1981. Archaeologist Indiana Jones races against Nazis to discover the lost Ark of the Covenant. DeLorean rolls off the production line. California officially recognizes the first five cases of AIDS. Lady Diana marries Prince Charles of England. MTV kills the radio star with the first music video on cable television. Sandra Day O’Connor takes her seat as the first woman on the Supreme Court. Muhammed Ali fights his last fight. The personal computer becomes available with Microsoft, and the term “Internet” is buzzing. The first test-tube baby is born. And so am I.

Twelve years old, I am packing for summer vacation. Shorts check. Hairbrush check. CDs check. I cross items off my handwritten list, sorted by category, Clothes, Toiletries, Fun Stuff. This is not the first time I have traveled, even as an unaccompanied minor, but making my Packing List is a fun step in the preparation process. It helps me stay organized. My mother says it’s cute how I do this. I feel it’s just necessary to keep my mind in order.

Obsessive Compulsive: relating to, characterized by, or affected with recurring obsessions and compulsions especially as symptoms of a neurotic state. Webster’s Dictionary.

My husband says I am obsessive compulsive only about lists. Have you seen your bathroom counter? Or your car? he reminds me. Every other aspect of my life is in disarray: I leave clothes in heaps all over the bedroom, on the couch, on the bathroom floor. Stacks of paperwork clutter my desk. The kitchen counters remain littered with dishes until my husband cleans them up. Stuff piles up in my car (I still place part of the blame on my kids for that). And yes, my bathroom is clean for about two days before I have claimed the majority of the vanity surface with lotions and hair products. Words are what I keep tidy. My thoughts are what I must keep in order on a daily basis. I begin to feel them tumble incoherently around in my head, so I write them down, cataloguing my mind. I wonder if this is not unique only to me, but something most writers find themselves doing to keep focused, to find order.

I am fanatic about lists. Groceries. To Do’s. Goals. Favorite Movies. Best Coldplay Songs. Notepads can be found throughout my house, filled with lists I have written. Most of the time, half the list gets unfulfilled, items left uncrossed, words that remind me that the act of making the list helps my mind organize itself is more important than actually getting things done. There are times when having a list go uncompleted begins to frustrate me. If there are several days’ worth of half-finished items, I’ll start a fresh new list, combining the unmarked chores into one clean page. I admit, this must be like some kind of therapy. But I recycle. And it’s cheaper than paying someone by the hour.

How much easier life would be if I could organize it into lists. Not that I don’t try. Each new year I write out some goals: home improvements, trips, kids’ activities, concerts we want to attend. But I avoid using the term “resolutions.” Inevitably, plans change, and just like the unfinished chores, the Life List must be adjusted. I doubt Reagan had getting a woman on the Supreme Court on his list of “Things to Accomplish While I’m President.” Or that Muhammed Ali made a list of all the men he planned to face in the boxing ring (maybe those he wanted to). No one had any idea the kind of lists that would come from those first five names of AIDS patients. Things like movies, music and books are much simpler. Raiders of the Lost Ark is on my Top 5 Best Movies of All Time, and not just because it was released the year I was born. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be Indiana Jones?

High Fidelity is one of my Top 5 Favorite Films, in which the main character Rob, played by John Cusack, defines his life in Top 5 lists: Top 5 Most Memorable Break-Ups (In Chronological Order). Top 5 Side Ones, Track Ones. Top 5 Dream Jobs. Top 5 Favorite Records. Based on Nick Hornby’s novel, which includes more of Rob’s lists than the movie does (Top 5 Bands or Musicians Who Will Have to be Shot Come the Musical Revolution), High Fidelity has witty dialogue, a great soundtrack and cast, and extensive catalogue of Top Fives. I think I must be like Rob, making sense of life through the simplicity and structure of itemizing. There is a scene where he reorganizes his record collection, not chronologically, not alphabetically, but autobiographically. He takes a physical list of items and rearranges them to fit his life. There is comfort and satisfaction in creating order, the world makes sense. This might be why I adore Walt Whitman, the Great Lister.

I was in Powell’s City of Books once when I came across a series of journals. I should tell you that I collect notebooks to scribble in almost as much as I write lists in them. There was a series of playfully illustrated journals that said Listography on the front, followed by various subtitles like, “Your Life in Movie Lists” and “My Amazing Life in Lists.” There was also Listography for Love, Film, Friends and Music. One was even a Listography calendar! I may have blacked out for a moment with sheer joy. Here was exactly what I needed to organize every detail about myself into tidy, comprehensible lists. Of course at nearly $20 a piece, I was forced to leave them on the shelf, their colorful covers whispering to me, “But I’m perfect for you!” The rational side of my brain shouting, “You don’t need those! They are not a necessity!” After all, I’m pretty good at writing lists on my own.

rain. a good cocktail. Grace Kelly. my son’s skin. poetry. quoting movies. sleeping in. the smell of damp cement. the British Isles. a classic car. the smell of a library and old books. Portland. dressing up. the ocean. my down comforter. marzipan. fish & chips with malt vinegar. bonfires. brick driveways. the cello. seeing a horse run in a field. fireflies & tree frogs. my piano. Legos. concert ticket stubs. wine tasting. swimming. fresh whipped cream. a hand-written letter. really connecting with someone. singing a favorite song. my husband’s beard.

I wrote a list once called “Things I Love.” Maybe it takes some of the beauty out of it all by lumping it together, but when I read through it now, I find it is random, and paints a picture of me as a whole self. What I have listed are not silly little trends that come and go. Not a Top 40 that changes each week with Casey Kasem announcing the latest hit. They are moments of life that I cherish with everything in me, smells or sounds that fill me with joy, a pixel in the entire image that comprises who I have become.