My Life in Lists

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

By Stacy Abramson

Some people write memoirs or keep journals. I make lists. Some of the lists have been around for years and just keep getting updated. Some are static. Some I make annually. Some are weekly. Some are just one-time lists. You get the idea.

As 2008 was coming to a close, I was exporting items from past lists into fresh 2009 ones. And as I combed through, I realized that read in chronological order, the lists tell a lot about my life so far. I admit that putting my lists on the table like this will most likely reveal me to be obsessive, or quite possibly completely psychotic. That’s a chance I’ll take. Without further ado, a few highlights from my life in lists, in some sort of chronological order. If you want to see my list of lists, go here.

Date: 1981
Age: 10
Place: Washington, D.C.
What You Need to Know
: Most of my friends’ parents were social workers or nonprofit people. They had one car and they lived in houses with two floors. My parents were business people. They had two cars and lived in Georgetown in a house with four floors.
List: Things I’m Worrying About
1. Getting pen all over the nice pillows.
2. Getting lost at Reagan’s Inauguration Parade.
3. Dad’s veins bursting out of his face when he gets so mad.
4. Mom wanting to be with her friends more than with me.
5. Not getting to talk to my friends on the phone for as long as I might need to.
6. Getting kidnapped like Patty Hearst.
7. Mom and Dad fighting so much that they’ll get divorced.

Date: 1981
Age: 10
Place: Washington, D.C.
List: Things To Do with Dad on Our Weekly Visits

1. Entertain him while he’s running on the treadmill.
2. Make sure there’s something for my little sister Jenny to eat when we go for pizza at the Zebra Room.
3. Watch the Redskins game on one of his giant TVs in his depressing new rental apartment (filled with stiff furniture, mostly blue, on loan from one of his real estate clients).
4. Be nice to T., his very blonde girlfriend. T. wore white boots and lots of eye makeup. When dad moved to Virginia, across the road from the CIA, T. ran a modeling agency out of his basement. He claimed that she tried to shoot him when they were breaking up, but he lied sometimes.
5. Play backgammon competitively.
6. Try not to be embarrassed when he makes us skip with him in the airport hallways singing, “We’re off to see the wizard.”
7. Learn from W. & T. (his older daughters from his first marriage) about how you can make your dark curly hair lighter by squeezing lemon juice into it and then sitting in the sun.
8. Listen to him say mean stuff about Mom. Act like I agree but without betraying her.

Date: December 30th, 1983
Age: 12
Place: Washington, D.C.
List: Things I Can’t Believe I Didn’t Realize Sooner

1. Not all Jews have Christmas trees.

Date: Fall, 1987
Age: 11th Grade
Place: Washington, D.C.
List: SAT Words to Learn

1. Audacity
2. Veracity
3. Prevaricate
4. Pugnacious
5. Comprehension
6. Lugubrious

Date: September, 1988
Age: 17
Place: Washington, D.C.
What You Need to Know
: J. was Mom’s boyfriend. He was waspy, but in a rugged, appealing way. He called me “kid” and gave me big bear hugs and empathetic smiles. J. Jr. was the oldest of his three boys (from two different marriages). He played soccer and guitar and had longish hair (not the gross kind). He also loved Judas Priest.
List: What I’m Obsessing About
1. Dad getting mad at me for being “too judgmental” about his pot smoking at the Madonna concert.
2. Mom and J. finding out about J. Jr. and me.
3. J. and Mom breaking up and Mom being so sad.*
4. Having to be nice to J.’s new, not so nice girlfriend.
5. Losing my mind after doing mushrooms at the Grateful Dead Show.
6. Missing my Oberlin interview (see #5).
7. John Hinkley Jr. being locked up in a mental institution right near my school.

*I needn’t have worried. She’s a total “coper,” marching off to think about big ideas at the Aspen Institute, hiking Machu Picchu and then, with her shoulder pads nestled safely in her pack, flying to North Carolina for an Outward Bound rock-climbing trip. Not too long after her return, she found L., who was incredibly smart and kind and who brought with him a daughter I loved right away. Mom married him. No one could ever accuse him of being too much like my father.

