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Celebrated playwright, author of the acclaimed bestselling novel Stunt,  and Globe & Mail columnist Claudia Dey first composed “LOSTNESS.” for a This Is Not A Reading Series event at the Steamwhistle Roundhouse on May 4 to launch The Selected Works of T.S Spivet by Reif Larsen. Local artists, thinkers and other explorers were invited to deliver short cartographical lectures. Dey has kindly given Pages permission to present her piece and assures us that she is busy at work on another book. 

by Claudia Dey

When I woke up in a bus shelter in a neighbourhood I could not pronounce with an injured bull sleeping beside me, I went to the doctor. I told him: I get lost. I get lost often. And by that, I mean all of the time.

He sent me to another doctor who sent me to another doctor who sent me to another doctor who sent me to yet another doctor. This last doctor – and all I will say of him is that with his dark glasses, thick beard and flyswatter, he did not seem as doctorly as the others - spoke about deep sea diving and by deep sea diving said he did not mean the kind one does amongst whales in a tight suit in the salt water but the kind one does with ones’ eyes – when ones’ eyes and ones’ consciousness intersect in such a way they understand: Everything is a map if perceived with attention. Deep see, S-E-E diving, he said.

And then the doctor went from being a very old man to a boy of about twelve. The boy was covered in dust and grass. The boy, by way of further explanation, gave me a word. Lostness. Lostness, the boy told me, is an acronym; when spelled out, it reads:

Latent Otherworld Sampler Telepathist Neurotic Everyday Salvation Syndrome. And then he added: Lostness is by no means anti-cartographic. It is, in fact, pre-cartographic.

My lecture this evening in this room in this brewery in this city is my attempt to decode the puzzling assertion made by the boy doctor.

First, there are many subsets of lostness. Ambulatory, panicked, drunken, lucky, and most devilish: intentional. If pressed, never admit to your subset of lostness for all of your mystery, as if struck by lightning, will burn up and die. You will instantly be boring, an unconvincing Clint Eastwood, a Siamese cat who apologizes. Whatever ghostliness you once had will turn into a teenager under a white sheet with holes cut for eyes.

Given my secret subset of lostness, I am often stared at by streetcar drivers. Their stares can be menacing or forgiving depending on whether they recognize their own secret subset of lostness in me. If they do, they nearly bypass the fare or take me home to give me their daughter’s books, her supper and her name. If they do not, they drill inkpots into me and ask questions like: Are you crazy? What’s wrong with you?

Another result of my secret subset of lostness is a phenomenon I will call: strange affairs of the pocket. For instance, last night, when emptying my pockets before bed, I discovered a rock of unknown origin and another heretofore alien item: a wrapper for a food I have never heard of and have no recollection tasting.

About the rock, I wonder: Did I steal the rock from the landscaped terrace of an arms dealer? Did I sneak it from a stranger’s collection having crawled through his basement apartment window while he was screaming Panama in the shower? Did I go to a terrarium? A temple? Did I ruin a child’s fragile sculpture?

And the food wrapper? Did the aforementioned arms dealer or rock enthusiast give me this alien food as some kind of host-like gesture? Or was it a gift from the temple? A kind of loot bag for my belief. But do I believe and if so, in what? Was I Buddhist yesterday?

Or perhaps its purveyor was not at all connected to the rock. But a woman stooped and lightly moustache-d and I slunk into her alleyway, knocked on her door and was led by a goat with balloons floating from its horns to her underground store made of plate glass wherein this alien food is the only item sold aside from a couple of lighters and a few dust-covered bags of diapers and chips. How did the alien food taste? Did it come with a fortune or a joke? And if so what is my fortune? And what is so funny?

My question to you – and I can see from your stares, those of you who share my secret subset of lostness – my question to you is: Just what are we losing?

Now at this point in the lecture, its concluding quarter, there is great temptation to strain the simile. God forbid I say something bestselling like: This room in this brewery in this city is not a room in a brewery in a city full of people in fairly considered outfits but the lost and found box of the world. In the lost and found box of the world, we wait for retrieval. We wait for completion. We wait to be matched.

Or God forbid I posit something evangelically trite such as: Could it be that our lostness – like the cartography that corrects it – is actually foundness – albeit in a solely potential form? I’ll say that again without so many conditions: Lostness is foundness.

For without lostness, I would never have considered such things as arms dealers or children who build sculptures for a living or Van Halen. Or, celebrity wildcat maulings as indicated by the scuffmarks on my boots or the grace of zephyrs as indicated by the smell of smoke in my hair. I would never have woken up where I did. I would never have met the boy doctor. I would never have been given a new, most encapsulating word.

Despite the apparent cohesion of that last thought, this isn’t really an effort to convince you I have been some omniscient tour guide all along with a bright umbrella I am now going to open up into a thesis. But if I did have a thesis it would be: Words are an attempt at location. Words try to tell you where you are. This is why we read. Tell me where I am. This is why we write. This is why we speak. This is why we listen. Tell me where I am.

In the space between us, in this room in this brewery in this city, between my voice and your ear, a map is being drawn. What features does it have? It will be different for each one of us. Is it all inland lakes for you? Is it only volcanoes for you? Is it the footsteps of an elephant and your grocery list for you? Is it covered in the face of your third last lover? Is it musical notes? A stack of numbers? A long run of exclamation marks?

Whatever its presentation, the point is that we are, in this moment, because of words, co-existing on a map of some kind. This map folds neatly into squares. It fits in your glove box, your fanny pack, your back pocket. It can be opened on a mountaintop during a windstorm. It can be opened at a dead end. It can be opened when you wake up in a bus shelter in a neighbourhood you cannot pronounce with an injured bull sleeping beside you.

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