x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Observing Life: The strange appeal of lists

For list makers, putting pen to paper can become an obsession.

From the carefully selected notebook, its friendly, lined or blank pages staring lovingly back at me full of promise, to the trusty touch of my Parker fountain pen, to the subject matter itself, I, Zaineb al Hassani, am an OLM. That's obsessive list-maker to the less organised of you. Yes, nothing fills me more with thrill, anticipation and, curiously, calm than when I put pen to paper, be it to make a list of what needs to be bought at the supermarket this week, or the latest diet plan I intend to follow, or my endless list of New Year resolutions, most of which never even get started. Lists of books to be read, movies that have been borrowed by friends and family, lists of amazing trips to complete - no subject is out of reach.

As for actually completing the tasks that have been listed, I can assure you any aficionado of listmaking will tell you the same thing. It's not half as important as just writing them down, safe in the knowledge that should your world collapse around you, at least you'll have a list of the next few books you plan on reading this month, or the best foods to eat to keep a healthy glow. Like any addiction, list-writing for me has become a daily fixture. I've even been known to make lists of lists on occasion (although even I consider this to be going a bit too far.)

But we list-makers are in good company. The Archives of American Art in Washington DC has recently opened up an exhibit featuring the many lists of various world-famous artists; from that all-round virtuoso Leonardo da Vinci to the design genius Eero Saarinen, all in a bid to try and shed some light on their personalities. Psychologists say that obsessive-compulsive list makers act the way they do in order to instil calmness in an otherwise chaotic lifestyle. The American abstract artist, Charles Green Shaw, who is also featured in the exhibit, said: "Real happiness consists in not what we actually accomplish, but what we think we accomplish."

So, instead of shying away from the fact that we like lists a lot, we should embrace our obsessions. Write that list of all the places you want to travel to, irrespective of time or money. Write down a list of all the things you want to learn before you hit a certain age. Above all, just write. Why? Because, as Christopher Reeve once said: "Once you choose to hope, anything is possible." I agree. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm away to write down a list of my favourite quotes.