They’ll None of Them Be Missed

Louise Plummer talks about how lists can provide inspiration for writers, and has exercises and mini-workshops in which list-making is the focus.

My mother told me every so often that the great thing about lists is when you can check things off of them.  It gives such a feeling of accomplishment.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812, is an eye-opening read about a diary that is essentially a list.  The diary has been known to historians for years, but until Ulrich looked at it in a different way, it was considered uninteresting to say the least.

So can lists really be considered literature?  I submit that they can certainly be considered a means of insight into culture, even if it is only the one-person culture of the list-maker.

Some people keep their lists on their cell phones or their computers.  I can remember when everyone seemed to have a “day planner” (does that need a trademark notice?),  and that’s where they’d keep their lists (such things are called, by some, “paper brains”).

People make lists for many reasons.  I make them before I run my errands.  I make them before I go on a trip, so I won’t forget things I need to take.  I make them before I go to the grocery store.  I make them when I wake up in the middle of the night—it helps my brain let go of ideas and worries so I can go back to sleep.  And I still write them down on one of the many notepads I keep around for that purpose.

Louise Plummer makes lists to get her muse going.  My mother makes lists so she can check things off.  I make lists because there are too many things to remember, and I fear that I will forget to do them all if I don’t make a list.

My list for today included such things as fill up the gas tank, open a new AML P O Box, pick up my nephew from my mother’s to take him to the Missionary Training Center, drop off the half of a watermelon that was not getting eaten to my daughter’s house on the way to Provo, get a photograph of my nephew in front of the Missionary Training Center sign for his family, pick up the key to the old AML P O Box, turn the keys in and close the old AML P O Box, deposit checks in the AML account, and put more gas in the gas tank for the drive back (it’s a compressed natural gas tank and doesn’t hold a lot of gas).

Sad to say, I didn’t have this list written down, and I forgot to refill the gas tank (I hate to let it get too low).

And that was the morning list.  My afternoon list includes getting this blog post up onto the AML blog, updating the Irreantum mailing list so it will be ready for BYU Mailing when the issue of Irreantum gets there, updating the AML webpages with the new AML address, and emailing the photo of my nephew to his parents.

I really should write these lists down somewhere more permanent, so that there is some record of what I’ve done during the day.  I suspect Louise Plummer would tell me to do just that in my journal entry each night, and I probably will, for the most part.  My journal entries tend to read like Martha Ballard’s list/diary on too many of the days I write in it.  I can only hope that my posterity, should they ever get around to reading my journals, will take Ulrich’s approach and come to understand something of my life from the lists I have recorded.

Anyway, I remembered the song from Mikado a little incorrectly, and discovered that when I googled the lyrics.  The Lord High Executioner is describing the kinds of people he has on his list because they are the ones that are so irritating “they’ll none of them be missed” (when he executes them).  For some reason, my mind thinks of my little lists as full of important things that I record “so nothing will be missed.”

In either case, however, we both have our little lists, and I suspect we’re not the only ones.


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About Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury

Author of six professionally published short stories; moderator of two online writing workshop forums for Orson Scott Card (The Hatrack River Writers Workshop and the Nauvoo Workshop for LDS Writers); part-time computer genealogist; AML Review Archive editor and AML website flunky; mother of three and grandmother of five, so far (plus slave of a polydactyl, part-lynx-point snowshoe Siamese cat); Salt Lake Temple ordinance worker; lover of reading, knitting, and dark chocolate.
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7 Responses to They’ll None of Them Be Missed

  1. Kathleen Woodbury says:

    By the way, the new AML address is at the bottom of this page.

  2. Wm Morris says:

    I just started a journal. It’s a simple text file (.txt) and I have an extensions allows me to auto-insert the date and time in to the text. At the very least I record what chapter of scripture I read for the day and one thought or one phrase from that. If I have time and energy, I’ll throw in one other observation or event from the day. That’s it.

    It’s only been 4 days so far, but that’s better than I’ve ever done with a journal before. I have always had a problem writing in a journal because it a) seems like time I should be writing something for publication and b) I’d get stage fright because there’d be so much I’d want to say, and I had the tendency to put in to literary form.

    Also: lists are a classic form of Western literature.

  3. Katya says:

    Not just Western literature (think Sei Shōnagon).

  4. Wm Morris says:

    I’m afraid that I’ve only read the work of her rival. Although Genji may also include lists — it’s been several years since I read it.

  5. Wm Morris says:

    Oh, and the best lists: Rabelais’

  6. Whenever I start on a novel, I begin with a list of names. A program like KeePass ( can be repurposed for keeping your private lists secure. Ken Mogi discusses Sei Shonagon and her penchant for lists and translates two here:

  7. I remember reading (and identifying with) an essay by someone who said he/she (don’t remember gender) sometimes found list-making so satisfying that it could drain off any sense of immediacy about actually doing the things on the list.

    Being self-employed, I more or less live by one consolidated weekly to do list/log, where I include long-term goals and projects, miscellaneous information (e.g., contact info for people I want to get together with while I’m in Utah), notes on current work projects, and an ongoing time record that becomes the basis for my monthly invoices to my primary customer. It also includes ideas for columns and blogs, books I want to read, books I have read… I’m sure there are more efficient ways I could do this, using one of the specialized planners, but this way everything’s in one place that I know to keep open all the time. However, I also have a separate electronic journal, which I write in as the mood takes me.

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