It’s possible to name everything and to destroy the world.
– Kathy Acker, In Memoriam to Identity
At age 5, Mitchell discovered his mother’s grocery list. Unable even to read it, he still fell in love. He made her read it to him forwards and backwards. He begged her to tell the story of how and why she created it. And thus began his lifelong love of lists.
He quickly burned through culture’s most common lists–from fire safety procedures like 1) Stop. 2) Drop. 3) And roll. To morality lists: The Ten Commandments, The Four Noble Truths, The FBI’s Most Wanted List. He delighted in the way vast fields of knowledge could be broken down into digestible lists: geography divided into the the seven continents and the five oceans; numbers listed as integers or even irrationals; words listed by function (oh, how his heart jumped at that long list of prepositions); the sciences had lists like chemical elements (ordered in that remarkable structure of the periodic table) not to mention the Constants (Planck’s, pi, the coefficient of friction, etc.); and there was no end to the number of lists he could make as an individual or enjoy about culture: Nobel Prize lists; all manner of top-ten lists; best of lists for every city or topic one could imagine; whole books dedicated to lists like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; things to be avoided like the Seven Deadly Sins or to be sought out like the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Lists reached into the afterlife: the Nine Circles of Hell or the Seventy-Two Virgins of Jannah to be rewarded to believing men (surely, they will be listed by name upon arrival). Order. Structure. Definition and definitiveness. A list could guide just as easily as open up debate. It could be holy or utterly ridiculous (Mitchell’s favorite example of this was his list of the Top Five Places to Put Bare Feet: 5) Under the dog sleeping beneath the dining room table. 4) In the sand along the shoreline early in the morning. 3) Upon the grass in the spring. 2) Under the covers next to his wife’s feet. 1) In warm mud–a pleasure he picked up as a child when a rain boot accidentally came off after a summer storm).
They were everywhere and codified so much of his life and they had a life of their own changing with time and history. Some grew slow like the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and others changed daily like Mitchell’s To-Do List (which would often itemize the making of other lists). Threes, fives, sevens, tens, and hundreds were the most common, but a random number might just grab attention for novelty’s sake or open up possibilities never before considered: The Forty-Nine Worst Style Choices (#35 was choosing shoes and a belt of differing colors).
Mitchell loved the practicality of lists from vacation packing lists (#5 was always his toothbrush; it’s position had come to be a superstition pointing toward a safe return) to the Top 25 Sex Positions listed in some women’s magazine at the supermarket checkout stand (#14 was one he’d never been flexible enough to attempt).
One of his most intensely private lists was called Things that Make Me Cry (an evolving list to which he was unable to give any sort of rank or order):
Other lists he had no trouble sorting by preference such as his Top Five Favorite Actresses:
Although Mitchell’s health was still good, he had begun feeling his own mortality lately. Thoughts turned toward his own end–its unpredictability, an ominous sense of its approach. And the only way he could think to deal with this was by creating a Bucket List (that whole “kicking the bucket” phrase still seemed so peculiar to him). Thanks to his love of lists, he had lived a full life–tried the best of so many things, constantly evaluated that which was important. It seemed premature at age 47 to be making such a list but it also felt right–and despite his love of lists, it was intuition that guided Mitchell and not logic.
There were to be only three items on Mitchell’s Bucket List:
- Make & Give an Essential’s List to My Wife (include all bank and insurance accounts and any other important info she might need upon my death).
- Walk the Trail of Tears in the Southeastern U.S.
- Forgive my Father for Turning His Back on My Brother.