Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Glory Through All the Noise

I love lists. I enjoy making lists and I especially enjoy randomly finding lists others have made. I recently saw this list on the inside of a friend's front door:

Cheese. Fridge. Duck. What could it mean? No idea, but I had to have a picture of it.

I've been keeping lists since arriving in the U.K. Well, I've been keeping lists for a long time but not seriously or maniacally like I do now. What is the psychology of maniacal list-keeping, do you suppose? I think it's probably a very reasonable stress response to all the changes happening in my life. Moving across the pond has been wonderful, but not stress-free. One way to feel more in control is to make lists. Often my list-making has to do with things I need to accomplish. I make lists for who needs a return e-mail, groceries, what needs to be done on my walk into town, and scenes that need to be written in my screenplay.
Completing my application for Further Leave to Remain (BritSpeak for permission to remain in country) involved complex list-making tasks: lists and sublists, each with little check-boxes to tick when I'd completed the task.

But in addition to making lists of things I need to do, I find I'm keeping lists of things I've done. And it's not only satisfying, but encouraging. I've read eleven books since September of '09. That may not sound like many to some of you, but for me it's amazing. To say I'm a slow reader is a bit of an understatement. As a slow reader, I often get discouraged about it, but when I look at my list, I see success and I'm encouraged to read more. This in turn makes me a better writer. Now, here's where it's a bit over the top. I've stared an Excel workbook to track my ongoing lists. Keeping handwritten lists in my calendar became a bit unwieldy. Here are the headings of the tabs in my cherished Excel document: Books, Film, Pubs, Beer, UK Towns, Richard Serra. Most of the topics are self-explanatory. Richard Serra refers to which of the Richard Serra sculptures I've seen in person. Serra does rather large, anxiety-producing sculptures in thick steel plate. UK Towns refer to those I've visited so far and could include locations of interest other than towns.

I have developed certain rules about my lists. For example, in the films list, I'm keeping track of films I've seen since summer of '09, whether in cinema, on telly (yes, I said telly - I'm becoming more British by the moment) when we housesit, or on DVD. I am allowed to track a film I've already seen but only if it's one I haven't seen for a long time. So the Bourne films, Star Wars, The Sound of Music (yes, yes I admit it) and other flicks I watch again and again don't count. It's not meant to be a life-list, it's just to help me keep track of what I see from now on. I have a bad memory for things like this.

That brings up an interesting point about lists as memory aides. I can remember certain images, say for example, the time I was driving on East Harbor Road in Freeland on Whidbey Island and I saw a black cat walking on a frozen pond near some cattails and miserably bent reeds. I'll remember that until I'm senile - it might be the last thing to go - and I'll use it in at least three poems. But I can't remember what film I saw last week. That's a problem because I love films.

Ooooh, but what about the delicious concept of the afore mentioned life-list? I do have one for birds, though I haven't yet put it into a spreadsheet. I can hear each of you snickering, you know. Is it the idea of birdwatching,
or is it the concept of putting it in a spreadsheet that makes you laugh? Well, you're just jealous. Come on, you'd love to have a neat Excel file of cool stuff you've seen or done, wouldn't you? I do have aspirations to have complete life-lists of certain things: addresses at which I've resided, books read, films watched, cars owned, all the people I've ever met, an exact accounting of air travel, lakes I've swum in, types of trees I've seen, every song I've ever heard. Alas, the moments, too many of them, have passed.

Here's what that desire for lists boils down to: I want to be aware of my surroundings and of my experiences. I want to be aware of, and to commit to memory, the daily experiences that are the building blocks of a life. But there's so much whizzing by, so many details that go by at such a ferocious pace as we get older, that I fear I will glaze over a bit and miss most of it. I don't have the sort of memory that tracks the details I find interesting. But making funny little lists serves that function for me. If it's written down somewhere I can leave room in my poor, limited brain for the other important but not easily listed memories. Like the memory of hearing my first canyon wren,
that melodical tumbling-down-the-scale whistle, and how unromantically close it was to the highway near Twin Falls, Idaho. My partner and I stood looking over a dramatic, sage-filled canyon straining to hear the little bird as trucks rumbled by behind us. That's life, isn't it? Straining to hear the glory through all the noise.

For any interested parties, here is a selection of the lists I've been keeping since September 2009.


The Accidental - Ali Smith
Hotel World - Ali Smith
Fugitive Pieces - Anne Michaels
Netherland - Joseph O'Neill
English Passengers - Matthew Kneale
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit - Jeaneatte Winterson
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
A House by the Shore: Twelve Years in the Hebrides - Alison Johnson
City of God - E.L. Doctorow
Insight Guide: Scotland


The Watchmen - Cinema
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - Cinema
GI Joe - Cinema
Grease - Drive-In
Moon - Cinema
Sunshine Cleaning - Cinema
North By Northwest - Cinema
Four Weddings and a Funeral - DVD
Eurythmics Greatest Hits - DVD
The Prestige - DVD
Flame of the Barbary Coast - TV
The Watchmen - DVD
Tipping the Velvet - DVD
Pushing Tin - DVD
True Blood: Season 1 - DVD
Tim Minchin: So Fucking Rock - DVD
Top Gear: US Special - DVD
Top Gear: Polar Special - DVD
Top Gear: Botswana Special - DVD
Tutti Frutti - DVD
Top Gear: Vietnam Special - DVD
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life - DVD

UK Towns:

Romney Marsh


The Old Coach & Horses
Ye Olde Beverlie
Thomas Becket
The Unicorn
The Monument
The Parrot
The Blind Dog
Rose & Crown
Bell & Crown
The White Horse
The Woolpack
The Duke of Cumberland
Garrick Arms
Ten Bells
That one on the beach in Brighton...
Eight Bells
Carpenter's Arms
The Dolphin
The Horse & Groom (know to locals as The Hearse & Gloom)
The Old Brewery

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