Wednesday, March 13, 2013

WanderLost: The Missing Link In My DNA Needs A GPS

One of the stories my mother loves to trot out in order to embarrass me is The Communion Story.  It matters not at all that A) I have ceased to be a Good Sport about it; B) the hearer has probably already heard it; C) it happened eleventy thousand years ago; and/or D) there are several billion other charming stories starring Yours Truly that she could and should tell, but this one remains, inexplicably, her Favourite.

In a nutshell, here it is:

When I was about ten, our parish got a new church built, which was round.  We had a good-sized congregation, and when it was time for communion, it was common practice for two priests to administer it.  We formed two lines and went up.  Well, one time, the priest on my side of the church, at the head of my line, ran out of wafers.  I was directed by a helpful usher to the other line, got communion, and had to circle the entire church to get back to our pew.  I promptly got turned about and became lost.  I could not find my parents and siblings.  I kept looking and walking more and more slowly.  My father, seeing my panic, stood up so that I could see him.  Relieved, I quickened my pace and slid into the pew.  The end.

Well, to hear and see St. Patsy tell this story, it was an epic event replete with emotion and nonverbal histrionics on both sides of the battle.  She really gets into it.  And I sit there while everyone marvels at how anyone could become lost inside a one-roomed area!  And they all look at me as if it just happened yesterday when I was fifty-three and oh how funny!  Good thing you made it, or you'd still be there today!


In 1981 I was married there, by the way, and made it out just fine.

Anyway, I wish I could say that The Communion Incident was an isolated one, but it wasn't.  I've been getting lost regularly forever.  I used to think it was from not paying much attention, but it really isn't that.  I can go to the same place for years and years, and I can still get turned around.  There just isn't that sort of Logical Orientation Thing going on in me that there is in everyone else.  My mother, especially, has an unfailing sense of direction.  Her problem, though, is her inability to be able to communicate it to others.  Here is a typical conversation between the two of us:

Nance:  Which way do I turn?
Mom:  North.
Nance:  What?  How the heck do I know which way North is from here?  I mean right or left.
Mom:  Oh, Nance.  Of course you know.  North is where the lake is.  So go in the direction of the lake!
Nance:  Mom.  We are nowhere near the lake.  How in the hell do I know where the lake is from here?  We can't even see the lake.  What a dumb reference.  Just tell me right or left.
Mom:  Oh for pity's sake.  You have lived near the lake all your life.  How can you not know where it is?  It's North.  North.  The lake is always North.
Nance:  Mom.  We did not live "near the lake."  We didn't even go in that lake.  And I know where it is, but Not. From. Here.  I'm going right.
Mom:  You were supposed to go left.

I'm the person who gets off the elevator and hesitates because I can't remember whether to go left or right.  Every time.  Give me directions with landmarks because that is a tangible guide for me.  Better yet, come with me and I'll follow your lead.  Yes, you can drive.  (Rick--and my friends--always did before I got my own GPS.)

Can you imagine how overjoyed I was to read this article?  To find out that my defect/disability is probably a genetic disorder?  It was immensely comforting to find out, after all these years, that "individuals with Williams syndrome have strong language skills and are extremely social, but they have trouble...navigating their bodies through the physical world."  Instead of having the chromosome for reorienting one's body in a space, people with the syndrome are unable to construct a sort of geometrical mental map of their surroundings.  They cannot, for example, look for spatial cues to orient themselves.  Their surroundings always seem random, regardless of prior experience with them.

That's me.  And, to a lesser degree, one of my sisters.  And I'm not entirely certain that my dad wasn't a closet Lost One, either.

I'm not going to feel any less cranky when St. Patsy hauls out The Communion Story this Easter (she's way overdue, and that's the next family gathering), but in my quiet heart of hearts, I'll feel vindicated.

image found here


  1. Mike has a Map of the World in his head & rarely gets lost. And I am more like you. I memorize how to get somewhere & lord help me if the interstate is clogged up & I try to take an earlier exit. I once got so lost trying to find a church I ATTENDED FOR 13 YEARS that I gave up & drove back home. Sigh.

