Get lost!

When I first moved out on my own from a very small town to a very large city, I spent a lot of my time getting lost.

Whether searching for some obscure bookstore, a literary gathering that was inevitably in the basement of a building down some half-hidden alley—or later when I was working, searching through a soon-to-be gentrified neighborhood for the interviewee of my next story—it was almost certain I’d walk up or down a couple of wrong streets, usually going a fair distance out of my way. It happened so often I got in the habit of giving myself an extra hour to make my appointment—more if it threatened to rain.

I didn’t mind. Looking back, it was good for me. Learning the city one miss-step at a time made me fearless. I earned my independence in every wrong street, every forgotten address. My self-esteem would surge as soon as I saw the subway station sign beckoning ahead. Finding my way alone on crowded city streets was an act of passage. I learned to observe, listen and above all, trust my instincts. Plus the seemingly aimless wandering gave me time to think, to plan, to dream.

I presume it’s a lot harder for people to get lost today. Now when I walk down the city streets (usually knowing where I’m going) or ride the bus, it seems like everyone around me, young and old (but mostly young) is continually connected to someone else, or several people in succession, by their phone. I can’t help thinking that had cell phones existed 30 years ago, I would have missed out on a lot.

I read an article some time ago—I can’t remember the source—that offered the thesis that the real danger of excessive cell phone use isn’t brain cancer—it’s the fact that, as a society, we have no time to be alone in our heads, no time to mull through our thoughts. We’re losing the ability to be alone. Which, among other things, makes it tough to get lost.

Yesterday while waiting for a bus, I overheard the young woman sitting on the bench next to me tell a barefaced lie to whomever she was speaking. She said the bus was pulling in, she had to go. There was no bus. She then put her phone in her purse and picked out a paperback. She was making a choice to be alone–and getting lost in a book is almost as good as the real thing.

You should try it. Block off the time, make an excuse, invent an appointment if you have to but take a couple hours for yourself. Turn off your cell-phone. Better yet, don’t take it along. And just go. Drive through a part of town you don’t know, take a bus or subway somewhere, anywhere—and be alone with yourself. Listen to sound of the streets. Turn corners at random. Wander. Get lost.

You’ll be amazed at what you find.

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