A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

Dear psychiatrist,

I am sorry to bother you again. I assume that things have been getting a bit hectic for you down at the old infirmary which is, I suppose, why you still haven't had time to reply to my last letter. Anyway, I wonder if I might just pick your brains - only a little bit - about a very simple point. I'd be glad of even a yes or no answer if you can manage it.

All I want to know is: Is it abnormal to make lists? And if it isn't, is it abnormal to make lists of lists? And if that isn't abnormal, is it abnormal to go and make lists of all things that aren't on other lists?

You see I'm getting a little worried. I began making orderly lists of things while I was a student, in order to help cope with life around me, but I now have the nasty feeling that my list making activities have increased to such an enormous extent that they have largely replaced the life around me. In fact, I am beginning to find that list-making is an addictive, although non-toxic, substitute for every known human activity (apart from list-making). The only advantage it has is there are no known side-effects (unless you count dementia or broken marriages).

I seem to have developed a compulsion to arrange everything I see or need to do in some sort of order; but then, instead of actually dealing with the things on the list, I just re-arrange them in different orders on other lists. Perhaps I can best illustrate my quandary by telling you a bed-time story that I often tell to my children. Oh, excuse me:

List of children (in order of appearance):
            1. Kirsty
            2. Laura

or, to put it another way:

List of children (in alphabetical order):
            1. Kirsty
            2. Laura

Now I'm not saying that this is the final and total size of our family, because, to be quite frank, my wife and I have been thinking about... Well let me put it like this:

List of existing plus intended children:
            1. Kirsty
            2. Laura
            3. ???

I think that illustrates two of my main problems. Firstly I am getting increasingly irritated at lists that have a '?' instead of a definitive entry next to a number; secondly, that particular '?' is there because my wife and I haven't got round to starting the third child as I spend all my time making lists instead of doing things, including the kind of things we need to do to start the third child (as a matter of fact they're the same sort of things we needed to do to start the first two, only more so).

I'm afraid I seem to have wandered off the point and I've been rambling on about sex - I do hope you don't think I'm some sort of pervert, or mad or anything; of course you don't, do you? - But I did mean to tell you this bed-time story that I often tell my children (you can probably remember their names, can't you?).

It concerns a man who made lists of everything that he had to do, and wouldn't do anything unless it was on a list labelled 'Things to Do'. This went on all right for a long time but gradually he found that he was not only unwilling to do anything that wasn't on a list, but eventually became totally unable to do anything not on a list. Even that didn't matter very much until one day he lost his master list of Things To Do and found that he couldn't go to sleep at night, because he hadn't got a list with 'go to sleep' on it. Then he realised that he couldn't even look for his master list of Things to Do because there was no list anywhere saying 'look for your lost list'. So he couldn't do anything at all, and was forced to stand absolutely still staring at the floor doing nothing. After ten years, he was appointed chairman of a large nationalised industry.

Of course the story is pure fiction - in real life it only takes two years of total inactivity to become chairman of a large nationalised industry - but it does point to some of the major difficulties confronting the list maker.

My main difficulty is slightly different. I don't have any problems trying to do things that aren't on lists; I just find that putting things to do onto lists is much nicer than actually doing them. I first noticed this alarming habit when I was a student revising for my final examinations. I wrote out long lists on each subject, listing the main topics that I thought I ought to mug up on. For example:

Web design topics:
            1. Html
            2. JavaScript
            3. Php
            4. Xml
            5. Css

and so on. I accumulated hundreds of these lists but still did not actually get round to revising any of the topics. So I then made secondary lists, but still didn't manage to do any revision. The day before the exams I threw even that list away and wrote one list labelled:

Things to do tomorrow:
            1. Pass exams

which somehow I managed to do.

I suppose that, in essence, I am one of those people who has never let life simply pass me by. I have listed every feature, every aspect and every factor of daily living, and then let it slip by me. I now find that I have so many lists on the go that it takes me all my time to keep them up to date. My method works in the following way. Suppose that I have five things to do; I will start a list such as:

Things to do:
            1. Pay electricity bill
            2. Let Bob know about Friday - as usual
            3. Ring up and complain about the tumble drier
            4. Update my blog
            5. Pay gas bill

As you can see, some of these things are highly unpleasant tasks, so I tend to do the ones I don't mind so much and transfer the nasty ones to another list:

Things to do now:
            1. Pay electricity bill
            2. Let Jimmy know about Thursday
            3. Fit new sink for Mrs Jones
            4. Pay gas bill
            5. Update other blog
            6. Ring up and complain about the tumble drier

and when I am left with a residue of things that haven't been done on that list, I start another one with an even more urgent heading, such as:

Things to do RIGHT NOW!:
            1. Pay electric bill
            2. Pay gas bill
            3. Ring up and complain about the tumble drier

and so the paying of bills works its way up from the next list, which is the THINGS TO DO PRONTO URGENT RIGHT AWAY NOW list, all the way up to the ultimate URGENT EMERGENCY PANIC THINGS TO DO ABSOLUTELY PRONTO URGENT THIS MINUTE LAST CHANCE HURRY HURRY list. Which is when I start a brand new list:

Things for wife to do:
            1. Pay electricity bill
            2. Pay gas bill
            3. Ring up and complain about the tumble drier

Well, dear psychiatrist, that's about the strength of the problem with me, and I'd be very glad to know if you can help me in any way. To be quite honest I'm only writing to you now because my Emergency Pronto Panic list happens to say:

            1. Get psychiatric help!!

I suppose it might all be due to over-enthusiastic toilet training. Anyway, I'd better stop now as my desk is cluttered with the markings of thousands of little lists, and I see that I have developed a particularly nasty one to starboard. Do drop me a line if you've got a moment. Put it on your to do list.

Yours Sincerely

Andy Robinson.

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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