Listing Mania

Listing Mania

What shall I do today?
I’m wasting time away.
• Work and study
One, two, three…
• Follow the list
Four, five, six…
• Don’t let them mix
• Don’t clench your fist
Seven, eight
• It’s getting late
Already nine
• I’m doing… fine?
Counting to ten
I’ve failed again.

This is just a little whimsical poem I wrote as I was in the process of making yet another to-do list. I have always had some sort of obsession with lists. I remember writing them as a child already. What is so compelling about them though?

Most of the time, they calm me down – they help me focus and organise, but at the end of the day, when I check whether I have ticked off every item on the list and realise I have not – I almost never do – I feel down, as if I had turned into some kind of underachieving slug (no offence to slugs!). The sense of failure can be overwhelming even when I objectively know that I have got quite a bit done throughout the day. If I do not do everything I had planned, it usually is because something has come up: I’ve had to unexpectedly take care of my brother, some task took me longer than I thought, I wasted time in public transportation… or I procrastinated a little longer than I wished, but I nearly never do nothing.

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 Still, I can’t go a day without writing a list… Sometimes, I let the words line up on the page wondering how I can be naive enough to think I will be able to accomplish all these tasks. I also have a good memory so it is not even as though I was making a to-do list to keep track of everything I am supposed to get done. I don’t quite forget about anything I have to do.

There lies the paradox of organisation – keeping you calm and poised, yet drowning you in waves of frustration or stress. It often feels like a functional metaphor for the discrepancies between your inner life and the life you live, between dreams and reality, inspiration and result. Sometimes, I can see the most beautiful images inside my head with colours bright and luminescent and paint whirling on the page like the arabesques Indian ink drops form as they dance into water. When I turn to the page, though, the result is never quite as sublime as I had imagined. Imagination never seems to merge with Reality. No matter how much they love each other, they cannot touch, doomed to live their own separate lives, going their several ways, watching each other with yearning passion through a looking glass that will only open for them to kiss for a frustrating second before it closes again. There they stand, each on its side of the mirror with its hand pressed on the glass in an unfelt yet loving embrace, caught between the hope and sorrow their union brings. But when they do meet, when they do kiss, even if only for a split second, the world is all ablaze with moonbeams and sunlight.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist