On August 19, 2011 by Eden M. Kennedy

A friend of mine who’s into what I’d call alternative therapies? I wouldn’t call it self help, mostly because rightly or wrongly I associate “self help” with a lot of earnest oversimplification. It’s still my belief that all the insight into human nature I’ll ever need is in the poetry section. Granted, Alexander Pope didn’t have any explicit advice about how to get your mother-in-law into rehab*.

* I’m not trying to get my mother-in-law into rehab, but if you had a mother-in-law rehab problem maybe you could find some guidance in Anne Sexton**. Or you could try Edgar Allen Poe if you were in the mood to brick her into a wall or bury her and pull out all her teeth. In conclusion, my mother-in-law is a terrific person and I am just trying to be funny. Thank you.

** Interestingly, I hear our local library system is ditching Dewey Decimal, so maybe the new organizing principal will allow for some more nuanced shelving bleed between poetry and substance abuse.

So my friend who is most definitely completely into self help sometimes sends me worksheets to fill out so I can organize my goals and stuff, but I never do, I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just not ready. (God knows that the number one item at the top of my Life List is to make a Life List.) But this friend, she keeps not giving up on me, and one day at lunch she was all, “Just make a list of all the stuff in your life that you’re tolerating. Start with the little nagging chores that never get done. I swear, if you just make the list you’ll start to see things disappear right off it. It’s magic.”

THAT seemed do-able, which is why it took me eleven months to get around to doing it. In my head. I still haven’t written anything down, because I found that before I’d even begun writing anything down, I was getting things done.

(I’m sure there’s a poem about that somewhere.)

A few months ago a piece of my gear shift knob cracked and fell off. “Who cares?” I thought, navigating suavely through the universe. Naturally, the next thing I discovered was that it was impossible to shift my car into Park. If you are familiar with cars, you’ll know that shifting into Park is one thing most people do before turning off the engine and taking the keys out of the car’s ignition. In my car (1999 Volvo), if you can’t shift completely into Park, you can’t take out your keys and leave your car anywhere in public. Instead, you have to leave your unlocked car in a totally drive-awayable state, hoping that while you run in for a six-pack no one notices your car sitting there with a key in it, ready to go, FREE CAR, COME STEAL ME.

Fortunately, after a minute or two of looking at my shifter in despair, I discovered that I could do a sort of Fonzie-style SLAM and get the car into Park and the keys would come out of the ignition. If at any time during the past six weeks you’ve seen me even hope to get out of my car, you have seen me repeatedly Fonz the shifter into Park, sometimes slamming it six or seven times before it would take. Sometimes I’d have to start the car again, back up, inch forward, shut it down again, and slam it into Park two or three more times before being able to take out the keys and lock that motherfucker down.

So yesterday when I started thinking about a list of things I’m just tolerating day after day, at the top of my list was the goddamn gear shift knob. I called the mechanic, he said come on in, and I got a new gear shift knob. It took about three minutes for him to install it. Okay, three minutes and $100, but still. Done.

Sure, I need to put some bigger things on my list beside “1. Find that box of photos in the storage locker” and “2. Make a yoga playlist,” but that would put us into dangerous Life List territory and there’d be no more reasons not to commit to figuring out how to “3. Earn more money” or “4. Take an active part in changing a political issue that matters to me.”

(I secretly do believe in Life Lists and I am using Danielle’s to help me make one finally happen for myself in 2012. That’s the last year we all have to worry about anyway, right?)



31 Responses to “Done”

  • It must work better if you don’t write it down. I have actual paper lists and once I write things on them, I feel a sense of accomplishment and NEVER DO THE THINGS ON THE LIST.

  • Because the list itself is the accomplishment! YES.

  • If I would make the list I would be forced to acknowledge the pile of laundry that is taller than me, and the fact that I have considered going to Kohl’s to buy new shorts for my child instead of just washing the clothes. I am not ready to do that yet, so I will continue to live in my state of denial. No lists for me.

    • I had a friend in college who found it cheaper to go to the thrift store and buy a new suit than do his laundry. Though I don’t believe they normally sell used underwear at the thrift store.

  • I can make the little non-existential-crisis-inducing lists: shopping, packing and whatnot. What I can’t do is make a list about things that really matter. If I list the big unspoken wishes and dreams — “I want to write and direct two feature films” — I feel hubristic (a word? really? cool) and want to say “kenahora” (what Jews say to ward off the evil eye). I can’t get myself to read self-help anything, much less make a life list.

    • I think as far as big things go, it helps to make a list of all the intermediate steps you’d need to complete first. If you want to write a screenplay, your list might go something like, 1. Download screenwriting program, like Celtx; 2. Write screenplay; 3. Rewrite screenplay; 4. Get feedback on screenplay; 5. Rewrite screenplay again; 5. Join Writer’s Guild; 6. Submit to agent; 7. Sell screenplay and collect fabulous wealth.

  • Good advice. Maybe it will make me finally get my home theater system put together. Hey, it’s only been three years since I moved. Or, make me get my bike tuned up, or get a workout program going at the gym, or…or…like I said, good advice and thanks for sharing.

  • The first step toward putting together a home theater system is often to turn off the Internet. Actually, the first step toward doing anything is probably turning off the Internet.

  • Love this post. Fonz as a verb. Nuanced shelving bleed. You are great.

    • Agreed. “Fonz the shifter into Park” made me spit the proverbial coffee onto my laptop screen.

