Thursday, January 7, 2010

What I've lost

I am not a loser.

I don’t mean that exactly the way it sounds. Not the way we used the term in high school, anyway. In that context, the status of my loserdom is not for me to judge. What I mean is I’m not someone who loses things.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and was surprised to see this essay in today’s Boston Globe by Professor Robert Brown, who apparently is a loser: that is, someone who accuses himself of frequently losing things.

When I misplace something, it’s the exception rather than the rule. I think this is for a number of reasons. The foremost explanation is probably just that we keep our house unusually tidy. (I say “unusually” because so many other people have remarked upon the neatness of our house over the years. To me, it seems reasonably tidy, not remarkably so, but enough visitors have commented on the way we keep our house over the years that I’ve come to see it as exceptional.) It’s hard to misplace things when drawers stay organized and surfaces bare to the extent that items placed anywhere are readily visible.

I think it’s also to some extent a matter of focus. People who lose things sometimes make rapid mental transitions from one thing to the next: for example, they’ll enter their house with keys in hand and immediately go see what their children are doing or listen to phone messages, meaning that keys get put down after the next activity has already begun. The first thing I do when I enter the house with keys is put keys away. The first thing I do when I receive a check in the mail is put it in my wallet for deposit. And so on.

But once in a while I do misplace things, and it bothers me for a long time when that happens. This month there are two things I can’t find, and they are distracting me inordinately. Well, one is a distraction; the other is just a frustration, but I’m not still looking for it because I know it’s long gone. The one I know is long gone is an envelope that Tim’s report card arrived in. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was supposed to sign the report card and return it to the school. Although this instruction must have appeared somewhere, I think I disregarded it because we were going in for a conference with Tim’s teachers the next week so I didn’t think there was the need for further proof that I’d received his report card, but yesterday – nearly a month after the fact – I received an automated call from the school saying that I was late in returning the signed envelope. It is not in the paperwork basket where I normally leave paperwork that needs to be sent back out of the house, and it’s not in Tim’s backpack: both the basket and the backpack are as neat and organized as ever, and the envelope would be readily apparent if it were either place. I think I must have accidentally recycled it with other empty envelopes. I emailed Tim’s teacher, apologizing profusely but admitting that I did not think I’d be able to come up with it and asking her what corrective steps I could take.

The other thing I can’t find bothers me more. It is a key, not a key to a lock but the key that winds an antique tabletop clock we inherited from my grandparents. I have always kept it in a tiny china vase next to the clock, and although the vase is still there I haven’t been able to find the key for weeks. Now I can’t wind the clock, and so of course it has stopped, which bothers me. I keep thinking of that mundane yet creepy children’s song about the clock that held the grandfather’s spirit. My grandmother – who, it should be noted, was a world-class champion at losing things; there are those who believe the national debt could be balanced with the jewels, cash and credit cards she misplaced over her lifetime – managed to keep that clock wound weekly, and now I’ve let it stop because I can’t find that key.

A few days ago, having checked every decorative bowl, box and other vessel-shaped knickknack into which a small child might stash something he or she picked up, peered under every baseboard, and even sifted through the vacuum cleaner bag, I realized that there might be a resolution to the problem other than finding the key. We know two local clockmakers; I could ask them about whether there might be another key in existence that would fit the clock or whether I could have a new one made; or maybe another tool, such as jeweler’s pliers, could be used to wind the clock in the meantime.

I’m not going to do anything about it for a little while longer, because our monthly housecleaner comes next week and my last hope for finding the key is that she’ll come across it while cleaning. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching, and hoping it turns up, and reminding myself that there are other solutions to the problem of winding the clock. In some respects, occasionally losing something might be less an opportunity for self-recrimnation than a chance to relax rigid thought patterns and come up with creative solutions. I’ll find out from my son’s teacher how to resolve the problem with the missing envelope, and I’ll continue being my generally well-organized, well-focused self in hopes of not losing anything else important for a long time.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you: I'm not one who loses things either (although my sister does all the time), so it is very frustrating when it does happen.

    The report card is especially hard because it creates a problem for someone else and you probably feel it reflects badly on you.

    The clock key is very tough too. I mean, how could it have gotten lost when it has its special place? The time and effort in looking for lost things and/or trying to find replacements is especially frustrating, I feel, because it could have been avoided.

    I think the holiday time is kind of a perfect storm in which to lose things so I hope you don't feel too badly.