The Pleasures of Getting Lost

the beautiful, primal, and jovial bliss of wandering

One of the nicer things about living in a city is just how many opportunities there are to get absolutely bewildered in terms of directions. One wrong turn, or a simple misreading of a sign, and there you are: somewhere new, somewhere you have never been before. Most people think that the actual act of getting lost, the concept of not knowing where you are, is a bad thing. It is, in fact, one of the greatest pleasures you can indulge in as a city dweller.

In a world defined by gig-economies, side hustles, and a globalized scramble to always be optimizing, walking around without a purpose seems romantic at best, and an absurdity at worst. In 2021, if you are not generating capital for yourself or someone else, you are seen as simply wasting time. The poison is so deep, so intertwined into every facet of our lives, it would only make sense that the antidote was as simple as walking around aimlessly.

I would argue that there is actually no better way to understand your city than to get lost in it, and while you’re at it, to get lost in a brazen, flagrant manner. A good plan would be to leave your phone at home and simply begin walking. Things open up a lot when you’re simply mulling about, thoughts bouncing around, the sounds of the city embracing you the further you go. Indeed, the absolute worst way to get to know a city is through the smartphone- at least in it’s current state; a mobile hub designed to sell your personal information & increase your base level of vanity.

And even on a blog that is dedicated to concepts of ‘nu-romanticism’, I understand that this is a tall order. If we don’t have our phone, who are we? We must confront ourselves in the offline sense, something we give much less attention to than our online persona, a patchwork of curated media & complex algorithms. While it may sound dramatic, to leave your phone at home and go out with the intention of getting lost is nearly primal, I would surmise.

To seek out something new, without a safety net, on your own- that is a fundamental part of the human condition, however literal you’d like it interpret it as. It is also a fundamental part of being a healthy city dweller: no one moves to a metropolitan area to play it safe. In a very small way, it embodies one of my favorite recent quips, told to me by a close friend: returning to monkey.

A funny phrase to be sure, and while he did say it jokingly, I resonated with it quite a bit. We had just snuck into the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, which I was of two minds about. (On one hand, there was an incredible energy to entering a space after hours, one that we as taxpayers directly fund. On the other, I wanted to be extra careful we didn’t step up on any of the ferns climbing down the wall.)

We made our way to the path, and while we had a goal, to see redwood trees, the journey very quickly turned into a cinematic montage, one that featured a couple of Jewish college graduates catching up while being adrift in a sea of plants. There was of course, as in all cases of getting lost, a sense of discovery. One moment we were heavily examining some Araurcaria (nicknamed Monkey Puzzles, which could also be the name of my autobiography), the next we were wandering into a serene Japanese tea garden. At one point we even encountered some coyotes- I quickly informed my friends to stretch out as big as possible and yell so that they recognize you as the apex predator, something I learned during my years as a camp counselor. They did not do that, but we escaped unscathed.

The Botanical Garden trip was the first time in a while I had gotten helplessly lost in a city, one that I grew up in, and I loved it. There was a beautiful moment where I let go of the wheel and simply enjoyed what was in front of me, right around the New Zealand part of the gardens. I didn’t know where we were going, but I assumed that the exit was around here, somewhere, and that if we wanted to, we would find it, sooner or later.

Eventually, we stumbled on the redwoods, and just sat for a while. A bit later, we made our way to a clearing, with trees on either side, and sat there for a while, as well. Somehow, we got the bright idea to begin throwing woodchips at a thin tree stump. We very quickly began to make a game of it, and soon, all of us were deeply focused on our made-up, stick-centered game.

What happened next was something that was so astonishing I had the urge to dedicate an entire section of this post to it- I was having an insane amount of fun. It was just throwing woodchips at a stump, but it was mindboggling addictive. When we hit the stump, which was roughly ten feet away, a wave of accomplishment washed over you. The serotonin levels were at an all time high, and the mood lent itself to that of a very special moment. After a friend of mine won a round, he said “This is the most fun I’ve had in months… I feel as if we have returned to monkey.”

The moment is cemented in my memory, and was a reminder of one of my favorite parts of living in a city- getting lost, along with the beautiful things you can’t see coming- in this case, a game of stick and stump, and the temporary but much needed ‘return to monkey.’