Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Losing it

I am in a bad way at the moment - physically, emotionally, spiritually wrung out, at the end of my tether.

It's getting light horribly early in the mornings (they don't do daylight savings time here - silly 'Western' idea!) and I don't have any decent blackout curtains, so I rarely achieve more than four hours or so of sleep at night. It's now also started to get rather hot, and occasionally muggy too; and I discover that the air-conditioning in my new apartment is dysfunctional, so this past week I've been struggling to get even two or three hours' sleep per night. I am deeply stressed about work, and some other things too. I realise my earnings have been so low over the past five months that I really can't afford a holiday this year, much as I feel I need one. And I always get rather gloomy in the month or so leading up to the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

Then, yesterday morning, while anxiously waiting for news on a big editing job (a windfall that would have paid for my imminent visa renewal, and perhaps for a short holiday as well), I suddenly discovered that I had lost my wallet. I ransacked my apartment for 10 minutes trying to find it, almost making myself late for an early teaching appointment at a university - no sign of it. I had to resign myself to the fact that I had probably lost it - or had it pick-pocketed - when I'd nipped out to the 7/11 for a few minutes the previous evening.

'Vexing' is an inadequate description of the effect this had on me: I wasn't so much annoyed as.... well, swamped by a sense of confusion and despair and self-lacerating frustration.

It wasn't the practical inconvenience of the loss that bothered me so (much, much less trouble than the loss of my keys or my phone might have been): there had been quite a substantial amount of money in it (the last ready cash I had to my name, having just shelled out for another quarter's rent and a new visa), but I at least had a wad of small bills in my pocket (the change from that apparently ill-fated grocery expedition) to cover my immediate needs, and I was expecting to earn some more cash-in-hand again in a couple of days. And I had recently cleaned the wallet out of potentially valuable business cards and phone numbers, and removed my bank cards (I only take them out of the apartment when I know I've got to make a withdrawal; I live entirely on my cash earnings 95% of the time). It had been rather a nice wallet, I thought, a recently purchased treat for myself; and it did have a few 'lucky coins' in it, which I would be sorry to lose, for their sentimental associations. But, really, this was not such a heavy blow. The loss of the money only pained me because I am so financially embarrassed at the moment; and I try not to be a slave to money, try not to be too concerned about it (especially when I'm short of it!). The loss of the wallet and its other contents was only a very minor regret.

I should have been able to bounce back from this small 'disaster' with a wry chuckle and a worldweary shrug - c'est la vie; easy come, easy go.

But in my current emotionally depleted state, this irksome mischance knocked me sideways.

Well, I've never been very good with losing things, I suppose. A lost handkerchief can drive me to rages of tears sometimes. And I loathe the sock-eating washing-machine as one of the most malign mysteries of the universe. Despite my best efforts to cultivate a Daoist mellowness about life, to expunge any obssessive-compulsive tendencies I may find in myself, and to pursue the Buddhist ideal of 'non-attachment' to the material world,..... somehow that all goes out of the window when I lose something.

Disruption of comfortable patterns and routines is no doubt part of it: I am seldom aware of my wallet in my pocket, but I am continuously aware of it when it is suddenly not there; aware of it, and troubled by it, tormented by a feeling of being naked, vulnerable, powerless without it.

Disruption of one's self-image is perhaps an even larger component: I am proud of the fact that I am mostly very careful and well-organized with my possessions, that I always know where things are (this was a skill that I particularly had to cultivate during my military training, when I might have dozens of diverse pieces of small - but potentially vital - equipment stashed about me in various pockets or pouches, and I had to be able to locate any one of them at a moment's notice, even when wretchedly brain-fogged by sleep deprivation); I am proud of the fact that I am the sort of person who never loses things. Thus, when I do lose something, it is sometimes not so much the loss of the thing itself that bothers me as the negation of this part of my self-image, the jarring sense that I have somehow lost part of myself.

And then, of course, there's the compulsion to understand - one of the strongest drives in my character, and one of the few arguably obsessive behaviours that I have not been able to (nor would want to) jettison. How could this possibly have happened? Where is the 'lost' thing now? It is a futile self-interrogation, I know, since it's seldom going to be possible to find an answer; yet I often find it impossible to shut off this insistent need to know, and the unanswerable questions just keep whirring round and round in my head.

Probably the worst thing of all, though, is the nagging conviction that 9 times out of 10 the thing, whatever it is, is not lost at all, but merely mislaid. And with that thought comes the awful knowledge that most times I think I've lost something, it is in fact exactly where I thought I'd left it all along. (Is this a common experience, or a special private hell of my own?) It is hard then not to succumb to paranoid fantasies that I am the victim of strange, malignant forces in the universe; unseen gremlins, perhaps, who remove and then return the things I've 'lost'; or some sort of imperceptible disruption of the timeline which has transferred me to a subtly different 'reality' from the one I occupied yesterday. Perhaps it is more comforting to try to believe in these outlandish notions than to confront the fact the world is not always as we perceive it or as we remember it, that our brains are frail and fallible organs which routinely deceive us in the most bizarre and intricate ways.

It is not nice to be haunted by this spectre of cognitive dysfunction. And it is not nice to have our certainty in our experience of the world so undermined.

I think that's why I so hate losing things.

The wallet was - as I'd always suspected - still in the pocket of the trousers I'd been wearing the night before. I had looked in there three or four times, and for some reason been unable to see or feel it. Strange, very strange.

[I tried to take comfort from the fact that at least my bank cards had not been in the wallet. Since I am currently without my passport - being processed for a new visa - and have no other form of valid ID in this country, I would have been unable to access any of my money for probably at least two weeks. Worse, even with the passport, I might have had difficulty 'proving' my identity to the banks to get new cards, and might have faced the prospect of being cut off from my life savings. This has happened to me before, and it was only by an amazing stroke of good fortune that I was eventually able to retrieve my money and close my account with the bank in question. I have long been meaning to blog about that incident, but it is such a traumatic memory that I have put off doing so. Indeed, this was a fear so devastating that I found no comfort in it, only heightened anxiety. If I ever lose my bank cards, I am in a world of trouble.]


The British Cowboy said...

I am going through misplacement trauma right now. Before I went to India/Taipei, my father & stepmother stayed with me. And decided to be helpful and "tidied." I now know where nothing is in my house...

Froog said...

Sorry to hear that, Cowboy. But at least that's a more regular form of annoyance. You have the frustration of not finding things where you expect them to be, but not the awful torment of not knowing how this could have come to be.

I hope you get things "straightened out" again soon.

stuart said...

Your 'losing it' trauma reminds me of the totally inappropriate level of vexation that losing a relatively cheap - but favourite - pen of mine caused in China one time.

And yes, that turned up too.

Oh, and I had my pocket picked of 600RMB at Luoyang train station once. I was not so pissed off about the money as I was that some scoundrel had gotten away with it.

Froog said...

I have a sneaking admiration for pick-pockets: it is an impressively skillful form of thievery.

And I try to maintain a 'philosophical attitude' about losing money, or having it stolen - especially in a country like this, where most people are so dirt poor. I like to think that it may do someone else more good than it would have done me.

Of course, that's not to say that if I caught someone in the act of stealing from me, I wouldn't give them a good hard slap....

Froog said...

Moreover, the routine loss or theft of a few hundred kuai pales into insignificance beside the ICBC's attempt to steal 100,000 RMB from me.

The British Cowboy said...

It is an ongoing process. Like when I did 7 loads of laundry Sunday, only to discover that I had no wooden coathangers. Why, I hear you ask? Because my step mother thought it was rational to put them all in the other closet. Where no clothes are kept.