to do or not to do a not-to-do list

Each and every day, I make a list. Much of this covers basic shit likely to land on anyone’s list: go shopping, pay bills, call friends, make doctors’ appointments, blah biddy blah biddy blah. Some of this is more specific and idiosyncratic: Most people’s lists don’t include a reminder to re-work the fingerings on “Georgia on My Mind” in time for a violin lesson, for example.

The lists are long. Since Chris died, they’ve gotten longer, as the carefully delegated jobs defining every marriage went kablooey with his suicide, dumping piles of exciting new shit on me and me alone. Car shit: mine. Lawn care and pruning shit: shit: mine. Fixing-shit-around-the-house shit: mine.

At first, I made these lists with fullest, proudest, perfectest, stupidest confidence that I would scratch off all or most of the items on them. I did not. This realization, over time, began to depress me until I had a minor (really, really, minor) epiphany and understood that these itemized scraps of paper I labor over each morning are not, in fact, to-do lists. Instead they are not-to-do-lists: lists that I am confident I will ignore. Writing them each day with this fullest, proudest, perfectest confidence liberates me, because I no longer have to feel crappy about my failures to do everything — or even anything — there itemized.

This is all part of my constant effort to lower the bar, which also includes my nightly moral checklist (did I kill anyone?); my most common parental directive (“don’t break your neck”); and my radically enlightened philosophy of housecleaning. Early on in my efforts at F.S.O., I recognized that most of the S. I felt compelled to F.O. wasn’t as pressing as I first thought; if I never figured out an easy way to unroll and haul and wrangle the area rugs into place every winter, which Chris always did and Chris always loved and mattered so dearly to Chris, that was okay. I was allowed to keep them unrolled and unhauled. I was allowed to keep the floors bare year-round. I was allowed to not-do whatever I needed to not-do to get by.

At some point, I may decide to evade my chores without bothering to enumerate them. If I’m all about lowering the bar, and make no mistake, I am, just ask my children, then why devise a list at all? Why not just wake up every day saying, “Screw it. I don’t care what I forget. I’ll forget EVERYTHING! Take that, burdens and responsibilities and self-appointed tasks! Take that, day!”

I’ll tell you why: because it gives me a sense of control. If I scribble “Buy mop heads” and “practice Schradieck” and “call Aunt Charlotte” in Sharpie on the back of a balled-up Stewart’s receipt, then I have, first of all, a wafer-thin but nonetheless improved chance of actually accomplishing these things. But more than that, I have one small whit of power during one small moment over one small particle of my life. For the 38 seconds it takes me to compile my not-to-do-list, I have a sense of order.

Until, sometime around lunchtime, when I lose it — and then, in search of that same sense of order, I make another.

4 thoughts on “to do or not to do a not-to-do list

  1. I can so relate. I have work lists and home lists. At work when the list got too long, I switched to just figuring out what to do that day. And I guess I’m doing that at home too. I get anxious when I don’t have a list, so not being anxious is a good enough reason to have a list.

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