My Internal GPS is MIA

It’s not only possible, but 111 percent probable that if you dropped me into any area within a 20-mile radius of my house and gave me directions using only North, East, South and West, I would end up somewhere 40 miles away from my house.

A compass is as foreign to me as self-editing and maps are simply pretty pictures with lots of distracting colors that are entirely impossible to a) understand b) look at while driving and c) fold back up. 

In other words, I have no sense of direction.

It’s not that I haven’t made a valiant effort to understand directions–I’m aware that North, East, South and West exist—it’s just that I don’t quite understand where they are in relation to where I am or want to be.

In my world, local highways are not labeled by specific names—1-96, I94—but are instead known as the “mall highway,” “Harvest Health highway,” “work road” etc. Sometimes people that don’t know me very well will ask me for directions and in turn get a series of landmarks and things like, “Turn left at the gas station that has my favorite gum that everyone else stopped carrying” as a response.

Not many people ask me for directions after that first time, but I actually feel much worse for people trying to give me directions somewhere.

Here’s how a typical conversation with me generally goes:

Other person: Go east on that road about five miles.

Me: Is east left or right? 


Other person: Head north on that street.

Me: If we’re standing in my driveway, is that behind me or in front of me?

In my head I see a flat map with north at the top, south at the bottom and the other two things on the sides. How this translates into real life is somewhat more complicated. Until someone paints a big N, E, S or W in the sky, I’m pretty much screwed.

But I really don’t get lost that often, as I end up figuring out my own system—and don’t generally travel alone if it’s outside that 20 mile radius from my house. If I’m traveling with someone who expects me to be a dependable co-pilot, they soon learn the error of assumption (and which gas station has my favorite gum that everyone else stopped carrying.)

I’ve tried to fix this little issue, but my internal GPS is completely MIA. However, instead of lamenting this directional deficiency of mine, I’ve embraced it.

I’ve accepted the fact that I might not always know where I’m going—either in my car, on foot or in life—and that it’s OK to stop and ask for directions, even if those directions don’t help me out that much at the time.

Even if I take a few wrong turns and feel a bit lost, I take a small amount of comfort in knowing that I seem to find my way eventually.

Just don’t ask me how I plan to get there.

I’m still figuring that out myself.

37 responses to “My Internal GPS is MIA

  1. You are so not alone. My brother used to find his way to the airport by looking up and then following th direction that the planes were flying. Sadly I’m not kidding…

  2. I think I do have an internal GPS. I seem to always find my way back. But when in doubt, google maps helps me out.

  3. I suffer the same disease (still chuckling over the gum at the gas station) I’ve been in Palm Springs five yrs and haven’t figured it out. The problem is that everything (the grid of streets) is turned 45 degrees so east is, well, is it northeast or southeast. east of the freeway does that mean toward the mountain or toward the valley? I somehow think that i need to take about 2 hrs out of my day and sit and memorize a map, but I’ve just never done it.

    And like eden, i’m pretty lost nowadays without my iphone- I was once in a really ghetto part of the ghetto ( no really really) and my iphone wouldn’t give me the maps, so I figured that if I died, it was all Apple’s fault.

    • I don’t have an iphone, as you know, so I have no one to blame but myself if I end up in the ghetto. I’ve actually tried to study maps and understand where the sun rises and sets and all that technical stuff, but it never sunk in. Oh well 😉

      • I was all ready to get up in arms about this obsession about getting “lost in the ghetto” until I remembered the last two times I got turned around in a Houston ghetto and, before that, a Baton Rouge ghetto. As I was locking my doors, the only thing I thought was “Thank God I’m black. Maybe I’ll catch a break.” Haha.

  4. Once again: me too! (Are we twins seperated at birth? Cause that would be awesome and make for a great book and therefor I could maybe get started on that big novel I’ve got planned….sorry rambling.)
    I rely on my GPS so much that no matter how many times I drive somewhere, I just listen to that little voice tell me “in .3 miles, turn left”, etc and completely check out and can never remember how to get anywhere. Its pretty pathetic. Where was I going with this…?