Date: 1996
Age: 24
Place: Chelsea, NYC
List: Things I’m Stressed About

1. Blacking out from drinking (just sometimes).
2. Dad making out with E., one of my best friends at H’s party in the East Village.
3. Generating story ideas for the NY Observer, a challenge when I can’t even remember who Brooke Astor is.

Date: May, 1997
Age: 25
Place: Project Inform, the Castro, San Francisco
List: Things I’m Convinced I Have

1. Failing vision. When I’m biking to work from the Mission, I can’t read the street signs.
2. An out-of-control crush on H. (Went to Wesleyan with E. When he was visiting E. in NY he was really into me. But in SF he is not.)
3. AIDS.

Date: June, 1997
Age: 26
Place: East Village, NYC
List: To Track Down

1. People having Virgin Mary apparitions in Queens at the site of the old World’s Fair.
2. $$ to pay for me to do radio.
3. The Monster record recorded by Eddie Carmel (Jenny C’s dad’s cousin—also known as The Jewish Giant, made famous by a Diane Arbus photo

Date: December 30, 2000
Age: 29
Place: Park Slope, Brooklyn
List: Things I Can’t Believe I Didn’t Realize Sooner

1. You don’t need to feel sorry for people living in Brooklyn.
2. Dating the boss when you’re a company of two is probably not the way to go.
3. Nor is dating anyone who claims to have slept with Patti Smith and coined the term “punk.”

Date: July, 2002
Age: 30
Place: Dad’s Bedroom/Hospital Rooms, Leesburg, V.A.
What You Need to Know
: Dad went to get an M.R.I. because his back had been hurting. They told him that he had lung cancer, that it had metastasized, and that he’d probably only live for two months. So I flew down and started interviewing him.*
List: Interview Questions for Dad’s End-of-Life Oral History
1. Can you say who you are and where we are?
2. Tell me about your first girlfriend.
3. Why did you hate Boston?
4. Do you remember when I was born?
5. What are you most proud of?
6. What’s it like to know you’re dying?
7. Are you scared?
8. Is there anything you feel like you haven’t said that you want to say? Anything you want to tell any of us?

*He died two months later, on Aug.12th, 2002.

Date: A Few Months Later
Age: 30
Place: Back in N.Y.C.
List: Things I Can’t Believe I Didn’t Realize Sooner

1. There were no secrets to unlock—Dad was who he was.
2. Being 30 sucks.
3. Municipal Building is where hope goes to die?

Date: February, 2003
Age: 32
Place: Surf Camp with Heather, San Diego, C.A.
What You Need to Know
: Heather said the only way to get over five-year relationship was to make a list of what I wanted to find in the next person.
List: What I Want In My Next Boyfriend
What I Want
1. Someone who I can get stuck with on the train.
2. Someone who will run off to Cuba for a long weekend, or to Tel Aviv, but who has a grown-up life to come home to.
3. Someone who’s bear-like.
4. Someone who asks lots of questions.

What I Don’t Want
1. Someone who wears black turtlenecks.
2. Someone who likes British teashops.
3. Or anyone British really.
4. A vegan.
5. Someone who backtracks.
6. Someone with cats.

Date: June 2007
Age: 35
Place: My new apartment, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
List: Things I Want to Try

1. Dogsledding in Minnesota.
2. Having a kid.
3. Answering my phone.

Date: July 24th, 2008
Age: 36
Place: Brooklyn Inn
What you need to know
: P. seemed to fall from the sky. He was exactly what I liked (bear-like, cozy, not a vegan, etc.). But he’d only just come out of a marriage. So, as he became increasingly nervous about getting too serious, and more and more impossible to pin down plans with, I started to a list of what I liked and didn’t like about him.
List: Pros & Cons of P.
What I Don’t Like About P.
1. That he won’t see movies in theaters, not even Batman, no matter how many times I say I want to.
2. That on a Monday he calls to says he wants to meet my parents that weekend. But then, on that Wednesday calls to say he’s changed his mind.
3. That he’s never exercised and I think he’d almost prefer I didn’t either.
4. That he could spend months and months trying to find the perfect couch but not have time to watch the presidential debates.
5. That he never says anything nice about his ex, even though he’s the one who left.
6. That he doesn’t ask me questions.

