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Listing Toward The Holidays

ANYONE found making list and checking it twice these days doesn't necessarily wear a red suit and live at the North Pole. December is the Season of Lists, and across the country listmakers are shifting into high gear, scratching their pens across the nearest scrap of paper to remind themselves of holiday duties and details.Gifts to buy, cards to send, parties to give, food to prepare - the list of essential lists grows longer every year. The world is divided into two kinds of people: Those who live by lists and those who don't. But even free spirits who sail blithely through the rest of the year with appointments and obligations committed only to memory sometimes find themselves joining the paper crowd in December. Just don't expect them to admit it. They're the ones pausing in the aisle to sneak a hasty look at a piece of paper crumpled in their palm like a student's crib sheet. Listmakers themselves can be subdivided into categories. The hardiest of the species are those who diligently check off every item. Their lists may become dog-eared, but they refuse to throw them away until the last dutiful task has been completed. Far more common are those who find greater satisfaction in making lists than in following them. Some simply ignore them at the store, preferring to buy whatever catches their eye at the counter that day. Others, daunted by the time and energy their lists require, wad them up in terror. Still others aren't content to make lists only for themselves. Masters of the art of delegating, they insist on drawing up lists, like dubious gifts, for their loved ones. For some veteran listmakers, any old scrap of paper will suffice - an envelope, a napkin, a receipt. Others insist on using sophisticated "personal organizers" such as Filofax, LeFax, and DayRunner, which raise listmaking to new heights of organization and complexity. "System" is the operative word here. These prefabricated organizers offer a tantalizing array of notebooks, tabs, and color-coded pages, with manufacturers even marketing special binders and boxes for storing old lists. Preprinted inserts are available to record everything from the general Things to Do to the highly specific: grocery lists, bird-watching checklists, traveler's checklists, book-reading lists, floppy disc lists, and business contact lists. Even children are resorting to preprinted forms. One young boy featured on a television news show last week had submitted his Christmas wish list on a special holiday fill-in-the-blanks sheet. But even these high-priced systems aren't high-tech enough to satisfy the most gadget-oriented listmakers. For them, nothing will do but a palm-top PC. These pocket-sized computers substitute blinking screens and AA batteries for pads and pencils. One invention, cleverly named the Wizard OZ-8000, boasts that it "has all the power you need to stay on time, on track and in control." The illusion of control and order is what listmaking is all about. But who or what is in control here - the listmaker or the list? Lists can be taskmasters, creating their own kind of tyranny. You could make a list out of what's wrong with lists. A list is meant to establish priorities, but often it reduces them to itemized duties. The list provides a name to send a card to or buy a gift for, but it doesn't remind you how to feel. Friends' names on a list become as impersonal as a telephone directory. An old list, stumbled across by accident in a pocket or purse, can be an alarming revelation. What do all these once-urgent scribblings add up to? A lot of dumb errands without end. The listmaker produces a second sort of chaos in trying to give life a petty neatness. Three weeks from tonight, as stores close on Christmas Eve, whatever hasn't been checked off on holiday lists will have to wait. For all listmakers under the gun, Christmas celebrating begins with shredding the last list into scraps as fine as falling snow. Still, the blank pads will remain blank for the briefest of intermissions. True listmakers will begin scribbling on the backside of Christmas gift paper, preparing the annual list to end all lists - their New Year's resolutions.

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