The power of list making

The power of list making

Things I would like to do:

  1. Sit at Emily Dickinson’s writing desk to experience that certain slant of light
  2. Yarn bomb Edgar Allen Poe’s statue at the corner of Boylston and Charles Street, Boston, MA
  3. See Elvis live in concert (I know)
  4. Visit Beatrix Potter’s Lake District
  5. Re-vamp a vintage Volkswagen camper to park at site # 26 , Murray Beach, NB

My wonderful counselor with whom I was meeting regularly until the coronavirus outbreak, gave me a list of 100 coping strategies and one of them (#51) was write a list. Hmmmm. As an educator, a mom, and principle homeowner, I make a lot of lists but I cannot say that I ever thought of them as a type of coping strategy. If anything, I figured I needed a coping strategy for writing too many lists!

But then I realized there is a certain satisfaction in writing lists and more than that it’s important to do so. Because in the art of writing down what you need to pick up from the grocery store or what you need for Monday’s art lesson is the plan to face tomorrow and the next day after that. Even in those excruciating days following Patrick’s death I made lists: what songs to have sung at his funeral, the order of his service, the names of people I needed to help me pull this thing off. As difficult as it was I was still moving unbelievably forward. So if you can make lists about that stuff and survive it, think of what else you can plan for.

I was first introduced to the poetry of Emily Dickinson by my grade 7 English teacher, Mrs. Kohout. She had me at the first line: “I’m nobody! Who are you?” and the love affair with Emily Dickinson’s poetry began. The thing about Dickinson is that she shrouded herself in mystery while silently bucking the establishment. Her reclusive nature and her predilection for wearing only white helped develop this curious persona. Then came the discovery of her poetry following her death at age 56. Tiny booklets, hand sewn, containing incredible verse, with wild punctuation. Totaling almost 1,800 in total, the collection is full of passion and pain, love and innocence. To gain some insight into who she really was and to understand her thoughts and feelings, read a poem like “Wild Nights”. Perhaps nothing I have ever read anywhere, depicts grief and loss so accurately as “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”. She was a woman of incredible depth and composure and it should be no wonder that I have to know what it feels like to sit at Dickinson’s writing desk and to look out the window where she experienced so much of her “heavenly hurt”.

Yarn bombing is like graffiti but softer. It’s been described as a creative form of activism that appeals to people’s sentimental side. The sight of a fire hydrant covered in granny squares triggers the public’s desire for simpler times when people were close and immediate rather than distant and isolated. Edgar Allen Poe’s tribute from Boston, his statue at Poe square, captures him at his most tormented, walking the streets of the city with an opened briefcase, written pages flying everywhere, and of course a raven hovering for company. **Sigh** (of the Gothic nature). Much of Poe’s personal life and writing is overshadowed by his supposed use of opium and his addiction to alcohol. His famous poem “The Raven” is an aching reminder of how loss can affect your mind and trick you into believing that your loved one is somewhere just beyond the shadows. Spooky? Yes. But not totally without substance. Poe’s fear of death and his less than heroic protagonists allows you to see his vulnerabilities as a man and a writer. That’s why I imagine wrapping Poe and his raven in matching red scarfs, just a simple garter stitch, that would drape around him and his persistent dark shadow. A sign of protection and solidarity. To let him know I understand what it means to be alone. Maybe I should start on those right now- carry them around with me for those challenging meetings and conversations.

I have a collection of Beatrix Potter literature, stuffies, and artwork always close at hand to remind me that the obstacles brought on by my tragic loss can be overcome. If you have never seen the movie, Miss Potter, I would recommend it. It’s a great introduction to the very strong and independent woman who, despite her Victorian-era restrictions, was a very successful artist, author, farmer and multi-estate owner. She too lost the love of her life and the circumstances surrounding his death and her subsequent grieving are tragic. But she did find love and companionship again and remained true to what I would describe as her childlike wonder and whimsical perspective despite the challenges she faced. To walk her lands and visit her houses is a total dream of mine.

My last two “to do’s” are kind of connected in my mind. I need to tell you how much camping meant to me and my sweet little family. If you had told me that I would be spending 2-3 weeks out of my summer vacation parked amidst a group of other campers, with absolutely no privacy I would have had to call you a bold face liar. But I loved it. The two travel trailers we owned were the perfect dollhouses for me to Create our home away from home. But more than that it was the together time we had and I will never forget those moments as long as I live. There is another camping experience I would like to enjoy, however, and it involves Elvis on the big screen and a vintage Volkswagen camper. Site # 26 at Murray Beach provincial park is a favorite of mine. You need only drive up and park to be able to sleep under the stars and hear the sounds of the moving tides. But I have never done it. Our camping experiences at Murray have always been further from the beach with lots of cords and leveling. So imagine my delight in parking a vintage gypsy wagon at that glorious site, building a campfire, and watching Elvis, Aloha from Hawaii on a big screen that maybe Ben Babineau and Erin Trottier have set up for me. Not possible? Maybe not, but there are a number of impossible things I have accomplished in the last little while, so I wouldn’t rule it out.

The power of list making. Do you not see it? It allows for hope, creativity, and healing. It involves reaching out for help when needed and it reveals who you are just a tiny bit to the people who love you the most. I cannot wait to get started on another one!

Until next time, happy list making,

Melissa xoxo

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7 Responses

      1. I eagerly await opening each post to see what wonders it holds. You simply must collate your various writings into a book. Promise ME (sorry Margaret I got ahead of you this time ) the VERY FIRST SIGNED COPY.

        I too love Emily Dickinson and I love the way you took her title a step closer to the essence of truth by making it shorter. “Hope is the thing…”. Usually we try to make something clearer by expanding it. Your approach is totally “de cluttered” and gets to the very heart of her poem and of life’s journey. Each of us must find truth and meaning on our own but oh how inspiring it is to find the seeds to plant in the writing of a friend.

  1. Melissa,I often make lists …. I need to remember stuff and , also, they relieve anxiety. I would love to see you and drink tea(perhaps wine,too) and talk and talk and talk. That would be perfect.

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