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.


 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

Notes from the Land of Procrastination

Abstract 101

I have never seen myself as an overachiever… When I start working properly, though, I suddenly enter another dimension of productivity and concentration the existence of which seems quite unfathomable as I sit here before my computer, listening to Debussy’s mystical piano pieces.

The painting which serves as an introduction to this post is an accurate representation of the land of procrastination my mind has lately been lost into. There is an extensive mass of work piling up in my room, waiting for me to pick it up and order it into a coherent whole – articles to be read, papers to write, exercises, classes… – and yet… yet I am only sitting here thinking about a number of things I am not sure make sense, even to me. So why not get up and start studying then? I love studying: reading new poems, discovering new theories, and exploring terrains where I had never ventured before excites me with a passion. It lights up my spirit and makes my whole body quiver with pleasure! So why, I ask myself in a distressed voice, why am I stuck? How did I come to this point? When did I get lost in procrastination land?

It seems that it started with watching Testament of Youth, the adaptation of Vera Brittain’s famous memoir.

Testament of Youth

If you are familiar with the film and novel Atonement, you’ll recognise the layout chosen for the poster of Testament of Youth.  Although the adaptation did not move me as much as Vera Brittain’s memoir did, it still reminded me of the deep loss this generation had to face and made everything I had to do or was going through appear extremely insignificant. For even as I write this post, somewhere, anywhere, a child is being molested, a woman raped, a mother is crying over the loss of a child, a young boy patrolling with a machine gun to fight enemies he has been taught to forget were fellow humans…

“I think God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.”  ― Oscar Wilde

Then I think to myself: “you could help.” But can I really? I have thought about going to India or Africa, but I have mixed feelings about humanitarian assistance. It leaves an after-taste of colonialism and imperialism in my mouth, as in the 19th century, when advertising their Empires, thinkers and political leaders always put forward the idea of progress and the spread of civilisation, equality and democracy. Europeans were not going, officially, merely for the sake of expansion, but to teach foreign lands about the Western ideals that they had fought for themselves. Therefore, when we go to Africa, South America, India, or Haiti to build hospitals, to save populations from famine and dearth, I cannot say that we are not assisting the population, but I cannot say either that we are not extending and perpetuating Western control over these countries and continents.

Humanitarian assistance is not the only way to help, you could say. You could be a doctor, a nurse, a midwife, a social worker, a teacher… Well, I am a teacher. A very young, inexperienced one, but I do teach and my kids are not well-to-do for the most part so I know, deep down, that if I can reach but only one of them, then I will have done something good and important. And still… when I think about the misery of the world, the hate that men and women spread, the ever-repeated cycle of war and peace, progress and regression, crime and punishment, the situation seems hopeless and leaves me hanging in a paralytic state I must snap out of. Because it is preventing me from working for the kids I am trying to help through education, because it is stopping me from studying, because it cripples my ability to write poetry and prose and to paint.

No one should let their awareness of the woes of the world prevent creation though. I, as a little young woman, may not be able to do much, but doing nothing is worse. In concluding, I was torn between two quotations: strangely enough, both mention religion in different ways, but it is not the reason why I chose them. So I included the first earlier in the post, as it is more humorous, and will end on Martin Luther King’s selfless message of love as creation.

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”

― Martin Luther King