It was while I was visiting Bristol recently.
First time in a new city, with only a google mapped directions sheet (I’d left it on hybrid so it was nigh on illegible). I was actually on the right path, but I lost faith in it about three quarters of the way. My pace slowed and my pulse quickened. It was dark, it was strange and I had lost faith in the internet. Joanna Newsom was still being piped into my ears though, and it’s hard to argue with that.
I gave up and called Guido at my destination. Used humour to avoid panic. He was useless, kept describing landmarks I hadn’t seen yet. Then I spotted a map, realised I was doing well and only five minutes away, and thanked the city planners of Bristol for thinking to actually put maps around the city. That’s really useful.
Quite a boring story.
Lost is my favourite way of exploring new places. I still remember the joy of getting myself lost in Brighton when I first moved here. I’ve got a fairly good sense of direction, so unless you put me somewhere totally foreign after spinning me around loads (mass transit has the same effect so london is baffling if I use the tube) I can normally keep my bearings enough to find something safe.
This is useful. It’s the only way to build a decent picture of a new city. City life requires lostness.
I’ve never been big, huge adventure lost though. Which is something I feel I should do at some point. Prove that I’ve got a bit of survivalist left in me.
Then of course, I wonder if we’re all a bit lost.
There’s an instinct to assume that civilisation has some kind of direction. Our brain likes to pull things along teleological threads. It’s why certain people find evolution so easy to dispute. They refuse to see a process of lost random movement, because it seems so obvious that there’s been a sense of direction. A goal to evolution. I’ve even seen smart sounding science writers discuss the goal of evolution. It’s something people want to exist.
There’s a reason why direction and purpose are often synonymous.
We want to feel like we having meaning just because we are going a certain way.
We want to feel that the way we go is ‘natural’ and ‘right’?
But we’re lost.
When lost, to an extent it is okay to just pick a direction and run with it (though don’t run, you’ll tire out and lose faith much quicker).
I don’t think that applies on a larger scale. At least not once it becomes clear we’re running out of resources.
That’s the scariest bit of being lost. Realising you’re hungry and out of food. The body is remarkably fragile.
Humanity needs to spend more time working on a map. One that we can agree on. One that will actually help us go in the right direction.
Easier said than done.
Illustration by Lucy.