Charting a New Course

My obsession with keeping track of things has come to a ridiculous head. More like the multi-headed black lab in the Harry Potter movie, all snarly and foaming at the mouth.

I’m doing Christmas cards today. I put it off as long as I could, first grabbing onto the excuse that I didn’t want to send them out too early, lest people think I’m a braggy overachiever housewife who’s had too much coffee. From the too-early point, I made a sandwich, blinked twice, found the TV remove, and found myself at the now-I’m-dangerously-late point. So today is it. I’m finishing the Christmas cards.

I use an Excel chart to track who I send cards to. You all know how obsessive I am about my lists. I feel an uncontrollable urge to have a complete listing of every card I received and every card I sent since 1983, which is either the year I got married or the year someone implanted a chip into my brain making me a slave to writing things down. It is that bad.

In 1983 my sister Pam bought me a little white index card box with pictures of lilies and bows on the top. Inside were 3-by-5 index cards that I was supposed to fill in, one for each person who was invited to my wedding. On the front were spaces for their name and address, and little boxes for me to check off whether I sent them an invitation, whether they RSVPd, what they bought me for Shower #1, Shower #2, Shower #3 and Wedding Gift, thank you notes, announcements, etc. On the back was a chart with 15 years worth of spaces for filling in whether I sent them a Christmas card and received one from them. (Why 15 years? Possibly because odds are a marriage won’t last longer than 15 years. It’s true, most of the divorces I know were victims of that love-killer, Year 14.)

Upon receiving this white box from my sister, I spontaneously wet my pants. Someone at Hallmark had my number, had detected the chip implanted in my brain and had designed this little box of joy just for me. I bought a special pen to fill in the cards. I used my finest penmanship. If I made a mistake, I threw out the card and started over with a new one.

For 15 years I used this little white box as my Rolodex. Other people had address books, I had the box. I added cards when I made new friends, but rarely subtracted cards, even when people died, divorced or pissed me off enough to not be my friend anymore.

Then, 10 years ago, I made a new Excel chart for my Christmas card list and inserted cute little ✓s in a webdings font. The chart is three pages long because I can’t remove people and their checkmarks from the list. People have come and gone in my life, but they’re still on the list because they have a checkmark from the past. My daughter’s piano teacher, Mr. Cupcake from Sparta, is still on the list and I’m sure if I sent him a card today, he’d be all, “the Fitz-who’s???”

Therein lies my problem: What to do with all this old information? I can’t throw it away, can’t delete it. My house is becoming overloaded with old charts and lists. At any given moment I can tell you what my Aunt Edna bought me for Shower #2. I can tell you how many people have viewed my article on Dinnertable Conversation Starters at down to the day, week, month and cumulative year since it was posted in November 2007. I can tell you how much I earned from each freelancing job I’ve worked and what I spent the money on. I can tell you what I made for dinner for every person who came here to eat since 2000, and what I wore to various functions.

“There’s got to be a place where you can store old papers that you don’t really need anymore, but that you’ll have just in case,” I’ve said to my husband.

“Oh there is,” he says. “It’s called the landfill. Here, give it to me. I’ll take care of it for you.”

He is the opposite of me. He has a chip in his brain, too. But it’s a chip that makes him want to hurt me in unspeakable ways, like by throwing away old papers when I go out of town for a couple of days. I like to point out to him that it could be way worse. I could be addicted to something else, like vegan cooking or crack. He should be counting his blessings. And writing them down . . .

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