There was a point in time about 20 years ago when it hit me that I was saying a certain phrase on almost a daily basis. People so often thought my behavior, interests and expressed thoughts were odd that I had taken to saying almost apologetically, “Just one of my little quirks, I guess,” by way of some sort of explanation. The truth was, I didn’t know why I was the way I was, or why they were the way they were. When being put into a position where an explanation was in order, this was the only thing I could think of.
When I realized how often I was saying this, I felt ashamed and decided to stop. But instead of then being myself unapologetically, I started learning to hide my “little quirks.”
I will now share one of them here. Because why not.
I have a great interest in other places. I could call it geography, but that word has a negative connotation to me, since I didn’t enjoy geography in school. We’d be given a map of a fictitious place and told to extrapolate from it what would likely be the primary industry of that region. I didn’t give a shit what the primary industry of some nonexistent region was. That was mind-numbingly dull. Outside of an academic environment, however, I did love maps, for some indefinable reason.
My dad was the one who taught me to read maps when I was about 5. My parents were into camping and fishing and road trips, and my dad showed me how to follow our progress on a map, and I loved it. I hated camping and fishing, but maps made these trips so much more fun for me. I suppose it helped that this was a rare personal interaction with my dad, who wasn’t a big fan of kids in general. (We get along great now that I’m an adult and can discuss things like religion, politics, and everything that’s wrong with the world.)
I not only love maps, but I love seeing what other places look like — the scenery, landscapes, and architecture. So in adulthood, the advent of Google Street View was like a dream come true. I actually remember imagining such a thing when I was a kid, thinking, wouldn’t that be great? Oh, how I would have loved it back then! Even now, I spend countless hours virtually touring other places, completely absorbed in the activity, tuned out to my immediate surroundings.
If I hear a place name I’m unfamiliar with, I have to look it up to find out about it. If I don’t have the opportunity to do so right away, it will nag at me until I do. I also love browsing scenic photos on sites like Flickr and 500px, but I feel intensely agitated if there’s no mention of where it was taken. Like, it really, really bothers me to the point where I feel like I could crawl out of my own skin if I can’t find out or figure out the location. I feel kind of unfairly annoyed at the photographer, like “Why would they post this without any information? This is utterly useless.” (Of course, thinking logically, I realize if someone’s only into photography as an art and not into places, they wouldn’t have seen a need to, and that’s okay.) I’ve actually gotten pretty good at guessing locations from the scenery or architecture, especially European ones. I test myself sometimes. I find it fun. Armchair Tourist (which I watch via Roku), where they show you video of a place and then provide a number to look up if you want to know where it is, is a blast for me.
When I was younger, it never really occurred to me that my interest was unusual until things happened that made it obvious. For example, when I was about 19, my dad had given me a decent camera as a gift, and I got the idea that I would take scenic photos, enlarge them, frame them, and give them as gifts. I would have loved to have received such gifts myself, provided the photographs were of adequate quality. But I mentioned my plan to my boyfriend at the time and he looked at me like I was crazy and said, “I don’t get it. Just, like, here’s sunny wherever?” He thought the idea was so bizarre that I ended up feeling incredibly embarrassed that I’d thought such a thing would be acceptable. (My face still gets hot when I remember it.) Another time, I was driving a friend to an unfamiliar location in another country and I asked her to navigate while I drove. She looked at the map I’d given her and said, “Sorry, I can’t make sense of this. I’m not very good with maps.” I was bewildered. It had never occurred to me that an intelligent person like her wouldn’t be able to read a map. (I didn’t actually say anything like that to her, thank goodness.) And then there was the time I realized that the highly intelligent friend I’d met online a decade ago knew nothing about the location of the city I was living in, when I had learned all about her city a long time ago. Other times, I’ve been astonished to hear long-time residents of a city say they don’t know how to get to a neighbouring town or don’t know which direction another major city is from there. I can’t even imagine living somewhere and not at any point having used a map to orientate myself to my surroundings, both local and further afield. As soon as I know I’m moving somewhere it is the first thing I do.
I have learned not to express my interest or my thoughts on this subject to others at all, because I eventually realized that I’m the one who’s odd, not them.
It’s just one of my little quirks, I guess.