Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Making a list. Do I have to check it twice?

Some people are list makers. My mother, for example. My partner. The chair of my department. These people are highly organized, efficient, and extremely functional. They are often full of advice on how best to face an overwhelming series of tasks. All of this advice is, I’m sure, helpful and sound, particularly for me as I face the dual goals of cleaning out my current life (university geology professor at the end of a semester), and packing up for my new life (university professor on a seven-month sabbatical). And yet, seven days to departure, I do not have a master list, and any attempts to make one have thus far been half-hearted at best. 

I’m actually terribly excited about this sabbatical, which will take me to New Zealand until July 2011. I’ve been excited about it for years. I have a great fondness for New Zealand, and also some latent nostalgia; I was actually a student there back at the difficult age of 12. It’s a country that hosts a wealth of geologic sights in a relatively small space—and has a cultural and political awareness of environmental issues predicated on mutual survival in that small and isolated space. Since environmental geology is my own educational passion, I can’t imagine a more gratifying place to spend a semester away from home. 

What I am finding difficult at present, though, is tending to the myriad of preparatory details that seem to multiply like bacteria, popping into my head at the oddest moments. (This morning in the middle of teaching an aerobics class I remembered I had to clear out my voicemail account.) The list makers’ solution to this problem is, of course, to make lists. To prioritize. To categorize. Logically, my brain can see the appeal. I can even see the practicality in my own circumstances. Unfortunately, the actual act of putting pen to paper (or, in this digital age, fingertip to keyboard) seems to me as just one more thing to do. Once the list is completed—and really, is a list ever truly complete?—the sheer enormity of the work, all listed together in the same place, is overwhelming enough that it just adds to my general stress. 

I suppose that if one were to make lists all the time, there might arise general lists that preclude the making of new lists, saving even more time. (My mother in fact has sent me a packing list.) I guess, like all good habits, it only comes with practice. It takes, I have heard, at least 3 weeks of good practice to form a new habit. Three weeks is not so insurmountably long; I can make time for three weeks of practice. I’ll put it on a list of things to do—when I get back from New Zealand.

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