I get lost. My sense of direction spins like a weather vane. When I step out of my hotel room for the twentieth time in a weekend, I have a 50-50 chance of heading the right direction to the elevators. An unknown city is a house of mirrors.
I know my way around a fret board, the kitchen, and a couple of other places, which I mention only to make the argument that I am not a complete and total imbecile. If things work out the way I hope, I’m decades away from drooling on myself. Why do I get disoriented so easily?
One reason is a lack of attention. If I’m walking with you and the conversation is any good at all, I listen closely. I talk. I listen. I think about what we’re saying while I watch the pavement or the forest floor glide by. When you turn, I turn. When I look up, I have no idea where we’ve gone.
Despite my claim of familiarity with the guitar, I get lost playing music, too. Maybe that’s why I started writing my own songs early on. Like most writers, I’m better at paying attention to myself than anyone else, so as long as the chord changes are really simple I can jam along happily and figure the band will follow me on my emotional journey. Anything complicated bucks me right off.
I’m a simpleton, apparently, who’s easily distracted. I don’t have a lot of directional advantages, so the fact that I sometimes get lost because of other people seems unfair. I recall the very first day of a beautiful month in the Czech Republic as a teaching assistant at the Prague Summer Writing Program: Richard Katrovas had told us, his handful of assistants, NOT TO BE LATE to the kickoff organizational meeting. He made threats. A good friend and I decided on the Charles Bridge to separate from a group of undergraduates and their teacher, a well-known poet from the West Coast who had taught at the program several times before. Knowing my tendency to get lost, I asked the poet for a general sense of the university where our meeting would be held. She waved pleasantly at the wrong side of the river and told us it was right over there. We couldn’t miss it.
Several winding hours later, Richard was not pleased.
Regardless of bad directions, European cities are especially fucked up for people like me. All those curving cobbled streets, often walled to increase isolation. It’s no surprise to me that scientists at University College London found the typical cabbie in that city to have an enlarged hippocampus, a part of the medial temporal lobe associated with navigation. I imagine my shrunken and terrified hippocampus crouching down near the brain stem with some of the more basic human impulses.
Getting lost can have a lot to do with poor planning, too. That’s where my people and I shine. Maps? Please. We can find that shit on our own. My dad’s family referred to the way they found a destination as “circling in on it.” This approach is based on shoddy preparation, sure, but it also speaks to a sense of adventure. Sometimes you have to just put your shoes on and walk out the door. Planning does not equal doing.
When I graduated from college, I spent several months at my parents’ house saving up money for a trip to southern Argentina to visit my cousin and his wife. I bought a one-way ticked and figured I might never come back. I’d become a gaucho, climb mountains, ride horses, eat lots of beef. Despite the ambition of my trip, I was not in the most regular of contact with my cousin, was struggling to make much money, and ended up with a last minute plane ticket. My cousin received the letter announcing my arrival a day after I had landed in the nearest city with an airport, four hours away. It took me three weeks to find him, and really he found me—news of a young gringo holed up in a nearby town reached him, literally, by ox-cart. But before he pulled up in his dusty F-150, I criss-crossed Patagonia on rickety buses, and we later figured out that had I been sitting on the left side of the bus one trip instead of the right, I would have seen a hand-painted sign with an arrow pointed in from the dirt highway that said “Joe.” But I never would have seen the other side of their mountains. I never would have spent the night with gypsies, camped at a hotel and watched soccer with beery locals, never would have barged in on an Argentine hippie festival and played guitar for two days without sleeping.
And there is no relief like being found.
In “A Reference for the System to Recognize,” Nate Pritts plunges his reader into the kind of existential disorientation epitomized by the high school philosopher. After all, “This is how your life begins, sitting in English class realizing what type of person you are.”
Bruce Covey’s poem “Local Box Score” gets lost in the city of Atlanta. The poem careens through circus imagery, a spinning textured romp. Within the surreal landscape deeper senses of loss and yearning peek through and achieve a balance of emotion and tone.
In “Ouroboros,”the first of three shorts we’re running by Carlo Matos, he writes, “Getting lost all your life is exhausting and so uncool.” I can relate. But Matos’ coiling, electric work is anything but uncool. These brief imaginative pieces land somewhere between poetry and fiction, and you’ll be thrilled to get lost there with the gunslingers and landscaping gangs.
Photo by Stephen Ritchie