The Freedom is Tyranny of the To Do List

20190506_090559So it’s late April-early May of 1997 and I’m sitting my dorm room working on yet another take-home final exam and out of nowhere and apropos of nothing, one of my roommates walks in and asks, “How are you going to forget to take your finals?”  I take a minute to turn my attention away from my computer and toward him and he points to the to-do list that is taped to the wall above my head and then repeats his question.

Obviously, I was never going to forget to take any of my final exams that year or ever (although I once overslept a political science exam by 30 minutes and sprinted like a complete nutcase from my dorm room to the exam room wearing a pair of beat-up gray shorts and a Punisher T-shirt, but that’s another story), but I always like crossing things off lists and each final was another thing to get through before I headed home for the summer.

Explaining this didn’t seem convincing enough, as I got the same question just about every time he came into my room until finals were over, and as I sit here typing this, I’m thinking two thoughts:  1.  What the fuck was his problem?  Seriously, like, go do a bong hit or jerk off or whatever it is you do when you’re in the back bedroom and let me finish my theology paper in peace.  2.  I still put items on to-do lists that I know will get done regardless of their presence on the list.  Because I still like crossing things off.

If you look at the photograph at the top of this post, it’s of a recent to-do list that was completed (the remaining item of “assemble and place patio furniture” was done the next morning).  I took it and included it here because I needed some sort of illustration for this post, but also because it’s one of the rare times that I actually completed an entire to-do list.  I know I rambled incoherently at the beginning of the month about how I recently went back to using a paper day planner and part of that was because I needed it to feel more organized and stop scribbling down lists on yellow legal pads.

But there come those times when you need to do a brain dump of everything you need to get done in a certain week or so, and I feel a sense of control over my situation if I can have all of it written down in one place that I can then edit to show myself how much I have accomplished.  Shit, I have been working off of the same “topics to write about if you get writer’s block” list for Pop Culture Affidavit since 2013.  For someone who gets anxious and overwhelmed and therefore procrastinates until things reach critical mass, this is an effective strategy.

At the same time, there’s certainly the sense that the list is controlling me.  While I’m in mid-list and I pull it out so that I can see what I need to do, I often find myself feeling a little down on myself.  It’s not a sense of defeat or anything, but this sort of weighty feeling that because I haven’t crossed everything off, I’m some how inadequate.  It’s hard to describe the exact feeling, but there are times when the voices of shitheads who used to ridicule me for anything from the decisions I made in life to the fact that my body converted oxygen to carbon dioxide through the act of respiration creep back into my head and make me feel much smaller than I am.  I know it sounds really stupid that several incomplete or unfinished items on a piece of yellow paper can do that, but it’s true.  But it’s also true that I spend most of my therapy sessions talking about the residue from the years I spent around people who, I swear, kept me around because I was a good source of ridicule, so maybe it’s not the list.

I also wonder if the lists will always stay as big as they are.  As I try to get rid of and finish more and more things, I’m hoping that the number of stuff I have to do will lessen.  I have a feeling this is a pipe dream, though.  It seems like adulthood is simply just all of the stuff you have to do and doesn’t get done.

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