09 December, 2008
Three weeks, or thereabouts. I don’t know exactly how many shopping days that translates into, accounting for the Sunday closings and late night openings, but in the end it all amounts to three weeks. Or thereabouts. During that time, I expect to accomplish an outrageous number of tasks, the listing of which is Herculean in order. I know this for certain because I created an actual list this year. Ordinarily I create a kind-of, sort-of, virtual list which I carry about somewhere in my head. The great thing about having a virtual list is that it can be modified with the greatest of ease. With a virtual list, I can add to, subtract from, shuffle about, and reorganise items so that the things I most enjoy doing (baking shortbread stars, wrapping presents, playing carols on the piano) become (coincidentally, of course) the items of Greatest Importance, and the tasks I am least interested in performing (cleaning the fridge, organising the back hall, not eating all the shortbread stars) become Things To Do Only If I Really Have Time.
I am a huge fan of Christmas - idyllic Ontario landscape, Norman Rockwell Christmas, with a healthy dose of Tasha Tudor thrown in for good measure. Because of this, my virtual list of Things To Do is somewhat idealistic as well. This is why keeping my list in my head is particularly beneficial. At a moment’s notice, laying the coffee table with a tray of artificial ice, studded with ivory tapers and sprinkled with gold snowflakes becomes infinitely more important than making sure the truck is filled with gas. Because I have an unfortunate tendency to get carried away (at least, that’s what my family tells me), I took a giant leap forward this year. I wrote my list out on paper.
That was a sobering exercise.
In order to make certain I would not be caught on Christmas Eve with five things left undone, I determined to make my list complete. I left nothing out, left nothing to memory. I wrote and I jotted, I noted and I scribbled. Somewhere around the middle of the fourth page I began to wonder if perhaps...perhaps I was not rather overestimating myself, my abilities, and my family’s tolerance for madness. Perhaps it all ran to excess.
I finished writing my list and set it aside with plans to review it later. Like, after some piano playing and the eating of shortbread stars. Although I am very good at making shortbread stars, I am less accomplished at playing piano. My enjoyment of each, however, rivals that of the other, though I do admit shortbread stars have a marginal edge, on account of I can drink scalding tea while eating shortbread stars, but not while playing piano. Who makes the rules around here, anyway?
Well-full and fortified, I returned to the sheaf of paper which had, by this time, assumed an identity of its own. The List lay there on my dining room table, heavy, weighty, full of obligation, daring me to take up the challenge. It was, I admit, a formidable adversary. I am not ashamed to say the part of me (the part that is not overly fond of bloodshed) blanched and reached to throw in the towel, ready to concede defeat without so much as a whimper. The rest of me must be made of sterner stuff, however, for I straightened my back, set my jaw and challenged, “Bring it on!”
I must have said it more firmly than I intended, because I startled the cats from their sleep. They blinked reproachfully before burying their noses in their paws and slipping back under the blanket of slumber. Foolish cats, they had no idea the precarious position their mistress was in. There I was, face to face with an evil entity, in grave danger, squaring off with The List, and the cats (thoughtless, thankless creatures that they are) trundled blissfully back to the Land of Nod.
I was alone.
I stared at The List. The List stared back at me. Neither of us flinched, neither twitched, nor gave any tells. Cue the theme from ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’. Cue any number of Harry Callaghan lines - my personal favourite (and perhaps most appropriate), “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?”
In merciless Dirty Harry fashion, I tackled The List, striking blow after blow, crossing off duty after duty - for duties each listed item had become, morphing (thanks to The List’s dark powers) from Something To Do in Preparation for Celebration of Christmas into Something Horribly Twisted and Fundamentally Wrong. Such is the power of the written word. As long as it had all remained distantly connected to the virtual list in my head, everything had been fine, the world had been a safe and beautiful place. When I put pen to paper and created The List, I had unwittingly loosed A Terrible Thing. Yes, I take full responsibility for it. As creator of The List, I had no choice but to be destroyer also. Swinging my pen with battlefield precision (the pen is mightier than the sword, after all), I hacked at The List, driving it back, hammering it into inky submission. It was not a pretty scene, my friends, I am glad you were not there to witness it.
At last, exhausted, I emerged the victor. The List had been vanquished. As I dragged my battle-weary carcass to the kitchen in search or restorative shortbread stars and scalding tea, the cats slept...unaware of the life-or-death drama which had played out before their closed eyes.
A mistake is not a mistake if one learns from it. I have learned from my recent folly and have determined never (not ever!) to recreate The List, or anything like it, again. I am Wiser Now and More Humble.
Apart from the obvious benefit of doing away with The List, I find there are other benefits of returning to my former habit of carrying my To Do’s in my head. Now that The List no longer dictates every moment of my life, I find I actually have less to do. There are fewer unfinished tasks hanging over my head, there is less pressure, less panic. I feel a sense of well-being, and I am enjoying the peace of the season. I have presents to give, shortbread stars to eat, and carols to play on the piano. If the lights are never hung, what of it? I have arranged my ivory and gold nativity figures on a cranberry-coloured scarf that once belonged to my grandmother, I have displayed decorations made by each of my five children, and in three weeks, or thereabouts, it will be Christmas Day. Now, without The List, I am ready.