I entered a stone-cold cell the first day of my first year as a first-time college student. Cinderblock and the distinct smell of era upon era of sweaty co-ed armpits slapped me in my smooth baby face. I felt that lump in my throat of tears I was too old to acceptably cry. The nauseous creep of panick burned in the bottom of my stupidly taut gut. I had no idea what I was doing here, in an all-girls ward of an all-Catholic university in a wholy horrific city like Memphis. I snuck past the vinyl shower curtain (used as a bathroom door) and squatted bum two inches from grazing the scary, scary toilet seat. I pried a frozen elbow from my side, slid my safety blanket of a purse onto lap, and coddled the notes I’d tucked inside. My lists. I had my lists.
Don’t accept drinks from strangers or any man or any boy who could grow up to one day be a man. Brush your teeth. Don’t wear pajamas to class even if the older kids are doing it: disrespectful and makes your professors regret their careers and life in general. Remember to change oil. Remember to tell Dad to remind you to change oil. Lock your car. Carry pepper spray. Scrawled onto flimsy yellow sticky notes, scrolled neatly onto stark white index cards, repeated and re-traced onto girlish floral paper so heavy with ink the sheets dared to recycle themselves, I entered the unknown just barely comforted by these hand written reminders of what comes next. And as I found those first few days and weeks and months, barely comforted is mostly enough. I checked back from time to time on those piles, stressed that I’d missed some bullet point or dashed through a note too quickly. I focused on writing and re-writing the lists, making lists of lists I’d soon need to list out in list form for list-reading purposes. Don’t be a slut. Don’t be a slut. Don’t wear skirts because they will think you are a slut. Attend Mass even though you don’t get it. Don’t be a slut. Eat an apple. Don’t get too excited about the buffet line in the cafeteria. Freshman 38. Don’t be a slut. Oh. And study. Always study.Those lists became a life line.
I realized the unhealthy dependency I’d formed Monday morning before a big test. I’d stayed up all night, completing the obligatory lists of what to study in what order. By early morning I’d successfully spelled out an incredibly thorough time-line of studying to-do’s. I marvelled at this list, adored the detailed thing, and panicked when I realized with just an hour or two left, I’d managed to spend a whole night not studying, not coming any closer to the task at hand than writing a list about it. I talked to my mother that morning. I wanted to warn her that I was about to fail in a truly flamboyant fashion, about to beg a stern-bearded professor to please, for the love of pity and OCD, could he please just grade my impressive list. Line up pens. Check each pen for proper/smooth ink expulsion. Line up paper. Create folder tabs to organize notes into categories. Write those categories on a list for future reference. Think about studying. Put the books on your desk and look at them (while thinking about studying). Count and re-count pens to make sure one didn’t fall off desk. Re-check folder tabs. Think about now placing notes in between folder tabs. Consider studying these notes after alphabetizing all notes and all folder tabs. Re-re-count pens. Pens are important.
I didn’t fail the test. I suppose I’d absorbed just enough knowledge accidentally while consumed with lining up notes on Modal before paragraphs on Predicate. Yes, it was that near brush with failing a course in Logic that drove the point home. Remember to acknowledge irony when it is especially ridiculous. Wear pajamas to class if you feel like it. No. Not the Hello Kitty With The Worn Out Crotch ones. Have a little self-respect. Stop counting your stupid pens. Eat the whole god damn pie on cafeteria’s Pizza Night. Do something. Stop thinking about contemplating listing out a list of reasons to write a list about maybe, one day, actually putting down the list and getting things done.
I returned to my paper-filled dorm and threw those recorded testaments to my fear of getting things done in the trash. I fetched one out, for habit’s sake, just to be sure I didn’t miss any important points, but after that, I mean it, I was done with lists.
Here I am today, just a couple of weeks after a wedding and two days shy of a big, gigantic, overwhelming move to a new house, a different city. I am wearing pajamas. I have eaten my weight in pizza, emotions, and other awful, awful things. I have, I admit, counted pens, but only the nice ones and only to be sure they are packed in even-numbered and color-coordinated groups and yes, maybe too I also have a list pinned to every wall and laying atop every counter and folded up and tucked in to remarkably strange nooks and crannies like they’re getting ready for one whopper of a list surprise party. I am failing logic and reason, I know, by so quickly seeking to be barely comforted and barely in control of a chaotic place via paper-light lists. There are a whole slew of things to get done. A whole list, as it were, of cabinets to be emptied, floors to be scrubbed, and trash to be hauled. There are nail holes to patch, carpet to clean, clothes to fold, and toys to sneak- one by one by one- away from a toddler not ready to see the flashing lights fade. There are a lot of things to get done.
But still, here I am thinking about thinking about possibly gearing up to sometime in the near future attempt to-barring any unforeseen obstacles- pack my junk up and possibly go. Here’s to writing a post about lists in which I list a history of list-making. I’ll leave you with what (best of the super bad) I believe my lists have to offer:
Brush your teeth.
Don’t be a slut.
Pens are important.
Remember to acknowledge irony when it is *especially ridiculous.
How do you try to cope or control stressful situations?
Are you the Prep & Plan type or of the Get ‘Er Done mentality?
* “Especially Ridiculous” is a lifestyle,
and let’s just say I’m dedicated to that mess.
Tune in tomorrow to hear the best, small circles problem.
Seriously, it’s so stupid it’s smart.