Not long ago I was reading an account about the sinking of the Titanic where a young crew member rushed to the bridge and reported to his commander, "I'm afraid she's listing pretty badly, sir.”
The weird thing is, for a minute there I thought he was talking about me!
It's true. I've been listing for years. Looking back I suppose it would be easy enough to blame my childhood. After all, my mother was a pretty heavy lister herself. But even though studies show that heredity can play a role in list-abuse, I have reached a point where I now accept full responsibility for my own actions.
I remember my very first list. I was only fourteen and it was a peer-pressure thing – just an innocent list of guests to invite for a sleepover. But it was fun and I enjoyed it.
In college I started running with a crowd that was into some pretty heavy party listing – you know, favorite album lists, trivia lists, best-seller lists, David Letterman top ten lists – that sort of thing. All my friends were doing it, and I wanted to fit in. (Those were some wild times, let me tell you!)
Unfortunately the listing didn't stop when I got married. It just had a more grownup name – social listing, and believe me I did my share. It was the usual stuff, mostly just Christmas card lists and telephone lists – fairly harmless really. But by the time I had kids I was making a list almost every weekend. To be honest, it just felt good. Besides, I found my trips to the grocery store more relaxing with a list in my hand.
The problem was, as my tolerance for listing increased, so did the frequency. Before long I was making lists every few days. It sort of helped me cope with the hectic schedule I guess. It's amazing to think about now, but the simplest errands such a picking up the laundry and taking the cat to be neutered became impossible for me to handle without a making list first.
One day, I bought one of those little magnetic note pads that attaches to the dashboard, and although I tried to be responsible, I'm ashamed to admit that I did occasionally list and drive.
Not surprisingly, I signed up to compile a student telephone directory at the high school. Every day for a solid month, I sat in a tiny room with two other PTA moms doing nothing but making lists. I could barely fix dinner when I got home at night.
Over time I developed all the textbook symptoms of a chronic list-maker. The public library fined me $2 for making a list of items I intended to donate to the church bazaar in the fly leaf of an overdue book. I denied it.
I began to hide my lists, too. A list of friends I wanted to invite to my daughter's graduation was stashed behind the sleeping bags in the garage, and a list of vegetables that I would plant if I ever had a garden could be found rolled up in the movie projection screen.
My husband would come home and ask me what I'd done all day, but he could tell by the telltale smell of white-out and the ink stain on my fingers that I'd been hitting the lists again.
I remember one particularly awful night when my family was gone and I was alone. By this time, I was into some pretty heavy stuff. I started early in the evening making a list of all the NFL team mascots, chased it with a list of "Presidents whose first names began with the letter J” and finally polished off an entire list of all the ingredients found in a can of Spam. (Do I have to tell you what I felt like the next morning?)
Then came the evening I came in from choir practice to find my whole family, along with three of my closest friends, gathered in our living room. As if the solemn looks on their faces weren't enough, the pile of Post-It notes and the backs of empty credit card envelopes with lists scribbled in my own handwriting were all the evidence I needed to tell me what this was. An intervention. "Honey, this needs to stop,” my husband pleaded. And then one by one the others shared their concerns about what would eventually happen to me if I didn't get hold of my problem.
"I don't have a problem!” I shot back. "I can quit anytime.”
But the very next morning I was right back at it. Curled up on the sofa with my coffee, out of habit I reached for my "Fixin' to Do” notepad with its cheery Texas cowboy boots and Lone Star flag motif, and started writing down the things I needed to do that day. Suddenly my eyes fell on the very first item I had put at the top of that list. It said, "Make List.”
That's when I hit rock bottom. I called the support group, "List-Makers Anonymous” and asked them about their program. The lady explained that at our first meeting we'd be making a list of all the things we hoped to accomplish in our therapy.
A LIST? That would be worse than passing out jelly doughnuts at a Weigh Watchers meeting!
I slammed down the phone and decided to go cold turkey. I threw away all my pens and scraps of paper, and yes, even my cute little "Fixin' to Do” notepad. Not surprisingly, within hours I was suffering from withdrawal – big time! I was so desperate I had to fight just to keep myself from making lists in the dust on the coffee table, or on the steamy shower door, or even in the frost on my car windshield. But with steely resolve, somehow I resisted.
I became bored and list-less, and my fingers shook every time I even looked at a yellow legal pad, but gradually over the next few weeks, things began to improve. The day I made six trips to the supermarket because I hadn't made a list of what I needed was a day I circled in red on my calendar. That was twelve years ago, and although I still refer to myself as a recovering list-maker, I know my mission now is to help others who still struggle.
In fact, just the other night, I found a list of client contact numbers that my husband had jotted down following a phone call from his boss. Out of love for him, I shredded it. He was furious.
But then, I've also heard that some Titanic passengers refused to board the lifeboats because they insisted a little listing never hurt anybody.
And look what happened to them.