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Bonnie Bing: Living without a sense of direction

  • Published Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, at 7:09 a.m.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “Don’t say ‘north’ or ‘south,’ say ‘left’ or ‘right.’ ”

Many people have told me I have no sense of direction. As if I didn’t already know that.

My dad always found it comical for some reason. He had a great sense of direction and laughed like crazy when I went out the wrong door at the rest stop on the turnpike and was convinced my family had left without me. I was a kid then. But just last week, I was at the same rest stop, went through the drive-through for a little breakfast and headed back to Wichita instead of toward Kansas City.

Another example: The time in high school when my friend Julie and I headed out to go to the Kansas State Fair. We were nearly in El Dorado before we decided we were going the wrong direction.

I’ve been advised to check the position of the sun or look at the horizon to figure it out. Well fine, I do know the sun comes up in the east and goes down in the west, but that doesn’t make anything — north — for example, crystal clear. When I’ve asked, “Yeah, but what about when it’s night? How does anyone know what direction they’re going then?” The usual answer: “The compass in your brain.”

Ah, there’s the answer. I was born without that particular part. It must have gone the way of the math chip. (I didn’t get that, either.)

I’m in good company. I have a friend who said her sister got lost onboard a jumbo jet. The pilot wasn’t lost. She was lost after leaving her seat to go to the restroom.

Those of us who are directionally challenged know that we have to be very careful to use the tried-and-true – and usually successful – method of navigation: landmarks.

First, you check where you’re starting from. Sounds silly, but on the return trip, this proves to be important. Although backtracking should be easy, it isn’t. I’ve driven directly to my destination and managed to get totally lost trying to retrace the route.

It was very embarrassing recently when my friend Kim was following me in her car and I couldn’t find the route I needed. I simply hadn’t taken note of the landmarks. “Next time you follow me,” she said.

But there can be problems if your landmark is mobile, such as a truck, and the darn thing gets driven away. Or the beautiful dress in a store window gets changed out. Note: Check the name of the store, not the merchandise. Also, don’t use signs or billboards as a landmark because some wise guy will change them on you.

I was happy to learn this affliction actually has a name: Developmental Topographical Disorientation.

Books have been written on the subject. Take for example “You Are Here: Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon, but Get Lost in the Mall” by Colin Ellard.

I only get lost in a mall if it’s not constructed in a straight line. One friend told me she not only gets lost in the mall, she gets lost in big department stores. Here’s a tip: Notice what’s just inside the door you’re going in — lingerie, cosmetics, whatever — and be sure you know what level you’re on when you enter a store.

We hate the dizzy-in-the-head and weird feeling in our stomachs when we’re disoriented, don’t we? If you’ve had an interesting or funny story about getting lost, e-mail it to me.

Remember, if you seem to get turned around, especially if your route involves those darned diagonals, rest assured that it’s not just you. And if all else fails, ask directions. But don’t nod as if you understand when someone says a direction. Go ahead and ask, “Is that right or left?”

If they scoff, tell them you have DTD.

Reach Bonnie Bing at bingbylines@gmail.com.

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