The Art of Losing Things Isn’t Hard to Master

Jane Friedman (1994)

One of many high school ID cards

I am very careless with my belongings.

This past week, when I flew to NYC for Digital Book World, I left my purse and coat in the plane overhead bin.

I walked right out of JFK after claiming my bags, climbed in a cab with a colleague, and it never occurred to me I didn’t have these belongings with me—until near the hotel when I thought about paying for the cab.

My mom has said that she never knew someone so smart who could be so dumb.

For all of high school and college, I rarely carried a purse, and even then, always one that slung across my body (so that when I sat down, I would not take it off).

This tradition continues today, and it is by far my best method of self-protection, though not infallible. When I was married, my husband was the Purse Savior, always ensuring it was with me when departing from coffeehouses, restaurants, theatres, vehicles, and foreign lands.

A catalog of things I recall losing or misplacing:

  • about 9 student IDs … I lost so many that, at a reunion, someone returned one of my IDs (after seven years)
  • three cell phones—including one iPhone
  • three purses including wallets
  • two megacases of CDs
  • two iPods
  • two retainers
  • two coats
  • numerous power adaptors
  • countless rings, necklaces, bracelets
  • shoes
  • pajamas
  • god knows how many floppy disks and files—I had to stop keeping an electronic journal in high school because I lost disk after disk after disk

One year—notably, the last year of my marriage—I lost my purse so often that my credit union started charging me a $10 fee whenever I called for credit/debit card replacements.

On my latest loss this week, I had to call Delta’s Lost & Found (a division of Baggage Services—my new favorite!), and file a claim. I had a good feeling my items would be recovered, so I tried not to worry about it. My colleagues and friends were more skeptical. “Only on the West Coast I wouldn’t worry,” my friend Christina stipulated.

So then I started to worry enough that I called The Conductor and asked him to overnight my passport and fifty bucks.

But as I expected, in 36 hours, I got a call. My stuff was safe and I could pick it up on my way home out of JFK.

In fact, my stuff was SO secure that it took 30 minutes to find someone at baggage services who could unlock the safe it was stored in. Delta also had fastidiously cleaned out my wallet of all bills and change to prevent staff theft. In place of the cash was a voucher for $59.16 to be redeemed from a Delta customer service agent.

There’s a beloved Czech novel called The Good Soldier Svejk. In it, Svejk bumbles through his service in the army, and does the stupidest things, but so good naturedly that he always comes out on top.

I try to view my foibles in this light. Nothing really bad has ever come from losing my things (e.g., no identity theft), and I have developed a healthy detachment from material objects.

Or maybe it’s my detachment from material objects that makes me so careless.

This reminds me of my great love for the poem—one of the best villanelles of all time—”One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop. It starts like this:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Read the entire poem at Poets.org

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Posted in Life Philosophy, Travel.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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