If 2013 taught me one thing, it was that I have no idea what’s barreling toward me. So if I’m going to dream up goals for the year, I’d better make them pretty to look at, because they won’t be practical.
Which is why I didn’t bother declaring any January 1 intentions: I’m going to start an improved workout routine! I’ll get up half an hour earlier and meditate! I’ll read four more books each month! I’ll…
Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. If last year is anything to go on, I’ll be too busy with the unexpected. I’ll be breaking my leg, saving a runaway puppy, cleaning up after a tornado, or accidentally winding up in, oh, say Mexico. Where I’ll get food poisoning.
This year, instead of resolutions, I’m embracing the philosophy of the List Party.
Step one: You make a cake.
My four-year-old niece inherited a love of cooking and kitchenry, and she knows that no small part of that world is The Grocery List. She’s made plenty of grocery lists herself: solemn, horizontal scribbles.
Before one of our visits, she announced that while we were there, she wanted to have a List Party. With a cake.
As soon as she said list party, the idea grew legs. Wings. We all said, Absolutely yes.
So we had a List Party. With a cake.
We perched my niece on a chair where she could help whisk up this cake, and while it baked, we spread out construction paper and markers, and the List Party began.
Step two: List it up.
We decided that the lists could be about whatever we liked. No rules.
Some were inspiring: Fifteen Places I’d Love to Visit; Eight Restaurants to Explore in the Spring; My Ten Favorite Verbs. Or contrarian: Nine Places I Never Need to Go. Twelve Habits to Stop.
We could choose the weepingly practical: Six Ways to Reorganize My Sock Drawer. Or… less so: Six Ways to Use Feng Shui Principles in My Sock Drawer.
We took turns calling out list headings, scribbling busily, and reading our results. And then we did it again, and then again, this time while eating cake.
Maybe it was the chocolate frosting, or maybe my niece is so darn cute making lists, or maybe it felt like the best game-turned-conversation in a warm kitchen: I was sold on the List Party.
It’s the ideal antidote to resolution-making.
Resolution—just the word is full of Benjamin Frankliny overtones and Jonathan Edwardian practicality. And the influence of all those other important people from New England. I mean, it’s serious. There’s resolve in it.
List parties… well, not so much.
Stir up your cake batter, scavenge around for some fun supplies, and then have a ball. Get marker ink on your fingertips, get to where you can’t write fast enough, or just make a row of zigzags like my niece.
You get your imagination fizzing, and you capture your intentions: the loud, overt, really big ideas, but also the small important things. The thoughts that mattered, but you didn’t realize how much until just this moment, when you were staring at the blank by number seven.
And the other marvelous thing is, if you want them to stay lists—little charts of inspiration—that’s fine. You can go back and sift through them; see if one list or even one entry snags you. And then in a rush, decide to do it this month, this week, this minute.
Or, you’re perfectly free to recycle them all. They were only lists. Nothing serious.
I’ve used a packet of lists to sketch out cooking ideas, to restart a stalled manuscript, to redesign a room, even to survive a breakup—plotting a new course without a certain someone. (If you do the last, double the frosting on the cake. You need it.)
Now I use lists to cast light on where I am and where I might like to go, but with no strings attached. There’s nothing to break, no shame involved. They’re meandering, friendly, companionable things.
And they make for a lovely start in a new year: the best way to embrace the yummy, fresh-page feeling of January, without the twin sensation of being spineless and defeated by February.
So go grab a wodge of paper, find the pens with the best ideas in them, and make yourself a cake.
Looking for inspiration? Andrea Jenkins is my favorite list guru.
Jenn Langefeld graduated from Calvin in 2006 and charged into a life of full-time novel writing. She is currently working on an exuberant, adventurous trilogy for middle grade readers. She writes under her great-grandmother’s name, Lucy Flint, and blogs about making a lionhearted writing life at lucyflint.com.