  5. Jackie Paulson Author

    I have a saying that if my brain was not attached to my head, I’d lose it. LOL

  6. Your writing is so good, I also have no sense of direction..but you made it seem so glamourous, like a chic hat, that I’m going to embrace it too!!!! Happy memorial day!

  7. Oh man, I’ve asked questions just like that! Another favorite is asking people what things are nearby, like an ugly garden or a green house. I remember weird stuff like that.

    It takes me driving down a road 50 times before I know it. And don’t bother telling me there’s a shorter way. It took me 50 drives to learn this route, and I’m not straying!

  8. Wow, I think I just read about me. Who’s on this cardinal direction power trip anyway? Is there any reason a sane human would use west rather than left, except to make me look silly? I don’t chew gum, my landmarks are more like “by that cactus I fell on once”, or “you know that place where we met the guy with the sideburns.”
    I feel like I should link this one…it will save me time writing, while explaining me to strangers.

  9. I 100% have the same problem.


    I once needed to to drive to the dentist’s in another city (Hamilton). I realized I was lost after reaching Paris, Ontario (about 45 minutes past where I needed to go).

    I once left the gym to get gas. I ended up in a country field with cows surrounding me.

    My driving instructor hated me because every time he said “Turn right”, I would turn left, etc. I ended up putting post-it notes in my car that say “right” and “left” on each side.

    I have no idea about N-E-S-W, either. None.

    The thing I hated most about driving was dropping friends off at their homes, and then having NO IDEA how to get MYSELF back home.

  10. ahhhh your posts don’t show up in entirety in reader anymore. sigh. that’s ok, i love you enough to click out.. but i was a little sad.

    i am the same way with my own GPS. thank god for technology and iphones.

  11. I can totally relate! It’s because I lack spatial skills. I also bump into things a lot too..*sigh* ; )

  12. I used to get so pissed off when people would give me the “turn North and drive for a mile then turn West” directions. I mean, wtf? I’ve gotten lost in hospitals that I’ve worked in before (and am already anxious about the enormous hospital in TC that I’ll be taking call at) so I totally understand the directional difficulties. I couldn’t read a map when I married my husband. It’s taken more than a decade but I can sort of do the map thing now (and knowing that the ocean is West has been infinitely helpful). The man has a super-powerful internal GPS system. Seriously. We’ve been in other countries and people stop him and ask directions. I mean, really?

    If I had a GPS in my car, I would change the voice and language every time. Just for fun.

  13. Every time I give directions, I try to use landmarks. Funny thing is, seems like all the landmarks end up being fast food joints.

  14. Oh my gosh, I am BEYOND horrendous with directions. It’s seriously sad. People keep telling me that “I’ll get the hang of it”. I’ve been driving around the same general area for 24 years, and I still find ways to get lost in my own town. It’s pathetic, but I’ve learned to accept it.

    • Exactly. I’ve lived in the same area my whole life and still don’t know what the heck to tell people when they ask me how to get there. I don’t need to get the hang of it, I just need to get there without ending up in Canada.

  15. I thought I had a perfectly good sense of direction when I was living right by the beach in South Florida. Now that I live in Baton Rouge I’m realizing not so much.

  16. I relate. Polynesian Wayfinding is the answer! Though, admittedly it works better on the sea than the shore.

  17. When I’m walking down the street and someone asks me for directions, I usually tell them I’ve either just moved here, or I’m from out of town and visiting a friend. I don’t trust myself to direct anyone anywhere, even if it’s somewhere I’ve been myself a million times. I get turned around every time I go into a store in the mall–I never remember which direction I was coming from when I emerge again.

    Although I have to say my best lack of direction story happened during my semester abroad (in which there was MUCH getting lost by all members of our group). I spent an afternoon in Nice, France and decided to explore the neighborhoods a bit–consequently getting lost for, I kid you not, two hours straight. I took one too many turns and couldn’t remember how to find my way back out again. Meanwhile, my roommate was waiting back at the train station for me to meet her for our impending departure. Anyone I saw, I tried asking for directions, but no one spoke English.

