Words: Mimic, Underground, Temple
Self-mimicry, with rehearsal. All I had to do was retrace my steps. I’d gone this way a dozen times. Half by jeep, half on foot. Most in daylight. Granted, it had taken our drivers an hour to find it in the dark, with the family on the phone giving directions. I squinted into the cool ebony air. Nara had left the day before, and I was alone. I wanted to just burrow underground and sleep. What kind of sick joke was this? I could write a 40-page research paper on the livestock trade in Mongolia, but not find my way home? To what temple had I failed to pray? By what God(esse)s had I been forsaken? I continued to wander through the night.
Lost, a state I am always one foot into or out of. Yet this time by utter choice. Searching for a place to knock out whatever foundation was left. I headed to Los Angeles, then Beijing, and onwards to Ulaanbaatar with its slums, diskos, and Lenin-guarded red-light district.
A friend once asked me why I was geography major if I have no sense of direction. I told him, who better to make maps than someone whose life depends on them. He said that’d be like becoming a musician because you can’t read music. But I think it’s more like becoming a music typesetter because you’re tone deaf but love music nonetheless…
Johnson is a giant chunk of 70’s cement, with floors and corners and stairs going every-which-way. Once I had a class there. I could never find the bathroom. I would go from the classroom, across the open center atrium to the stairs, down to the 2nd floor. But then which corner was the bathroom in? Only by trial and error did I find it. Then I went to the bathroom and returned to class.
Now, has the fresh ink restored the instrument’s relevance? Doubtful. More likely, it has bought a few minutes — a few breath strokes of life before descending into the matter underworld.
Sense of Direction
Every animal has a sense of direction, mostly. There are a few exceptions. I am one of them.
I enter a door, go up a flight of stairs to the landing, turn, then up another flight or two to emerge on the next floor. Which way am I facing?
The concept of NSEW has relevance only on a map, or a mapped reality.
Which way does my bedroom face — at home? Well, the sun comes up through one window… and situated on a primitive mental map…
So it must face north. I know this only from my re-understanding, re-deriving. It will not be saved in some spatial buffer to be called upon by other faculties. For those faculties, too, are absent. Perhaps leaving this sense to atrophy like the quadriceps of so many an astronaut.
I open the door to our family van, climb into the passenger seat. I am intently intentioned, committed fully to committing our route to memory, at least for the now. We turn onto Beacon St., head E or W, turn, then turn, then turn, then turn
Where am I? I scan the roadsides street signs for familiars. I am in space only insofar as I can locate myself. Which way did we turn? How many times? Black.
I could blame this on an attention to other — dependence reliance on the f of my traveling companions. Yet even driving alone, a route taken many times becomes alien without a look to refresh from directions. After only a month
Wow do I ever need a GPS
Travel log records only departures arrival and points of extraordinary interest. Places may be recorded, but without spatial loci, perhaps located in time. Perhaps scattered, associated by other characteristics.
A place separated without a place in space contextless space.
To live in the moment; many declare it among the ultimate of virtues. If not virtues, then at least enviable ways of being, such that one lives more peacefully. Yet to truly live in the moment is to be dead without context in space or time—to have no history. On what scale does history unfold? Events in time are abstracted, separated by snippets and glimpses of the intermediate.
Contextual space serves, acts, the same. I pass between home and school; first, daily, then weekly, then for the past 7 years, 2-3 times per year.
Floating in space-time
In utter, perpetual awe of the world
Map in hand to catch
Upon return to cruel context
Merciless lacking of orientation
Sense of direction is another name for sense of place — present and past. Not the typical sense of place, whereby we concentrate on the universal experience at a particular set of related locations. This is the set of spatial experience belonging to one person, or group. Where I am, wherefore, whence I came. Such a sense is constituted by many disparate perceptions.
Culture shock vs. ”Platial Shock“
It took me two weeks to learn how to get to school. Every school day we went the same way. From our rooms at the top of the student hostel, we descended to the increasingly frigid streets of UB. A short walk and a wait later, we were aboard a Korean trolley bus, creaking our way down Peace Ave. I still don’t past the east crossroads is a long stretch of empty road, only one stop or its 2.5 km. Then the trolley arrived at the end of the line, the war memorial. That’s what we called it.
