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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:
Go to Frog’s House
Take walk with Frog
Play games with Frog
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
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
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:
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
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