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Paper Chase

Do I need this list?

Packing for a trip I pull a used 4×5 spiral notebook off of my bookshelf for note taking. There’s a drawing on the first page by Ten when she was no more than five. It shows two female stick figures, one labeled M and one labeled L. In her sprawling handwriting she has written across the top, without any regard for margins, her full name running right into mine. Then it reads “I love you,” twice.

Much as I like a clear field and had planned to ghost the entire contents of the notebook, I am not giving up this drawing. I can date the drawing based on the material that follows—the next page an old to-do list, some items completed, some long since not important. There are several more and after them notes from a yoga workshop I attended that I peruse but quickly decide I no longer need. Preserving Ten’s early work, I carefully remove pages and drop them into the recycling bin.

The next page has outdated notes for my novel. Were my book not printed and sitting near me on my desk awaiting next steps, I might be tempted to keep these. Instead their irrelevance makes me smile—the characters names have changed and I have long since, as I directed myself in the notes, made one of the characters more lively. This list not only is no longer relevant, the items on it are finished. I’m tempted to take a pen and line out all of the to-done items, but instead I begin to rip out these pages and file them one by one in the recycle bin.

I slow my breathing as I consider the last page of novel notes. There’s a line separating my creative jottings from the rest of the page, a list. I read the title: 5 years – (start with 42, ½ year grace period).

When I’m at a crossroads or stuck, this is what I do. I make a list of where I want to be in five years. It worked beautifully for me once in my early twenties—I don’t know that I’ve ever made it happen as successfully since, but since I am a list maker, this strategy for sorting out my brain appeals to me.

The list that follows on the page after the five-year list describes my “Perfect” town. These are the documents of a woman who was looking for opportunities to change her life.

I’ll turn that 47 this month, my birthday arriving with the forward cusp of Virgo in a few weeks and just in advance of August’s blue moon. My peeps have traveled the five years with me, and their decent foundation in school and community feels like a triumph. I’m still living in the house that the list suggests I’d like “less” of. I have opened a “’room’ of my own, something that’s mine,” and I work in the margins of time on my creative life: the novel finished, the blog now well into its second year.

The list that pulled me back to the place I was before even as it underscored how far I’ve come.

What list of resolutions doesn’t include something about being thinner or leaping onto the fitness path more or eating better? But did the 41½-year-old me know I would undergo major surgery, recover and move so entirely into my yoga practice, teaching and opening a studio? Would she see me as “svelt (sic) & healthy” today? Well, the current me shrugs, there is always room for improvement.

My professional life has definitely coalesced; although I still divide my time among writing, editing, and yoga, more and more these are interconnected circles. It is largely the thinking on this list that launched me toward Taos the summer I turned 42, the summer I first met Jeffrey Davis and experienced Yoga as Muse. I feel the glimmer of energy of all that has come together in writing and yoga in the tiny seed planted by this list.

Remarkably, this list overall is still a comfortable fit. For some items, more of precisely the same please. For others, there’s updating to be done. The central tenant stands—my list is about living a life that looks on paper not unlike the one I am now living. I know there are others, in the notebooks that litter the shelves and the electronic files I tuck away on my hard drive. I find such lists when I clean out drawers, letterboxes, and caches—whether computer files or folders full of written drafts. My favorites are the missives some younger me wrote to be discovered, notes in a cookbook and reminders of things I knew to be important long ago.

The shamans teach us to dance with every part of the soul. More simply, Mitch Applebom wrote, in Tuesdays with Morrie, “Inside I’m every age I’ll ever be.” Each time I come across a document like this list, it reads as a tiny part of my soul. This one reflects a night at my desk five and a half years ago when I was feeling less than independent and in need of a professional life. What I wrote then looked good on paper. I’m mindful that in building this life, I’ve let some things go untended, left some parts of me behind. I prune and shape, grow and support the life that I am composing. And as I sit here swirling with that other me, that earlier dancer, I think about the one I shall be, the woman I will be when rising 52, five years from now. I think maybe I’ll write a new list in the little notebook and put it back on the shelf of my office, a time capsule of my soul for a later me to live toward.

The first August full moon is gorgeous and glimmering in the sky above. As ever, always, thank you for going on this journey with me. Happy August, Rxo


About Robin Bourjaily

I currently perform my own stunts as a mother, writer, editor, yoga instructor, and certified Yoga As Muse facilitator. Overneath It All is a medium for sharing my stories--my commitment is to post on the full and new moons, plus or minus a day or two, and the occasional personal holiday. My novel, Throwing Like a Girl, is now available in e-formats on Smashwords. Please visit to download. Thanks for checking in. xoR

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