The Art of Losing

Oh goody! I thought, as I was in the lotus position centering myself. Susie, my yoga teacher, was coming around with those mantra cards. It was once again time for the universe to give me an important message. I squeezed my eyes shut in anticipation.

I need a message from the universe right now. I’ve been involuntarily transferred to a new school, and I can’t put enough emphasis on “involuntarily.” The people who have been my family for the last eight years are now going to be just “those people I used to work with.” I’m profoundly sad about this, maybe because it takes me so long to feel comfortable in a group. I’m repelled by the thought of walking into a different place and having to meet new people. Of having to “prove” myself again, of having to get people to like me. Of simply feeling alien while the returning teachers bask in their shared history and familiarity with one another.

I’m resisting this change, hard.

My palms were up, ready to receive whatever wisdom was in store for me. I opened my eyes to read my card.

You radiate a constant signal of joy.

I’m aware that these are mantras, not fortunes, but against all rationality, I insist on interpreting them as omens and continue to be furious when they’re obviously wrong. I don’t radiate a constant signal of anything, and if I do, it’s not joy. Malevolence, possibly. Misanthropy, perhaps. It’s probably bad that when I close my eyes and repeat the mantra, I’m simultaneously imagining myself stabbing random people in the face.

I’ve been crying for three days. Even Great Aunt Sis has told me to “stop this foolishness.” “You’ve got to toughen up,” she said. “You’ll be fine. You make friends easy.”

I tried not to roll my eyes at this patently absurd statement. I might be friendly, but I don’t make friends easily. Saying I make friends easily is as ridiculous as saying I’m “always so calm,” which a colleague actually told me a few years ago. Are you kidding me? I need alcohol to function socially. I constantly think I’m dying of ailments that aren’t even real (ear cancer, cinnamon poisoning, and once I thought my head was rotting from the inside). I’m not calm. Sasha, the colleague who probably knows me best, was sitting next to me when I was proclaimed “always so calm,” and she snorted derisively. “Well, I guess the pills are working,” she whispered.

“Bitch,” I whispered back.

It’s the sadness of loss I simply can’t get past. I’ve always had trouble with the Buddhist notion that one’s emotions are not reality. Intellectually, I understand what it means, but as a highly sensitive romantic, I can’t think of anything that constitutes reality more than what I feel. I already know all the rational arguments people have given me to make me feel better about changing jobs: I should feel lucky I have a job in this economy. Change is a part of life. I’ll be successful wherever I go. I’m not really losing my colleagues; I can still keep in touch with them. (Which is a naïve argument, because everyone knows that doesn’t happen.) My new colleagues might be just as great as my old ones.

My rational response to the “great new colleagues” argument: Maybe. I loved my colleagues at the school where I taught before this one, and I didn’t think I’d ever feel part of a community like that again, but I did.

My emotional response, which I actually uttered out loud to my husband: Fuck those new people! I want the OLD PEOPLE!

(I’m a great wife, and a joy to live with.)

On the way home from yoga I found a chocolate in my purse. It was one of those Dove “Promises,” which have sayings printed inside the foil wrappers, because people apparently need constant affirmation along with their cocoa beans, sugar, milkfat, and lecithin. They’re lame, almost as lame as the inspirational messages Tampax puts on the wrappers of their sports tampons. Naturally, I’m wild over them.

You are exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Love, Dove

Well, that was comforting. Where was that wrapper when I was 28? I distinctly could have used it when I was in a funhouse about to slide down a firepole into the arms of a crack addict in a fedora. Also when I was stuck in a gay park in the middle of Kansas. A lot happened that year. Anyway, the message really was comforting. If it’s one regret I have about my life, it’s that I never trusted “the process.” Instead of having faith that everything would work out, I’ve always dreaded some imaginary future outcome.

It reminds me of The Monster At The End of This Book, a story I used to love as a child.


Grover is worried because the title says there’s a monster at the end of the book.


So he begs the reader not to turn each page, erects barriers so that he won’t get to the end.


On the last page, Grover realizes the “monster” at the end of the book is himself.


It’s brilliant. It’s therapeutic.

In the coming weeks, I’ll read Grover for courage. Dove wrappers for consolation. And to toughen up, Elizabeth Bishop:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Now that’s wisdom. That should be on a tampon.