Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Art of Losing*

I keep getting that feeling that I've lost something. You know, either it presents as a sudden lurching panic, or a realisation that you're in a constant state of low level unease. Feeling that your presence is too slight, that something is missing. You search around, making a nervous inventory of all the essentials that complete you, make you feel safe - bag, wallet, phone, house keys. They're all there but you can't shake the nagging sense that there's some discrepancy, something slightly off kilter. Your atomic weight is slightly altered.


Oddly, for someone who's a bit cavalier with material possessions, a bit vague, fatalistic, I hate losing things. It feels like a personal failing (which it is). The missing object looms large in my mind for months, sometimes years; I think guiltily about it, abandoned. A single amethyst earring, lost when I was 18, still troubles me. I have its sibling in a drawer, just in case some miracle brings it back to me. A wallet left in a coach park on a school trip aged 13 haunted me for years - I could see, almost touch, the precise area of tarmac I thought I must have left it on. I can precisely recall the sickening realisation that I had lost my father's watch - through no fault of my own - a faulty catch on a ride across the moors. The miserable retracing of my steps, hope fading with each puddle searched. I still rummage hopefully through bags for the wallet that was stolen on my birthday last year. Maybe I was mistaken? It must be here somewhere.


At the moment, I get the 'something missing' jitters all the time. Yesterday, at the bottom of an escalator in the Gare du Midi, it stopped me dead in my tracks for a minute, while I searched fruitlessly through my bag for whatever might have been lost. Nothing. Again this morning, at the market. €50, purse, keys. All accounted for, but the anxiety remained.


Of course, finally, realisation hits, blindingly obvious once I articulate it. It's not a thing I've lost, it's a person. I'm alone. Noone on my arm. Noone I have to call. After sixteen years - my whole adult life - there are long swathes of time when noone wants, needs to know where I am, what I'm doing. I don't need to buy Weetabix Choco Minis when they occasionally appear, like a vision, on the Belgian supermarket shelves. The cupboard doors, opened and forgotten, remain open. I can take my laptop to bed every night, even though I know it's stupid, and noone calls me out on it. It's no surprise I'm patting my pockets, searching for a phantom missing credit card.


So I accept the anxiety. I understand I will twitch, and fret, and search for things, possibly for years. I'm waiting to recalibrate, to adjust to my own alarmingly slight presence.





Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master

(with love and thanks to Mrs Trefusis, who reintroduced me to it just under year ago)

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

I totally empathise with you.

I used to feel the same way about lost things but now I accept that in the end they are only objects, irrespective of the value.

What I find harder to deal with is the feeling of being alone.

Like a jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing.

The picture looks just as beautiful but all I can focus on is the tiny hole where the missing piece should slot into place.

The feeling never really goes away. Just some days are better than others as I find ever more inventive ways to distract myself.

Lisa-Marie said...

It must feel very odd, but I think you will lose the feeling in time too.

I love Elizabeth Bishop's work, and yet when is saw 'The Art of Losing' title, the American Hi-Fi song was in my head.

Mrs Jones said...

Poor you, even though it was your own decision. You are, though, currently serving as a standard by which to measure my own life. Today is my 14th wedding anniversary. What did I get? A gift? No. A big bunch of flowers? No. A measly, cheap card? Hell no. Seemingly I'm not worth the bother of just popping a bunch of tulips into the shopping that he did, alone, yesterday morning. I locked myself into the bathroom this morning and cried. And I don't cry easily. I'm now playing Faure's Requiem VERY loudly and am resigning myself to feeling heavy of heart for a day or two.

I so want to blog about it but can't because he reads it. So I'm sorry for venting here. But I think I'd rather have his lumpen presence in my life than be alone. I think you're very brave.

wv for this is sheiss, which is very much how it started today.

Lisa-Marie said...

Mrs Jones, I want to give you a hug. Also, you should do private blog and not tell him about it.

Alienne said...

Mrs J - I would like to give you a hug too. You deserve much better. Tell him how sad it made you.

"to adjust to my own alarmingly slight presence" - what a perfect expression. I know exactly what you mean - and I feel my presence is getting slighter by the day as my daughters grow up and need me less and less. It is two and half years since I lost my husband and I still have the missing limb feeling; I found the Banksy cartoon of the girl with the heart balloon blowing away in a shop on saturday and it made my cry.

zmkc said...

'Take a chill pill, mum' - teenage daughter's advice at first sign of any form of anxiety. Chill pills often in short supply, sadly. They sound quite fun.

Iheartfashion said...

