by Doug Carpenter


So, Your List or Mine?

It really should be a lot easier, you know? Staying on top of things, I mean. It’s certainly not for lack of access to technologies that are designed specifically to help us live productive, well-managed lives [...which is great, because for a while now I’ve really been meaning to get one of those.]

The key to this brave, orderly new world appears to lie in enhancing our “interconnectivity” with everything in it. That might explain why half of the ads you see on TV these days are for products that have some sort of communication functionality built right into them. [It would also be nice if they’d more functionally communicate with us about how to operate these products once we own them, but I guess you can’t have everything.]

Whether it’s an “X” or a “Plus” or whatever cool name they give the latest cell phone to hook you into upgrading, or maybe one of the “Bluetooth-enabled” appliances that are finally giving us those Jetsonizied kitchens we were promised, apparently every technogizmo we own now also needs to be capable of “talking” with every other cyber-interactive device in our house. [It’s only a matter of time, you realize, before they start talking directly to us. I’m just not sure how I feel about having my toaster tell me that I “really need to cut back on the carbs.” That’s my wife’s job.]

But we are, it seems, now expected to keep life’s loose ends tacked down with “tech.” And with all kinds of it now turning up in all kinds of places [...ready and willing to do so many of the things we had already been looking for a way to get out of doing,] we appear to have little choice but to find a way to make peace with the progress it well-intentionally offers — up to a point, anyway.

As an unapologetically “old school,” put-pen-to-paper kind of guy, I’m certainly not ready to surrender the sheer, retro satisfaction that comes with extracting the day’s lovingly-handwritten “Honey Do” list from my pocket, checking off the last uncompleted item, and then crumpling that little puppy into a ball and victoriously chucking it in the nearest wastebasket. A quaint ritual, I’ll grant you, but nonetheless a practical one — especially considering how expensive it would quickly become if I were keeping my checklists in my iPhone. [Try crumpling up one of those.]

Now, you may be thinking that all of this has nothing whatsoever to do with you because you are not a list maker. But I’ve got news for you. We’re all list makers. Let’s start with the running “list” you maintain inside your head of the “Things That You Are” and the “Things That You’re Not” [ least according to you, because who knows you better than you, right?]

As subjective as these lists may be, they are, in fact, essential to you being you by providing you a basis for deciding where you feel you belong and where you’d just as soon not, thank you very much. And even if we do consciously steer clear of composing lists, either mentally or on paper, it doesn’t mean that we don’t get put on plenty of them. [Considering the current season, “Naughty” and “Nice” should ring a silver bell or two for a lot of you.]

There are some lists, of course, that even the most recognition-resistant among us don’t really mind ending up on. Take the academically-prestigious “Dean’s List,” for instance, with the potentially-bankable bragging rights that generally accompany making it. Then there are the annual lists of celebrities nominated for awards, who showbiz tradition apparently obliges to gratefully acknowledge being “unbelievably honored” to be among “such incredibly talented” co-nominees. [It seems to help if the gala ceremony they’re being presented at has an open bar.]

The fact is, everybody’s got a list. Home improvement guru “Angie” has built herself a pretty profitable one on-line. And Internet entrepreneur Craig Newmark’s self-named cyber swap meet “Craigslist” has undoubtedly also added a few more to his billions while helping the rest of us rake in — O.K. — a few hundred. [Not that we’re complaining.]

The FBI informs the American people about the fugitives it’s hottest to nab by regularly posting its famous “Most Wanted” list. Meanwhile, The New York Times has since 1931 published a weekly list of the country’s “Top 10 Best Selling Books” — a highly-coveted showcase for writers who, interestingly enough, on more than a few occasions were honored for works that focused sensationally on infamous characters whose names also appeared on the aforementioned list of the Feds’ most-hunted — proving that crime apparently does pay somebody.

Those examples, mind you, are a mere drop in the bucket list when it comes to the laundry list of lists whose existence we actually acknowledge. Because beyond those lie still others, largely of the kind that deal with things we generally prefer not to discuss in polite company. Which is probably why you won’t find on any of them our cherished lists of “Facebook Friends” — in whose virtual company all we do is “discuss” [...politeness obviously being optional.]

This Twilight Zone of the soul is where we conveniently tuck away our most private lists. Like the “Lists We Keep on Each Other” — of broken promises and the personal slights we’ve endured; and the lists of the “Things We Keep to Ourselves” — where we consign the unfulfilled expectations and unrealized dreams that we ought to let go of but just can’t.

And so are we kept by the lists that we keep. Lists of the dark kind and lists of the light. Lists of the naughty as well as the nice. This might be a good time to start a new list, one with just one “To Do” item on it: “Stop keeping so many lists and focus instead on making the most of the life you’re lucky enough to still be living.”


© 2020 Doug Carpenter

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