Essay 29: My Celebrated Instincts and I

by rosalyster

You never really get used to being lost. Even if you are a person for whom being lost is a way of life; even if being or becoming lost is a definitive trait – you just don’t get used to it. You can’t. Your survival instincts will not allow it. You must remain in a panicked state every time you get lost, even if it happens three or four times a week. This is how it works for me, anyway. Every time I get lost I think Well, this is it. This is the big one, where I never find where I am supposed to be going, ever, and where catastrophe dogs my every step and I end up losing my job. It’s a horrible way to live. My adrenal glands are shot.

There is a here-we-go-fucking-again inevitability about it as well. I don’t like to be lost; it gets badly on everyone’s tits, and yet I find that I cannot help myself. Today on the bus, for example. My stop was announced, and I just sat there. I knew it was my stop, but some sick and persistent part of me said Well don’t get off just yet. Stay awhile, here on this bus, and maybe soon there will be a better stop – maybe closer? Maybe more convenient? Who knows? I’ll just go with my celebrated instincts, and stay here on this bus. The bus took me further and further from where I needed to be, and I just sat there and waved at a very engaging baby. Maybe it will go in a big circle. There’s still room and time for improvement on this bus ride. Things did not improve, and after reading the text messages of the man next to me for ten minutes (“I have bought 5 kgs of lime and sugar from BEST WAY. I will make sauce”), I accepted I would have to get off. I walked for nearly an hour. This has happened almost every day of this trip, so far, and it will happen again.

I know someone who is deeply tone deaf. It’s a really big deal. I have never heard anything like it – she opens her mouth to sing and the sound that comes out is just wrong. It’s just not the same as what everyone else is singing. It’s bad. What makes it worse is that she loves to sing. Just all kinds of songs. She sings in the shower and on the bus. She opens her arms and greets you with a lusty burst of what she insists is the new Taylor Swift. You must take her at her word about that, though, because the melody is unrecognisable and she can never remember the words. It is the new Taylor Swift, she insists: just listen.

You listen, and you tell her that it doesn’t sound right. Really, she says? Really. It sounds right, she says, in my head. There is no arguing with her, in the end, and also there is no fixing it. You can’t make a person who is tone deaf a good singer. You can’t give them new ears or whatever. The advice to someone who is tone deaf boils down, essentially, to: be better. Just be better at singing. You know how you are at singing? Don’t be like that. The advice can’t get any more concrete, because the tone deaf person and the advice-giver do not understand each other. She thinks she is singing just the same as everyone else, and so cannot be steered or corrected or improved in any way.

This is what it’s like being a person who gets lost. This is me, and my countervailing set of problems. I love driving more than anyone I know. I also love: being on the bus, being on a train, being even on a moving walkway. I am so happy when I’m walking around. So then where is the justice? What kind of a world is it, where someone loves to sing and just can’t? What further kind of world is it where I am fully incapable of doing my favourite thing?

To further extend and belabour the tone deaf analogy: the only advice I ever get, re: getting lost, is “be better”. You know how you are at getting lost? Don’t be like that. The advice can’t get any more concrete, again, because people who don’t get lost simply don’t understand. They tell me to pay attention, to write things down, to carry a map or whatever. Please. This is advice for competent people and is of no use to me at all. It’s like telling a person who can’t sing to get a better ear for music. They can’t sing, and I can’t figure out where the hell I am, ever, and that is that. Don’t try to change us.