You're such a fantastic writer Emma. You express the feeling perfectly. I think it will get better and easier with time, at least I hope so.

AnonyGay said...

All very eerie.

1) I attended university where Elizabeth Bishop studied. She figured large in our literature curriculum. The official collection of her papers is housed there. She was just brilliant.

2) I have that Banksy print of the girl with the heart balloon hanging on my wall. It simultaneously uplifts me and breaks my heart. I often wonder if I will ever jump high enough to catch the balloon.

3) Waffle, lonely is a lonely place, for want of a better descriptor. The rhythms change and one becomes frighteningly used to it. I'm not sure which is better, being an old, curmudgeonly bachelor or an eternally heartbroken wreck. After being unceremoniously dumped after three years of living with my dickface ex, and finally escaping the emergency living situation to which I had to flee when he kicked me out, I moved into my Very Own Tiny Manhattan apartment. For months, I would wander back and forth in the hallway in the evening time, when I used to cook dinner and curl up with a bottle of wine on the couch with him. I would keen and cry and sit on the floor listening to the traffic pass by my window and wonder if I could just float away. It slowly got better. I still keen and cry, but less frequently and less violently. And now I can drink gin in my underwear without anyone judging. Except the cats, and I deal with that by threatening them with starvation.

fifi said...

Last year I lost my one and only designer label dress, when I was on a conference in Italy. AND a pair of shoes.


I still search my wardrobe for both. And under my bed. I never give up.
( I am thinking of emailing the hotel...)



The thing I worry about most is losing myself. I think I have found bits, but for quite some time I had no idea where I was.


Just so you know, I have found you via ganching, and whn I am feeling particularly anxious, I have been lurking on here. I just love this blog: today I actually said the word "weepette" out loud.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Mrs Jones, I feel sorry, but maybe you gotta be more creative. Get online and buy a SIMPLY HUGE bunch of flowers on HIS credit card or book a fancy restaurant and make HIM pay. None of this weeping in the bathroom, sister! Go out guns blazing. Silence and resentment is what kills it all stone dead... :(

Anonymous said...

I agree, Mrs. Jones. You gotta tell him. Just tell him. If he doesn't give a shit, well, THAT'S a reason to feel sad. If he's just beginning to be complacent, perhaps it's a needed wake-up call that you still need romance and to be thought of, along with (and above) the cereal and milk.

Lynn T. said...

Mrs. Jones, I'm sorry you feel so desolate, but it is possible that your husband simply doesn't come from a family that made a fuss over anniversaries and similar occasions. Neither my husband or I did, and we have often completely forgotten such events until after the fact. Despite this lack of commemorative behavior, our marriage has survived for more than 41 years and we are about as happy as sane people are likely to be.

In your case, there are two possibilities. If the omission is part of a larger issue related to recognizing and valuing one another, you two need to have a serious talk. If you are simply operating from different premises about how important it is to commemorate these occasions, it isn't worth getting so upset about.

Happy Frog and I said...

I am lucky enough to be in a very loving relationship currently, but I certainly wasn't always. I used to be in an awful one and I have never ever felt more lonely than I was for those very long years. It is much better to be out of a relationship and on your own instead of being in one that breaks your heart every day.

Mrs Jones said...

Thank you all for your very kind comments. Lynn T, you win as you're the closest to the true scenario. His family is undemonstrative and don't 'do' birthdays and such like. He has, though, also got complacent. I have told him - he came and found me in buckets of tears hiding in my jewellery workroom (I also think my hormones are acting up a bit as I don't usually get this upset about anything really). He agreed that he 'got it badly wrong' and I think the strength of my emotions may have startled him - he says I'm the calmest person he knows - but not today. Anyway, I was deeply touched by all your kind thoughts and such affection from complete strangers was deeply appreciated. I'll stop highjacking Emma's comments now.

IsabelleAnne said...

Oh Waffle~
Just see how your beautiful writing has touched us. Thank you.

I sometimes say "weepette" out loud, too, when I see one on my afternoon dog walk.

Jaywalker said...

People who say weepette out loud, Fifi, IsabelleAnne: I love you. Try it in a French accent. It is even nicer.

Mrs Jones: We love you! The CFO also came from a non-celebratory family. It is difficult for both parties. The hunted look in his eyes as birthdays, etc. approached was pitiful.

Anonygay - At least we have the interweb to soothe us and provide inspiring animal consolation (that sounds wrong. It isn't supposed to).

sara said...

God JW, that was beautiful.

