Woke up to this brilliant and wonderful piece. It’s very short. You’ll want to read most of it out loud to yourself. It’s one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s to do lists.
As we all know, Leonardo (I feel I can call him by his first name, as a sign of affectionate admiration) filled thousands of notebooks with all the things he was always thinking about. There are books stuffed with drawings, and measurements, and notes, and, most wonderfully, lists of things to do.
But first, by way of establishing a more modern and soul crushing context, I want to vouchsafe to you some of the things on my to do list. To begin with, I have categories like School, Church, House, Projects, Email, Failures etc. Under School I have things like: write up IHip, buy books, move school room, make children attend online open houses, sort out piano, make a blankety blank blank schedule. The Church category is filled with tasks like: Start Planning Christmas Pageant, Guilt Someone Else Into Making Coffee, Do Everything for Catechesis, Landscape the front of the Church, etc. The Failures category is all the stuff I was supposed to do a long time ago, but didn’t, but still need to, but when I look at the things I feel defeated, and so retreat into the smallness of my own pathetic psyche to surf the internet more or eat cold left over tater tots from the men’s breakfast and wonder if maybe I should call that category something else, but then think, Nah, I’ll just eat one more puffed potato, only this time with a little slab of cold bacon.
I try, of course, to put dates and times beside tasks, so that I will know exactly when I should do each thing, and so that when I blow past that date without having done it, I will feel suitably miserable and angry with God and myself. I also recopy out the list periodically, and make little subdivided lists next to each task, and then draw out a little calendar, and then throw it away and do it again.
So let’s see what kinds of things Leonardo had on his list. Starts out ambitiously.
• [Calculate] the measurement of Milan and Suburbs
Oh, well, that seems easy enough. Shouldn’t take long. But the next one is even easier than that.
• [Find] a book that treats of Milan and its churches, which is to be had at the stationer’s on the way to Cordusio
Book shopping, that’s very doable. Ok, what’s next.
• [Discover] the measurement of Corte Vecchio (the courtyard in the duke’s palace).
Ugh, more math. And this one.
• [Discover] the measurement of the castello (the duke’s palace itself)
But this one would probably be fun.
• Get the master of arithmetic to show you how to square a triangle.
And this one.
• Get Messer Fazio (a professor of medicine and law in Pavia) to show you about proportion.
And this would be fascinating.
• Get the Brera Friar (at the Benedictine Monastery to Milan) to show you De Ponderibus (a medieval text on mechanics)
As would this one.
• [Talk to] Giannino, the Bombardier, re. the means by which the tower of Ferrara is walled without loopholes (no one really knows what Da Vinci meant by this)
• Ask Benedetto Potinari (A Florentine Merchant) by what means they go on ice in Flanders
• Draw Milan
To draw it I’d have to go there and take art classes, which would cause an avalanche of lists in the other direction. These lists would be full of tasks like, Get a Job that Pays $100k a year, Work it for ten years, Have Post Midlife Crisis, Quit, Get Accepted to Art School Even Though You Have No Talent, Find Place To Live, Buy Airfare, Say Goodbye To All Current Human Community, Go To Milan, Begin Art School, Eat Pasta, Draw Milan….badly.
Leonardo’s list continues on in the same vein. It’s full of questions to ask people and books to look up. Because he was so curious, such a genius of a man, don’t you know, and so serious about finding out about things that he wrote them down, and probably did a lot of them too. The notebooks themselves probably have some of the answers he found and the further questions they undoubtedly generated.
Which truly, is just exactly like my life. As soon as I start to do something I discover that I’m going to need to do fifteen other things as a result of even having made a beginning. As soon as I write that email, the person emails me back and then suddenly I have fifteen new questions and tasks, instead of just the one.
Me and Leonardo…we are twin souls. Plus God, who also made lists, not for himself, but for me. But those ones aren’t meant to be ticked off. Rather, I keep circling around them, noting my failure, trying again, wandering away and forgetting that the list even exists, going to sleep and waking up the next day to discover that even though I didn’t do any of the things, I am still breathing, still alive, enlivened once more to try again. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to recopy out my list for today.