You Have No Sense Of Direction

I try to describe my directionlessness, while apologizing to those harried, forgiving souls who have mistakenly followed me down the wrong path yet again, as what I imagine it might be like to have dyslexia.

In those moments when I’m most lost I can feel the blind firing of a loose connection in front of my eyes. That moment when the world is meant to come inside and assert its patterns but instead a flashing barrier comes down, a toll that hasn’t been paid on the neural highway that would allow me access to the way forward.

I’m incapable of placing a winning bet (horse races; flip a coin; pick a hand).

If offered two options (Lady’s Midnight Snack Killer or Dexy’s Midnight Runner; heads or tails; left hand or right) — I invariably chose the wrong one. It’s impressive almost, my consistency.

And similarly, although the laws of odds and oddities would seem to dictate that occasionally (once! ever!) I would pick the right direction to start striding confidently in the direction of my dreams, I have time and again proven that I am the exception to the rule. Even when I try to cheat at my own game and act against my worser instincts, I still only end up circumventing my both goal and intended direction, invariably choosing the wrong direction.

Like my internal compass is set to “Confound.”

Undoubtably I am used as a case study in bloodhound puppy training classes. A cautionary tail.

(Don’t even bother bringing up cardinal directions. As far as I’m concerned, north is still “up,” just as it was in the second grade when we stood scattered throughout the classroom and played Simon Says with pointed arms to learn — theoretically — which way was which.)

The idea of home obsesses me. Coming home, returning home, leaving home. Making a home, building a home, finding a home.

A few years ago I sent applications to humanities PhD programs off into the void. The void was unwelcoming. I had wanted to study “the home”: How we chisel and carve (with pen and paper, most specifically) a space of our own out of the entirety of the world.

Maybe that was too vague?

On the first day of a college internship at a newspaper upstate, I got myself very lost on the highway. Mostly because I couldn’t figure out where to make one particular turn-off.

In the pre-smartphone era, I called (again and again) from the side of the road the world’s kindest receptionist, who (again and again) attempted to guide me to the newspaper office. I drove north and south, changing lanes amid mid-morning trucker traffic, missing blaring green roadway signs, speeding desperately through miles of mountainous highway, praying for the next exit so I could turn around and do it again, Odysseus on the Hutchinson River Parkway.

I arrived two hours late, sweating, tear-streaked, and nerve-rattled. I missed orientation.

It was okay, though.

I find I have often been both where I am and hardly any place at all.

The homes I dream of are fantastic, in that they are unreal. They exist high up or far below: treehouses in redwood forests; tiny impossibly high attic garrets that blow in city winds; caves with ancient art on the walls and doors made out of carefully positioned branches and deceptively light boulders; rambling ground-floor garden estates where flowers and vines grow up through the tiles on the floor and natural springs feed the indoor plumbing.

These are very different from the homes that I, literally, dream about: my only recurring dreams are about the homes I grew up in. Sometimes I relive 9th birthday parties, and sometimes I fend off armed invaders during an all-out assault.

(I’m lying: In my other recurring dream I smoke cigarettes.)

I well and fully freaked out when asked (by a blog, so I knew it was personal), “Is Your Bad Sense of Direction Bad for Feminism?

Great. Now I will not only be late for my second interview, I’m letting down the sisterhood, too.


But, okay, I have to admit there’s some truth here: Panic! At The Intersection is not badass. It is not an independent, RBJ-approved look.

Is Beyoncé ever disoriented?

HGTV doesn’t interest me. House Hunters, House Hunters International, House Hunters in Spaaaaaace: I give your kitchen remodels a resounding “eh.” Apartment Therapy is fine, occasionally, if I’ve refreshed every other blog a dozen times. Shelter magazines are a pretty distraction while waiting to be told yet again that I really need to floss more.

New York City is an oasis for the perpetually lost — not that numbered streets ever entirely kept me from losing my way.

I’m pretty sure the Tri-Wizard Cup is hidden somewhere in the labyrinth of the West Village, but if you walk far enough you’ll hit the East River, or Central Park, or (god forbid) Port Authority, that drainage pipe through which so much of the city spews and recedes.

photo: Nicolai Berntsen

In New York I always knew, eventually, where I was plotted in the coordinates of the city.

And even if the grid was constantly being renamed, developers razing streets and raising condos, if I stood still for just a moment someone would come along to tell me where I was.

A Public Apology to Lost Tourists Who Have Asked Me for Directions Over the Last Five Years:

Dear Sven, et al.,

Thank you for thinking I looked directionally sound. Savvy. I’m sorry. You were wrong.

So was I: 2nd Avenue is actually back over there.

I promise I was trying! I hope you still made your reservation!


p.s. Do you know where Broadway is?

Recently I moved from New York to Charleston, South Carolina. I’ve unmoored myself in a way that once seemed impossible, because how do you go somewhere if you never know where you are?

Everything’s new and fresh (moist, sort of) and devoid of the filters (sepia-toned, rose-colored, over-exposed, an almost complete absence of light) which colored New York.

I relate to things differently because now I’m almost always driving instead of walking, or shuttling squished underground with my hipster brethren. My GPS calmly tells me where to go as soon as I ask it, a series of turns down roads named after men I didn’t learn about in high school history and highways with startlingly little traffic, crossing over wide stretches of marsh.

The panic that sets in upon finding myself at a crossroads is, I have recently realized, the (rapidly) beating heart of the problem:

Not the choices themselves, but the inability to weigh them.

There was news (sadly now possible debunked?) a few years back that pigeons did what they do — leave and return, prevent wars, reunite families — with the aid of magnets in their beaks or wings.

How elegant, how simple, how scientific!
photo: Patryk Sobczak … also I know these aren’t pigeons

Sign me up, I thought: A tastefully embedded compass tattoo under the thin skin of my right hand, gently pulling me wherever I wanted to go.

I would gladly take this as my X-Men power. Magneta, they could call me.

But if this internal avian wiring doesn’t exist at all, then maybe it’s eternal wiring instead: an accretion over generations, in brains streamlined down from dinosaurs. Driving birds on the wind toward warmer weather.