  • Regarding the used underwear at thrift stores…some do. Oh, some do. Boxer shorts, definitely. A very dear friend of mine, who is 58 and sort of a semi-hippie with an insane DIY ethic never buys any clothes new, ever. Except for shoes — he buys new Converse. But everything else is either used, handmade, or gifted by his wife/family. We were just talking about this the other day, in fact — I was a bit squicked that he yes-very-much buys used boxers and socks — socks! — to wear. This is balanced out by the fact that he also makes his own boxers sometimes, too. He showed me a super cute pair with little bunnies all over them once last year. Anyway — used underwear. Yep. It’s a thing.

    (To be fair, if you knew this man, it wouldn’t seem nearly as bizarre as it sounds.)

    ((Also, regarding making lists and setting concrete goals-to-be-checked-off, I am with you. I don’t even like the idea of it, really. The less I lock myself into doing specific things, the more likely I am to do them, and then some.))

  • Cannot. Find. Motivation. To. Make. List. Unless the list is titled ‘Things I tolerate in other people’. That list nearly *springs* to life.

  • I need a comment system where you can click LIKE under people’s comments. Oh, I should put that on my list.

  • I swear, sometimes it feels like you’re speaking from somewhere deep in a part of my soul that I didn’t know existed until just now. And all other things aside, it positively moves me to realize that “Fonz” can be a verb. Thank you!

  • I make grocery lists, but I rarely make to-do lists. I give myself a chore a night and feel that if I get that done, I deserve a brownie/cookie/wine/treat.

    The make a yoga playlist is a good one. One time I did my practice to the Ting Tings. Talk about vinyasa flow. But it was fun.

  • My first thing on the list would have been “Get friend to stop bugging me with self help crap all the time.”

  • Have you never read “The World According to Garp”? Because I THINK the gearshift knob on a Volvo would be, like, the very first thing I would fix if it broke.

  • Yoga playlist: Back In Black – AC/DC


  • I wish mommy blogger’s would quit trying to seduce me with the damn life list. The peer pressure to do a life list is just getting so intense. Some of us don’t want to do a life list until we’ve got a bigger following! We need a real commitment. Not just a one-night visit to read our life list and then the next night we find out we’ve been tossed aside for some other mommy’s perkier, more nubile life list. A follower is going to have to have at least a six-month relationship with me before I’m giving up the life list.

  • I know what you mean. Making a life list sounds way too much like work.

    On the other hand, I let some self-helpy friends talk me into making a vision board last year. It hangs on my bulletin board in my dressing room and taunts me daily with visions of stuff I haven’t quite managed to accomplish.

  • Franca’s Life List

    1. Buy car with stick shift. Driving in San Francisco isn’t as fun with an automatic.

    2. Kill my Internet

    That’s all I can manage at the moment. I have to go lie down now.

  • I’ve always thought life lists are dumb. I’ve done some amazing things in my life – but my life has not taken the path I thought it would when I graduated high school. I’d rather look forward and be open to all the things that life brings than try to aim for a concrete set of check offs. I think those people often miss out on some opportunities because it interfered with their bucket lists.

  • I have trouble doing the list because I’m an avoider like that. I need drinks. Actually, I once made a great list while on LSD that changed my whole life. But I’m not sure where to get LSD these days.

    Basically, if I make a list in an altered state so I don’t have to deal with the anxiety of reality then yes, I do the things on the list. But isn’t that kind of dangerous? Don’t do lists, I say. They only lead to drugs.

  • I failed at my Life List, but like the Uberlist. The key points to remember are:

    1. Try to get it done by January 30
    2. Forget about it for most of the year
    3. Put things on it like “take a nap”

    BOOM. Now you’re the champion of your own life.

  • I don’t know about lists, but my self-help guru friend introduced me to one of those systems (*S. B. are its initials) where you put in all kinds of information and it spits out what kind of a person you are – as in how you’re most driven (visually, audibly, interactively with or without people, are you a stasher, are you a mover and shaker, are you a motivator or a sheep or whatever). Pretty much all that happened was I paid 15 bucks on their website for them to spit out that I was highly motivated by constant INPUT, which is why I am reading your site, and why I now roam around sounding like that robot from that cheezy 90s movie Short Circuit, who kept hungrily shouting INPUT! INPUT! when he was in learning mode, while subliminally deriding all self. So consequently I DO make lists. Just more and more of them, and then forget where I put them or what I did with them – they are buried under all the rest of my INPUT.

    P.S. GOOD GOD how are they ever going to do without Dewey Decimal? I’m all ears.

  • Sorry, that was supposed to have been “deriding all self-help.”

    And: Is Fonzing anything like a Gibbs-whack-on-the-head a la NCIS?

  • WHAT?! NO DEWEY DECIMAL?!! I will never find anything in the library ever again. Wait, I can’t find anything in the library now.

    Here is how I do my life lists-
    Step 1. Write down many awesome things.
    Step 2. Find the list approximately 3 years later and think how cute it was you thought you could plan any of your life.

  • I have that same thought about 2012 about 10 times a day because I work at a college and we spend a lot of time focusing on the next term and academic year. I think when we start working on 2013 stuff I’ll just say “well, I don’t need to do that.” I’ll just fart around on the internet all day. Oh wait…

  • You had me at “…navigating suavely through the universe,” but the comments here are a goldmine. :)