Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Confusing Lists with Life - Rumi, to my rescue

Lists are like brushing my teeth and washing my face -- fundamental to meeting the day with a semblance of togetherness. Even now that I'm working two part-time jobs and not one full-time job and three part-time jobs, they are essential. I make lists by the week, with usually two columns, headed Calls and To Do. They help rein in the panicky feeling that sometimes surfaces, the one of not knowing where to start, the one accompanied by images of me running around from one thing to the next, flitting like a manic butterfly. Lists bring me back to the moment of what I can do, a specific task. It is on paper and I can direct myself to getting it crossed off.

Lists are my evidence of a manageable life, one in which I have control, or some. They are reassuring, like clean teeth and fresh breath, a face refreshed with warm water and a creamy cleanser, topped with rose hips oil and then a moisturizer. Ahhhh! I am in the world, not under it.

As the details and stimuli of life come at me like confetti from a paper-shredding machine in the sky, lists are up there with screening, ignoring, and scanning for a time frame. If its not relevant today or this week, the fine details are left for when I will need to take action. My attention will have more motivation to stick around then.

In addition to a sense of control, lists give me pleasure. Each time I can pick up a highlighter and bathe an item in its pastel, there is a sense of accomplishment. I have done something with my life, my time. I have met a purpose. But every now and then I get some distance on this, and sadly, it seems like much of life is tied up in this notion. The state, the agency wants to know how many clients did you see this week. The university wants to know how many articles have you published. The city wants to know how many tickets did you give out today? Friends ask what have you been up to, and somehow you feel like you have to have something to show, something you've gotten done, an outcome of some sort. And things like enjoying one's children, reading poetry, or spending years to write a poem, just don't cut it as worthwhile living. They don't fit the solid, reductionist measure.

It is easy to get entranced by the pervasive chanting that says accomplishments are the essence of life, racking up numbers, crossing off items on lists. It is so much harder to see and feel the jewel in the process, the quality of trying, the beauty of investing our time in loving and creating, and in reflecting.

"Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place." Rumi

I had a card with that saying on it. That is the life I aspire to, the living I want to do. I need to be reminded, again and again. Rumi offers his own spell and I go to him and others who remember.

Photo courtesy of Bernadine Tolbert


  1. When I decided to retire, it was because I wanted to do something different with my life. Something that a job didn't offer although there was great satisfaction with the job I was doing. At the momemt of retirement I hadn't prepared a list of how it was to be or what I was to do. Writers, such as you, have a way of stealing my thoughts, without contact, and putting them to paper. Thank you. I now know that I retired so I could invest time in loving, creating and reflecting. What joy it brings.

  2. Hey B.T.
    Your photo is exquisite! It takes me a step closer to getting a digital camera.