ADL, Adriane Herman, American Apparel, Art, art, bucket lists, culture, don't forget, grandfather, immigration, John F. Kennedy, Kennedy, Legalize LA, Leonard Mlodinow, Life Lessons, lists, Lists, Memoir, memori, mundanity, Mundanity, Pandora, Post-it notes, reminders, The Art of The List, The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, tom waits, Words of Wisdom, Writing
I’m not a compulsive list-maker by any stretch, but sometimes, if I have a new pad of paper, a new ink cartridge in the fountain pen I use maybe three times a year, and nothing else to do (in other words, my Wireless connection is acting up) I’ll start a list such as that begun on June 24, 2012. Entitled, “Things We Really Need To Do Around Here,” it has been ignored for nine months. Thirteen of fourteen things still need to be done, not the least of which is “Hang pictures & get rid of ones we HATE.” The only thing done that resulted in any demonstrable changes around here was “Call the Mike the Painter.”
On July 1st, I began another list, a bona fide To Do list, labeled as such, with obligatory empty check boxes next to each item:
- Call Southwest Diagnostic re: bill
- Cancel newspaper until 7/21
- Fwd Mail
- Find someplace for Atticus!!!!
- Beck – Looking for a Sign
- Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night
- Ask mam – did granda tell her about Battle of the Somme??
Well-intentioned and clearly focused on an upcoming vacation that necessitated sending Atticus to kitty jail, I was off to a good start. Then Beck must have popped up on Pandora, sending me and my list off on a tangent that ended with remembering my grandfather who fought in World War I. Nonetheless, we went on vacation, the cat lives, my playlists include more Beck and Tom Waits, and I have written about my grandfather and his experiences as a young soldier lest any of us forget.
While I do not make a daily to-do list, I am rarely without Post-it notes in my handbag, or one of those little notepads reporters used to carry around in their back pockets. This is not entirely about being ready to jot down things of a pedestrian nature, although that does happen – I’ll quickly scribble some new medical term I need to look up on Google, because instead of asking my doctor what she was talking about, I nodded sagely. Or I will remember that I need to buy shampoo. Too, I might hastily write down the name of the store where I can find a handbag like the one hanging from the arm of the complete stranger I met in the post-office, befriending her over our mutual regard for a handbag that’s just the right size. Paper and pen at hand then, is more about my anticipation of some treasure that awaits in the most unexpected places.
There was that summer’s day in 2008 on Brattle Street in Cambridge, MA when I spotted a bright yellow piece of paper stuck to the window of an American Apparel store. On it, something John F. Kennedy had said about immigration, that I have since learned was part of the Legalize LA campaign. No smartphone on hand to take a picture, I captured those achingly relevant words, in my little reporter’s notepad:
Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world and to our own past with clean hands and a clear conscience.
Along with John F. Kennedy’s compassionate words on immigration, I have scribbled reminders, presumably, to buy water, ice, band aids, and plane tickets to San Diego. It strikes me as poetic that stuck between the plane tickets and the need for band aids, is The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow. This is the title of a book, and I am now bemused, given the theme that is developing here, by its subtitle: How Randomness Rules our Lives. I wish I could remember who told me about this book and in what context. I probably need to read it. Why else would I have committed the title to paper?
Randomness continues its reign on the next page with apples, strawberries, bananas and a toothbrush. Kathleen needs a call, perhaps about a pair of shoes from an online store, Sandalworld, where, as it happens, I will also find Jack Rogers. Realizing now that Mr. Rogers is not someone I need to call; rather, his is the name attached to pricy sandals which, the website screams, are the summertime staple. There is another quotation: “Culture is a social control system. If you don’t manage it, it can undermine innovation and creativity and hinder your ability to execute your strategy. This is why a leader should care about culture.” Indeed a leader should but often does not. I have no idea where I was or who said this, but obviously it was someone who said something I had also been thinking, except so much better than I, and at the right time.
A man of few written words, my husband loves the lowly post-it note where his abbreviations of grocery items render them cryptic as ancient hieroglyphics or personalized license plates. Yesterday morning, I spotted atop a small pitcher of water his note to himself to feed our humming birds and water the petunias in the front yard, or with a flourish, “Hum-bird. Water the Front.”
Such tales we could weave from our private discarded lists and post-it notes – our resolutions, reminders, instructions, and bucket lists. Our favorite things. The very worst things, too, the things we fear the most – message received too late, a fence never mended, undeniable evidence of a loved one’s harrowing descent into memory loss. Intimate. Relatable. Human.
Whatever is posted on those notes stuck to themselves at the bottom of my handbag is unlikely to see the light of day, unlike the array of yellow post-its, lists, and miniature drawings that meander around, above, and on top of my friend Debbie’s aunt’s desk:
An artist, she has pressed tightly over the edge an intriguing “Simplicity. Complexity.” I am curious about the story contained in those words. The answer may remain elusive, as it does for artist Adriane Herman who painstakingly culls these quotidian bits and pieces from our lives and creates art. In her review of Herman’s word-based art, Annie Larmon describes this reconstruction of “our most ephemeral and disposable documents as relevant cultural artifacts,”
From grocery and to-do lists to notes scrawled on Post-its, Herman slips between humor and scrutiny while unpacking the social narratives and psychological patterns loaded into the uncensored scribbles
Here, in Art of the List, Herman presents and discusses these marks we make, our sometimes desperate attempts to contain the lives we are living in small and sticky spaces: