being lost is OK


Like I said, we’re going to switching the format up a bit. I’ll start with the text first, and then the photo(s). Since I am currently on vacation (or a respite. A retreat, maybe), I figured I’ll talk a little bit about wayfinding.

My sister Gloria (19, very capable, in 2nd year, has one of the messiest rooms ever, recently has begun collecting Cinnamorolls) messaged me yesterday commenting that when she goes places, she has a scrolling menu of locations. Not a map, she says, but options (buildings on campus, in this case) that she’s unlocked. The specific example she gave me was from Daigyakuten Saiban (unrelated, but we bought that game some years ago and split the cost 50/50, but I haven’t played it at all yet. I want to, but so many other things kept taking precedent and BAM. Almost 2 years have passed). Then I started thinking about how my mental maps work.

So a necessary side-note here is that our mom often shames Gloria for being unable to memorize maps.

When we went to our high school, there were two main buildings: the North building and the South building. There’s two separate walkways between the buildings, and large sand fields in between. The North building is (soon to be ‘was’, since it’s being torn down soon after everyone moves into the new building) larger, with three floors: the first floor for math and sciences, as well as the main offices; the second for social studies and home ec, plus a cafeteria and two gyms; and the third with art classrooms and some computer labs, and also the gallery. The South building’s first floor has a science wing, the library, the cafeteria, while the second floor has a languages wing, an English wing, and miscellanous labs. Throughout both buildings there are multiple washrooms, murals, lockers lining the hallways, and special education rooms. There’s a garden in the South building, and Student Services on the third floor of the North. I’m describing this with some level of detail because this is what the school looked like when I graduated in 2018, not what it looks like now.

On my first day, I stared at the map they gave us at the end of elementary and arrived at all eight of my classes early. I was super anxious and super sleepy, and I stood outside my first class of each day for 33 minutes since I took the earlier the bus. The other bus was 30 minutes after, and I risked being late if I had to walk more than three minutes… which was often. Anyway, my wayfinding around the school went without a hitch, even when my PE class switched from one gym to another. I kept my eyes and ears peeled and followed the group of people I hoped were my class and somehow made it alive.

Gloria, on the other hand, mentioned that she was lost a couple of times. A contributing factor may have been that her Tech Ed class was not with the other Tech Ed classrooms in the South, near the languages, but outside in the wing with the bandrooms and autobody shop. Despite being on the same ground-level as the second floor, our school buildings are built on a hill so we could only enter those classrooms from outside, in the horseshoe (which is just a round courtyard where the road entering around is shaped vaguely like a horseshoe). My mom said that after one look at a map when she drove me to my English placement exam at the school when I was in grade 7, she had memorized the layout and never got lost. My sister and I huffed and said things like “That’s not the same,” and “Gloria’s not you,” and “It’s not bad to be lost.”

It’s really not a problem! People get lost all the time! Some people are better at remembering maps and some people are better at recognizing landmarks and some people just need to walk the same route over and over again until muscle memory takes them places. I don’t know exactly how my mom sees places in her mental “maps”, but I think I mainly have one of those… moving maps from video games. Maybe one of those… Forza Horizon maps. When I “zoom out”, there’s the whole map with north up north and south down there, and there’s all sorts of markers on the map delineating what’s where and the fastest routes for me. If I’m on the road I have to picture the streets I’m on like Google Maps on my phone, and spin that image around to pinpoint where I am and where I want to be. Or like MySims (on the Wii and PC! A fun game), where with one hand I’m walking really fast and the other hand controls the camera view as I struggle to walk in a straight line.

That leads me to the main anecdote that I wanted to share.

Coming from a safe and relatively sheltered neighbourhood, I never really thought about transit. If I wanted to go to school, I chose one of the buses that came every 30 minutes. If I wanted to go to a mall in the other parts of the city, I could take the Skytrain or tag along with my parents. I could walk to my closest friend’s house then, and take my brother to his school playground. The closest stores were 20 minutes by foot and I rarely walked there. On vacations my brain was empty. I’d just follow my parents through San Francisco or Shanghai, from grandparent’s house to aunt’s house to uncle’s apartment to villa to restaurant to mall and back. I took photos and remembered random things, but not street names or the number of blocks, for example. Only vague snapshots.

Then I moved to Downtown Toronto. On my first day, my residence had yet to open so I was camping out on my cousin’s couch in his apartment. We went out to eat Japanese curry and then he said he had an errand to run, so could I go to Canadian Tire first? It was just at the junction where we turned earlier, and it has a huge sign. Can’t miss it. He waved and left me in front of the restaurant.

In hindsight, it was really really close. I only had to make it past one crosswalk or something. But on that sunny September day, in the middle of the city, I felt really confused. Where was I again? What’s this street? I opened my Maps app but since I had no data plan at the time, I had to keep turning my pre-loaded map to try to find myself. Do I turn this way? Or that way… or not at all? Do I just go straight?

Eventually I just put my phone down and trusted my intuition. I tried really hard to recall the path we took from his apartment to the restaurant and went straight ahead… and there it was. Canadian Tire. It was big, and the entrance took up the whole corner. I felt stupid.

I mean now, I don’t look back and think, “Wow, what an idiot,” or anything, more just: “Well, I was 18.” Gloria got lost at UBC too. It’s normal and fine, in my opinion. Not everyone needs a comprehensive map in their mind all the time, either, especially if they have other stuff they need to remember. Not everyone’s memory is the same, and even people with good memories may be bad at memorizing specific types of information. Gloria needs to remember her homework and various schedules, so having a set list of locations makes sense. My mom seems to like having a network of maps in her mind, which also means my dad doesn’t use a GPS as much when they go out together (which is often).

My memory is alright. It’s pretty good. I flex about it a lot, but it’s actually pretty spotty. I can recall the layout of a Costco, for example, after one trip, and I can tell you what I talked to my dad about in each aisle and section. I can remember some of the prices and compare them to other stores’ prices. I can’t recall the number of checkout stations or which exit in a mall is the closest to my grandpa’s place after one trip, though. It depends on what I’m thining about as I’m walking, and how much attention I’m paying to my surroundings. Usually my intuition works well, but it’s really more… goal based. Quest based.Truly like a video game.

Not that I usually have goals. I may have mentioned in previous posts, but my only goals as a kid were pretty lacklustre. They were the following:

  1. Graduate from elementary school.
  2. Learn how to speak without panicking.
  3. Graduate from high school.
  4. Get into a university.
  5. Graduate from university.

You know, straightforward things. I’m afraid of failure and thus afraid to dream. You could say that my New Year’s Resolution is to learn how to dream, but that might be asking too much of me. I’ve only just learned how to speak, so I’m hoping we can take this step by step. We set some small, achievable goals, and take manageable steps towards something else.

I think I’ll leave off here. The main takeaway here is that I enjoy different methods of wayfinding—including intentionally getting lost. This also applies to my writing: I like to write freely sometimes, like on this blog, which involves me setting a thesis somewhere in the beginning, and then meandering my way around it within my internally set parameters, then finally concluding with a reiteration of that thesis. It’s very school, I know. I’m working on it.

A photo from the Bookbinding Museum here in SF. I went with my dad yesterday during a daytime power outage. Truly an experience.

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