This afternoon, my older sister and I were sorting through a stack of books that belonged to our dad, who passed away two weeks ago. We stumbled upon a book called "List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self-Discovery." It'd be great if I could lovingly share the contents of the book with you—his memories, his fears, his favorite things—but the book is as bare as it was the day my sister or I sent it to him in 1997. Don't fret, though: That same year, I bought a copy for myself, and I have a record of life as I knew it in the late nineties.
Chapter 1: Yourself
Under "List the activities you'd do if you weren't so afraid," I unwisely include "pick up a hitchhiker" and "be a hitchhiker." I didn't do those things, but I did "learn to swim," and I occasionally "say what I'm feeling."
Under "List the compliments you receive on a regular basis," I enthusiastically fill the page, including "you don't act married."
Under "List what consistently worries you each day," I fill the page once again, including "that I have (or will soon have) cancer, Alzheimer's, or an STD."
Under "List the animals that really scare you," I include worms and bears.
Under "List all the qualities in yourself you like the least," I include but 2: "my tendency toward procrastination" and "my pesky shyness."
Under "List all the things you'd like to say to your mother," I include 13 items ranging from "I miss you" and "thanks for staying up late sewing for me" to "I'm sorry I was occasionally disdainful" and "let's go shopping for slutty clothes."
Under "List all the people who love you for who you really are," I limit it to 6 people: husband, son, an ex-coworker, two neighbor children in Dallas, and cousin Suzy.
Chapter 2: Daily Life
Under "List the things you do between turning off the alarm and walking out your front door," I include "weigh myself," "check email," and "open the blinds and verify there isn't a drowned child in the pool."
Under "List all the things you've lent that have come back broken," I write "Nothing, that I recall."
Chapter 3: Business
Under "List what you'd like to shout out loud to your boss or coworkers," I write 1 thing: "Shut the fuck up!"
Under "List the names of all your past bosses," I list 14, including "Dad" and "some guy at Camp Williams."
Chapter 4: Change
Under "List all those events you went into with doubt that turned out surprisingly well," there's a blank page.
Under "List the attitudes and habits you've had to give up to get through life," I include "being nice is all-important," "men are trustworthy," and "people want to see other people happy and successful."
Under "List the ways you sabotage yourself from getting what you want," I include "I'm unwilling to compete, confront, work hard, or be inconvenienced."
Under "List the menu for your Last Supper," I include 5 items: fresh-squeezed OJ, warm cashews, corn-on-the-cob, a thick slice of white bread with Sally's strawberry jam, and a mint truffle.
Under "List the major changes you feel you need to make in your life right now," I include "stop backing away socially," "stay the budgetary course," and "stop eating meat."
Under "List the rivers you've crossed," I include "I stopped fearing dogs" and "I stopped chatting online."
Under "List all the elements of a perfect vacation," I start with the most important: "low expectations."
Chapter 5: Culture
Under "List the contests and awards you've won," I include 6 items, the most memorable being "an apple-bobbing contest at 6th-grade sleep-away camp."
Under "List all the things that could happen to you when you park in an underground structure," I include 4: I could wind up murdered, trapped in a collapse, lost, or "seduced."
Chapter 6: Men and Women
Under "List all the typical reasons you end a relationship," I write 1 thing: boredom.
Under "List what's wrong with women," I include "they're unreasonable," "they're too attached to possessions," and "they use words like boobs." Under "List what's wrong with men," I include half-again as many items, including "they leave," "they don't say good-bye," "they're awful in groups," "they believe in UFOs," and "they wear hats too often." I have no idea to which UFO-believing, hat-wearing man I'm referring.
Under "List the reasons for getting married," I include "being pregnant," "wanting to be a stay-at-home mom," and "needing health benefits."
Under "List the reasons you haven't met the man or woman of your dreams," I write "I have."
Chapter 7: Greater Truths
Under "List all the things you don't want to think about," I include "getting old: being weird, sexless, demanding, pathetic" and "watching Dad get old."
Under "List what heals your aching heart," I include 4 items: a diet Dr. Pepper on ice, talking with my husband, a long drive, and a long walk. In fact, on the last page of the book, I jot down a Kierkegaard quote: Solvitur ambulando. "It is solved by walking."
Chapter 8: Health
Under "List all the self-improvement techniques you've experimented with," I include 3 items: "Mormonism," "that book on est," and "that Franklin Quest class on time management."
Chapter 9: Growing Up
Under "List the foods, candy, and other treats that you loved to snack on," I include goober peas, Big Hunks, tacos, and coconut-rolled-oats cookies.
Under "List the warnings and old wives' tales you were taught," I include "men are more interesting than women," "all women are potential threats," "sexiness is good," "perfume is essential," and "don't wear ankle straps (always unflattering)." Gee, I wonder who was advising me.
Under "List all the details you can remember about your childhood bedroom," I include many, but my favorite is "my neatness, and Sally's lack of neatness."
Under "List who you wanted to be like when you grew up," I include my mom and Norma.
Under "List the experiences you had as a child that you knew were truly significant," I include (among others) "epiphanies related to Don Black" and "ditto Marvin Payne."
Chapter 10: Suddenly...
Under "Suddenly your house is on fire. List the stuff you'd grab to save," I fill the page. I start—of course—with son, husband, and animals. I add photos, favorite furniture, and layabouts. By the halfway point, I include mini-skirts, "vests and nighties," field jacket, Franny and Zooey, award-winning pinewood-derby car, and teeth-bleaching trays.
Under "Suddenly you are as thin as you want. List what would happen now." Again, the page is crowded with my small, neat printing. Very few items have to do with health or happiness (or sanity or humility or devotion or adventure). I'd probably still want to "swim laps," but that's about it.