Geographically speaking, I have no idea what I’m talking about

(Somewhere in the world, it’s already Monday. Ech! But for those reading this, it’s still Sunday! Now, before I start getting appreciative calls and emails, I can’t take all the credit. It probably has as much to do with our position in the hemisphere and rotation of the sun as it does with my power to post Flashback Sunday. Although, yes — it is a compelling coincidence. Regardless of the reason, I’m glad we can share Sunday morning together. Come to think of it, I should go put some pants on. In the meantime, here is this week’s flashback, which comes from a time long before I even had a blog, back when I thought “Freshly Pressed” was a new coffee shop and dry-cleaning chain…)

image When my youngest daughter entered middle school, I knew it was only a matter of time before my worst fears were realized and, as a parent, I would have to help her with geography. As many of you know, I suffer from acute directional dysfunction — a disorder many famous historical figures also suffered from, including Christopher Columbus, who discovered America completely by accident while looking for… if memory of sixth-grade history serves me…

A faster trade route to WalMart.

I’m the kind of person who must enter and leave somewhere the same exact way in order to keep from getting lost, even if it means walking backwards out of a public facility, such as the men’s room at Safeco Field. I’ve actually had nightmares about being a contestant on The Amazing Race. In it, I am partnered with my friend David, who spent six years in the Marines, and therefore still refers to distances in terms of “clicks,” which is a unit of measure based on kilometers and the use of a special clicking device. Were I trying to find my way out of enemy territory, this device would be about as useful to me as, say… a Superball. Because of this, my Amazing Race nightmare always starts and ends the same way, with everyone getting the first clue and then excitedly running off in the same direction. Except for me, who excitedly runs in the opposite direction — and off a cliff with my “clicker.”

It’s a short dream but always traumatic, especially when I wake up lodged between the bed and the wall “clicking” my TV remote.

So when my daughter opened up her geography book and started talking about longitude and latitude, and the prime meridian, and flat map distortion, I knew it was time for me to buckle down and, as her father, at least try to get out of it by faking a seizure. Seeing her expression, I quickly realized I had already used this technique when asked about “where babies come from,” “algebra,” “geometry,” and why her favorite shirt was now tie-dyed.

The truth is, I used to be good at helping her with geography, back when we could pour all the major continents and countries onto the floor and put them back together, usually with some parts of Hawaii missing because, as I explained, some of the islands were vacationing around Florida.

Clearly, this explanation would only lead to another pained expression from my daughter, and quite possibly the kind of parent-teacher conference I’d been hoping to avoid until she began chemistry.

“C’mon, Dad. I need your help. I can’t figure the answer to this,” she said, pointing to the last question on her sheet:

Using this flat map, determine the distortion ratio between these two continents.

“OK, looks like Russia and Africa,” I said helpfully.

“Russia?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said, tapping what I knew to be the world’s largest landmass, not counting Shaquille O’Neal.

“That’s the Soviet Union, Dad.”

Things weren’t off to a good start but I pressed on. According to the formula, all we had to do was determine the coordinates of the farthest points on each continent, add them up, factor in the distortion ratio, then decide how much a “D” on this assignment was going to affect her overall grade.

As it turned out, we actually DID figure out the correct answer. Don’t ask me how because I honestly don’t know. However, in case you’re wondering, it was still smaller than Shaquille O’Neal.

(Ned is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation. You can write to him at, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

21 thoughts on “Geographically speaking, I have no idea what I’m talking about”

  1. i have the same exact issues with directionality, look up ‘dyscalculia’ you’ll be surprised how much it will explain ) good thing is, those that have this are usually quite intelligent and have much higher than average strength in the literacy/creative areas. i’ll call it even.

  2. I call this special dyslexia. I cant tell my right from my left, and I get lost in my own neighborhood (its the worse design ever in the history of “planned neighborhoods” in my defense.) And yes, I have to memorize where I parked and then at the building turn around and plot it out. Doesn’t always work. My boss has the same problem. Once at the hospital we, who have been there 20 years, got hopelessly lost. Every time we were to go one direction we went the opposite. By the time we were done we were a mass of hopeless, helpless giggles. I thought you were a superhero, and now I know you are for sharing this!

    1. Lol! I am familiar with all of those techniques 🙂 Sometimes, all you can do is laugh about it. Another blogger said she read that a poor sense of direction is a symptom of an intelligent mind. If that’s the case, we must be total geniuses!

      1. My dad is the same way and he tested at a 200 IQ when he was young. We just put our energy and learning on higher priorities. Who cares if you get lost? There is always a more interesting road to travel… 🙂

  3. My husband knows if I am navigating we better not have a set time to be somewhere because we would be at least a couple of hours late….however, we would never run across all of the interesting places we do if he was in charge of the map!

  4. Oh, sixth grade geography class… I don’t miss it, haha! Hopefully by the time your daughter gets to chem class there will be some kind of app that will be more helpful and not have you fake another seizure lol 😉

    1. She already knows better that to ask me about anything mathematical or chemistry related. If it’s English, science or history, I’m her man. Otherwise, she’s out of luck!

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