What I Like About P.
1. That he knows he doesn’t ask me enough questions but he keeps trying.
2. That he’s nice to underdogs, to strangers and to Isaac (who he calls “little man.”)
3. That when he sees me he tilts his head up and his eyes get all smiley and says, “You look really nice,” As if he’s just seeing me for the first time.
4. That he never makes me feel guilty for taking car services, or taxis or for smoking cigarettes. Or for anything, really.
5. That he loves to eat fish tacos at Bonita.
6. That he could spend months and months trying to find the perfect couch.

Date: January 13, 2009
Age: 37
List: Things I Haven’t Seen Through

1. Commitment to answering my phone.
2. Electrolysis.
3. Taking a chess class at that place on Flatbush Avenue.
4. End-of-Life Project (like the one I did with my dad).
5. Four-part dental cleaning.
6. Staying in touch with Bruce, the “Runner,” from The Sunshine, one of the last of the Bowery Flophouses.
7. Bunion surgery.
8. Any of the three obedience-training courses I signed Isaac up for.
9. Taking the Adderall consistently. (Maybe exercising will do the trick? I hear that’s helpful.)
10. Starting a to-do list magazine or web site (someone beat me to it and did a fantastic job).

Date: Jan. 15, 2009
Age: 37
Place: Home, Brooklyn
List: What I Had to Skip So Far Today Just to Get This Done

1. Giving Isaac enough time to poop before dropping him at Dora’s.* (8am)
2. Gym. (8:30 am)
3. GYN appointment. (1:20)
4. Hair cut. (3:30)
5. Listening to my messages. (all day)
6. Cheering L up from her sad text.

*Dora is Isaac’s best friend.

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59 responses

  1. Miriam Schmertz says:

    This is so uncanny! I once stayed with a remote man with an affection for fish tacos only to discover that he had a bride and son stashed away in Panama City. To get over him I constructed a list of his flaws. It included: halitosis, lousy real estate, and overuse of the word “tremendous.”

  2. Mical Moser says:

    Three things I loved about this: 1. It’s smart and funny 2. The picture of your dog 3. The part about not following through on taking your Adderall.

  3. Nicholas Dawidoff says:

    What You Need To Know

    This is:

    1. Such an uncanny collection of personal artifacts you want to keep them out on the table to look at on the way into the kitchen
    2. Original and yet familiar
    3. Very moving because so Stacy witty/candid
    4. How often can you eat a delicious fish taco while seated on your own couch? Here is memoir equivalent

  4. Stephanie says:

    I love this! It’s so funny! I always make lists but never thought of my life in lists….so clever! Picture of your dog is great!

  5. Ariel says:

    Thoughts upon reading, in order of occurrence:
    1) Great idea for an article!
    2) Jeez, long article. Well, here goes.
    3) Poor kid, sure had a lot on her mind.
    4) I guess making lists helped tame some of it.
    5) Even so, amazingly good humor about it all.
    6) Is the impulse to bring some order to your life through list-making at odds with the impulse to share your private fears with the whole internet? Or are they related?
    6) Fantastic article. So sweet, so winning, so touching.
    7) Adorable girl. Adorable dog. Coincidence?

  6. Wendy says:

    I can’t believe you hung onto all those list for all these years!
    and… I remember showing you the lemon juice trick in the hair. … and you are so creative!!

  7. Suzanne Clores says:

    You should try the ClarisWorks calendar system!

  8. Maria says:

    I’ve never made a list in my life (they stress me out), but I could easily read yours on a daily basis. I dig the genre, but I mosty dig your voice. Girl, you can write (and compile). Thanks for sharing.

