My Short List
Maybe I’m just slow, but it’s taken me a long time to get life’s priorities down to a short list.
Just how long? Let’s begin with two divorces, three career changes, four cross country moves, five, if I count the time I followed a guy to Miami, then got sunstroke and changed my mind. All this over four plus decades.
I have made progress. Long gone are the notebooks listing all the exotic places in the world I wanted to see. It turns out the Travel Channel is cheaper, and no one pats me down at security.
Shredded is the file folder, with the ripped out magazine articles: recipes to try, books to read, and a “must buy” post-it note next to a picture of a mini hose that sprays cool water on you when you exercise. I never bought it. Or I bought it, and never used it. I can’t remember.
Gone off my list are the hot, trendy restaurants in town, where you spend too much money to be seen by people who don’t care about you, and I regret to tell you, never will. I tend to plan our dinner outings at establishments that allow dogs on the patio.
Goodbye famous people eating fancy food, and hello, Benny Rosen, my extremely cute puppy who munches on gourmet kibble while sitting in my lap. As you can see, Benny Rosen is definitely on my short list.
When I got really serious about making my short list even shorter, my husband and children set the bar. They’ve taught me that love intuitively guides you as to how to keep it simple; how to keep it real.
Last week, my son took me on a memorable outing to a meditative park where we walked and talked and covered a lot of ground - in the park – and about our lives.
Later that day, my husband went out and bought a cedar plank to grill my salmon the way I like it. Not the way he likes it. I consider that enough of a reason to bump him up the short list. That, and the fact that he hugs me a lot, takes me to movies he doesn’t want to see, and every morning tells me I’m beautiful.
It could be he needs a stronger prescription for his glasses, but he swears he’s telling me the truth, and for that alone, for telling me the truth, he is embedded on my short list.
My girlfriends, of course, have made the cut, but only the ones who care about the other people and things on my short list. The ones who remain, ask about my husband and children, and are very aware of whom and what I consider to be a priority. The better the friend, the less the accouterments.
These days my friends and I usually opt for a walk along the ocean, rather than margaritas in a loud cantina. We’d rather curl up with a blanket on someone’s couch, and use our indoor voices. Home works well because you can laugh until you snort, and cry without holding back the waterworks.
One of the requirements for making my short list is that you’re allowed to express how you feel, and know that in turn, your friend will be there for you. I’m talking full on eye contact, as in I’m watching you, watching me. Don’t be checking your phone for messages, or immediately switch the conversation back to you.
Or worse yet, ask me for something you want, which is why you’re asking about me in the first place. I don’t like people who don’t listen, which is an uncompassionate shortcoming of mine, that on the up side, has dramatically reduced my short list.
I scratched stuff off my short list; and by this, I mean, material stuff. All those pillows and dishes and uncomfortable shoes that pinched my toes, and dresses made of sequins were sent on their way to folks who hopefully can use them. It’s arguable whether anyone needs a dress with sequins, but I suppose it’s possible.
Of course, I kept the misshapen orange ceramic ashtray my son made for me for Mother’s Day thirty years ago. I know a good investment when I see one.
Having a short list has helped me focus on how I want to spend my time. Unless a work project has meaning, or it’s fun, or I feel engaged, what’s the point? I no longer want to participate in work that has no relevance or pleasure or purpose. Like the bumper sticker says, ‘I’d rather be sailing,’ and I don’t even want to be doing that.
If you’re trying to be mindful, and live in the moment, as a lot of people are attempting to do these days, then you need the moment to live in. If you’re flying around running errands, filling up your day, surfing the internet, then that moment disappears.
The beauty of having a short list is that it keeps you flexible. So, if an elderly neighbor needs you to take them shopping, or a friend wants you to sign a petition for an important cause, or the vet in a wheelchair asks you for help, then you have that moment to respond.
Having a short list means you don’t have to cut short the people who need you the most.
Two years ago, even with all of my cut backs, I did add something, or rather someone, to my list. Me. I decided to put myself on my own short list. On my 60th birthday, I enrolled in an MFA Creative Writing program, and this June I graduate.
One of the things I learned as a graduate student is how long it takes to edit a final draft. It’s easy to keep writing, as if more is more, but the real trick is knowing when to fold ‘em; how to bring the story to an end.
Which brings me to the things and the people who made my short list. I don’t mean to worry you, but if you’re on my list, and by now, you know who you are, and I know where you live, you’re stuck with me.
Through everything: birthdays, divorces, graduations, unemployment, weddings, illness, and an occasional less than satisfying home cooked meal.
Who knew that all those years ago when I made my endless list of what to do, and who to meet, that it would be my short list that would mean the most, and last the longest?
Nadine Schiff-Rosen is the co-author of three non-fiction books and the producer of several film and television productions. She was a Los Angeles based reporter for the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and the Vice President of Production for Michael Douglas' Stonebridge Entertainment. She is currently enrolled in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Antioch University.