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It was the 90s, and my high school photography teacher had a poster hanging on the wall by the artist, SARK, that caught my attention. The poster had the title, “How to Be an Artist,” and was essentially a list (written in a cute font with bright colors) of 40 things that could inspire your artistic leanings. To give you a taste, some of my favorite items on the list included, “Plant impossible gardens; swing as high as you can on a swingset, by moonlight; laugh a lot; celebrate every gorgeous moment; build a fort with blankets…” and so on. I entertained thoughts of becoming an artist one day, and I loved lists- especially lists of happy things.
I must have been drawing upon SARK’s inspirational style when, a couple years later for an English writing project, I wrote a cheerful and compelling list of favorite things about my life and edged the paper in hearts and polka dots. I don’t remember the list very well, but I remember that I thought it would be a good idea to send it to my randomly assigned college freshmen roommates. I thought they would find it helpful in getting to know me.
Part way through freshman year one of my roommates laughingly told me she thought I would be a goofy, fat girl because of how much I wrote about ice cream in that short piece. To be fair, I did especially love ice cream at that time in my life, and I was working at a fun little ice cream shop called Friendly’s, a job that I adored. I’m certain that I did write a lot about ice cream.
The trend continued when, in college, I came across a roll of paper towels with a similar cute, fun list. I can still recall the start of the paper towel roll and how it began with a rambling, “Life is a celebration of many splendid things…” and how it unraveled to list an assortment of sweet and delightful things in life. I remember it so well because I had my paper towel laminated (!!) at the library during my sophomore year.
This whole “happy list” thing was becoming my thing. The paper towel hung in my dorm rooms, and then in my laundry closet, and now it is tacked to my basement fridge. It is good for any place that could use a little cheer.
My mom copied me and hung one in her laundry room for awhile too, and when my aunt was struggling with cancer, I sent her a length of the paper towel to meditate upon. Yup. Happy lists were a thing that I liked, and a thing that I shared.
At camp that summer, I drafted a list of the “Joys of Camp” on my speckled blue, enamel staff mug using paint pens. I liked to think about the sunsets, the mountain hikes, and the ‘singing real loud’ while I sipped my camp-style mochas (coffee + 1 packet of Swiss Miss.)
I genuinely enjoyed noticing the best parts of life. I liked organizing my thoughts around them. And, I liked sharing the good lists with people, too.
Then I moved into adulthood, and I found that so many of my peers seemed to prefer cynicism. They sneered at my flimsy lists of happiness, certain they lacked backbone, substance and well, reality. Around that time, I took down my SARK poster (yes, I had purchased one of my own,) and I lost track of my camp mug. Did I, then, also doubt the value of good lists and happiness?
I recently got to do a very special thing. I went on a solo camping trip while the rest of my family was out traveling elsewhere. While I was out camping, I found my speckled camping mug among my gear. I read it again after many years, and I was grateful. It prompted me to remember the awe I felt lying in the field beneath shooting starts. I resonated with the feelings of deep gladness that I felt when I sang camp songs ‘real loud’ with my friends. I could taste, even now, the sweet, charcoal marshmallow on my tongue.
And, then, I got on my bicycle and rode through the campground, smelling campfires and watching children giggle and play. I rode out to the vast picnic area on edge of the lake, and savored the solitude and the lapping waves. I enjoyed the sun on my skin. And, I grinned and grinned.
When I came home from my camping trip, I realized that I have not actually left behind my love of good lists. I found this one dangling from a hook in my children’s bathroom, and I smiled.
It is a worthy thing to make a good list and meditate upon it.