Thursday, December 23, 2010

And by Left They Mean Right...

I've been wandering around doing miscellaneous things this morning, and finally decided to just go put in the zipper wrong until the penny dropped. It finally did, and I have now written on the pattern "And by 'left' they mean 'right.'"

I always had a problem with that. I remember a time when my chief problem in dressing myself was that I was continually putting things on backwards because it wouldn't click with me that the front had to face away from me when I donned the garment in order to get the correct result. When I have to make left-or-right decisions I still glance down looking for a long-faded freckle on my right hand to make sure I don't pull left. Though the freckle is gone, I know that the right hand is the hand on which I reflexively check the freckle.

No, I don't expect you to follow that. It doesn't have to make sense to anyone but me.

The trouble is that 'left' and 'right' are subjective terms, and in order to get the correct one it is necessary to be oriented the way the person giving you instructions expects you to be. I hardly ever am. And clockwise and widdershins are not "left" and "right," because any circle that goes left at the top goes right at the bottom and vice versa. Although one of Charles Fort's most famous aphorisms is "One measures a circle, beginning anywhere," apparently I am the only person in the world who ever orients a circle starting with the bottom point.

However, I can learn my way around urban spaces like nobody's business; and for years I always knew, when I walked into a restaurant, where to find the restrooms. This no longer functions infallibly, but that may be my own fault for preferring nonstandard restaurants.

I console myself for my lack of spatial acuity by telling myself that it gives me lots of sensitivity to alien viewpoints. You know how when somebody says "you have something on your face right there?" and points to the corresponding point on his own face, you always reach for the wrong spot? That doesn't happen with me, because I comprehend that I am functioning as your mirror, and point at the mirror-image spot. If I explain something and can't make myself understood, I do not assume that I am speaking to a stupid person, but to one with a different set of intuitive assumptions and will try out a different set till between us we hit on the ones that will work, or abandon the attempt. Conversely, I am frustrated to the point of murderousness in conversation with someone who denies the validity of my, or anyone else's, world view. When I'm writing a character, I can freely give them opinions I don't share and tastes opposed to mine and not worry about sounding convincing.

I may or may not have gotten the "see another's point of view" skill if I could tell my left from yours without conscious effort; but believing that I wouldn't is at least comforting, so please don't disabuse me of the notion.

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