It was my girlfriend’s 21st birthday; I dreamed up a romantic weekend in the little town we used to visit in my summers as a kid —— to a bed and breakfast on the water, a massage, dinner whatever
I got directions, and we were on our way. I drove. We fought.
Memory contradicts —— It works, then doesn’t. It prioritizes omits on its own. Names, place. Perhaps most important to evolutionary fitness—certainly compared to grasping social theory or multi-variable calculus.
Where am I?
I am here
Where is here
The question has answers on infinite scales. Some would relate to the compass and stars, the buildings and landscape; others to political units of varying scale from town to country state.
Where am I facing?
>According to Kozlowski and Bryant, sense of direction is “an awareness of location or orientation which specifies where the participant is when he or she moves around the environment.”[^katokozlowski]
[^katokozlowski]: Kato and Takeuchi, ”Individual differences in wayfinding strategies.“
I stared into the black night – – utterly devoid of light. So blind I feared I might strike a fence with my face.
I walked towards home — that is, out of town. There were several streets – leading off the main road. Then the main road split. Which street was it? I didn’t know. So I kept walking. Aimless
Eventually, I went into a store. A woman there joked with me, someone had ”Purev the changer’s“ phone and gave him a call. I corrected them when they told him a tourist was here asking for him
A middle-aged man approached me, and I asked directions. He pointed but them suggested I just go home the next morning. I could stay at his house for the night. I politely declined and walked away as quickly as possible.
Finally I saw Purev’s jeep pull up outside and I ran out to meet him. He met me with his jolly grin and we went home. His wife Nara Made fun of me about something, and I tried to explain that I’d gotten lost. We all laughed. Then I retreated to my room to type up my notes.
Why? Everyone asks, why?
When they learn that I spent 3.6 months living in Mongolia
Why did I choose to go there of all places
Part of the reason was the desire to lose myself. I longed for disjointedness not through geography per se; I could get that in 20 minutes in the woods. I longed for what geographic distance brought with it. I was going to a land of alien culture, custom, cuisine, climate color
For years I’ve justified my ignorance of Boston with the fact I went to boarding school for 4 years
Being lost in a place you should know is mortifying especially if people find out
When weekend guests know from which way you came on the street after shopping at a store. Guests who never been to the city before.
It took me 2 months to orient myself in Ulaanbaatar xot.
>”While sometimes thought of as a formal and conventional enterprise, the mapping of the layout and identity of environmental features is essentially symbolic and selective, a process embedded in culture, communication, and human purpose.” [^sensewayfinding]
[^sensewayfinding]: Cornell, Sorenson, and Mio, ”Human Sense of Direction and Wayfinding.“
The brain has many faculties with which to orient itself in space, find a destination, return to an origin, etc…
>Kato and Takeuchi reject Kozlowski and Bryant’s 1977 definition in favor of one that is more nuanced: “as comprising three components: basic cognitive abilities, strategies for the use of internal and external representation resources, and knowledge which people require to guide themselves in the course of their interaction with an evnironmental space… the three components constitute a hierarchy within an internal process of navigation”[^katodef]
[^katodef]:Kato and Takeuchi, ”Individual differences in wayfinding strategies.“
They have evolved over millennia to aid us in our survival
There are gender differences.
Wayfinding can be accomplished through many strategies.
Lost and Found. Lost is not state. There is no pure essence of lost — though it may after feel as though — at least until death. But then we are found, by the US that retreats into our chest cavity
Cornell, Edward H., Autumn Sorenson, and Teresa Mio. ”Human Sense of Direction and Wayfinding.“ Annals of the Association of American Geographers 93, no. 2 (June 2003): 399-425.
Kato, Yoshinobu, and Yoshiaki Takeuchi. ”Individual differences in wayfinding strategies.“ Journal of Environmental Psychology 23, no. 2 (June 2003): 171-188.