Anonymous said...

hope the anxiety is gradually replaced by the feeling that you're finding your feet... and ultimately, yourself. In going it alone, you're braver than many, incl. myself.

Xtreme English said...

i lost my grandmother's prayerbook two years ago. talk about a horrible experience. i'd packed a box of things that i knew i'd need in my new dwelling and gave it to a friend for safekeeping. the box also had my passport and a savings bond that my employer used to grease my way on the skids to retirement. gone, all gone. so for two years i've mourned the loss of the only thing of her mother's that my mother had and harbored dark thoughts about my friend's carefulness. until friday, when i finally emptied out my storage area. saw a nondescript box with a shopping bag from paris on top. picked that up. saw a little notebook i used for sketches several years ago...picked that up. saw a dark oblong thing well wrapped in bubble wrap and tape, picked that up--it was the praybook!!!! dug through the rest of the box and found the savings bond! no passport, but i've already replaced that.
now i have to send the prayerbook to my oldest niece, who is the family historian and takes CARE of things. whew!

i love that poem of bishop's--love all her poems. just think that i was 60 before i even knew about them.

happy losing and finding...

Anonymous said...

It will get better. I promise.

fifi said...

Ms waffle,

I promise I did use my very best french accent, and was rather gleeful because I had ascertained that the word referred to a chien, and not a weepy child.



I have just emailed an Italian Hotel to ask if they found a dark blue dress last JULY....

Jeannie said...

Waffle, that was beautifully written. You have such a gift--never stop writing!!

I tend to have the same odd feeling, but it generally coincides with earthquakes or traumatic current events. Then when I find out about them I say, "Oh, no wonder I've been feeling so weird the last couple of days."

frau antje said...

I spent a decade on my own, and then had to 'lose' a continent, my friends, aging parents, and a ten year old girl I'd watched grow up, to live with an EU citizen. That little girl was accepted at Harvard this week, where the younger Alice Methfessel left Elizabeth Bishop (and her fairly major alcoholism), for a guy.

It's not all bad, but unfortunately it's not all around the corner either.

You're doing fine, but listen, if that sniper is freelance their services would come in handy here also.

frau antje said...

I spent a decade on my own, and then had to 'lose' a continent, my friends, parents, and a ten year old girl I'd watched grow up, to live with an EU citizen. That little girl was accepted at Harvard this week, where the younger Alice Methfessel left Elizabeth Bishop (and her fairly major alcoholism), for a guy. It's not all bad, but unfortunately it's not all around the corner either.

You're doing fine.

Anonymous said...

I can only nod and agree wholeheartedly with what others have said about your post. Beautifully written and so so easy to identify with. I know that feeling so well. That Low Level Panic. Though I am not 'alone' alone. Even though sometimes I feel it. x

Gibbzer

Jo said...

It gets easier, really it does. The falling asleep with the laptop still happens, but the sense of loss, that eases...
Congratulations on the civilised split - I too meet with my ex husband, better friends now than we were in the last few years of marriage, and he can actually now be happy & congratulatory on my achievements & successes in my new-ish profession - something he spoke of with such derision in the months before we split that friends hearing his words would visibly wince.
Take courage, be strong, eat chocolate, drink gin and believe in the nice surprises that are there around the corners. Today, a voice that wasn't my son's, said "I love you" - I've not heard those words from a grown man in some time - I've passed around a corner :).

So Lovely said...

Such a beautiful post and I can totally relate to it. It's hard being alone at times but when I feel like that I think back to the times in relationships when I have felt completely disconnected from the other person and wished I was alone. That deep sinking feeling of being with someone that you realise you don't really know or want to be with. x

irretrievablybroken said...

Though it may look like (*say* it!) like disaster.

I prefer the term "amputated spouse disorder".

There's an excellent Marion Winik essay on the topic of losing...I'll see if I can find it somewhere online to send to you.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L9-AvjsB6g

this came on itunes as i read this post

peculiar, but true

Moi said...

Beautiful post. I too lose things and have a box full of single things and bits of bobs. The odd shiver of missing something sent real shivers up my spine. I can't put my finger on what I am missing but its gone.

I once met a very old woman who never wore green and always wore a red ribbon pinned to her bra. One day in Rome with me, she lost a HUGE diamond stud (think size of your big toe). She laughed, told me it always happens so what she does is turn a cup (any kind) upside down and then just ignore it (the missing item). It always comes back. She was right, we found the earring three hours later.

Simon said...

Wow, that was beautiful.
But judging by how many people follow your blog and twitter feed I think it's safe to say that there's always someone who wants to know where you are and what you're doing.