Friday Speak Out!: The List-Maker

Friday, May 27, 2022
by Leslie Cox

I’m a list-maker. I make lists every day. Lists in my head and on paper. I email myself “to do” lists, grocery lists, song lists, book lists, movie lists. Lists of writing resources and essay ideas. Friends at work teased me for making lists on sticky notes and plastering them all over my computer monitor. Then someone clever came up with sticky notes to place on a computer screen, not on paper, by typing them onto the desktop, a more sustainable way to keep track.

My notepad is chock-full of lists, starting with a list of questions to ask an old friend to fill in gaps for my memoir: 1) What was Tim (my ex) like as a kid? 2) Why did his parents split up? 3) Was his brother really a product of the milkman?

Next is a list of five common elements of a successful memoir: 1) Drama, 2) Relevance, 3) Authenticity, 4) Character Arc, and 5) After-effect.

I flip the page to find a list of 18 weak adjectives not to use to avoid confusion in one’s writing. Lackluster words like: 1) happy, 2) sad, 3) cold, and 4) hot should be replaced with stronger words from a thesaurus. And avoid adverbs, e.g., 1) really, 2) very, etc.

The following page is a perpetual “to do” list of things not checked off because the above lists are more gratifying. 1) Review options for health insurance, 2) pay house taxes, 3) take car through emissions, 4) fix car so it will pass emissions, 5) take car through emissions again, 6) apply for car tags since my registration expired two months ago.

The next page is not a list, but a story my mom tells about a guy she crushed on before marrying my dad. She met Francis Hudson at the post office, and it just so happened every day when he stopped to get his mail, she was there unlocking her mailbox. They flirted a lot, but she didn’t let him kiss her, and when he asked her on a date, she declined. Seventy years later, she reveals her regret for turning him down. They wrote letters while he was in the navy, and sadly his ship went down somewhere in the Pacific during WWII. Mom said he was from a small town near Tucson, Arizona, so in the margin I’ve made a long list of possibilities: Sahuarita, Green Valley, Tombstone, San Simone, Bisbee, Sierra Vista, Bowie, Deming, Marana, Oro Valley, and Eloy. I suppose I could count this story as a first item on a new list of essay ideas.

A list of songs I heard on Spotify while cooking dinner recently brought back these memories:

1. La Grange by ZZ Top: My older brother’s best friend in high school invited me to sing in his band and later invited me for a ride in his green, fluorescent car. He pulled over and invited me to kiss him, and that’s where the story ends.

2. Highway to Heaven by AC/DC: My cousin’s ex-husband, a talented guitarist, portrayed Angus Young in an AC/DC tribute band. He was spitting image of Young giving a high-energy performance in a schoolboy uniform.

3. Black Magic Woman by Santana: My brother shared his vinyl record album “Santana Abraxis” with me when I was nine. The image of a naked black woman on the cover intrigued me. Listening closely to the lyrics, I realize instead of “You just might pick up my magic sticks” I’ve been singing “You just might be on my magic list.” You can see I value lists.

4. Old Time Rock & Roll by Bob Seger: There are too many memories to mention here only because this worn-out song has been played at every wedding reception, high school reunion, and birthday party I’ve attended since 1978. Enough said about that one.

5. Black Betty by Ram Jam. My daughter did a tap dance performance to this song. During her dance recital she sent me this text: “I forgot my pants for our next performance!” I hightailed it home to get the damn pants and by the time I returned, she had borrowed pants from her teacher and the performance was over. I still feel angst hearing that song.

Songs remind me of people, places, and feelings from my past. Music is inspiration for writing. So, writers, make some lists. Lists that make you really happy exhilarated, or very sad sorrowful. Lists that furnish ideas for an essay when you’re on a deadline and the page is blank.

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Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Leslie ~ Great post, and I'm an avid list maker, too. I love your song list, and your Santana mondegreen! There's a great resource I just learned about for memoir writing called The Nostalgia Machine, where you pick the year you're writing about and it shows you the top songs that year. It's really helpful for remembering childhood.

Have you written an essay in list form? I love reading those and some are so skillfully written. I haven't tried one yet, but it's on my list. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Leslie. Always good to meet fellow list makers.😊 At home I've used colored index cards to make lists for years and of course at work I used post-it notes. Lists keep me sane!

Leslie Cox said...

Glad this resonates with you! Lists keep me sane also, and checking things off is so rewarding. I’ll definitely check out The Nostalgia Machine! Sounds like fun.

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