  9. stripeymeow says:

    Thank you for showing me a part of myself. I’ve never appreciated my own lists in quite this way before, and I think I’ll start saving them, now. I’m always looking for a new angle in my own self-analysis, and I think this may just be it.

  10. Susan Burton says:

    I loved this! Funny and moving. You might like my favorite Frog & Toad story, “The List.” Add it to your to-read list!

  11. susan says:

    I am so happy I read this first today…………instead of working on someone’s divorce……… you know, I think you are fabulous……it certainly is a life in lists

  12. mom says:

    Things to remember to tell Stacy
    1. please answer your phone when your mother calls
    2. please stop smoking…your dad died of lung cancer
    3. Patty Hearst had a lot more money than we did
    4. Some Jews only have Christmas trees every other year (depending whether it is the Jewish year or the Christian year)
    5. It was good you missed your Oberlin interview; you wouldn’t have liked it anyhow.
    6. I think I told you right away and from personal experience that dating your boss was a very bad idea
    7.It is hard to have a boyfriend who asks alot of questions; you ask alot of questions and there would be no time to listen to the answers.
    8.In terms of the things you havent seen through:
    a. bunion surgery really hurts
    b. four part dental cleaning is a waste of money dont need electrolysis
    9. Call your mother

  13. jsa says:

    this is just the best. it is brave and deep and raw and makes me want to see more. i want to read the gal’s journal. would she publish that?

  14. SMITH Loves Lists | Memoirville says:

    [...] Excerpts and interviews from published memoirists, artists, and other storytellers. « My Life in Lists [...]

  15. Paul says:

    haha, my girlfriend would get a kick out of this. She’s _ALWAYS_ making lists… maybe she should start saving them as well. I usually just throw them away.. :)

  16. Linda Halligan Conley says:

    Stacy: I was greatly taken aback recently learning of your dad’s death; I loved the man through and through. Have no idea about your relationship with him nor your mom. Hope you are doing well. Very much enjoy that you love doggies at least as much as I do! (We have two here…) Daughter Chiara is at U Penn as freshman temporarily a Math Major but might switch to Econ… She is awfully homesick and home for Thanksgiving; we are so very close, she and I. Adrian a senior this year graduates with Chemistry degree/econ minor and will likely go into financial analysis. Both kids are amazingly mathematical. I however never met a math problem who liked me … Loving still Bryon my husband of how many years now? Love love to you! Your dad was amazingly kind to me the low collar worker for your mom and him. Full of love. Also, I knew the J fellow of which you speak in the lists whom your mother dates; I was there then with that J fellow!!!!!! Too much fun, no? My email is Get back to me, girl!

  17. Mr. X says:

    Sucks to be you, huh?

  18. Kelly says:

    This is wonderful. I too am an obsessive list-maker, but mine could use your thematic organization. And oh, but the compulsively organized bulletin board resonates with me! It’s been a pleasure to read here.

    And to “mom:” your response had me laughing out loud :)

  19. Linda Conley says:

    Hey, Stacy. It’s me again. Chiara had a prearranged fun trip to D.C. today with Penn and when I realized they’d be near the Georgetown area I told her the address of your folks’ home — where I lived, I guess, for nearly two years! She did in fact walk to Georgetown with her friends Blair and Maddie and took a photo of 1318! She said oh my! Beautiful home, mom! How very blessed you have been, Stacy! I cannot wait to get the photo from Chiara. Hope you are well. We drive to Montana in two weeks for Adrian’s graduation. He’s a Chemistry major but following in my dad’s footsteps, so looks like he wants to get into investment banking, only it look like he’ll remain out west - where the beauty is! No Wall Street for him! (I can only pray …) I should love to have my kids close by as you are to your mom’s place. Chiara will fly in from Philly the day before his graduation. She and I leave for India two days later and my most beloved of friends, Meena, shall pick us up at Mumbai airport — Lots of love, LINDA!

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