The newspaper had stories on Burkina Faso, Oman, The Cape Verde Islands. I couldn’t remember where Burkina Faso was in Africa, if all of Oman was north of Yemen and if the Seychelles are close to Cape Verde islands (they aren’t.) None of the stories had a map. I could have gotten up and gone to Google Earth, but it would have made for a clearer story if there had been a map. A map adds context. But we are no longer used to maps. We rely on photos for emotional food, but we dieted away our spatial-relationship food.
We may not need paper maps as long as there is a GPS system to tell us how to get where we want to go. But don’t we need to know where we were and how we got here? If life is a journey, don’t we want a map of the trip?
My dirty secret is that I hate using GPS systems. They make me feel dizzy and disoriented. I have the same problem as digital clocks– I need to know where I’m not as well as where I am. I need to have a sense of connection, of space, of logic on the freeway as well as downtown. A few days ago a friend and I were driving to the airport. She had mistakenly programmed her GPS system for someplace else. And while we could both clearly see the airplanes landing a few miles away, she headed in the other direction because her GPS system told her to.
My favorite three reasons to use lots of maps:
1. Maps help us figure out the world around us. Most people who don’t live in Arizona think the entire state is desert, with saguaro cactus and drifting sand, like the Sahara. (The Sahara doesn’t have saguaros, but that’s another blog.) When they hear it snows in Flagstaff and that the road to the Grand Canyon is closed due to snow, starting in November, they think I’m making it up. A topographical map, showing elevations, helps explain why that is.
2. Maps help us figure out where to go next. This isn’t necessary about physical geography, this is also true in writing. I use a mind map to organize almost everything I write, and once I organize the studio, I can complete the map of where things are. This is a goofy map I’m making because the room is small and doubles as the guest room, so I often have to disappear things in a closet. A strict rule of putting things in the same place every time and an Excel spread sheet (I can search for items in different ways) helps me locate gesso, spray bottles and sponge brushes once the guests are gone.
3. Maps help us know what’s beyond the horizon. We usually care about our houses and our back yards. It’s also important to know what’s in your back yard, what’s in the next state, the location of the nearest gas station, food store, body of water, firehouse, and friend. A good map can do that, particularly if you add to it or draw it yourself.
Which reminds me. Draw your own maps. They don’t have to be elaborate or even exact. Drawing a map helps you think spatially, locally and globally. And that has to be a good thing.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life and creativity coach. She draws lots of maps for fun. And to write well.