to your question at all. So I usually just throw out some inaccurate and incomplete answer.

All that said, I do appreciate the beauty of a good list. I have no desire to, say, make lists of things I need to do in a given day, or lists of my personal goals for a given time period, or anything like that. I just don't work that way, although I can see how that could be useful. But other lists can be a kind of poetry. I was telling a friend the other day how I don't write poetry anymore because it involves sitting with an idea and distilling and distilling it down until it's almost nothing, and I just don't have time to do that anymore. But I do miss it, and lately I'm missing it more and more. I don't think there's anything harder to write than good poetry, and if I'm ever going to do it again, I fear I'm going to have to work up to it. It seems very possible to me that learning to make lists could be a step in that direction. So as a sort of exercise, and to push myself outside my usual modes of thinking and expressing myself, I'm going to try to make some lists and post them here in the coming days. My lists may not look like other lists, and I imagine they will be bulky and full of asides at first, but we'll see. Maybe I'll surprise myself, or, at the very least, maybe my list-making style will evolve as I work. You never can tell.

3 comments:

Stephanie said...

My lists of favorites are always bulky- I can't say something is in my "top 5" without qualifying it! But my to do lists are to the point.

I'm looking forward to reading some Sassy poetry.

Secret Agent Mom said...

Hmm, my lists never feel like poetry. I can make a pretty substantial list of reasons why I shouldn't write poetry, though.

Stacey Greenberg said...

i'm not good at lists either although i always have to-do lists--usually on very tiny post it notes that are too small for all of the things i need to do.