Unfolding the Map
Lost in Ontario sounds like it could be a movie. But, it was William Least Heat-Moon's (LHM) experience when he took his shortcut through Ontario to New York. Getting lost can be fun, if you are open to the experience. For most of us, though, it is a pain. For men, it can even be painful and the cure, asking directions, can be like surgery. To see where we are lost, locate us on the map.
"....The showers kept at it, the traffic ran heavy. I got lost in London, and again in Brantford; finally I was just driving, seeing nothing, waiting to get off the road."
Blue Highways: Part 8, Chapter 1
London and Brantford, Ontario
I think that I've written about getting lost before, but I'm going to revisit it in this post. I think that when I wrote of it previously, I referred to the act of getting lost as a fine thing. My logic was that as Americans, we tend to hurry from place to place and don't allow ourselves to, as my mom constantly reminds me, stop and smell the roses.
But getting lost isn't positive and fun if one is in a hurry or is feeling tired. So you can sympathize a little with LHM when he says that he gets lost in both London and Brantford. He wants to get out of the rain, he wants to get back into the US, and he wants to stop driving. The way through Canada is longer than he thought.
Men are often stereotyped as being unable or unwilling to ask directions. We are seen as the ones that hold the maps, memorize them, and then promptly take wrong turns so that by the time that our wives or girlfriends or any othe female passenger has to be called in for assistance, the situation is completely hopeless. Not only do we get in these scrapes, but we are often seen as stubborn to boot - we will happily lead our crews to the gates of Hell before we admit that we are wrong.
There is some truth to this. I love maps, and read them all the time, and get pretty upset if my wife dares to suggest that I am wrong. And I have been wrong. It still sets my teeth on edge when I am, and there are times when I watch my wife read a map, turning it this way and that when I know, KNOW, the way to go. But that is simply pride and hubris. As Roseanne Barr once famously suggested about men and maps, "....Men can read maps better than women. 'Cause only the male mind could conceive of one inch equalling a hundred miles."
My theory is that men tend to appropriate directions and maps because they are socialized to do so. After all, the things that men do involve making a series of logical steps from point A to point B. We do this in many of the activities in which we participate in our daily lives. Something needs to be fixed? Simple, just follow certain steps and it will work. Problem need to be solved? Again, very simple. Just do this, that and one last thing, and problem gone. Need to get to a place? No problem. Just follow the lines.
However, sometimes the information flow comes too fast. We might be flying down the freeway and have a moment where our attentions go elsewhere. That causes us to miss the exit that we needed. We had everything planned out from point A to point B - heck, we don't even need the map any more so we didn't bother to bring it. This is where the cascade of failures begins. We get off at an exit two or maybe three exits down the road. However, instead of turning back on the freeway, we figure we'll be able to cut some time off by simply going over to the next road and doubling back. We're pretty sure that's what the map indicated. However, that road circles around into another entirely different direction, and ends up at a crossroads with signs pointing to two towns whose names we never even heard of.
By now, our pride is involved. We've probably been arguing with our wife or girlfriend, who has been suggesting the most logical choice of going back to the freeway and back to the next exit all along. Going back is out of the question in our male mind because it would be a monumental failure and tantamount to a dereliction of duty. So, taking our best guess, we head toward one of the towns, only to realize that it was farther than we thought and we are hopelessly lost. At that point, usually we resort to sending our female companion into a gas station to ask for directions. We sit in the car, embarrassed, because we can imagine the station attendant looking at her with pity, and glancing at us with a slight expression of disgust at how that man could have so failed in this important masculine duty.
Of course, I am generalizing a lot here. There are plenty of women who do their own navigation and hate having to ask directions. There are plenty of men who do not get locked up in this comedy of errors. My wife, for instance, doesn't like asking for directions and I am usually the one who will get out and talk to the gas station attendant. But, the stereotypes ring true to me because I see that tendency in myself. I love maps, I love to read them and I love to use them in that logical point A to point B way.
One of the reasons I love writing the Littourati blog is that my logical, rational, straight ahead point A to point B brain gets its satisfaction out of the pure fun of mapping these trips that authors have taken. My creative, not so logical or rational brain, gets its fun by allowing itself to take these points on the map and connect them to whatever is inside me and putting it down for me, and ultimately whoever comes to the Littourati page, to see. It's a great way for me to meld these two sides of my mind and, if the side benefit is that I will avoid cascading direction failure because either I allow myself to just be lost for a while and explore what's out there or I at least allow myself to admit my failure, ask directions and move on, then so be it.
Getting lost CAN be fun. But if you're going someplace where your choices are bounded by time and necessity, you don't want to be lost, you just want to be there. As our GPS navigation devices get better and better, chances are less that people will get lost. In some ways, particularly for our efficiency and or time-effectiveness, that's great news. In other ways, and particularly in the case of those chance amazing discoveries we might make because of being lost, that's a shame. But have no fear. We'll always have places to go, and most of the time, we'll get there whether we get lost or not.
I typed in The Google a query about songs referencing being lost, and this song, Destination Unknown by the appropriately named Missing Persons, came up. I liked Missing Persons back in the day, and had forgotten about this song. It fits, and I'll share it.
If you want to know more about London and Brantford
Brantford Expositor (newspaper)
City of Brantford
City of London
London Community News (newspaper)
London Free Press (newspaper)
The Londoner (newspaper)
Scene (London newspaper)
University of Western Ontario
Next up: Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, New York