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Intimate Details
A Column by J. S. Porter
in the Winter 2014-15, Vol. 28, No. 2 edition of Dialogue

making Lists: Arnold Lobel, Susan Sontag, my wife and me

By J. S. Porter, Hamilton, Ontario

Maybe you’ve read to your children or grandchildren the frog and toad stories by
Arnold Lobel.  My grandson Kaizen and I took them into our hearts to the point that he would refer to me as Frog and I’d speak of him as Toad. When we hadn’t seen each other for a while, his mother would e-mail me to say that it was time for some Frog and Toad time.

One of the magical stories in Lobel is called “A List.” In the story, Toad makes a list of all the things he wants to accomplish in the day:

Wake up
Eat Breakfast
Get Dressed
Go to Frog’s House
Take walk with Frog
Eat lunch
Take nap
Play games with Frog
Eat Supper
Go to Sleep

Toad crosses the first few items off his list, but when he goes for a walk with Frog a wind comes up and blows the list out of his hand. As night begins to fall, he starts to feel sleepy and suddenly realizes that Go to Sleep was the last item on his list. He writes the words Go to Sleep in the ground and crosses them out.

Umberto Eco, the contemporary Renaissance man from Rome, in his book of visual and verbal lists called The Infinity of Lists, says that we make lists “to make infinity comprehensible,” “to create order,” and “because we don’t want to die.”

Emily Dickinson includes a list in one of her poems, poem 569:

I reckon—when I count at all-
First—Poets—Then the Sun-
Then Summer—Then the Heaven of God-
And then—the List is done

In Susan Sontag’s story “Project for a Trip to China,” there are three things the narrator promises herself that she must complete before she dies:

climb the Matterhorn
learn to play the harpsichord
study Chinese

If I have the opportunity, my three promises all concern my grandsons:

introduce Kaizen to Shakespeare
                Marshall to Marshall McLuhan
         and Blake to William Blake

In the last years of her life when cancer had struck without hope of remission, Sontag was working on:

an autobiographical book on illness
a novel set in Japan
a collection of stories
a number of essays, including one on aphoristic thinking

What would I be working on with restricted time?

notes on Hemingway’s last three years
poems on pieces of music
notes on books that take you inside language

Lists come in all shapes and sizes. Wine lists, menus, schedules, wish lists, bucket lists, to-do lists. Often my wife makes me to-do lists. She’s the only one who does. The list might go something like this:

onion (purple)
2 red peppers

Cheryl writes this shopping list in her own handwriting. What makes it intimate? The everydayness of the list, its singularity – no one else writes me such lists – the fact that it’s written by hand, in pencil. She’s the only one who speaks to me so directly, so casually, so lovingly. If she were to go before me, one of her handwritten lists would be something I’d keep and treasure.

Tell me who and what you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.

                                                J. S. Porter - www.spiritbookword.net

More columns by J. S. Porter

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"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
George Orwell

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"The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their "vital interests" are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the 'sanctity' of human life, or the 'conscience' of the civilized world." - James Baldwin, Source: page 489 of COLLECTED ESSAYS (1998), from chapter one of "The Devil Finds Work" (orig. pub. 1976)

"Since world war two we've managed to create history's first truly global empire. This has been done by the corporatocracy, which are a few men and women who run our major corporations and in doing so also run the U.S. government and many other governments around the world." - John Perkins, 2005, author of the book titled 'Confessions of and Economic Hit Man' 

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The above quotes are from ICH on Dec. 18-19, 2015: InformationClearingHouse

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