If a gang of menacing public radio producers held me hostage, threatening me with novelty tote bags and an endless fundraising drive unless I write a This I Believe essay — because let me tell you, I would be resistant to putting pen to paper for a This I Believe essay — I would write about lists. I believe in lists. I believe in their promise of small victories. I believe that many of the most pressing organizational problems of the twenty-first century could be solved with strategic stickie notes and stylized bullet points.
(Of course, in order to meet the demands of a This I Believe essay, I would probably have to come at my love of lists sideways, through a story about the death of my childhood pet — a bullfrog named Tony — or through a meandering love story in which I was reunited with my sixth-grade sweetheart through the unlikely misplacement of a to-do list. I love public radio. But the genre of the This I Believe essay is a strange and sometimes unsettling form.)
But lists are failing me now, because itemizing the next few months task-by-task feels a little unmanageable. Our “Let’s Move to New England!” list includes big-ticket items like “find a place to live” and “pack entire apartment” and “drive across the country with two cats.” I’m really dreading that last one. Toby is a yowler in the car, and Echo is afraid of light rain, plastic bags, and some varieties of lint. It will be an interesting caravan, to say the least.
Troubled by the enormity of the task, Danny and I decided to subdivide the list into a few sublists. A list of things to buy before we leave Texas: a large crate for said cats with disposable litterboxes and perhaps soothing tuna aromatherapy oils, new tires, a winter coat for Danny. A list of things to donate, recycle, or trash: the stereo I’ve had since sixth grade, the hopper full of flat tennis balls stuck in the corner of our hall closet, and c’mon please at least one set of golf clubs because lordy there are so many. A list of towns we might want to live in, sorted by cost of living and proximity to campus. A list of rental properties in those towns to check out when we travel northeast in May. A list of our lists.
Today we began chipping away at our to-dos by going through all of the books in our apartment, determined to sell duplicates or titles that no longer held our interest to Half Price Books. We managed to cull about two-and-a-half boxes worth of books from our library, which is pretty good. The bookcases are still packed, but the spindly one that was leaning precariously is, once again, upright.
Among the books that made the cut: my collection of vintage Ray Bradbury paperbacks. I love Ray. Let me list the ways. I love that he wrote The Martian Chronicles, a book that I find breathtaking every time I read it. (Read it. You don’t like science fiction? I don’t care. Read it anyway.) I love his not-often-read collection of verse, I Live by the Invisible, which includes a poem entitled “When God in Loins a Beehive Puts.” I love that he apparently refuses to change his author portrait, in which he sports a very eighties calculator watch.
We have newer editions of many of Bradbury’s books. William Morrow published well designed hardcovers of many of the more prominent titles beginning in the 1990s. These newer editions look sophisticated and quiet. They are understated.
But it is because those supposedly classier editions are so demure that I’m compelled to keep my older copies of Bradbury’s stories and novels — Bantam paperbacks that were once, many years ago, displayed on revolving wire racks and sold, at full price, for 75 cents. My dog-eared copies of Ray sport covers that thrum with the raucous energy of 1960s and 1970s science fiction. Hitching onto the momentum of the space race, the publishing industry churned out cheap editions covered in acid oranges and nuclear reds.
And there on the cover, amid his bubble-helmeted spacemen and cratered moonscapes, is Ray, his hair swept off his forehead, staring into deep space through horn-rimmed glasses.