  2. I do that to my kids, just as my mother and grandmother did it to me. Cruel.
    I usually have a strong sense of direction, a compass in my head, but once, in Zimbabwe (my excuse was wrong continent, no sun, roads all looked alike) I lost it. I knew from my map what intersection I was at, but I had no idea, none, which way was back to Harare. I was totally terrified. So, you have all my sympathy!

    I was 50.

    My kids do not tell this story on me, on pain of death after dismemberment, à la Robert the Bruce in Braveheart. You might mention this to your mother?

  3. When we lived on the East Coast, most people used 'left' and 'right' to give directions, but when we moved to Arizona, it seemed like everyone used compass directions, and it drove me crazy. CRAZY. It took me almost 4 years(during most of which I was frequently lost) to figure out which landmarks to use (camelback/South Mountain/The Superstitions, etc.) to know which direction I was going - and then we moved. My mother has a built-in GPS and never gets lost. I, on the other hand, get lost all the time. It was bad enough in the US, but it's 100x worse here in Seoul where I can't read most of the signs and all of the restaurants have the same smiling pig on them. This is why it took me 18 months to get the balls to drive my kid to and from school. From now on, when people comment on my poor navigational skills, I'm going to look furtively around, lower my voice, and whisper apologetically, "You see, I have Williams Syndrome." That should take care of it.

  4. Anonymous5:53 PM

    You poor child. Lost back then. Embarassed by a mother now. It's a miracle that you function as well as you do. Great story! Fascinating to know that having no sense of direction is an actual thing.

  5. Nance,

    MsCaroline's comments about Korea reminded me of how a friend of mine got hopelessly lost in Tokyo and how she solved her problem.

    Her husband was employed by a large company and was transferred from London to Tokyo.

    She flew to Tokyo with her two small children and settled in but did not go anywhere alone in the car because she wasn't confident about directions.

    One day she decided to pick up her nerve and go out in the car with the kids. Well, she got all mixed up and had no idea how to get home.

    She got out of the car and hailed a taxi. She had a letter addressed to herself in her purse and showed that to the driver. He then told her to get in. She said,"No, I don't want to get in. I want you to go to this address and I will follow you in my car."

    So, that is exactly what they did and when they got to her door she paid him the fare as if she had been riding with him.

    I always thought that she was very clever to think of this..

    On to another case of no "Internal GPS"

    My SIL is directionally challenged, as you are, and has to bless herself whenever someone tells her to turn right or left. Her left shoulder is left and her right should is right. If you say "Take a right" she will quickly bless herself to determine which way to go.

    She seldom has any "Road Rage" problems because she looks so holy driving along blessing herself every time she has to turn.

    She lives in Florida and I told her if she wants to take a trip to California there will be so many turns she may have to make a Novena to get there.

  6. Nance, I'm recalling a conversation we had in the lounge one day when I told you North was always easy to find as one just faced the lake! I remember you practically shouting, "The LAKE? The LAKE? How does anyone know what direction the LAKE is from here?" I'm smiling all over again just thinking about it, (and I hadn't even heard the communion story, at that point).

  7. Anonymous7:21 PM

    So, I have to admit that I'm pretty good with directions. But I do remember once when I was a kid and my dad took me to Geauga Lake, I ended up getting lost in one of the water park areas. I think it only took 15 minutes for us to find each other, but it was really unnerving. So the next time we went to the park, I told him that we should set up a meeting place in case we got separated (granted, I must have been 10 years old or so). He said that we didn't need to because we wouldn't get separated, and sure enough, it happened again. Sometimes I feel like I'm the adult. Although looking back, it's quite possible he was high.

    If anyone ever wonders why I'm a pretty independent person, they only need to look at my parents and ask, "Who would want to depend on them?"

    - Mikey G.

