Sunday, 29 April 2007

Getting There -- Eventually

I have no sense of direction.

Now, when I say that, some might imagine that I simply have trouble finding my way places. That is certainly true: I have an awful time just getting from A to B. But my direction problem is so severe that you really have to see me in action to believe it. I'm not bragging and I'm not complaining; I'm just stating a fact. Even if I've been to a particular place over a dozen times, the odds are that I'd never be able to find my way there on my own. And even if by some miracle I did manage this, I'd never be able to find my way back.

I've been like this from the get-go, and the one thing I will say for this problem is that it does help you have interesting adventures. When I was just a toddler, I got lost after playing in my grandfather's front yard in Stockton. I couldn't remember which house his was, so I went to the neighbors' instead and walked in on a very lively party in full swing. The neighbors were quite taken with me and invited me in. One woman lifted me high over her head, then handed me to someone else. I got passed around the room and I still remember wondering what the hell was going on and what was so funny, as I sailed from smiling face to smiling face. Eventually one of the more sober revelers took me back to my grandfather's house next door, but it was an interesting two or three minutes.

I also got lost going home from school during my third week at kindergarten (we lived approximately one and a half blocks away from the school). I ended up at the house of a very nice family many blocks away from the school. They all spoke Spanish, which I found intriguing, and they had crucifixes on the walls; one of the little girls there was named Maria and she invited me to come over and play whenever I liked. Maria shared some chocolate gold coins with me, and Maria's mother had to get our telephone number from the directory and call my mother to come and get me; I blush to remember it. Sadly, I could not take Maria up on her offer to go and play with her: try as I might, I could not remember where she lived.

In Japan, I got lost on a regular basis and quickly learned how to ask for directions in about two dozen ways. I also learned that I could not trust anyone who couldn't immediately tell me the way. The minute someone frowned and started wondering if the the place I was looking for really was the second turning after the acupuncture clinic, past the temple and down the side road towards the second graveyard, I knew that I needed to find another person to tell me the way. I lived in Japan for seventeen years, and I'll bet that I spent a good six months of that time trying to find my way somewhere. But it did wonders for my Japanese, and besides, walking is great exercise.

Of course, I can laugh about it now and make light of the fact that I have this particular handicap, and yet there have been times that I have wept from frustration. Why oh why oh why, I have silently cried, was I given this particular defective brain with this vast, yawning desert where normal people have neat little grids -- built-in direction finders like those devices you can now get in cars that show you exactly where you are and where you ought to go?

I'm not sure when I stopped shaking my fists at the sky and learned acceptance, but I am now at peace with myself. The problem is not going to go away; like my eye color or height, it is an inherent part of me, and like it or hate it, it's here to stay. I now make a virtue of a necessity and tell myself that the quest is more important than the goal, the journey more important than the eventual destination. In fact, I want that on my tombstone:



Brian said...


My son in law has a sailorly background , and delights in asking me about directions and when I fail to describe them he asks me where is North . There is only one answer that I can give -- that it is where my nose is pointing at the time ,

Oddly , when we were in the Northern Hemisphere I had no trouble with direction finding at all !

And I am lucky in that once i have been to a place I can usually get there again flying by the seat of my pants - although getting back is a tad more difficult .

I am not good in reverese .

Mary Witzl said...

My husband does this too, Brian!
As someone who has an unerring sense of direction himself, he finds the fact that I do not an endless source of amusement.

In Japanese, someone like me is a 'hoko onchi,' 'hoko' being the word for directions and 'onchi' being someone with a tin ear. My husband, who has a fine voice and can play the guitar well, is actually a closet onchi who struggles with harmonies and changes of key. I am musically illiterate, but I have a good ear for music and can sing rounds, harmonies, etc. with no trouble whatsoever. The two of us are always amazed by each other's gifts and astonished at each other's idiocy.

Eryl Shields said...

Snap! once more: I am always getting lost. I once spent over four hours trying to get out of Leeds. I seem, instinctively to go in the opposite direction to the one I am meant to be going in. I've spent a great deal of time driving in utter confusion in various cities. I now wince at the thought of having to go to an unfamiliar city by car. In fact even Edinburgh, with its hideous one way system, can bring me out in a cold sweat.

I still get lost on the way to my sisters house and always have to stop and phone her: 'Hello, I think I'm not too far but can't find your street. I'm outside a tatoo parlour called...'

The upside of this is that I have stumbled upon some really beautiful places. And I have quite a good visual memory so can usually find somewhere a second time, eventually. As long as it's not in a city.

Mary Witzl said...

Edinburgh drives me wild. I go there once a month to attend a Japanese chat club, and although I've done this for the better part of a year, I still get lost on the way to the bistro where it is held. But yes, I also find a lot of interesting places that I might otherwise miss. My eldest accompanies me to Edinburgh and wants me to drive the car there instead of going by bus. Just the idea of doing this brings me out in a cold sweat -- it's almost too horrible to imagine. The funny thing is, although she hates to admit it, my eldest, who has inherited many of her father's cognitive skills, has inherited my abysmal sense of direction.

Kim Ayres said...

I am now doubly impressed at you making it over to Maggie's exhibition, having already respected your battle with being a new(ish) driver.

I'm one of those who has an inate sense of direction. It's nothing I've learned though, it's just always been there, and has gotten me out of scrapes on many occasions. My wife on the other hand...

Mary Witzl said...

I reckon that if they ever did an autopsy on my brain, they'd be stunned that anyone with my particular affliction should have managed to get through life at all. I have friends who have no sense of direction and they have told me that I make them feel normal. There have been times when I have literally torn my hair.

On the day I drove to Dalbeattie I shouted and pumped the air with my fist when I finally arrived, safely. (Once I'd parked the car and set the parking brake, that is...) And Maggie's exhibit was worth the effort!

eg(scotland) said...

Mary - thanks for leaving a comment on my site. I now know why you'd rather stay on earth than go into space - take a right at Mars and left at Jupiter!

I'm reasonably good on directions (having said that I'll probably now get lost next trip). But my husband (my domestic god) is not so good. Not for the first time we've been travelling somewhere in the car and I've decided to have a snooze (because it's a straight road and he couldn't possibly get lost) and I wake up to find we're miles off track. Oh well, makes life interesting and we've come across a few places we probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.


Mary Witzl said...

Hello, eg, and thank you for commenting on my blog. They say that it's women who tend to have abysmal senses of directions, and I definitely fit the stereotype. But I know a lot of women who don't, and who, like you, claim that their husbands are the ones who couldn't find their way out of a paper bag. My mother had a fine sense of direction... and my father was just like me.

Charlie said...

. . . the second turning after the acupuncture clinic, past the temple and down the side road towards the second graveyard . . .

Odd, those are the EXACT directions to my house!

Oh, and throw "Tucson" at your husband the linguist.

Mary Witzl said...

Oh, believe me, I did. 'Tuck-son,' he said earnestly, 'is that how you pronounce it?' Bless his heart.

Imagine me getting the directions to your house right! That's the first time I've ever managed to get ANY directions correct, believe me. You sound as though you live in an interesting neighborhood, and I will forever picture you living in Kamakura.

Brian said...

It must be because we in Oz are saturated with American tv shows that I don't really have much trouble with pronunciations of American place names.

I had an English father too, and that helped with some of the more arcane English ones--Beauchamp and Beaulieu for example


Mary Witzl said...

But those are just two out of many thousands, Brian! You master a few and think that you have got the rules down, but in fact, you've only scratched the surface...