All my life I have made lists. When I got my first computer in 1989, a Kaypro word-processor the size of a suitcase, my list making became more sophisticated. It was easy to cut and paste things I had to do in order of priority.   I recently came across a file folder of daily “to do” lists I made in the 1990s. Some are two pages long.

As an independent documentary filmmaker, I almost never had a boss, someone telling me what I had to do and when it had to be done. I’ve never had a performance review. Sometimes there were contractual deadlines and delivery dates, but I managed my own time. As a self-employed person, lists were my compass, my way of navigating through life. As my own boss and I was pretty demanding, never entirely satisfied with my “output.”   My mantra was “be useful.”

Often there were lists within lists, the week’s grocery list for example or a sub-list of tasks for a film production. I could never cross everything off a list at the end of a day, but on days when I was able to cross off a lot of things I felt accomplished. I was moving forward in life. I also had a sense of having ground under my feet, but that feeling of being grounded never lasted long because my mind was always reaching forward to what I had to do next.

There were times when lists took over my life.   When they became longer than one typed page, single spaced I felt overwhelmed. On the rare occasions when there were less than a dozen tasks, I questioned my lack of drive or ambition. Why was I not generating more useful and important stuff to do? If I became distracted doing something that was not on the list, like talking to a friend on the phone or just hanging out, I would become uneasy. It meant I had stopped “making progress.” In those times I doubted myself.

I moved out of the city six years ago to a straw bale house and twenty acres of land in the Sierra foothills. At first it was really hard to get used to the silence and the complete lack of places to have a decent cup of coffee where I could just sit and work on my laptop surrounded the by the hum of others. Now I cherish the quiet and the solitude. I kept making lists but they got shorter: get groceries, work on editing, mow the north field, fix the irrigation system for the garden, make supper. I don’t panic as often when the list is short. I remind myself of what I have come to call “the mysterious unfolding of reality,” the ways each day presents itself that are unexpected, sometimes challenging and sometimes serendipitous.

I still make a list each day but no longer type it on the computer. At night before going to sleep, on an 8½ x 11 sheet of white paper, I write the next day’s date in the center. Then in no particular order, I write things that I might want to do and things I have committed to do (usually appointments). I use felt tip pens in different colors. The colors, sizes and orientations of the words on the page reveal how I feel about the imagined tasks. Often there are things I do not know how I feel about until I write them on the paper. I take my time with my lists. They become art. In the spaces between the words lies possibility and potential, a place for the mysterious unfolding of reality.