Monday, May 4, 2009

Mapping my life

Through various moments of synchronicity I find myself thinking about maps a lot these days. I've been reading a number of books that use maps as metaphors; I've been traveling and relying upon maps; I've been noting the landmarks in my life, both literal and symbolic.

To start with, I love paper maps. I love this conceptualization of data, the attempt to capture the lay-of-the-land in its infinite variety and texture with ink and flat paper. I marvel at historical maps and consider it nothing short of magic that maps have any accuracy at all. How do we know what that coastline really looks like, if we can't see it from above?

I remember as a child when I was taught to read a map in school and then practiced those skills with my parents as we drove across country, I imagined that if you looked closely enough, if you had a good enough magnifying glass, you could see everything in the free map we got from tripleA. The blue line there? Don't put your finger on it, you might accidentally crush us as we drove down the highway. Right here? There's a field with a cow and if you can't see it, I'll draw it for you. I destroyed countless maps by amending them with detailed illustrations of the things we passed as we crossed from Pennsylvania to Vermont to Alabama to Nevada and back home again. Or maybe they weren't destroyed, but improved.

Now I use all different kinds of mapping tools - paper maps, googlemaps, gps and more. Each has their own beauty and utility, but I think the kind of map I use the most often is deep and personal, hidden in my own history. Using that map, I would give directions like this:
  • Drive for awhile until you come to the place where I used to always see the old man walking his dog. He was kind to me. Turn left. What happened to them anyway?
  • When you think you're lost look behind you and you'll see me when I was a little girl wearing my favorite pink panda shirt. Wave to assure her she'll make it through her childhood even if it's hard.
  • Swerve quickly so you don't hit the tree I used to love to climb. It's gone now. Termites? Development?
  • Slow down as you drive past my old school. God, I hated that place.
  • And now turn around, retrace your path and you'll find yourself right here, right now, in this moment in my life.
The problem, of course, is that anyone who followed those directions would be hopelessly lost. Even I feel a bit lost at the moment and those directions use my own highly personal landmarks.

A more realistic kind of personal map would be one that traces the places I cover, a pheromone map where the worn routes I take regularly are more defined than the unknown paths in new colors, those that lead to the possible, the frightening, the new. Maybe that would serve only to depress me, displaying in black and white just how constrained I have become.

The kind of map I long for, of course, is the map to the future, but I can't seem to find that one. If I found it would I even know how to read the legend? Or would it just be a mostly blank sheet of paper with an "X" stating, "You are here. Now go."

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer
Creative Commons License

No comments:

Post a Comment

True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
Related Posts with Thumbnails