Saturday, August 7, 2021

Lists for blogging... and for life

Some books from 2019

Most bloggers I know keep lists, at least in their head if not on their PC or jotter. I use all three, as well as my phone and the blackboard in our kitchen and the back of a packet or two. When stressed, list-making is my go-to relief, as if ticking all the items will eliminate the source of the angst. Get everything done, I say to myself, and there’ll be time to relax… and start a new list tomorrow.

For Views From The Bike Shed, I make a note of the posts I might write, a store of ideas for when inspiration or memory fails me. It’s part of the curation process I say, the planning for a varied output that will keep my readers engaged. There are currently eleven items in my notebook, dozens more on my phone and many more that have been consigned to the bin.

On the page beside me as I type is a list that includes: The Three Peaks of Abergavenny; Collecting Jugs; Digital Minimalism; Girls Own Paper and Bookmarks.  How many of these, I wonder, will make it into print? Two would be good going; three a marvel. And those I’ve mentioned are the most likely; there’s another six I might as well cross off now.

Perhaps the problem is not so much with the making of my lists as with the nature of our epiphanies. What seems so vital and vibrant in the moment, tends to fade as the passage of time dulls our enthusiasm. How often have I woken from slumber, written down some putatively genius insight only to read it a week later and think, ‘In your dreams Mark; literally, in your dreams…’. 

But is this such a bad thing? Because for all that some ideas are lost—and this blog is sparser as a result—isn’t the unconscious mind also acting as a sort of quality control?  And frankly, if it were not for a little temporal distance between my thoughts and my keyboard, the blog you’re reading might all too easily be called Rants rather than Views From The Bike Shed. 

And that wouldn’t do.

Because sounding off seldom works out well and almost never if done too often. Indeed, rants by their nature have an impact only if they break the pattern of the norm; to be permanently raging is invariably to become blinkered and somewhat deaf to others. The exceptions that prove this rule are those rare talents such as Jeremy Clarkson, whose columns, far from being true rants, are actually humorous vexations on the absurdities we encounter.  

Which makes me wonder if my list-making—and my failure to follow through—is any different to everyday life? We all have our passing fancies; intentions that sound great in the pub or as presented on TV. But when it comes to taking action, they suddenly don’t seem so compelling. For years I’ve been saying to Jane that we really must go to Hampton Court, after all, it’s not that far… so long as we set off early, and avoid the London traffic and book in advance…

In her turn, Jane says I should be less driven; try to enjoy what’s around me instead of always looking ahead. It’s fine to be doing she says, so long as you don’t forget about being. Actually, those words are mine not hers—she’d put it more plainly and tell me to stop obsessing over things that can wait. And why, she’d ask, am I so focused on striving that I lose sight of what we already have?

She’s right of course, and yet I can’t shake the habit. There’s a body of research that claims achievement is fundamental to our happiness and sense of self-worth. I feel it keenly, together with a sense of responsibility to others as well as myself. I’m sure this explains my reluctance to retire and certainly my intention never to stop writing. 

I’m conscious too, of not wasting the opportunity and privilege we’ve been afforded. Imagine a life in which your ambitions were thwarted, your chances proscribed by custom or lack of resources. Such was the lot of most people (women especially) for millennia—and in truth, it remains the case in large parts of the world. My parents in law, two former school teachers, have visited over one hundred countries in their retirement—an achievement that’s unthinkable in historical terms.  

Theirs of course is a different kind of list to what we began with. Like those I keep of books I’ve read, it looks backwards not forward, recording rather than prompting. There’s a danger, with lists of this type, that their length becomes more important than their purpose— but at their best, they can be a trove of memory, imbuing a sense of a life well-lived. The concept of a ‘bucket list’ has become commonplace parlance, and a reflection of a predominantly secular outlook on the ticking of our clocks: carpe diem; you only live once; eternity is an awfully long time...

