An Open Letter to People Who Ask Me for Directions

March 19, 2011

Dear People Who Ask Me for Directions,

I am so, so sorry.

There have been an awful lot of you lately. I suppose this is because it’s spring: the weather’s getting nicer, and it’s campus tour season, which means an influx of students and their parents (many from out-of-town) wandering around attempting to locate specific buildings. For some reason, you all seem to gravitate towards me.  Clearly, I somehow look a) non-threatening, and b) like I know what I’m doing.

I’m flattered.

However, you may have noticed that I’m not the best at giving directions. When you ask me where  This-or-That Hall is, or how to get to So-and-So Street, surely you notice the flash of terror in my eyes as I call up my mental map of the city. And you wait so patiently while I stammer, struggling to convey in words the instinctive flash of insight in my mind… a struggle which often fails and forces me to resort to pointing and awkward hand gestures as I sketch streets in the air.

I wish I gave good directions. I wish I could pull it off with style and aplomb. Unfortunately, there are a few things which prevent me from doing so. First of all, when I’m walking around, my feet are usually on autopilot while my mind is immersed in other things. Like if it’s been long enough for me to send out new agent queries… But it’s usually a story, which means that mentally, I’m not even on the same planet anymore. Really, it’s a miracle I haven’t been run over yet. So when I’m yanked back to this world, it takes my mind a moment to adjust… and sometimes a moment isn’t enough, and I only realize I’ve given wrong and/or misleading directions after you’ve skipped off on your merry way.


Even if my mind does make the transition, I’m a visual person. I find my way by landmarks, not necessarily by street names and distances. Some people will tell you to walk another kilometre on This Street. I will want to tell you to walk until you reach that restaurant where I had dinner with a friend that one time, and then go south until you reach the funny yellow house, and then I think That Road is somewhere around there. I can see it in my mind, after all.

But giving directions like that wouldn’t work very well, because they represent a mental map of the city which is intimately tied to my emotions and experiences. It works great for me, but not really for anyone else. So I have to translate. And because street names aren’t the first thing I think of (why bother? I know it’s near the awesome second-hand bookstore), I have to dig around to come up with them. And then, since I’m a visual person in general, I try to recreate the way the streets run by waving my hand around, since I’m seeing the street in my head.

I realize this isn’t very helpful:

But it’s all I have.


So, you’re still welcome to ask me for directions. I will do my very best to answer coherently and correctly. I promise, I like to help people. But… you may want to double-check what I tell you against one of the large maps conveniently posted around campus.

Just in case.




  1. LOL!! I’m exactly the same way. I’m not good at following directions either. I can’t seem to connect the street names with the proper streets… It takes a while for me to figure it out. XD

  2. Fun post. Now I’ve got a riddle for you:

    Why don’t men ask for directions?

    They don’t know they’re lost. 😀

    • Hehehe… I enjoyed that. I may have to show it to a friend of mine, who refuses to take any directions I give, whether misleading or not. 😉

  3. Ha, this is a great post! Where I live you hear things like, ‘You turn right where that big tree is that came down in the ’96 ice storm’ or ‘If you cross that place where the road was taken out in the ’06 flood you’ve gone too far’ and my personal favorite, which I use, ‘Remember where the Fish and Wildlife guys set dogs after that bear? That’s my driveway.’

  4. That is absolutely brilliant! I think it’s the curse of every non-cabbie or cabbie in training to have absolutely no clue what street names are, and in some cities they are labeled differently on maps then they are on the streets, if labeled at all.
    But I think the best directions happened when I visited Galway everyone gave directions in stages. It went something like “Go left, go right, walk till you see the steeple and then ask someone else.”

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