Listing to Starboard

20140627_082143As we prepared to embark on a three-month trip to Western Australia via NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory, we were drowning in lists. My better half is a Capricorn, which as you know, is the star sign which likes to organise other people. There are six packing lists – one each for our clothes and personal things, one for the caravan, one for the car, a list of medications and the all-important technology list. The latter is my department and what a tangled shoebox full of crap it is: chargers, USB sticks, keyboards, mice, earphones, Internet dongles and all of the usefully useless ephemera of daily life in 2014.
But don’t diss the list. I have been keeping a to-do list notebook for at least 20 years. As a former editor of a specialised section of a daily newspaper, I’d have to say that without a list or two, nothing would have got done. The habit persists today, my personal to-do list notebook (as distinct from ancillary lists provided by She Who Reads Newspapers), can contain up to 20 items per day, but rarely more. The real challenge, as we advance into our 60s, is remembering where we left the bloody list. I try in vain to persuade SWRN to take up the notebook habit as opposed to scribbling things down on the backs of envelopes, scraps of paper, flyers advertising something else and the latest version, a magnetised notebook stuck to the fridge. It would not be the first time (as I cross “washing” off my list), to find a wet soggy paper mess in the pocket of her gardening duds. (Don’t you check the pockets first? Ed.)
I still do a modicum of consulting work from the home office, so I start the day with an A4 notebook page divided into six sections: consulting, music/social, SMSF/pension, domestic, private and bills etc. Sound familiar? We busy folk who work from home need to have a system as there is no chief of staff or office manager to chide us about things that slipped our minds.
It was this system of establishing order into the life of a semi-retired person that made me realise there were too-few things in the “private” list. Much of my time was given over to domestic chores, doing the tedious but essential paperwork needed to run your own super fund and keeping enough cash coming in to balance the household budget. So it was that I took a big breath, arranged to take a lump sum from my one remaining external super fund and started recording an album of songs I had written over the past year or two.
A recording project, mind you, is far more about lists than it is about the creative process; then again, who says making a list is not a creative action? Ironically, the first song we recorded, “Another Year with You”, explores the list-making mania of those who have seen the movie “The Bucket List” and set out to do all of the things they always wanted to do, or things they think other people would admire them for doing.
The so-called bucket list is supposedly all of the things one must do before kicking the bucket. (Squeamish people ought not to look this up.)
In this context, the bucket list is a summary of one’s grand life ambitions: a corporate box at the State of Origin; Niagara Falls and a night in the honeymoon suite with the heart-shaped bed; jumping off the Kawarau Bridge with a rubber band attached to your ankles; tandem skydiving; trekking in the Himalayas, or pilgrimages to the Grand Canyon, the Pyramids, Uluru and the Kimberley.
Italian author Umberto Eco has a thing or two to say about lists: “The list is the origin of culture,” says Umberto. “It’s part of the history of art and literature.”
He believes that people make lists because they want to escape thoughts about dying. Death is finite, whereas a list is infinite.
Lists run contemporary life: the guest list, the short list, the who is being retrenched list, the VIP list, the shit list, the friends of the band list and the ever-present shopping list. As someone once said (perhaps it was me?) “people without lists are listless”. Former opera singer Jamie Frater, creator of the website Listverse, developed a thriving business by providing a one-stop-shop for all manner of trivia lists. He employs copy editors and moderators to sift through list submissions (Listverse will pay $100 for a list). Lists currently being written about at Listverse (link) include “10 lucrative ideas sold for almost nothing”, “10 historical figures with hidden talents” and “10 cool facts about The Hulk”. The website explains how Frater, a former software developer who became entranced with opera, gave in to “an insatiable desire to share fascinating, obscure, and bizarre facts”. He now makes do with singing in the shower.
Those of you who go abroad or on the road for months know all about multiple lists. As I write this we have been condensing our lists into one master list. Unhappily, I had somehow let “check caravan water tank for leaks” drop off the list. So by the time we were ready to pull out of the driveway on Wednesday, a tell-tale damp patch on the bitumen told the story. So we stayed an extra night with a friend in Warwick while the helpful people at a local trailer repairs shop sealed the 60-litre tank. This proved to be a useful delay as we had time to tick the last items off our master list, including making an on-line application to perform at the National Folk Festival in 2015 (describe your act in no more than 300 characters (including spaces).
The trouble with making lists is that we slip into the left side of the brain where logic and order overpower impulse and romantic notions. I realised with a pang there was one thing missing off the list, best described by reference to the Simpsons episode where Homer thinks he has eaten a poison blowfish and has 24 hours to live.
Homer’s list of the 13 things he needs to do to get his house in order range from “Make a list” to “Be intamit (sic) with Marge.”
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