Lists at 4 in the Morning

I make lists. People with brains that work like mine make lists. Constantly. Lists upon lists. Lists of lists. A trusted technique to manage the whirlwind of jointed and disjointed thoughts and notions swirling about my head. Well, not actually about my head. Rather, within my head. The former would represent a whole ‘nother thing (no disrespect intended to those actually struggling with myriad actual thoughts regarding their own actual cabezas).

In my case, especially in sensory-overloaded times or moments in my life, the compulsive list-making is soothing. Allows me to impose some sense of order or organization on what otherwise feels disordered or disorganized. To take a moment to ensure I am processing current events so as to maximize the value of the important ones. And equally important, to recognize the unimportant ones, and discard those. To be able to articulate, at least to myself, that there is some logical and positive and hopeful thread connecting all of it. A rational narrative unfolding step-by-step. Building through some meaningful highlights, or lowlights, even. I like to think the lowlights are actually just highlights that require a little extra effort to pull reluctantly out of the shadows. Sometimes yanked by the wrist. Sometimes coaxed over the passage of time.

For some reason, this morning I find myself compiling a “Fall Stuff” list. Usually I am far more specific with my titles (e.g., “Karaoke Songs,” “Groceries,” “Vet Visit Deliverables,” etc.). The uncharacteristic ambiguity here suggests I am wrestling with something. I know what it is, of course: Dropping my eldest off at boarding school on the east coast. It’s not a lunar mission. Or the Peace Corps in a far off third world country. Or cancer. It’s just a major stretch of the rubber band that connects us. The rubber band has deliberately been stretched before, to be sure. Over greater distances by an order of magnitude. Or tested via long-running arguments over messy bedrooms or unwashed dishes. But this gap is yawning. I can’t see the other side. Not sure there even is an other side. Just an elastic pulled nearly to transparency.

Knowing what troubles me, what wakes me at 4am two nights in a row on one coast and then the other, doesn’t make it any easier.

That’s where the ham-handedly named “Fall Stuff” list come to my rescue. A stream-of-consciousness, meandering recitation of things I love about this particular season. Of things I want to do. People I want to share oxygen with. Places I want to go. Things to look forward to. I’d like to visit Yosemite again. Gasp at the grandeur of Half Dome with my wife and younger son and maybe my dog if she’s up for the trip. Start envisioning the shape (as in, the venue and participants) of our Thanksgiving table this year. Also, I’d like to reconvene the hodgepodge group of friends with whom I swim in the Bay — not frequently enough of late. I’m looking forward to watching my younger son’s new travel baseball team’s machinations. Silently from the stands of the brand-spanking new field. And not as silently, stealing away for an hour while catching up with a buddy at a brewpub nearby. I’d like to successfully navigate the labyrinthian process for reserving overnight camping spots on Mount Tam.

Much of it wishful thinking. Not gonna happen. Mindful yet not mindful. In the moment yet not in the moment. But the list serves a purpose, to be sure — savoring moments yet to come, or maybe yet to come.

And to help me appreciate in hindsight the good parts of recent moments that seem, at the time, mostly, to just plain old suck. Like the photo at the top of this post, taken just last week during a father-sons surf session. Max and Everett were at each other’s throats. Soiling what should have been a beautiful experience (our last for some time) with heated accusations of who snaked whom. Vitriol that has no place on a beach after riding salty waves for free. And triggering a regrettably epic string of profanities from their dad during the car ride back home. Fortunately for me, the cursing dad had also managed to capture a lasting image worth keeping while standing on the sand. Preserving the good stuff and discarding the ultimately unimportant stuff.

These mental gymnastics and manic list-making? Seems to work for me. A device to help me swallow the rubberband-stretching moment tomorrow that’s sure to stick in my throat just a little bit. In the meantime, I’m back to my list.

Thanks for reading.

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