Thursday, 14 July 2011

On my to-do list

There is a nice line in Shrek: The Musical (no of course I haven’t been to see it; I read a review): Princess Fiona asks Shrek if he has killed the fire-breathing dragon yet and he replies evasively, ‘It’s on my to-do list’. I wonder when this phrase achieved currency? According to David Shields’s book Reality Hunger, the earliest forms of writing were lists. Plutarch sometimes arranged his essays into what we would today call ‘bullet points’ – the origin of which term comes, I think, from the US army, who were one of the first users of the overhead projector.

However, the to-do list must be of recent vintage, a way of giving a comforting sense of order and an illusion of completedness to our quotidian routines. In an essay, ‘Programming and play’, in Johnnie Gratton and Michael Sheringham’s edited book, The Art of the Project, Dominique Rabaté muses on ‘this obsessional trait, this tendency to transform what has to be done into an injunction addressed to oneself’. She suggests that it is ‘a minimal device whereby we work to allay our anxiety over the future, considered as time waiting to be filled. But what a pleasure it can be when, finally, you can draw a line through one of your listed items.’

A word of warning: anyone who fobs you off with the words ‘it’s on my to-do list’ is, in my experience, an incorrigible timewaster and/or bullshitter.

Mundane quote for the day: ‘All this technology around – and yet they can’t get the perforations to match in two-ply toilet paper.’ – D.J. Enright

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