So, your mind is a bowl, and every unmanaged problem is a leak in that bowl. Lost library books aren’t on par with broken or breaking marriages, foreclosure, bankruptcy, or serious illnesses. Yet, they create a little cloud of worry. Part of awareness is lost in mental as well as physical searching, and in imagining possibilities and trying to remember.

This summer I was out of the country for three weeks. I “lost” both my library card and all my keys upon return, because the place where I had put each—perfectly sensible, in each case—was too logical for my everyday mind! It was several days before I happened on each object, separately, in the perfect place I had designed for it. The keys were hanging on the nail that holds up our wall calendar—because also hanging there was the key to the apartment of a home-bound friend who might need looking in on. The logical place for the library card was in a “card wallet” in my car’s glove compartment. I didn’t remember ever putting it there, but having looked everywhere else, I finally checked, and there it was!

Three wayward books

A week or so later, the first email about a library book came. The Vintage Book of Latin American Stories was due in two days. That was a surprise. I could picture myself placing it in the overnight book deposit bin. I could even hear the creaky bin door closing afterwards.

I decided to tell the library I’d indeed returned the book. But before I did so, another notice came. The Collected Essays of James Baldwin was also due. Gulp. I didn’t remember putting that one in the bin. Where was it? Hadn’t I returned all my outstanding books? As I tried to think that through, a notice for yet a third book, Walking Barcelona, arrived. That was one of several Barcelona books I’d checked out before visiting that city, and one that I’d chosen not to take along. I thought I’d returned it a week before my trip.

Well, it was unlikely that the library was wrong about three books. The probability was that they were somewhere amid the vast and complicated spaces of my world. Were they in the trunk or under a seat of my car? Were they in our nearly full storage area, down by our parking space? Or in the large cluttered closet in my office? I have many cloth shoulder or carrying bags, and often stash things in one. Were they strewn in one on the closet floor? Under my bed? Had I placed them in one of our bookcases until I got back? Or in some other place that hadn’t even occurred to me yet? Perhaps I’d again found the perfect place, but would never think of it until hefty fines had already accrued.

If the books were truly lost, they would probably cost me $40 or so. I’d never lost that many books before. Once, several years ago, I was on the verge of declaring a whole shoulder bag of children’s books for my preschool classes lost. They would have cost $100 to replace, but the bag turned up the day they were due.

My descent into “Search mode”

I began living with a subtext. My mind went into “Search” mode. While going to work, spending time with my wife, and now and then being inspired to write a poem or crop a photo to share from my travels, and generally trying to live in the Active Present… I found myself continually making plans to check our storage closet again, to look on one shelf there I might have missed. Had I really checked all the corners of my car’s trunk, and stuck a hand or peered all the way back into the dark recesses under the seats? Every time I entered a room, my mind and eyes began going to the bookcase or the closet and scanning, imagining. It was almost like having a second job.

Once more, unless I really had lost the books—and I found that very unlikely—I’d completely outsmarted myself! My “dragnet” of awareness honed in to finer and finer magnifications of space. My mind began to spend  its idle moments trying to come up with “one more place” I hadn’t looked.

The moment of relief

This morning, I entered the dining room, where I made an encampment at the table a year or so back, when my stepson began staying with us frequently for business he had in the Bay Area. He slept on the daybed in my office for a week or two at a time, and set up his laptop there, too.

By now, I had prodigious piles of things on the dining room table. Surveying it, I thought, “No, nothing could possibly be here.” But then, my eyes, scanning over a pile of books and notebooks rising from the tabletop, noticed that I couldn’t really see the titles of the books near the bottom of the pile! A sheet of paper obscured the view. I moved closer and pushed aside that barrier, The name “James Baldwin” stared up at me from the spine of one of the tomes.

I practically heard angelic music! In a moment, I was holding all three missing volumes in my hands. The dragnet had done its job!

I returned the books that afternoon. Since then, I’ve been breathing easier. All I have to do now is get out of the habit of slipping into “Search” mode whenever I enter a room.

Read more about the complexities of the mind in YOUR FEELINGS: MY BRAIN: They’re more connected than many of us would think»

image: Max Reif