Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Where Am I?

To say that I have a bad sense of direction doesn’t begin to cover it.

It’s not even that I have no sense of direction.

I have a sense of direction that actively tells me wrong.

Invariably, if I think my destination is to the right, it will be to the left.

And trying to do that mental calculation – “If I think it’s this way, it must be that way” – either turn after turn or quickly, such as while driving, is impossible. The gears in my brain will grind to a halt, and I will, yet again, be lost.

How bad is it?

I get lost in office buildings. I get lost trying to make the block. Even when I lived in New York City (a grid would be easy, you’d figure), I’d have to stop on the sidewalk, face north and visualize the subway map, in order to know which way east or west was. If streets actually curve, forget it. Hell, I have used the GPS on my phone while walking in my own neighborhood to get home.

The GPS is, incidentally, in my estimation, the Best Invention Ever.

Here in Houston, a large percentage of small talk centers on where things are. I nod. I smile. I say, “Oh, yes: there.” However, people always seem to sense I am faking – and will keep trying to explain, sure they can clear it up for me. They can't.

This condition, I have recently discovered, has a name: developmental topographical disorientation. Some people have it much worse than I do, even getting lost in their own homes. In one article I read, the author said something like “Can you believe it? Some people don’t automatically know which way north is.”

To which I can only respond, “Everybody else does?”


  1. You need one of those weird organs that birds have that help them migrate. Or a chaufer.

  2. I once read an article on the languages of some indigenous peoples and the absence of words for relative orientations in their vocabularies. I may be remembering wrong, but I believe the Aboriginals were one-- and they utterly lack words for "left," "right," "front," "back," etc. because they describe everything in terms of true north. From a young age, they learn to always be aware of the cardinal directions, and where they or other objects are in relation, and use them to describe the positions of things. So if you came up behind someone and asked them to hand you the pair of scissors on the table to their right, they'd have no idea what you were talking about and would be like to look around confused. You'd have to say something along the lines of, "There's a pair of scissors on that table to your south-west-- could you please give them to me?" Or in giving direction, they wouldn't say "Hang a left at the third traffic light," it would be "Take an east at the stop sign and the post office will be the third building on the north." Spin them around and blindfold them and they could still do it as accurately, but with the directions reversed. Could you imagine having that kind of skill with directions?

    1. Oh, I don't think I'd make it into the gene pool in that community ....