Geographical dyslexia

“I’m great with words and grammar… but directions defeat me.” Illustration: Sturt Krygsman.

  • The Australian, 

It started as a normal drive. I’d done an interview with an international identity and was giving him a lift back to his Sydney hotel. Somewhere between point A and B, I got lost.

I have to explain that point A and B were less than 3km apart, on a straightforward route I’ve travelled many times.

He noted that I seemed flustered. “I’ve been to Sydney five times, I can guide you,” he said. I took up his offer and we got there without fuss. Once we pulled over he commented gently, “This is a main city street.” I started fumbling. “I don’t come to the city often. I’m from Melbourne originally, then I lived in Byron …” and suddenly I stopped.

“OK. I have some form of strange dyslexia. I don’t know what it is. I’m great with words and grammar, so it isn’t that, but directions defeat me.”

Once on a blog site called Dr Metablog I found reference to the book The Accidental Tourist, in which a character had “geographical dyslexia”.

The blogger says: “There’s a class of people (I’m one of them) who are chronically lost; who take a few steps in a strange city and can’t find their way back to the hotel; who don’t know how to exit the building they’ve entered because they’ve strolled a corridor or two; who are totally befuddled and even panicked when they drive into a familiar intersection from an unaccustomed direction; who break into a cold sweat when someone says, ‘You know how to get home — just reverse the directions’; and who, because they’re frequently lost, are subject to ridicule and mockery.”

I felt good having told the truth to my interviewee. I even texted him afterwards to tell him that on the way back I ended up on a freeway that took me over the Harbour Bridge. I came back through peak-hour traffic, and the five-minute journey back along one street became a one-hour, 40-minute hell ride.

After many years of shame I can laugh at myself now. We’re all flawed. This person knows my work and asked to do an exclusive with me, so I’m clearly competent at lots of things. That I’m disabled in logical matters such as distance from other objects, direction or simple maths is finally OK. In fact, I presume it’s what pushed me to develop other skills.

Before he got out of the car he shared with me his fear of flying. Although he zips around the world, there’s not a time he isn’t secretly wet with fear.

I consoled myself with this story of human vulnerability the whole long, bumper-to-bumper journey home.

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