I learned in math class years ago that there is no such thing as negative distance. I was blown away by this concept. I found it eye opening, as someone that is constantly traveling in the wrong direction. I am known for getting lost even when I know where I’m going. I get my lack of direction from my Grandmother. My mom told me when I started driving, after my Grandmother had died a few years previously, that she would go in the direction she thought was wrong and it was usually right. When I remember to do this it usually works.
Once I started driving I was lost all the time. I had to drive across three counties taking myself to dance, voice lessons, acting classes, auditions, rehearsals and shows. This was before GPS and Google maps. I kept a giant map in my car and studied it a few times trying to memorize the route before going somewhere I’d never been. I had stacks of hand written directions and always had to give myself extra time to get lost so I would not be late. By the time I got to college my map had worn at the folded edges and started to fall apart.
Once I got to college in Manhattan, I had a smaller street map that was laminated and folded nicely into my purse. I spent a lot of my time way downtown in TriBeCa and the Financial District where the streets are not numbered and the grid system did not exist when they were built up the city. I was constantly lost the first few years I lived there. I didn’t want to look like a tourist so I tried to memorize where I was going, and used the map as a last resort. The World Trade Center became my landmark to help me figure out which direction I was headed. I knew if I was walking toward it I was going downtown and away from it I was going uptown. East and West were a little more complicated especially as I got closer to tip of Manhattan. But I figured it out. Traveling in the right direction was much easier where the streets were numbered and I could tell which way I was going by the numbers going up or down. After a while I learned the complicated twists and turns of downtown but I still went in the wrong direction many times.
When the World Trade Center was gone, I was lost in a lot of ways. I took the whole situation really hard. Part of my school was destroyed and my landmark was gone. My beloved downtown changed forever. I ended up moving across the street from Ground Zero not long after it happened. I had a new area of the city to learn and it became my favorite part. The pocket of Manhattan, as I like to call it.
As downtown was rebuilt, I was too. I had to walk past Ground Zero every day along the Hudson River to get to school. Looking at it every day helped me to heal over time. I started to adapt to my missing landmark and found new ones. After a while I didn’t need landmarks unless I was in an unfamiliar part of the city and coming out of the subway with no reference.
I have been back in Nashville for about six and a half years. I get lost driving here still. But when I get lost that is usually when I find new things. I find new stores and restaurants to try. Sometimes I find myself driving in circles. But getting lost usually works out best for me. Despite all the wrong turns I have made, they were not for nothing. Even though I was often lost and frustrated I was still moving forward. All the wrong turns helped me to find the shortcuts. The shortcuts helped me to see how everything was connected. It helped me find myself. There is no such thing as negative distance. Even if you are going in the wrong direction you are still moving. You might feel like you are taking steps forward and backward but you are still making progress. Repeating things, whether it’s movement, a path or a habit can help you to learn. Even if what you learn is what you no longer want.