Dead reckoning is the process of determining one’s present position by projecting course and speed from a known past position, and predicting a future position by projecting course and speed from a known present position. The DR position is only approximate because it does not allow for the effect of leeway, current, helmsman error, or compass error.
— National Imagery and Mapping Agency
I learned today that the word evolve means to unfold. The etymology doesn’t connote progress but revelation — not that things will necessarily become better, but that they will become more clear. Which is a form of progress, I suppose.
To use dead reckoning, you need a known point. And these tend to be more elusive in life than on navigational charts. The past is as subject to revision, to shifts in perspective and changes of heart, as the present. Our perception of where we came from depends partly on where we’ve gotten to, where we stand now. Just as our understanding of where we are now will change depending where we go from here. Fixed points feel to me like unicorns or sasquatches — things that live more in our imagination than our experience.
This is relevant to me now because I’m between places — where I used to live, and where I’ll live next, with the latter yet to unfold. I’m staying in a beautiful home with very nice people, and I’m grateful to have landed so fortunately. Yet where I am now feels a bit surreal, because I don’t yet know where I’ll be.
Even more disconcerting, when I drove through my former neighborhood a week after leaving, everything looked different, almost unrecognizable. This seemed impossible. But maybe places are changed by the mere fact of departure, altering as soon as we turn our backs. Who knows what happens when we aren’t looking?
I can only say that since I don’t know exactly where I’m going or even where I’ve been, I feel a sense of unreality about where I am. This time and place aren’t yet part of an internal narrative — they’re just now. While experiencing life this way is a zen ideal, it’s disorienting. We humans have a yearning not only to be somewhere, which is inevitable, but to feel we know where we are, which proves more problematic. We’re always somewhere real, with an approximate idea of it.
Last night I saw a movie in the city I hope to live in. Afterwards, I was tempted to wander the streets but thought, “I’ll have plenty of time to explore here after I move.” So I decided to revisit my old neighborhood for dinner. But I passed the exit I meant to take, the one I’ve taken so many times and never missed before.
This highway isn’t forgiving of those who miss their destinations — by the time you get an opportunity to turn around, you’re already at the next town; there’s no place in between. I couldn’t go home because my friends were hosting a dinner we’d decided was better for me not to attend. So I figured I’d drive two towns further, past where I live now, and check out a restaurant I’d always meant to visit, although I didn’t know where it was. Turned out it was at the very end of a pier, dark and silent when I finally found it.
Hungry and feeling geographically challenged, I passed an establishment with its lights afire, the only spark of life in an otherwise empty village. It was called The Wayfarer. I thought, that’s what I am now, so I should stop here. There’s no way to leap forward to a place that doesn’t exist yet, or return to one that doesn’t exist anymore. Years ago I saw a play with the line, “Where you are now is a place too.”