    FINALLY, when I’d decided I might have to resign myself to being a homeless vagabond in Nice for the rest of my life, I came across a guy with a backpack who asked me urgently, “Do you speak English??” I said yes, so ecstatic at finally having a way out, until he added, “I’m a tourist and I’ve been walking around these streets for an hour! Do you have any idea where we are??”

    We both wished each other best of luck and kept walking. Eventually I stumbled my way back to the train station. Not sure if he’s still wandering around lost to this day. 😛

  18. I totally relate. As a reult of being unablke to find my way out of a paper bag (that’s my family’s favorite way of calling someone “dumb”), I did buy a GPS. As you mentioned, I shout at her, question her, challenge and verbally abuse her constantly. I also know for a fact,l that shge is very pissed off at me, too. Great post.

  19. dude. I totally got lost for two hours this afternoon. Ten miles away from my house. Lets not talk about it.

  20. I used to be called a homing pigeon sp? However.. I’ve become so dependent on gadgets that come with my car and its GPS, I don’t know which way is which….. esp here… OMG all the freak’n roads look the same.

  21. “Turn left at the gas station that has my favorite gum that everyone else stopped carrying”– I love that! I am the same way, kinda. Except don’t ask me how to get somewhere I haven’t had to go. I hate when people in this small town tell me to turn by where the old farmer used to have his broken down tractor. What the…? Don’t tell me where things used to be!

  22. You are too too funny!! I love ” north at the top, south at the bottom and the other two things on the sides” That’s how I feel about it. I probably was in my late twenties when I finally figured out which direction the sun set in. Ok, I’m still not quite sure about that one.
    My grandparents always had one of those floating compasses attached to their dashboard. I thought it was pretty tacky but now I can totally see the benifit!!
    I’m so curious about your favorite gum now:)

    • You don’t want to get me started on my gum, as I think that’s a post in and of itself. Every sugarless gum that I end up getting hooked on gets discontinued. I’m not kidding. I think this has happened five or six times and considering it takes me awhile to find a new one, this is quite a traumatic process. I was kind of blog blocked this week, so perhaps this should be visited via post this weekend…

  23. I’m very bad with orientation. In fact, I don’t have any. I even get lost at the supermarket.

  24. GPS units for cars are the best invention ever. I, too, have no sense of direction. And it spreads itself into my inability to do left or right or to remember spoken directions beyond the first turn.

  25. When I lived where you live, I always knew my directions because I based it on 131. It runs straight north and south, and if you know where you are in relation to it, its easy to figure it out. Now I live in this crazy city where nearly every main road goes on an angle, and I can’t find shit. I hate it.

  26. Not to brag or anything, but my sister, who is a qualified physician, says that I do indeed have an internal GPS. We recently travelled to Toronto for a family reunion and visited the downtown area one evening. Intrepid explorer that I am, I set off on foot alone, directed to meet the group three hours later at the rendezvous point for supper (the point being the VIA station). It was the first time in my life in Toronto, walking here and there with no map or city guide, and at the appointed time I was only 100 metres from the point! (Thank you. I’ll be signing programmes in the lobby…)!

  27. It gets worse – here in the Tidewater area of Virginia, we have I-64, which sounds not-so-scary, right? I mean, it’s just a highway. Until you consider that at some point, and in my opinion, it’s an arbitrary and not-very-well-published point, going West on 64 turns into going East on 64 and by then I’m totally screwed up and just want to get off 64 to get a drink or lay down in a quiet soybean field somewhere until I can gather my wits again. Some dimwit tried to explain to me when I first moved here that it’s a friggin loop. Fine by me, just don’t screw with East and West. They’re hard enough to figure out as it is. Write “Virginia Beach” or “Suffolk” on the damn signs, not just East or West. Oh, and I DO have a GPS and it still gives me effed-up directions that make me want to cry, almost on a weekly basis.

  28. Once stopped at a dollar store, not on Wilson, to ask why I was no longer on Wilson and where it went. (Really)
    The slightly confused clerk gave me directions and then wised up just as I was leaving and said, “turn left when you get there, right is an on-ramp”. Wise, because I had indeed planned on turning right.

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