Some people think in three dimensions. Give them a pile of vacation baggage over here and a car trunk over there, and they can stuff the former neatly and precisely into the latter before you can say, “I don’t think we have room for all this junk.” Sometimes, even, they have it done, with the blue overnight bag tucked into the deepest corner, before you can say, “I need to have my blue overnight bag on the top.”
There are several of these 3-D thinkers in my family, and very useful people they are, too. Especially for those of us who are not quite so spatially gifted. Oh, I can get the stuff into the trunk eventually—and I will remember to leave the overnight bag for last—but it will involve a certain amount of unloading and reloading, at least one broken fingernail or skinned knuckle, and the creative use of language.
Then there’s the whole right-left issue. I do know the difference between right and left, honestly. My right hand is the one I write with, and it’s on this side, so this side is right. And since this side is right, obviously the other side is—wait for it—left.
But if I’m rushed—such as being in a moving car in traffic in an unfamiliar town, and just because I’m holding the map the driver expects me to navigate, and he asks urgently, “Which way do we turn?” and I know, really I do, but sometimes what comes out of my mouth is “left,” when I mean “right,” or vice versa. I’ve learned it’s simpler just to point, and those near and dear to me, especially if they’re driving, have learned not to believe me unless I do.
This is just one of the spatial things that seem to make perfect sense to other people but don’t quite click for me. Another one is the simple carpenter’s level. I know that if the bubble is precisely between the lines the surface is level, and if the bubble is off to one side the surface is sloped. But I never can remember which way is up. If the bubble is off to that side (trust me, I’m pointing here), is that side high or low?
This has been explained to me, but so far none of the explanations have stuck. Which can sometimes cause difficulties.
For example: We were landscaping the slope beside our driveway with railroad ties. This involved digging dirt out at one end, putting dirt in at the other end, rolling the tie into place, checking it with the level, and repeating.
Railroad ties are heavy. By the third repositioning of the second one, I had a brilliant and back-saving idea. The tie was close to level. It was sitting on soft dirt. If a person applied weight and pressure—by jumping up and down, say—on the high end, it might pack the tie down enough so we didn’t have to move the damned thing one more time.
I tried it. It might have worked, too. Except for the minor detail that I was jumping up and down on the low end.
A fact I did not realize until I heard a strange noise and thought my companion was choking. When you’re trying to use logic and creative thinking to save your partner’s back from harm, it’s counter-productive when he laughs so hard he nearly hurts himself anyway.
Never mind. Just because the execution was a bit flawed doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good idea.
Later, we told some friends this story. After they finished laughing, she said, “The way I remember which end is high on a level is that the bubble always goes uphill.”
And just like that, the bubble gained a personality. It became a noble little critter, always seeking the high ground. Suddenly, an abstract idea turned into a story.
Oh. How simple. That’s the kind of third dimension I can remember.