Back to Alice

I don’t know if I’ve ever written about this before, but I have a little problem with left and right. I think it’s some kind of learning disability, because if I’m being truthful (which would be nice, yes?) I’ve always had trouble learning things that come in pairs. By which I mean, I never learn things that come in pairs. For example:

  1. Left and right (see above)
  2. Those greater than/less than symbols
  3. Its/it’s

That’s all I can think of right now but there are more.

There/they’re/their. No problem. To/two/too. All good. Things that come in threes work.

I remember the left/right lesson very clearly in kindergarten. There was a ditto (remember that smell? If not, you are too young to be reading this. ;-)) with an outline of a human body (kind of like a chalk outline at a crime scene) and we had to mark the left hand, right hand, left foot, right foot. No gold star for me that day. But then, we had to go home and look in a mirror and see how our left hand was our right hand in the mirror, and the right one, the left one.

The mirror thing was beyond me. I can remember staring into the mirror for a long time and just not getting it. My left hand stayed my left hand, and my right hand stayed my right hand. Or vice versa, because I wasn’t quite sure which was which. Truthfully, again . . . I really only understood one day recently that when I raised my right hand, the PERSON IN THE MIRROR was raising her left hand. It was like Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan at the well.

(I feel like I should attach my transcript here to prove that I’m not an idiot. Not my undergrad transcript, though, which would prove that I am, in fact, an idiot.)

Since then, I’ve learned that if I hold my hands up, index finger pointing up, thumbs perpendicular, my left hand will make an L shape, for left.  This works, when I remember to do it. But in a pinch, I am nearly always wrong.

Over the past few years though . . . decades, I guess . . . I’ve come to associate the direction left as being the way you turn when you are crossing over a lane of traffic. Right is when you don’t have to cross over a lane. So when I’m driving, I’m actually pretty spot on when someone tells me to make a left or a right.

Except in England. And Scotland. And Ireland. Where I am a menace.

I’ll spare you the multiple stories about almost getting run over here in the land of driving on the left. Even the words painted on the edge of the sidewalk saying, “Look right” or “Look left” don’t help. Because unless I think very hard, I don’t know which is which. Add to that the cars that are making turns off one street and on to the street I’m crossing—they are always a surprise. I only look for them where I think they might be coming from, and that is never where they’re coming from.

Yesterday, though. Yesterday I drove up from Anam Cara to Cork. By which I mean my new friend Maeve drove, and I sat in the passenger seat, on the left side of the car, giving her bad directions. Because my whole system for knowing right and left went to hell. Even after six weeks of flinching and gasping whenever I see a car making what looks like a really wide right turn into the left lane of the road, I am still waiting for the head-on collision. Because here, in Ireland (and of course England and Scotland and Wales), you have to cross over that lane of traffic when you make a RIGHT turn. Not a left turn. Unless you’re in my head, where right magically becomes left because you are crossing over that damn lane of traffic. We were actually at an intersection and I changed my mind four times about which way we were supposed to go. I was sure the GPS lady voice, and the map on the phone, were saying two different things.

They were not.

But Maeve and I are still friends, which is nice, because we are twins separated at birth. The only thing we don’t have in common is that Maeve knows her right from her left.

Today is my last full day in Europe. I fly to London tonight and to JFK tomorrow morning. You can tell I’m tired, I imagine, because I just wrote an entire post about left and right.

And now I have to get back to my anxiety attack that my luggage will be too heavy for British Airways and I’ll have to leave something vital behind.  Or piss off everyone on line behind me as I move things from a too-heavy suitcase to a slightly less heavy one, until the luggage-taking person gets sick of me and just checks them. I know, privilege problems again.



“Portrait of Alice Liddell, after Lewis Carroll” by Vic Muniz, in the “Seen, Not Heard” exhibit at the Crawford Gallery in Cork. Although Alice was certainly heard. Nice to begin and end this trip with Alice.




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