Friday, August 19, 2016


It's not a new thing but being old doesn't make it any less interesting for me. Or, I suspect, for any of us who are faced with navigating new situations and places without a compass or rule book, when we slowly gain access to a mostly invisible set of codes and conventions, such as looking to the left first instead of right while crossing a road, or having your choices in place before reaching the counter to place an order at Chipotle's. The newcomer sticks out, with her immersion in Google Maps and the hard-to-disguise lost look as she stops tentatively in front of impassive unmarked buildings which solidly refuse to yield either name or number, assuming that knowledge on the part of every passer by.

The sense of first-time-ness is actually quite wonderful, when you are captivated by the largeness of the trees and the cleanness of their leaves, or the clarity with which the skyline marks itself against a blue sky that seems so much brighter than the expanse above your own much-loved city.

But you also find yourself wanting to get rid of that patina of new-ness, of being the outsider in this space, of wondering about which turn to take as you wander clutching your smartphone and hoping the free wifi doesn't disappear on you. I am trying, with every step, to write myself into the map of the campus, to become one of those dots that anonymously and unnoticed, goes about its business in a knowing, familiar way.

So yesterday I spent a whole hour circling a block looking for what the map called 13E--and at some point even the kind lady on google maps gave up on me. I called the office for directions to what the map said was less than 500 ft away, and was told that the building is to the right of a "large black sculpture". Now what do you do when you see three objects of that description within a 200-yard radius? It took another ten minutes and some soft-footing inside some of those impassive buildings before I located my destination. I know that soon I will walk that same path with complete uncaring, my eyes not stopping to look at curiosities inside or outside windows, where the bicycle on the window is a comfortable indicator of how close I am to the office rather than something to capture in a series of curiosities.

The process of turning familiar involves seeing and watching to the point where those processes are no longer required, where the eye and mind are inscribed with a layer of unconscious knowing that allows you then to lose yourself on the street while holding the map inside your head. You can then walk by those impassive buildings with a comfortable knowledge--or a complete uncaring--of what they are and what they hold.

Each time I find myself in a new city where I am to spend more than a few days, I watch myself go from anxious intruder to comfortable occupant (never quite insider, that would take years, or perhaps eons), from a place where I am conscious of difference to a place where my difference is just one more hue in a color-by-numbers palette.

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