Posted by: Louise | January 16, 2012

spatial awareness

My Dad was a rally driver. Well, not so much a driver as a navigator, but, if you ever sat in a car with him (to this day) you wouldn’t know either way. My dad IS a rally driver.

Back in the day he was good, really good. The cabinet of silver cups and trophies attests. He navigated for the best, he and his ordinance survey maps, guiding his driver, twisting and turning around the many narrow lane ways and hilly coast roads that make up much of the Irish road network – sharp left 25 yards, 10 yards, left NOW – and on they would race.

But as kids found their way into his life, so too did the beginnings of a sense of responsibility, and over time his map-reading ability became compromised by a feeling of nausea whenever he looked down. So he stopped racing in cars and found a safer sport instead.

Recently I was chatting with friends and we were reminiscing about the machine that predated the photocopier – the Gestetner, a great hulk of a machine with a cylindrical drum and sticky ink and a big handle that you would and wound and wound as one sheet was miraculously duplicated into many. We were from different places – France, Northern Ireland, down South – but we all remembered this creature from school.

Oh, I remember the smell of the ink.

The sound of the pages as they whipped through and unpeeled themselves from the ink drum.

I could tell you exactly where it was located in the classroom – up on the counter at the back, to the right, I said (of a classroom I had inhabited when I was four).

The occupational therapist in our midst turned on her proffessional hat and said – Ah. Spatial awareness.

I get it from my Dad. He was the brilliant navigator that he was because of his spatial awareness. Always the sportsman, he found a sport that drew on his keen sense of where he was located in space. When he retired from rallying, he turned this skill to the puzzle of packing his wife, seven children and a dog, complete with whatever of life’s extras demanded to travel with us (suitcases, buggies, tents, buckets and spades, windsurfers, groceries or schoolbags and hockey sticks) into our never big enough family car. We got daily instruction on how to pack a dishwasher. There has only ever been one way.

I knew that much about myself. I love to organise space, whether it is the boot of the car, the dishwasher, pictures on a wall, inside a wardrobe or the furniture itself. I have an excellent sense of how things fit in relation to each other. I parallel park with abandon. It is almost impossible for me to get lost. I always seem to know where I am. I will take a map over SatNav any day because on a map I can locate myself. I need to see where I am in the world, not just how to get from here to there.

What is a new revelation is that this spatial awareness is not just physical, but operates on a much deeper level within me too. When I returned to university a few years ago, it was to explore the theories that underpinned the work that I have done for years – to find out what the earth under me was made of, to get a clearer sense of where I was located on that particular map. As I studied that map (and not uncommonly for mature students), a fog descended and for a long time I had no idea where I was anymore, and I hated it. It felt vulnerable – insecure. I couldn’t see my edge. These days it still feels foggy, but I know my feet are on the ground. And for now, that is ok.

It occurs to me too that I could account for my ongoing struggles with faith and belief as a need to locate myself on a map. It isn’t that I don’t believe or even don’t want to believe, it is just that I am trying to get a sense of an overall picture. How does it fit together? I have another question, God… I don’t have a clear picture of where I am situated in all this. I am trying to work it all out, but it is taking time. And for years, in my bewilderment, I have buried my head like an ostrich, stood with my eyes squeezed tightly shut and my fingers in my ears
I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you….

And then Laura died and the little bit of the world I thought I had a clear picture of all changed – or stayed the same – but we were different. We were shaken so badly our heads were dizzy and sore and nothing looked the same.

The fog was thick and black with occasional glimpses through it of the familiar.

I recognise that laugh.

And then it’s gone again.

Oh. There is my friend.

This feels so comfortably familiar,

but wait, her baby lives

and this is strange and warped and sharply painful and I am feeling for the comfort of that sand to bury my head deep, deep down.

Fog. Sand. Fog. Sand. Fog. Sand. Fog.

And this is the place I find myself. Some days I’m here. Always I am somewhere. But frequently my head is buried or my eyes are tightly shut. One way I can say, It is my choice that I cannot see where I am going. My eyes are closed. I still have control. I can feel my edges in this sand. The other way, my eyes are open and I am stumbling, unsure of how to locate myself, where to go, what to do. I can’t see for all this fog… in my head. It is in my head. The fog is actually in my head…..