Which inclines me to think I’ve been rambling on quite enough. What started as a notion about blogging has morphed, through a series of unplanned diversions, into reflections on the good life. And maybe that’s a fitting conclusion: that as writers the purpose of our lists is not so much to schedule our output as it is to remind us of the wealth of the choices we have on offer. Which is a good and wonderful thing, so long as we know also when to stop.


  1. A lot of food for thought here. I have always made lists - of jobs to do, of folk I must contact, that kind of thing. But never a bucket list - I call that tempting fate.

  2. I often have bolts of inspiration concerning things to blog about. They almost never, ever end up being written. And for good reason!

  3. Hari OM
    hmmmmmm the only list I make regularly is for groceries. Then mostly it gets forgotten and I have to fly by the seat... As far as blogging goes, I do schedule. On the photoblog I do a month at a time. It's easy, as I have themes for each day of the week (usually) and will break away for the odd different series.

    AV and DoWY blogs, though, are a little more immediate. There are certain posts that I can schedule several weeks ahead ('musicalisms' for example), but most are written not more than a couple of days ahead.

    What I need most is to know that I am not letting my mind be lazy. So even the short, formulaic posts, I demand of myself that I have given good thought to their placement and can justify their existence. Posting daily is a discipline of the mind and gives a focus to every day that is essential to a solitary life.

    ...the mind needing to be always busy - is that all this is about after all? As ever, stuff to ponder! YAM xx

  4. Well I don't know whether you include me in "most bloggers I know keep lists" because I most certainly do not. I wonder how you reached this conclusion. I don't know any bloggers actually. I have no lists in my life, they can control and take over and the thought of lists sends shivers through me. My posts are entirely spontaneous. My life goes along mostly in the same way.

  5. The only lists I make contain words like 'milk', 'eggs' or 'bread' etc. I don't have to make lists for the really important stuff like 'wine' and... err... 'wine'.

  6. Referring to your last few lines about options got me to thinking that having a wealth of options, not only for blogging fodder, but in all of life, is a marker of real wealth, for me. From being able to choose a career to choosing what to eat for dinner is not available to many in the world.
    Regarding lists, I make them for many things - groceries, projects, books to read, etc, but never for blogging.

  7. My grocery lists always lie on the kitchen table, forgotten and I go round the shelves at the supermarket trying to remember what was written. As for bucket lists, don't need them, the immediate is enough for my ever hungry mind. No need to travel the world unfolds every day.

  8. Like Yamini - every week I make a grocery shopping list and more often than not it gets left behind on the kitchen table, but, having committed it to paper, the list tends to stay in my mind.

    When I was younger I was a prolific list maker - eldest daughter has that trait, and makes lists for all sorts of things - she likes to be organized (and in control)- and when in charge of the roast, will make a list of timings for everything to go in the oven/in the pan. She can't cope with my answer to "when is it done?" - "When it's ready!!"

    My best blog posts are written when I am out walking and of course, when I get home, promptly disappear into a deep memory bank and rarely re-surface. Sometimes I write what to me is a deeply satisfying (and to my mind interesting) blog post and it evokes very little in the way of replies. Such is life. The most popular ones seem to be about baking!

  9. I love lists (and calendars) and a crystal ball to look into the future - so exciting!

    And yes: 'the morning after' some of the visions and excellent ideas might have lost a bit of their enticing sheen - sometimes one shouldn't touch a butterfly's wing twice.
    But then again we also find a gold nugget in all that dream-sand - for which we have worked hard.

    As long as I can remember I am deeply drawn to Zen-philosophy - and though I know that "Opposites attract" I would call me a wayward taoist. And I can live with being labelled oxymoron on somebody's list :-)

    Getting a bit older changed my views about "living in the moment" a bit, I am no longer devastated when I only seldom can do that, yes, rebelliously I sometimes think "That I will do when I enter the country of Dr. Alz". In the Here and Now I am proud to be a DVD with pictures, colours, sounds and subtitles - in short: that I remember in that given moment my life and experiences too and am able to dream of a future or enter the land of imagination.