  8. Change of subject... saw this on FB and thought of you.

  9. Silliyak--Thank you for thinking of me! I loved that article, and while I think some of the words are best left peacefully at rest, a few would be fun to resurrect.

    emengee--you have the gene, perhaps, but in this case, it might be a case of Nature v. Nurture, and Nurture (or lack thereof) won.

    BooksterOne--LOL. See? I am so damaged and wounded by The Communion Story and St. Patsy...and Williams Syndrome. Sigh. But really. Especially in the bowels of that building, when I could barely find my room that year...HOW ON EARTH COULD I KNOW WHERE THE LAKE WAS? LOL.

    Nancy--LOL. I have a friend who used to drive all the way back to her house in order to go a few places since the only way she knew to get there was from her home. No kidding. I'm not quite that bad, but I do have my problems.

    Ally--Are you teasing me, or being truly sympathetic? Either way, I, too, was very comforted--and fascinated--by this article. It really made sense to me.

    MsCaroline--What is up with the Koreans and happy pigs? I wonder.

    Anyway, that's interesting to note, that the East and SW residents use different terms for directions. Either way, I can get lost in both places, I'm sure. Hee hee.

    Mary G--Zimbabwe, Harare...I can get lost right here in Cleveland, Ohio's metropolitan area. No problem. With my GPS, I drove by myself all the way to Virginia, and did just fine--even on the Dreaded Beltway--because someone was telling me where to go and what to do. Maybe you needed a GPS back then!

    I don't think it's necessarily out of cruelty that those stories are told/repeated. But I think the Teller fails to realize that it represents a Failing on the part of the Star of the story, and to keep dredging it up is, ultimately, unpleasant.

    Bug--I so hear you. My cure-all is to just give up and go home. Period. And in NEO, I know that if I can find Rt. 2 or I-90, I am almost there!

  10. I can get lost in a parking lot, if I don't count the spaces and establish a landmark, like a trash can or a bike rack, in order to get back. I even have anxiety dreams about not being able to find my classroom, although this has never happened in reality (probably because we only have three in our building).

    I've always wondered if my lack of directional ability is related to a neurological tic that renders me incapable of telling right from left, or telling time on an analog clock if I'm tired. (Digital clocks and watches are a gift from God, as far as I'm concerned.)

  11. Oh, thank God there is a genetic flaw we can pin this on. I had a similar experience when I was ten years old. I got lost in a restaurant coming back from the restroom. Yeah. It was a huge family reunion with at least 20 family members at a long table that faced the wall where there was a passageway to where the restrooms were. I found it OK because the waitress took me there, and of course, got disoriented on the way back. Everyone was watching intently as I went from wall to wall in the dimly lit restaurant, poking around and trying doors until I opened one which was a sort of broom closet-cleaning storage area. In addition to being directionally-challenged, I am a super klutz and bump into things and knock things over all the time. So in addition to opening the door to a broom closet, I managed to trip on a mop bucket and tip over several mops. There was resounding laughter from the family table as they all watched this performance. My mother, bless her for that, never told stories about us, but my siblings more than made up for it.

    I rarely get lost nowadays, but that's because I take no chances. I look stuff up on internet maps and print my own little directions with LEFT and RIGHT indicators (!), and also write down little side streets in between turning so I know I am on the right path. (And, yes, I am one of those people who has to hold the map in the direction I am traveling!). I would use a GPS, but those things just make me nervous, and I am always afraid that I will be told to get into a lane to turn and get screwed by traffic and not make it and have it all turn out to be another broom closet.

  12. Ortizzle--Maps are pretty pointless to me. I don't relate to them at all. If, like you, I hold them in the direction we're going, they make a little sense, but other than that, I just don't see it.

    You poor thing, i.e. The Restroom Story. I never know how to get back to the table if I go to the restroom even now. Sometimes I come close to wandering into the kitchen or behind the bar. It's so terribly frustrating.