…and I want to wrap this up with resolution and niceties, but I won’t because that is what I always do, make sure I and everyone else can see where we stand.

But right now I can’t really.

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Responses

  1. I love this post. I find the concept of having spatial awareness fascinating being myself (i) clumsy and (ii) generally hopelessly disorientated. I can’t imagine what it must be like to possess this particular skill. Like sprouting an extra limb.I can’t pack a dishwasher effectively and I would rather drive home again than attempt to parallel park.

    Your description of your dad, squeezing all the children and accoutrements into the car. I like thinking of him bringing his navigational skills to bear on this particular new and tangly problem.

    And I find that I also don’t know where I am. Somewhere, yes. Where precisely, I haven’t a clue. Where in relation to anything else? Some long lost Gestetner of my own?

    Fog? Sand? I suppose at least in the sand I could at least ‘feel my own edges’ but in either I’m just so utterly . . . bewildered. I suppose at least that, in my case, this isn’t anything unusual. So I suppose I’ll just continue to bump around in the fog or the sand, never really figuring it out. Or making up a complicated story about where I am and telling it to myself so many times that I come to believe it.

    I think I’ll be re-reading this post for some time to come. There is a lot here to think about.

    • And if it is complicated stories you must write to make sense of where you are, Catherine, keep writing them. It they are in you, they are your truth. There is no ‘coming to believe them’. I loved your “Geography” piece over at Glow. I was so conscious of the distortion of time after Laura died, but distortion of space and sense of space makes so much sense to me too now. x L

  2. Astonishing, Louise. Like peering into eternity, let alone space.

    This is really magnificent, what you wrote. Roped my eyes, wound tighter and tighter, and left me breathless. Good way, not bad. I have much more to think about before I am through. But I don’t think getting “through” a post like this is possible or preferable. It is going to stay, and I’m glad.

    Your sand and fog made me think, somehow, of Night and Fog. Maybe there is no connection, but both seem boiled down to essentials.

    Some favorites:

    “We got daily instruction on how to pack a dishwasher. There has only ever been one way.” (Ha!)

    “I need to see where I am in the world, not just how to get from here to there.”

    “I couldn’t see my edge.”

    “Some days I’m here. Always I am somewhere.”

    You write – and your words spread like echoes and reflections over the face of the water. I love to drink them in.

    Cathy in Missouri

    • Bless you Cathy in Missouri and your comments. Always welcome. Always make my heart swell. Writing this post shifted something for me – maybe the need to trust my heart/ my gut and just walk. Not sure yet. More to follow. x L

  3. This is a magnificent piece Louise, so much so that I sat on this and came back a few times before commenting.. not that my comment is in any way ‘enlightening’. This last part has really stayed with me.. ”
    And this is the place I find myself. Some days I’m here. Always I am somewhere. But frequently my head is buried or my eyes are tightly shut. One way I can say, It is my choice that I cannot see where I am going. My eyes are closed. I still have control. I can feel my edges in this sand. The other way, my eyes are open and I am stumbling, unsure of how to locate myself, where to go, what to do. I can’t see for all this fog… in my head. It is in my head. The fog is actually in my head…..”
    Because all of us- at different moments in our lives and different areas of our grief feel this..
    Sending love and light always…

    • Love to you, Leslie, and your steady presence. xx

  4. Louise, I’ve been mulling this post over for days now, and loving every word of it, and perhaps especially the ending because it’s so open and questioning and resolved in its unresolvedness.

    The way you tie this to faith and belief speaks strongly to me – it’s so strange to feel relatively sure of your place in the world and then, whoosh, not really know where you are any more.

  5. Thank you Erica. Funny, the ending was the hardest part to write. It feels good to have it noticed. I suppose there can’t be an ending really, now that I think about it because it is ongoing – all of this… x

  6. strange comment regarding a satnav—-it shows you exactly where you are and you dont really need a postcode to get where you want to go—you can try and do multidrop with a map but you will be taking a lot of drops back and losing your job—gone are the days of 20 drops its more like 100 –maps consume so much time—-the white van world—guess thats why white vans are prone to speeding like a rally driver


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