My notebook is bent, battered, and buckled, every kind of abused but bruised. The covers crease from frequent folding, and tags & stickies protrude from its pages. I’ve had it for all of three weeks.
The notebook serves as a journal, but it its pages have also filled with sketches, blog-post brainstorms, A.A. Stepwork, notes from group sessions and church sermons, quotes and definitions related to writing-topics, comparisons of health insurance plans, my checkbook register, ledgers tracking my freelance writing pay and my hotspot data-usage… And LISTS. Lots of lists.
Some to-do lists are sprinkled through there, but those aren’t the most common denomination. The weirder ones don’t have an obvious purpose. Since I keep making them, though, I surely hope there’s something accomplished in the writing of them. I’m just not entirely sure WHAT.
“…preoccupied with details, rules, lists, order, organization, or schedules to the extent that the major point of the activity is lost.”
That bit above is an identifying trait of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Hmm. And I just learned a new word from NPR: Glazomania, an obsession or passion for making lists.
Well, I did come by the Listing Trait honestly; my dad was not joking when he said he kept “a list of all his lists.” And I’m in good company; Ben Franklin’s many lists even included word-lists, like synonyms for drunkenness—which makes me feel better about yesterday’s columns of “Words Beginning with ‘Con-‘”…
My propensity to List does come in handy for freelance writing, where I’m often assigned titles beginning with numbers, signaling a list to follow. “6 Things to…” “7 Questions for…” “8 Ways of …” “9 Best…” I end up writing lots of articles that are bulleted or numbered.
I chuckled at a cartoon depicting how historical headlines would look if they were reported now, such as this one for 1920: 17 Things That Will Be Outlawed Now That Women Can Vote… Clearly the List-format Article is in high demand these days.
There are concrete reasons for the popularity of Lists. When it comes to assimilating information, lists are organized, finite and definitive, easy to assimilate and understand. Essentially, lists offer pre-digested information… Which is probably why the intellectual New Yorker magazine tackled the topic of lists in “paragraphs, not bullet points.”
Today, though, I’m less interested in why people like to read lists, and more interested in why I make so many of them!
I understand shopping lists that help me remember, and to-do lists with items I can cross off to feel I’ve accomplished something. I have more than one checklist-app on my phone, as well as “to-dos” that grow in the notebook. Functional lists I understand.
And then there are those weird lists. My notebook is full of lists created for no better reason than “because I thought of them.”
Can you guess some of what I’ve listed in the last few weeks? A list of car-company slogans. A list of Irish proverbs. A list of names I’ve been called. A list of slang terms related to fish. A free-association list about borders, ranging from countries to coloring pages. A list of the meanings of red doors. A list of lines from TV ads. A list of things that have happened to me in Octobers.
Right now what strikes me about these is that I didn’t create them with a particular plan to refer to them later for any purpose. The act of creating the list seems to BE the purpose.
I found plenty of fluffy articles about why people USE lists, but only one that speaks to why people might MAKE them without any apparent actual use. In Psychology Today I found (what else?) a list of functions fulfilled by list-making. With my own paraphrasing:
- List-making can provide a process to solve questions and confusion.
- List-making can help sort & prioritize an information overload.
- List-making can sort the little stuff from the stuff that matters.
- List-making can inform your direction by noting what resonates with you.
- List-making can concretize commitment to a plan, and action on it.
- List-making can organize life into manageability and “contain a sense of inner chaos.”
So maybe my “weird” lists are fulfilling functions after all. To this point I’ve kept their weirdness confined to my notebook, but with an eye to possible therapeutic value, I’m inclined to let them out to play.
Instead of combating the weirdness, I may be Entering some Lists here.
“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To … create order—not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one … attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.” ~Umberto Eco
And… a list of somewhat-scholarly list-articles this glazomaniac enjoyed…
- Psychology Today: “How Making Lists Can Quell Anxiety and Breed Creativity“
- Independent: “Why Do We Like Making Lists?“
- New Yorker: “A List of Reasons Why Our Brains Love Lists“
- Forbes: “The Life-Changing Magic of List-Making“
- New York NYmag.com: “A Neuroscientist on the Calming Powers of the To-Do List“
- BBC: “The Psychology of the To-Do List“
- NPR: “10 Reasons Why we Love Making Lists“
- NPR: “What Does Your To-Do List Say About You?“