    I'm amazed, truly, at how many of my Readers share this trait! Why is that? How very curious.

    fauxprof--Once, at school, I forgot that I had been driven to school with the understanding that I would get a ride home from a colleague. When I went out at the end of the day to my car, it was not there. I was sick, then angry. Someone had stolen my car! It was only after I had gone to the office and started to tell the secretary what happened that my friend came in and said, "Do you still need that ride home today?" that I recalled why my car wasn't in the lot.


    But as far as the Losing Direction thing, if I don't drive, I have zero idea where we parked. If I drove, I take a moment to really identify, like you, those physical landmarks and if I'm at the mall, the entrance and store I go into. It's crazy and maddening. Ugh.

  13. Wow. I know many people have a hard time with directions, but I never really thought it was that bad. I never get lost—ever. I love maps; they fascinate me and are the physical confirmation that I am, spatially, exactly where I think I am. Anytime I go somewhere new, I always consult the map to see where Point B is from Point A (where I am), and then once the picture is in my head, the internal navigation system is programmed and I am good to go. I always know where I am in relation to Point B.

    I always have to think about right and left, i.e. which is which when telling someone, but in my head I know physically where they are. I can also tell you which direction I’m facing at any time. In spite of the fact that this is easy for me, I am also the best at giving directions on how to get somewhere: I include approximate miles, landmarks, number of lights, turns using right and left, and what you might see if you’ve gone too far. No one ever gets lost using directions I’ve given.

  14. LaFF--And I am SO the opposite. But I manage to manage, and as I said, I love my GPS. It has afforded me a lot of freedom and given me confidence. Sometimes, I even argue with it!

  15. I guess I'm a hybrid. I feel as though I inherently know my North, South, East, and West, and I prefer to give directions that way, because it doesn't matter which way you're coming from...North is always North, whereas left might be any direction at all. But I get lost plenty, and think I'm going North, when really I'm going Northwest or Northeast, and I kind of feel queasy when I realize I'm off course.

    I've lived most of my life in California...5 years in Alaska. The ocean is west. Then we lived in Philadelphia, and the ocean was east, and for some reason, even though we weren't really close to the ocean, couldn't see it, that really threw me off. I couldn't figure out west from east, because the ocean was on the wrong side.

    Then there's the whole stupid thing about watching the sun go from east to west, and knowing directions that way. When you live in inland Alaska, in the middle of summer (and winter) the sun doesn't really go east to west, instead it goes around the perimeter of your own little circle, coming up and going down as it sees fit. At least, that's how it seemed to me as a child. Very disorienting.

    So I'm likely to say, turn west on Ygnacio Valley Road, and be surprised when someone doesn't know that that is right or left, but I did get lost walking around the block once, and I never know which way to go when I come out of an elevator.

    Oh, AND, my husband often points exactly the wrong way when he's referencing something while we're in our house. He'll say, "oh, those apartments over there," and point where the apartments are NOT, and it quietly makes me laugh, but I know that marriages are not made on such things, so I do NOT laugh out loud. After all, I might get lost walking around the block sometime, and I don't want him to laugh at me, do I?'

    Also, I love maps, and I get them, they help me feel safe. And you SHOULD argue with your GPS, because they're often wrong. I think LaFF is amazing at noticing the world around her, and thus can tell how many lights, etc. I tend to daydream and get lost in my head, perhaps daydreaming about that ocean just 40 minutes west from here, and the lovely scallops I might get at a restaurant there, with a glass of wine at not so great at telling you which bank is on the corner where you need to turn left. It's kind of amazing that there are so many different types of people, and that we all seem to function quite well, isn't it?

  16. J@jj--I'm a wrong-way pointer, too, like Ted. It really irks Rick and a lot of other people when I wave aimlessly and say, "Over there" and it's completely wrong. Even in my own home, which is a story-and-a-half, I can't figure out, say, where the upstairs bathroom is in relation to the downstairs bathroom. No idea.

