New Year Resolutions: In search of a more generative list
I curled up with a cup of pomegranate green tea, wrote “2023 Resolutions” on a fresh notebook page, then paused. It occurred to me how much of my life is driven by lists—of tasks and projects, groceries and repairs, documents and deadlines.
My husband laughingly accuses me of reveling in list-making because I can spend hours creating them for topics major and minor. When I discovered the Trello app and its options for boards and categories and labels, I was sure I heard an angelic chorus wafting around me.
Does it make me more productive? Only to a point, I suspect. My husband accomplishes far more than I do by scribbling reminders on post-it notes that often emerge half-dissolved from the washing machine. Yesterday, I found four of them stuck to the dashboard—of my car.
The list-making certainly assists my average-at-best memory and corrals the seemingly never-ending chores and duties of daily living. And, boy, nothing beats it for procrastination masquerading as constructive use of time.
If I’m honest with myself, list-making feels like imposing structure and certainty upon the chaos of life. Especially during my mother’s illness, when nothing seemed to be going her way, and during the aftermath, when grief shattered the ground beneath me, it was my way to find order—or rather, a calming substitute for order.
As I stared at my still-empty page of 2023 Resolutions, I wondered: what if I made a different sort of list? Unlike my usual task lists, the Poet Laura to-dos I’d received at the beginning of my “term” were full of wit and whimsy, chocolate and chickens, teas and treats.
What if I pressed pause on my resolutions, grabbed a box of color pens, and made lists not of tasks, but of gratitudes? Lists of happy memories? Of things to let go, and things to embrace? Of the pleasures of winter? Of ideas for celebration?
I began to wonder—could I make my lists even more creative and generative?
This sounds like a job for poetry, I thought.
And for a Poet Laura!
A List to Find Wholeness
A list poem is, as you’d suspect, a catalog or inventory of images, ideas, phrases, places, etc. As the poet enumerates and arranges these items, she also illuminates a larger theme, often presented in the title, allowing the poem to achieve its beauty and power.
I thought of my proliferating lists of to-dos and tasks—they certainly weren’t pointing me toward the bigger picture of life. But via list poetry, perhaps I could find my way there, toward wholeness. (Consider Nothing You Need by John Ronan.)
As I began to cast around for a theme, I switched from pomegranate green tea to a delectable masala chai—and realized my mug held the perfect list poem, just waiting to be written. All of the spices and herbs and leaves were creating a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.
Years ago, I detoured from the practice of law to launch a gourmet tea brand. Though I quickly learned that entrepreneurship required just as many lists as the practice of law, at the heart of my business was the delightful and delicious activity of blending and balancing and tasting teas and other ingredients.
My signature blend was—you guessed it—masala chai. For those who might not know, masala refers to a mixture of spices, and chai means tea. (Incidentally, this means the phrase “chai tea” is redundant-redundant.) I remembered how I reveled in developing the masala chai blend I knew, the one that tasted of home and family and earth.
In my mortar,
I broke cardamom,
released the piney
scent from its pods.
I crushed cloves
till they sliced the air
I ground peppercorns
for their quick kindle;
I snapped cinnamon
for its slow burn.
Into the mixture,
I crumbled fennel
to kiss me with
I made this masala
from Earth’s bounty—
seed and root
bark and berry
herb and flower—
and swept it all
I grated ginger-heat
into the roil, then
swirled in tea leaves,
watched them unfurl,
watched their dance.
I drank Earth down—
with no milk to obscure
with no sugar to distract
from my whole tongue,
—Dheepa R. Maturi
A List to Revitalize Smallness
I’m not sure anyone can (or would want to) divide and subdivide a list as minutely as I can. And I freely admit that doing so often amounts to rounding up a vast number of tiny tediums—tediums of lesser and lesser importance.
I wondered if, instead, I could use a list poem to turn that purpose on its head, to collect and illuminate tiny beauties, the experiences and memories that give texture and meaning and profundity to existence. (Consider “Reasons to Plant Raspberries” by James McKean or “Begin Again” by January G. O’Neil.)
I thought immediately of my relationship with my mother, of the million minuscule interactions that bound us together like threads. I remembered how precisely and minutely she could read my face and actions and gestures.
What my Mother Noticed
The twist in my smile,
the kink in my heart,
the wrinkle in my brow,
the crease in my saree,
the hurt in my head,
the ache of my shoulder,
the pangs of growth and change.
bearer of my secrets,
keeper of my better self.
She embodied the
integrity of rock,
shared it with the
kindness of silk.
—Dheepa R. Maturi
Your Turn: Happy New Year, happy new lists
May 2023 be full of lists for you—not of chores and tasks and goals, but rather, lists of blessings, lists of beauties, lists of laughter. May they lead you to wholeness. May they mirror all the tiny exquisite things that comprise your life.
And then you can tackle those resolutions!
If this post resonated with you, try the following.
- Make your own lighthearted “Poet Laura” list of poetry-related tasks for 2023.
- Make other, non-task-related lists: unexpected blessings, practical jokes that succeeded, joys you’d almost forgotten.
- Write a list poem that breaks down an action or memory into small parts in order to illuminate a whole experience. If you need a prompt, try “I remember when . . . .”
- Write a list poem that identifies the smallest bits of minutiae in your life and illustrates their meaningfulness. If you need a prompt, try “I love how . . . .”