To Do Lists / by Birdie Busch

I am a maker of “to do lists”. I make them on scraps of old show flyers and post-its, sometimes bigger sheets of more formal paper. I make them and I cross things off when I finish them. Sometimes I number each task. Other times just a hyphen. Sometimes I lump all the groceries under one task, as if all to be done in one place at one time. Other times each one is it’s own thing. Get toothpaste. Get dish soap. This makes the list longer. These tasks will share the page with other grander things like “try and get healthcare.” I put many things on the list thinking perhaps that because it’s on the list I can do it. I carry it around tucked into my journal or along with the paper bills in my wallet. I cherish the ability to cross things off like a nail-biter loves a good tear. Things are getting done that were there to do.


I realized in a quick thought a ways back that this was something I inherited from my father, much in the way I took on his olive skin or sometimes I’ll look down at the shape of my bare legs in the mirror and think, “I got my dad’s legs.” My dad always makes these lists. His usually are on pale yellow lined paper, sometimes done with thin red marker. He would leave them on the counter or on the desk in the kitchen when I was a kid. He includes things like “cut grass” or “clean out gutter” to things you’d not imagine as being on to do lists like “pick nose”. That’s a popular throw-in. Sometimes he’d write something like “hug Emily”. After awhile I realized he was writing these things to break up the heaviness of all the responsible tasks, perhaps leaving jokes and notes that he realized we would see, as we did, upon stumbling on his list.


I think I wanted to write about these lists because I have recently started to think about another thing, a list that exists less tangibly in my head but no less real just different. This list is less like a list and more like a circle, an invisible-ness of undendingness. like a railroad track that runs around the earth and joins up with itself in one streamlined infinite ride where I can never know where it started and ended, like a roll of scotch tape I pick away at furiously. I am trying to resolve these lists. I think that sometimes I mistake music or thinking about things that inspire songs like they are a grocery and then realize I can never be done this and it is a misfit of the highest order in the traditional to do list. How do I make peace with this thing that never allows itself to be made crossed-off? “PRACTICE” I’ll put right under “get toilet paper” and it seems absurd. It made me think of another thing to write on the list. Let’s say it’s number #27 on the list, a particularly overwhelming one.  Perhaps right after “send out heating bill.”


#27 Think about how some things can be put on a to do list and how there are other things that can’t and don’t mistake the two.


I don’t think I’ll ever tire of the satisfaction of the ol’ cross off but I want to find peace with the continuance. I want others to feel peace with finding the time and love to go towards their life’s loves and to not fear them because of the inability to make it a task. To each day be aware of the importance even if it can’t be controlled or totally understood or proven like laundry, liquid soap, and license renewal. My dad’s love has always been his time he gives to his family. Perhaps he was speaking in code with these quips, portals to help him and myself ponder our “other list”.