    I do know the sunrise, sunset, East, West thing in relation to my house too. Your Alaskaness continues to intrigue me to no end. Even after visiting there briefly, I still find it so foreign and mysterious. Every time you mention something about your childhood there, I get intensely interested. We need to spend In Person time together so I can hear all about it.

    (OMG, like I am a Stalker Freak.)

    If necessary, we will get LaFF to "set the pick" for us (basketball term!) and map out an itinerary, pointing us to all the good avocado places. You and I will eat, drink good wines, and talk talk talk. Who cares if we get a little lost? She will come find us and point us home again.

    PS--Didn't your block just go in a big, unbroken circle of sidewalk like mine does?

  17. Nance, this was the block at my Grandparents' house. I expected it to just be a big unbroken circle. I was not allowed to cross streets without an adult. I was perhaps 5 or 6. I walked around the block, and found something we did not have in Alaska, but is somewhat common in CA...a court. I couldn't see the end of it (needed glasses maybe), so all I knew was that I had somehow gotten to a point where I had to CROSS THE STREET, which I was forbidden to do. I figured I had been daydreaming instead of paying attention, and thus had indeed gotten lost, so turning around might not help. So I did what any 5 year old would do. I stood their and cried until my Grandma came and found me. :)

    Regarding my fascinating Alaska life, I wrote a post about 13 things in Alaska that you may (or may not) find interesting. Looking at it, I see a comment from my mom, which I always enjoy finding. This was just a week or two before she went into the hospital, and only a few months before she died. I'm so glad she took up blogging. What a wonderful way for us to connect.

    Regarding in Person time, wouldn't that be fabulous? I'd happily take you around San Francisco and Napa/Sonoma, we'd eat and drink as you say. One of our cars has GPS, so I think we'd be smart and take the other one. ;)

  18. The story about you thinking your car had been stolen reminded me of the day I came out of Macy's and an Asian man was out there looking and looking for his car which he told me was missing.

    He also mentioned that he had eye trouble.

    I asked him,"Do you have a Cataract?

    He looked at me and said,"No, I drive a Rincoln."

  19. Nancy--Oh heavens. You have a Story for everything! (And they keep my Comments section here nice and lively.)

    J@jj--Sigh. I thought your Block Walking story was more recent. Here you were just a little tyke! Perfectly understandable.

    I will go and read your Alaska post shortly. Thank you for the link. I used to read your mom's blog also. She was a smart lady.

    What a lovely idea a visit to Cali is. The more I think about it, the more I like it.

  20. Once upon a time a long time ago I heard the term “picture thinker” and the light bulb went off. My head is full of pictures and videotape, much of which I have complete access to at any time—pretty much a full-blown photographic memory. That’s really how I know how to give the best directions; I just re-run the video in my head of the last time I went to {insert place here} and then write down the information from the video, stopping and rewinding or fast-forwarding as needed. It works with maps as well, as I am able to pull up the map in my head and see where I am, and where I need to be, and go accordingly. The minutiae of this kind of memory can be a bit ridiculous, as I can very often tell you where on the page in a book particular words are placed, or which side of the street, where in the block, and what is directly next door to a specific restaurant. Not necessary information, and who cares, but it is there nonetheless.

    Getting older sucks, as I don’t remember as many things as I used to, but what I do remember is still there in full photographic splendor, especially if there is emotion attached to it. That’s why I am careful (literally) of what I look at, because once the picture is there, it’s almost impossible to erase. When my dad died, the funeral was open-casket, but I would not look at him, as I didn’t want that picture in my head for the rest of my life. The down-side of pictures in your head.

    If you come to California, my directions and routing/mapping skills are at your service. Avocados for everyone!

  21. Stories like that one never die and, yes, they tend to get more exaggerated over time. If you had internal GPS, it would be something else. I have to say that external GPS, although far from perfect, has been very helpful to us. Mr. GFE tends to have some internal GPS problems, but don't tell him I told you. ;-)



Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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