Last week I had a list-related freakout. I wailed and moaned and lamented. It was something to see, friends.
“It’s too muuuuuuch,” I wailed. “I caaaaaan’t,” I moaned.
Martha, being a sympathetic sort, said, “You must have a really long list.”
“But that’s the thing,” I lamented. It’s not the length of the list. It’s the breadth of it.”
Because that’s how lists can be—especially in these days of infinite information overload. Some to-do list items are deep and pointed: “donate kidney to Brenda,” or “achieve world peace.” But more often, my lists are filled with a million shallow little tasks, all different from one another, all crowding into the merciless boundaries of a day.
You might be in a similar position. If you have a broad list, it likely dominates your inner monologue. It’s probably the boring, annoying soundtrack thrumming constantly at the back of your mind on any given day.
For example, here’s a slice of my inner monologue this morning:
…If I make coffee right now I can drink it in the car on the way to the pediatrician, which means that I’ll be awake enough in the waiting room to review those web designs on my phone, which means I can draft my newsletter using a transcription app on the drive home, and when I get home I’ll have enough time to start the laundry before my meeting, which means that I’ll have to set an alarm on my phone about switching laundry to the dryer because Lila’s summer blanket has to be dry by bedtime…
So life is busy and distracting—not exactly front page news.
But when I’m running my broad-list program in the background, it takes up ALL my RAM. My brain jams. It’s as though 29 tabs are open in a browser and they’re all playing different YouTube videos.
My mind loses its mind.
And this may actually be a worthy existential reason for my freakout: not all the things I have to do; not even the brain-jam. Instead, what makes the broad list so terrible is the parts of ourselves and our lives that it excludes.
When my broad-list program is running, my creativity goes completely offline. There’s no space for what’s whimsical and playful in me, idle and entranced by the play of sunlight and shadow on the wall.
There’s no space for the storyteller.
I mean, I try. I think about it. I keep hoping my creativity will just show up, muscle its way into a day crammed with minutiae. But the fact is, creativity can’t show unless I somehow struggle out of the broad-list shallows.
“In the wholeheartedness of concentration,” Jane Hirshfield wrote, “world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.”
Put another way, by Isabel Allende, “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.”
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