Charting the Distance

Here are some things that I take to be true:

1. The fastest aerial route from New York to London inscribes a surprisingly deep arc on a two-dimensional Mercator projection map on the seatback TV on a 747, such that it looks like a waste of time;

2. If you leave 110th and Broadway by 7:22 a.m. on a weekday you can get to 83rd and East End in under 25 minutes, but you’re unlikely to arrive by 8:10 if you leave after 7:25;

3. Walking from The Crimson to the Sackler, you’re best-off taking a straight shot up Plympton, between Widener and Houghton, and then bearing right for a diagonal cut through the square formed by Robinson, Sever, Emerson, and Quincy St.

I never set out on a journey without obsessing about whether I am taking the most efficient path possible. I don’t do this because I love math; I once loved math, but we parted amicably after our final few rocky months together in my freshman fall. No, I think my obsession with path-related efficiency has different origins.

I am a total sucker for maps—maps of cities, continents, campuses, department stores, and (be still my heart) art galleries. I have nine in my bedroom, one in my bathroom, and at least 50 more in a hoarder’s paradise under my bed. Coming to know where my daily paths sit on a map is, for me, like coming to know how the muscular repertoire of a loved one’s face indicates her various passing moods.

Yet my attraction to cartography cannot alone explain my obsession with efficiency. I also think about my own death a lot. I realize, over and over, just before I’m about to lose myself to sleep, that one day I will cease to be conscious. There will exist nothing that knows, judges, loves, or feels that can be called “me.” And, worst of all, there will never be a moment when I am conscious that I am not conscious.

The healthy reaction to such thoughts is certainly to stop having them, or at least to soothe oneself back to a restful place. But, as for me, I plan. I plan obsessively, neurotically, foolishly, each route that I take—to say nothing of the other areas of my life—so that I will spend the least amount of time possible in transit. I can’t shake the feeling that time spent going somewhere is not real time but time wasted. The goal is the destination; the transportation nothing but a temporary means; it matters how I get there only insofar as I get there fast.

Apart from saving me a few minutes per day, this neurosis can’t be doing me much good. I find it nearly impossible to think about anything else on a trip between two points in a new city, and thus I am a pretty terrible tourist. Choice of route became a point of great contention and awkwardness on one particular trip abroad with three friends a few years ago. I even find myself cutting off perfectly enjoyable conversations on campus in order to cut corners and make it to class that much earlier. And it certainly makes rides with New York City drivers vastly more stressful, as my need for efficiency does vicious battle with my deep-rooted fear of death when I find myself—mostly on late nights and early mornings—on deserted city streets hurtling at breakneck speeds down avenues with coordinated stoplights.

But, even over and above all that, I think I am less creative and less curious due to my drive to streamline every journey I take. It limits the role of chance and serendipity in my thoughts and stifles productive passivity.

I realized this the other day when I noticed, tucked in next to Gnomon Copy on the block of Mass. Ave. between Linden and Holyoke, an unassuming wooden door I had never before considered. That door has never been significant to me and probably never will be, but when I thought of the number of times I had walked down that block and never even looked in its direction—never even realized it existed, my head down and my gaze fixed on the angles and curves of the street I had chosen to take—I felt a little ashamed. Ashamed, that is, but also a little excited that I had finally taken in this silly little door.

I wish I were more okay with wandering sometimes.

—Antonia M.R. Peacocke ’12, former Arts Chair, is a Philosophy concentrator in Adams. She advises that you take hills and sharp inclines into consideration when planning your route.

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