But there are also days when I've looked at other people's lists (I'm not naming any names here) and felt a really junior-high-ish wave of anxiety: I'm not working as hard, or getting as many things crossed off, or being as serious as this other person. And then I feel much worse, rather than better. Even though I know that it's just that pernicious internalized guilt of academia (the categorical imperative: you should be working -- all the time -- and only on things that are Serious Work, not all the prep work, teaching work, job work, life work).
Some of my favorite books as a very young child were the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel -- in Frog and Toad Together , there's a story called "A List." Toad (who I nearly always identify with) starts off sitting in bed making a list (I do this sometimes). His list begins with Wake Up, which he promptly crosses out, and then writes other stuff. (I love Toad's life: eat breakfast, get dressed, go to Frog's house, take walk with Frog, eat lunch, take nap...). (Btw I'm referring to a well-worn copy as I write this, it's not all entirely from memory, although it probably could be.)
Frog and Toad are really good friends. I suspect they formed my first subconscious model of a same-gender romantic relationship -- because somehow they're both boys (they wear pants and little Britishy tweed jackets, except when they go swimming) but they really love each other, they hug and sing songs and are always hanging out. And there are no girl amphibs to get in the way of their affection for each other. Toad is mildly depressive and kind of self-deprecating; Frog advocates will power and activity, but doesn't mind getting sidetracked to comfort Toad. Their relationship is all about mutuality and equality -- Toad has a nighmare once when he's really successful and Frog just keeps shrinking away: the message always comes down to the importance of their love and respect for each other.
So Toad goes over to Frog's house, where Frog admires his list, and they set off on their walk. But the wind blows the list out of Toad's hand:
"Hurry!" said Frog. "We will run and catch it." "No!" shouted Toad. "I cannot do that." "Why not?" asked Frog. "Because," wailed Toad, "running after my list is not one of the things that I wrote on my list of things to do!"
Frog ran after the list. He ran over hills and swamps, but the list blew on and on. At last Frog came back to Toad. "I am sorry," gasped Frog, "but I could not catch your list."
"Blah," said Toad.
I so know what Toad means. I love having a list, but if I get off-track then sometimes I can wind up feeling pretty Blah.
In the story, Toad says that since he can't remember anything that was on his list, he has to just sit and do nothing. Frog sits with him (ah, love). Finally Frog says they should sleep:
"Go to sleep!" shouted Toad. "That was the last thing on my list!" Toad wrote on the ground with a stick: Go to sleep. Then he crossed out:
Go to sleep. "There," said Toad. "Now my day is all crossed out!" "I am glad," said Frog. Then Frog and Toad went right to sleep.
And in the picture they are smiling and snuggled up together. As I see it, posting lists on our blogs lets us play Frog for one another: supportive for the things that get crossed off and liking Toad despite all the things that didn't get crossed off. And we can play Toad, too: full of good intentions, and squeezing whatever satisfaction we can from the process.