I don’t know about you, but I am not a fan of those conversations that start off with “So, tell me about yourself.” There is something very crippling about that statement, something that stops the tongue and freezes your brain. I think it’s because, though we may be used to categorising things, we are not used to conversations that are non-flowing, particularly when they are on a personal level. You have that statement, that demand, placed before you, and all you can think is, “I do not know what to say.”
Many years ago, my friend Ken came up with a simple method of combating this problem: write a list. Not any old list, a list of personal statements written in a stream of consciousness style. Ken hates talking about himself, and dislikes that “So tell me about yourself” demand, but The List gave him a simple method of overcoming the problem of being stopped in his conversational tracks when asked to relate personal factlets.
I make it sound very humourless and un-amusing, do I not? But that’s not the case at all. Creating this type of stream of consciousness list can be a very serious thing, but it can also be an exercise in fun, a combination of both, and more besides.
You need very little to create this kind of list. The only tools required are a pen and some paper (I suggest a notebook rather than loose sheets of paper, for reasons I shall make more clear later on), or a word processing program. Since this is very much an exercise in stream of consciousness writing there are no rules, per se, no hard and fast steps to follow. However, there are a few guidelines to bear in mind before you begin and as you write.
Try to do this list without any distractions present. It is much easier to write, particularly when it’s personal, when there’s no worry of someone seeing over your shoulder, or of being interrupted by anything else. Distractions cannot only be embarrassing; they can also break your concentration, thus breaking the flow of what you’re writing.
Write whatever comes into your head. No matter how silly, rude, disgusting, perverted, weird, odd, wacky, boring, strange, revolting, offensive, or otherwise it is, write it down. One idea will invariably lead to another (which is the point, after all), and another, until you find yourself with a list that might be hundreds of items in length. There are no wrong things to write. If you are stuck for a place to begin, start with your age, height, colour of your eyes, your job, your ethnicity, your favourite book. (A listing of personal list-making prompts can be found at http://www.lonita.net/item/prompts.shtml.) For example:
Lonita Fraser is 5′ 4 1/2″ tall.
Lonita Fraser does not know what that is in metric.
Lonita Fraser isn’t all that sure she cares about finding out the conversion.
Lonita Fraser’s favourite colour is purple. (On the website version of my list, the word purple is in purple text, and links to another page that talks about that colour’s mystical properties, etc.)
Lonita Fraser owns a lot of things that are purple in colour.
Once a thought is safely down on paper or in your word processor, it cannot be deleted. Whatever comes into your head, and out of your pen, must stay. Since you are not required to show this list to anyone, there is no need to be embarrassed or worried about what you say. I know I have said you do not have to make your list public, but you can do so if you wish to. It can be a very liberating thing to know you’ve done so, warts and all.
Keep going. Keep writing until you can’t think of anything else. Add to it when you think of something new. I began my list in late 1996 and still update it occasionally. Because this could be a long-term project, or at least one that you will sporadically augment, it’s a good idea to use a notebook (if you choose the pen and paper method) so that you are not worried about keeping track of loose bits of paper. Treat yourself to a brand new notebook just for keeping your list.
When my friend Ken wrote his list, he began each line with his first and last name (as I did in the example above) as a reminder that each fact was a separate little nugget of information about himself. It is not necessary for you to do the same. I didn’t when I wrote my first list in response to his. Besides, it gets very wearing on the writing muscles to write those extra letters repeatedly.
The List can be a lot more than a way to itemise personal factoids. For me, it also became a way to communicate thoughts and feelings that I could not manage to express in any other way. I have written whole letters in List. It is a good way to write said letters when you are too tired to write, or can’t think, in a prose-like way. I have even kept a list specifically for the purposes of itemising what I saw as the more negative aspects of my self, or the things that I found hurtful. That said, despite the seeming random nature of The List, if you wish to put more method to the madness, go right ahead. For example, if you wanted only to write a list of things relating to your family, school or work, likes and dislikes, that’s fine too. A friend of mine once created what he termed his “Love / Hate” list. He simply created a long list of things he liked, loved, disliked, and hated. He did not separate them into columns or group them in any manner but how they had first come to him.
Fun is not the only benefit of creating this type of list. Stream of consciousness writing can often lead a person to surprising discoveries about themselves, or new ways of expressing old things. It can also show you connections between things that you’d never noticed before, and it can also get the brain moving if your imagination has atrophied a little. A common problem with writing is often the question of “What do I write about?” The List can help shake loose some cobwebs, and not only give you something to write, but a list of things to write about. It is often easier to write things down in small chunks, rather than trying to express “the big picture” all at once. Writers of all types, from students to professionals, often refer to this as “brainstorming”.
One specific use there could be for creating The List is as a basis for a website, or a single section of a larger site. When I first began creating websites, that’s precisely what I did with my List. I posted it to the Internet, linked to other sites from some of the listed items, or created other pages of my own to elaborate on them. The friend I mentioned who wrote a “Love / Hate” list, also created a website for it. He kept his list unsorted, and simply arranged them in a two-column format on the page. All the text was white, and each instance of “love” and “like” was coloured red; each instance of “dislike” or “hate” was coloured blue.
After much scribbling, The List you end up with is not only a method of brainstorming to prompt future writing. It is also not just a basis for another project (such as a website), and not only a fun and interesting exercise in personal discovery. It is also something you can pass on to others as an introduction. And, more importantly, the next time someone mentions how they dislike “so tell me about yourself” demands, you have something to talk about with them. You can explain The List.
My own List can be found at http://www.lonita.net/journal/journal.cgi?entry=list and some lists by others can be found at http://www.lonita.net/lists/
Lonita has been an AU student since early 2002, and is studying towards a Bachelor of General Studies in Arts & Science. She enjoys writing, creating websites, drinks far too much tea, and lives in hopes of one day owning a plaid Cthulhu doll. The most exciting thing she’s done so far in her lifetime is driven an F2000 racecar, and she’s still trying to figure out how to top that experience. Her personal website can be found at http://www.lonita.net and what you can’t find out about her through that, you can ask her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org