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A certain malady

In to the Wind

June 7, 2011
Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald
MIKE GILCHRIST IN THE TOLEDO CHRONICLE

Being truly spatially challenged carries with it certain responsibilities. Your weekly columnist believes himself to be truly spatially challenged. The baggage one carries can be troublesome.

Perhaps I should elaborate a bit on exactly what it means when I say I am “spatially challenged.”

In many regards I am out of step with space and time. Besides the normal blurring of the time continuum resulting from advancing age, those who are spatially challenged carry the extra burden of having memories of the past recalled out of sequence. An event from ten years ago might be remembered as having happened five years ago, or twenty. Therefore time has little relevance to the spatially challenged. It should also be noted here that this malady is also a convenient excuse when one forgets important dates or year counts of certain dates. I’ve even conveniently forgotten how old I am until I perform some elementary math!

However, being spatially challenged goes beyond the time domain into the space domain. Space and distance can have a distorted relationship to those suffering from the malady. I have found that I need a measuring stick or some other metric to gauge the size of something. It is hard, within reason, for me to determine if something is an inch long or two inches; a yard or thirty-nine inches. While some people have an innate ability to determine such lengths with impunity, the spatially challenged have to depend on being able to estimate size in relationship to something of know size. For instance, if a tall man is standing beside a sapling tree, and it appears to be a couple feet taller than he, I would safely guesstimate the size of the tree to be eight feet. If I was looking at the tree against say a sky background with no other known point of reference, I might estimate the tree to be six feet, or ten.

Some people have built in maps. They can recall with great precision a visual map of a certain place, and accurately place themselves within that map. This can be true even for places they might not have visited for many years. They can return to that place and instinctively navigate from point to point. Not so the spatially challenged.

I should mention, the lack of spatial comprehension is not absolute.For instance, I still have the ability to recall those maps of certain places; they just might not be as accurate or reliable as some. Because of this unreliability, those suffering this malady have to compensate in other ways. We rely more on maps, and stopping at convenience stores for directions. To be honest, the verbally navigating GPS units available today which give you turn by turn directions to your destination are just the ticket for the spatially challenged.

So how does this condition affect someone who has it? “So what,” you may be asking? Here are some examples in my life where it has gotten me in trouble.

One time after a marathon work session I was headed home. I had worked for twenty-four hours straight. I was tired. I was coming down the hill to cross the railroad tracks, and there was a train. I stopped what I thought was a safe distance from the tracks, turned off my car and waited, and waited, and waited. They must have been doing some switching of cars, because the train went back and forth a few different times.

The next thing I knew, there was a tapping on my window. I opened my eyes and couldn’t really tell who, but just that someone was standing outside my car shining a very bright light in my eyes. When I opened my window to see what was going on, a police officer asked me what I was doing. I answered I was waiting for a train and must have fallen asleep. I told him I had been working long hours, was headed home, and must have dozed off waiting.

He must not have believed me because he asked me to step out of the car. When I did, he asked me why I had stopped so far back from the crossing? I told him I always stayed a safe distance from the tracks while waiting for a train, in case it derailed or something flew off the train; I didn’t want to get hurt. “But why did you stop a hundred yards away,” he asked?

I told him I really didn’t have a good answer, but just that I was tired. We talked for a couple minutes and he must have determined I hadn’t been drinking, because he let me go after what I think was a simple sobriety test -- he had me recite the alphabet, which I did without difficulty. I got back in my car and drove the rest of the way home. He did however follow me all the way to my house; no doubt to substantiate that I was telling him the truth.

I parked my car once at a large shopping mall. I was alone. I must have been distracted thinking about something, as I’m prone to do When I was finished shopping, I went back out what I thought was the same entrance. Almost immediately that sinking feeling set in; I had no clue where I had parked my car!

Unless I take careful note of landmarks when parking in a large lot, my inner map will undoubtedly fail me. I have learned to look for something distinct in relation to where I park, so I can find my car again For instance, I will make a mental note I am in the row pointing away from the building directly down from the lawnmowers on display in front of a certain store. On this particular day I failed to ground myself on my inner map.

I walked up and down the isles looking for my car. Up and down, up and down I walked looking in vain for the auto. Then it dawned on me I might not have come in this entrance, but one on the other side of the mall that looks very much like this one.

I walked back through the mall as nonchalantly as I could, feeling very much the idiot. Once I went back out the mall on the other side, I still had to look for my car but eventually found it. Funny thing, it was, as always, right where I left it!

In my mind I had transposed that inner map to be one hundred and eighty degrees out of phase. What seemed logical and correct in my mind was neither.

I could go on and on about episodes in my life where being spatially challenged is particularly difficult, but I am once again running out of space. It is a good thing my word processor has a word count or the same malady would have me writing much more, or in some cases much less.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting tamatoledonews.com and clicking on the “Local Columns” button at the bottom of the page.

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2011 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at mike@aweiowa.com via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.







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