A System of Direction.

8/1/20232 min read


My woman has a very specific way of dealing with navigational situations. On a single trip, either by foot, bike, scooter, or car, when she uses the phrase: we go down - sometimes followed by a question mark, sometimes just as a directive - it in any case leads to some type of confusion and discussion. In general, we often have some intercultural miscommunications: she coming from the Balkan, me from North-Western Europe brings more differences in information-interpretation and expectation management than we often realize. Our communal language is English and for us this was enough to assume that we could understand each other in all angles of communication. Yet time and time again we encounter new areas where the informal or contextual transfer of affect is not covered by the formal language of information transfer that we speak. Still, we love each other very much, so we spend hours to post-contextualize what has been said, in the hope that this will be adequate to prevent futures miscommunication. Spoiler alert, it is not, though that is irrelevant in this context.

The word down signifies a direction, but for her this is not connected to a specific direction that could be logically or semiotically deduced from its the usage. Down can mean right, left, straight ahead, and – though very rarely – backwards. In the start this drove me to the brink of insanity, to put it mildly, especially when the route would lead up a slope for instance, I could just not place nor deal with the phrase ‘going down’ to express the aspired action. Imaginable situations in rush hour where four lanes of heavy traffic prevent any room for indecisiveness could lead to intense debate and the predictable near-collision conjunctions. There was no easy way out of this, as we always end up on the road that is in fact leading us proverbially and factually ‘down the road’, so any after-deliberation proved fruitless, as both sides of the argument were post-facto always proven just. At a certain moment I started to look at her in these situations, and I noticed she was always looking at the path to be taken when speaking about ‘down’. Her ‘mental compass’ was not calibrated on the road we had taken - from which a new way could be described in terms of coordinates in a Newtonian grid - rather her sense of direction was informed by the path yet to be taken. If you can see it, you can be it (or in this case: you can be there). After a few attempts the communication improved by simply following the line of my lovie’s sight and respond with a mellow; ‘yes just down here’.

Photo-credit: NASA under The Commons, no known copyright restrictions.

Title: Water Egress Procedures Practice with the Apollo 1 Prime Crew at Ellington Air Force Base, Texas, USA. June 1, 1966.