Monday, February 04, 2008

No Direction Home

I'm a big believer in positive thinking, so I'll start with this: I'm good at many things. Like acquiring totally useless skills (coughBraillecough), or whistling loudly, or sleeping. Yes, that's right, sleeping. I'm an amazing sleeper--I can sleep anytime, anywhere, through anything. In the middle of the afternoon? Check. On my floor? Check. While my computer is blasting loud music at me? Check.

I clearly get sleeping skills from my father.

So does Klement.

Luckily, we don't get this from him.

But this isn't about sleeping, much as I would like it to be. This is about things I don't do well. So let's start with the biggest one of all: directions. I am functionally retarded at directions. Roughly half my personal anecdotes start with "so this one time I was really lost," and there's good reason for that. I can't tell left from right without looking at my hands, I can't visualize directions that people are giving to me (though I can read a map, for the record, if I rotate it enough), and I can't for the life of me remember paths I have taken before. It's like other people have in their heads a video of a certain route, where I only have a series of poorly-lit Polaroids, not necessarily ordered correctly, and not necessarily covering the entire route. This means I can remember what certain locations look like--usually based on the signs in the area, since I, as ever, am most drawn to words--but the connections between those locations are beyond me. My family used to make fun of me because one of my most commonly said phrases--besides, of course, "I've read a book about that"--was "hey, what is that doing here?"

I could go on forever about times I have been lost--the time I couldn't direct my grandmother to the library and my three-year-old brother could, the time I went running and ended up two towns away, the time I took a wrong highway exit three times in a row--but I'll spare you that. I will say, though, that my graduate department is housed in the world's most confusing building, period, and that that has caused me a lot of grief. Or, more specifically, a lot of being late to class. For those who went to BYU and remember the JKHB, let me tell you, it's got nothing on Dwinelle. It seems like two buildings stuck together, one of them with four floors, labeled 1-4, and lots of classrooms, labeled with two- and three-digit numbers, and one of the with seven floor, labeled A-G, and lots of offices, labeled with four-digit numbers. Of course, four floors and seven floors do not match up, so to get to floor 3 you have to take the elevator to either floor F and walk down a flight of stairs, or floor E and walk up a flight of stairs. What's more, both sections of the building are squares that only connect in one corner, so when you take the elevator to floor F, good luck finding the flight of stairs. Plus random hallways shoot off each side of the square, and they all look the same. Plus the building is set on a slope, so each entrance from the outside leads to a different inside level. Plus I deeply suspect that, like Hogwarts, rooms and staircases move around at night.

All this means that I spent much of last semester comically confused about where my classes were. I mostly just showed up in my department, whose outside door I finally managed to find, hidden behind the service truck unloading area, and waited for one of my classmates to walk through on their way to class. When nobody walked through, I was in trouble. In fact, I had two of my classes, each meeting once a week, in the same classroom, and I didn't realize it until about a month after school started. All classrooms look the same, you know, and I came at it each day from a different direction, and left each day through a different door, which I think excuses me. At least a little.

So you can imagine how things went the other day when an undergrad approached me in the hallway of my department and asked how to get to room 86. I knew enough to know that room was in the other half of the building, on another floor, and to know that I'd never be able to just tell her how to get there: after a few seconds of me going, "Um, I think you walk straight, and then maybe up some stairs? And then you turn? Left? Or maybe right?" I finally just said, "Let me take you." So we set off on a Dwinelle adventure, with me pretending to be confident and the undergrad sweetly following along, not getting annoyed when I, first, walked us right into the backstage of the theater; second, took us to a dead-end door leading into the courtyard; third, found a set of stairs that didn't lead to the level we wanted; fourth, walked us around the square of the French department, twice; and fifth, gave up.

"You want to know how I find my way around this building?" I asked. She nodded. "I find my way around this building," I said. So, together, we found the nearest exit, walked around the outside of the building, and entered through the door on the level she wanted. For future reference, I told her, she should just memorize that door and never enter through any other one. Or she should find an older grad student, or one with a sense of direction. I'd be much more useful, after all, if she needed someone to take an emergency nap.

14 comments:

Annie said...

Hey, someday that braille is going to SAVE your LIFE.

Petra said...

Like maybe when I get trapped in Dwinelle in the middle of the night without any lights and the only map I can find is in Braille?

The Joo said...

My husband is the same- 1, he can sleep anywhere, anytime. It's amazing. 2, he has no sense of direction whatsoever. We've lived in Houston over a month now and he still won't go out without me drawing a map AND having the GPS system.
K, I'm going to "pratinjau" now. I think that means "submit":)

Confuzzled said...

This made me laugh, especially because I was remembering the first time you ever told me you were bad with directions and then I was remembering the first time I went with you somewhere you'd never been (I don't even remember where it was). Liberal use of hands was, indeed, involved.

And I think it's pretty much a universal standard for humanities-type buildings to be horrible to make your way around.

The social sciences building at Weber is ridiculous. Numbered, but not in any chronological order and with all sorts of crazy nooks and crannies. When I left, a petition was being filed for the third or fourth time to re-number the classrooms in the building . . .

Lizzie said...

You know, i think i'd trade my sense of direction for the ability to sleep anytime, anywhere. I honestly can't nap at all, which is pretty inconvenient with a baby around.

Katya said...

Do you have trouble with those "rotate a cube in your head" IQ tests, too?

Petra said...

Katya:

Oh heck yes. I can do them, it just takes me much more effort.

my name is amy. said...

there's nothing like an emergency nap (particularly after a good braille read) to save you from all sorts of calamities. you're very lucky to be so gifted. being able to follow some escape route map to the nearest emergency exit in the face of disaster is just silly overrated nonsense.

KrumperKids said...

Hey, that's my kitchen table you're sleeping at. I feel so cool to be on your blog, even in such a roundabout way. You should come to Redmond again.

The Dancing Newt said...

Eighteen-year-old Petra asks the bouncer outside of the random bar "Have you seen my friends? They're dressed as a duck and... Winter."

Expavesco said...

I am constantly getting lost, I really only have me bearings when I am moving around utah county.

Oddly enough I too can sleep through most things.

eleka nahmen said...

Love this post! And, I think it is insanely awesome that you know Braille.

Guber said...

Some day we should have a "this one time when I was really lost" faceoff. I still can't find my way home if the cloud cover is too heavy to orient myself by the Chrysler Building.

Petra said...

Bring it on, Guber. I haven't even told the story of the time I got lost and almost walked in Malaysia. Or the time I got lost off Boston's red line trail--which is literally a red line painted on the sidewalk--three times in an hour.