I think I’ve finally clued into why I didn’t like “lists.” It had nothing to do with the content, top ten songs written by a left handed lead bassist, or even the arguments that develop over them. It was lists themselves I hated.
Let me backtrack a little here so you can understand where I’m coming from, or at least realize that I think there is a rational explanation for this. Over the weekend I started compiling a list of potential agents, and the occasional publisher, who I could send letters telling them about the wonderful novel I’ve written and what a great writer I am.
It was with a sizeable jolt that I realized that this was the second time I had done something like this in my life where the emotional investment was a great deal higher than if these were simple job applications. Twenty-five years ago, I was sending out 8″ x 10″ headshots and resumes to agents who were going to make me a star.
Hell, I was twenty years old, fresh out of theatre school, and thought I was God’s gift to the acting world. Me, and who knows how many other millions of people around North America. Of course, I was a proper little snob and only wanted to do serious theatre, no commercials or television for me, thank you very much.
So there I was, with a heap of padded Manila envelopes, a pile of glossies, a stack of resumes, a roll of stamps, and The List. I had laid it out carefully into columns: Agent’s Name, Address, phone #, and room for follow up comments. Remember this was in the days before everybody had a personal computer, so I had done this all by hand.
After a couple years of harsh reality, including the obligatory stints in restaurants, where nothing was panning out, I latched on to a small theatre company where I was able to carve out a niche for myself as production/general manager. My life became lists: lists of grants to apply for, lists of press releases sent out and to whom, lists of things that needed to be done or needed to be bought for a play to open on schedule, and most important of all, lists of creditors to phone to keep the wolves from the door.
There were lists that ran backwards from opening night to six weeks earlier, lists that read like a Soviet Union Five Year Plan, and lists that made no sense whatsoever because they had been made at 3 in the morning. For five years, my life was writing lists and crossing things off lists. I even had lists of lists that I had given other people to work on.
Of course, their lists were listed on my lists so that I could cross off the jobs they were assigned from my lists as they completed their lists. After five years, I had had enough. I decided to go back to freelance acting again. At least this way it was only one list that I had to keep track of.
But my heart really wasn’t in to it any more. After a couple of years of getting the odd job here and there, I was ready to go back to the life of a mega list maker. So, fifteen years ago I packed myself up, moved to Kingston Ontario, and opened a small theatre company with a business partner.
It was, in some ways, one of the worst decisions I’d made in my life. In the long run things have turned out as well as I could hope for, I guess, but in terms of career choices, it was not very bright. The lists and I had lost any compatibility that we may have had at one time. More and more, I began to run away from reality in ways that are not recommended by anyone.
After the dust settled, nearly six years later, I made the decision to try and avoid lists and all they stood for. Just the thought of them could make me turn to a quivering pile of jelly. My health started taking a turn for the worst, and people would suggest things like, you should make a list of where, what, when, and how. I’m sure I would get a look in my eye that was suggestive of deer in the headlights, because invariably the suggestion would never be repeated.
It’s now February of 2006, I’m about to turn forty-five, and I’m sitting here making a list. Once again I have a list of agents I’ve been compiling, who I’m counting on to, well hoping that maybe, they will at least read my book and like it enough to find me a publisher.
What’s interesting is I didn’t even notice I was doing it. Even though I’ve spent the weekend at it I didn’t once think, I’m compiling a list. Maybe that’s because of the Internet. Every time I would go on line over the weekend I would go to a site that lists agents and check out a couple of them.
If I went to their web site and thought they looked promising, I would simply add them to my favourites in a folder called agents. I never spent more than fifteen minutes at a time doing it, and any time I’d start thinking ahead to actually contacting them, I would stop myself by saying: “Wait until you’ve at least finished a second draft”.
It was only last night as I was turning the computer off that I realized I was making a list. The first good sign was that I didn’t immediately break out into a cold sweat and delete the file from my favourites folder. I was okay with this list because there was no sense of urgency to it. It was research and preparing for the next step in the process.
I’m not going to do what I did when I was younger and send out something to every person listed; it seems so pointless. I’m trying to get a feel for individuals and agencies based on the way they present themselves. The list I’m creating will serve a purpose other than simply telling me I have to do something or be a meaningless series of names.
The people on it will be of my choosing and will be those I think most willing and able to help me achieve my goal of becoming published. It’s my personal top, whatever number it turns out to be, of those who will be the best for me.
Just like someone’s top ten lists of their favourite guitar players or vocalists, it will be highly personal and hinge on my own preferences. Instead of being something that will intimidate me it will help me define, what I want and like in an agent or agency.
I have a lot more understanding of what it is that compels people to make those lists of their favourite things now then I did before. A list doesn’t have to define your life; it can help you lend definition to a part of your life and give you clarity of thought. Some lessons take longer to learn then others, but I think I’ve finally understood the meaning of lists.