    (I still work on "not judging" :-)

    If there wallows up too much and is becoming confusion my antidote beside lists are folders - they give me instantly a feeling of control (here "Leela", the Indic goddess of play, laughs... and God too, and John Lennon fetches his guitar)

  10. I like the idea of the unconscious mind acting as a quality control. My blogging list comes in the form of the titles of draft posts on Bertie's blog. I'm wondering whether any of the following will ever see the light of day: 'Sentient snowdrops (poem)', 'Bertie the cheese connoisseur', 'Lord of the Bounce', 'Interiority', 'Bertie channels his inner shark', 'Underland - the missing chapter', 'Next thing, she's going to make me floss'.
    And many, many more.
    Cheers, Gail.

  11. I keep a shopping list and my diary has a list of "tasks to do" for the week. I take some satisfaction from marking off the tasks with a giant tick. My diary planner is probably more important to me than making lists, it is a big book with plenty of room for random scribbles and doodles.

  12. I keep a list of books I've read, just so I can remember them all! And I note ideas for the blog, but as you've said, sometimes some temporal distance between the idea and its execution is a good thing -- because later I think, "Ugh! That's a TERRIBLE idea!"

  13. I ought to make a list of blogging inspirations...
    Mostly lists are for food shopping and project planning.
    I used to make far more, when under a lot of stress

  14. I think if Shakespeare had a computer or tablet he'd be writing a blog. Writers write;

  15. Lists please me
    Written, thought, drawn, dreamt

  16. I love writing and this includes lists. There is always a grocery list and a "to do" list on my desk. Upcoming appointments go on the kitchen calendar. There is a certain satisfaction on seeing tasks completed and a fully stocked kitchen even if completion is only temporary. This sounds like the treadmill of life.

  17. Stress and list making - tick. It took me nearly 5 decades of life to recognize that my periodic obsession with list-making is linked to periods of stress in one form or another - cultural displacement, grief, living with imposter 'syndrome' etc. Examine why I am making the lists and deal with the underlying issue. They are usually lists of tasks to do, pieces of life-laundry to complete. Like Gail the blog posts list is a series of titles in draft posts - the epiphanies/inspirations. Like yours, some will end up discarded. Some were not written while they were timely or relevant, or risked becoming a rant. Maybe epiphanies are like the invention process, the attempts that are discarded are not failures, just elimination of ways that don't achieve the objective/don't work.
    As for getting out and seeing place - I think as I have 'matured' I want to see less and experience more; be able to appreciate more of the detail, fill out the gaps in the picture I already own, make it deeper and more 3-D. My memories will die with me, but memories of me might live a little longer if I do things for people and place.

  18. Thank you for identifying our moth by the way.

  19. I finally got round to reading this erudite and well-considered blogpost. There is indeed often a restlessness about being human - looking ahead rather than embracing this moment, this today. How much precious time is lost through our restlessness? By the way, I would not say that I am by nature a listmaker. Even when visiting the supermarket, I never have a list and I have certainly never made a list of possible blog topics. I just get on with whatever comes to mind.

    I see you posted this on August 7th...A fortnight later, it is surely time for another blogpost. I am intrigued about your interest in "Girl's Own".

  20. I'm thinking of your and your wife. It's a tough time.

  21. I'm sorry to read of the recent loss of Jane's mother on another blog and hope that you and your family will find support and solace in the days ahead. As for lists-books I'd like to read, groceries and home jobs to be done. The bucket list was never a thing and isn't now.

  22. Mark, please give my condolences to your wife. I give them to you myself. I am so very sorry for the loss of your mother in law.

  23. I re-found your blog via your comment on Jill Teague's which I found via iapoetry via the Irish Poetry Therapy network. We met at Ty Newydd years ago - on a course with Sara Maitland and Graham Mort. Can you remember the year? Sara was recently here in Canterbury. Memories! Lists! Books! Am prompted to blog again after almost a year ...