Map Your World

The newspaper had stories on  The Cape Verde Islands. I couldn’t remember if the Seychelles are close to Cape Verde islands (they aren’t.)  The story didn’t have a map,  but it would have made for a clearer story if there had been one. 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. I don’t own a GPS and don’t miss it, either.

My favorite three reasons to use lots of maps:

desert_portraits1. 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. Astrict 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 earthquake fault, water source, and windbreak.  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 draws her own maps of everything from city streets to location of bathrooms and water dispensers in places she teaches.







25 thoughts on “Map Your World

  1. I´m good at map reading but I´m aweful at space recognizing. All that “after the gas station turn right until the bridge, then look for the yellow tree” that my husband tells me is lost on me.

    • Paula. My husband insists on giving directions using north south east and west and, as a general rule, the only direction I can remember is west – and only because a huge mountain range lines our western skyline. So I smile and nod and look at my google map.

      • Those compass-point directions work really well here in Phoenix because the city is built on a grid. It’s not unusual to hear people say, “The store is on the northwest corner of . . .” and if you live here, you know what they mean!

  2. I LOVE maps. I have 3 boxes full of maps. Maps of places I visited, maps of places where I lived, even maps of places I want to visit one day! If you know how to read it it tells you so many things about a place. It’s fascinating. It makes me dream. And it’s relaxing, too!
    When I need to go to a new location I always have a look at a map first (even if it’s on a computer). I have a good sense of orientation, so if it’s not too complex that’s all I need to find my way. I use a handheld GPS unit (made for hiking) in the car, too. Most of the time the routing is turned off, it’s enough for me to have a tiny map of my location so I know when I have to switch directions (roads in Germany can be very chaotic and navigation isn’t always easy as we have lots and lots of small roads everywhere). And if I turn routing on, it amazes me how often the GPS thinks there is a better way which isn’t better at all. The combination of checking the route on a map before I leave and then using the GPS to help a little bit works best for me!

  3. I have always loved maps as well as plans and time-lines. I like to see where I am in relation to others things which is perhaps why I like a big map of a city rather than ones chopped up into pages in books.

    It always surprises me how so many people are happy to be steered through life by someone else, and now, by a disembodied voice. I like being able to plan how I will get from here to there in my own way and in my own time . . . but I guess that doesn’t come as any surprise.

    • I have a quote I love in my quote journal. It says (and I’m paraphrasing): Design your own life’s plan. Don’t wait to be included in someone else’s plan. Because guess what they have planned for you? Not much.
      That’s how I feel about a voiced GPS system. All I need to do is flop some numbers and I’m heading in the wrong direction.

  4. My 14-year-old daughter and I are taking a road trip next week for a week. Yes, I have a GPS and yes, I’ll check Google maps to print out directions to our first destination, which is the longest part of the journey. But today, we sat together and spread out a big road map and circled all the parts of our journey that we’ll be visiting. It just helps put things into colorful, tangible perspective. My father taught her how to read a map when he and my step-mother took her on a road trip through Colorado and Utah — she was 7 at the time. She kept the map in the back seat and discovered a shortcut that pleased my father to no end. He was so proud of her! Map reading isn’t taught in school anymore but it is a vital skill, as is handwriting, which also isn’t taught anymore. Our future generations will no longer be able to navigate or read the Constitution on their own, so when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs, they’ll be helpless and unable to re-establish any sort of real lasting civilization, LOL!

    • I am appalled that people don’t learn handwriting anymore, or map-reading for that matter. I love drawing my own maps and including the “real” paper map for reference. You and several other blog readers will be ready when the Zombie Apocalypse comes. But we’ll be wanted–we have brains!

  5. I am a map- aholic. Seriously. I have not only geographic maps of places but also watershed maps and geological maps and even time line maps. I think it is because I am also visually / spatially oriented. I like to know not only where I am in relation to my surroundings but also how those surroundings interact with other surroundings (hence the watershed maps).

    But I also like my GPS for convenience. When going somewhere new I often google plot it so I can orient myself on a map (that I can zoom in and out of), then I use the GPS when driving. Sort of a fusion of paper/digital grounding and orienting and moving around (if that makes sense).

  6. Maps not only help me know where I am spatially, they allow me to plan for transitions from one space to another. A very important aid for me. Plus they are sooo beautiful to study and look at, and even transport me to places only seen in my imagination…

    • Transitions are a great purpose of maps. I have “emotional landscape” maps that help me transition from one state to another. And you are right, it’s really important to ease one’s way through life.

  7. I’ve always loved paper maps and it makes me sad when I hear younger people say they haven’t ever used one, or even seen one. They rely completely on computer map programs. I love unfolding the map and looking at where I am in context with everything else. I love looking at all the little places along the way and seeing what is out there, and seeing how big or small places are compared with everything else on the map.

    • When I drove from Denver to Colorado Springs, I saw things I don’t see in Phoenix. So I drew a map in my journal–it may not be accurate or be spatially correct, but it contains a reminder of the things I saw that I may forget.

  8. I use certain features of GPS systems; estimating travel time, seeing the overview of the route, finding alternate routes, and the like, but I seldom use step by step driving directions. Very annoying.

  9. I love mind maps. I was so amazed when I learned that way of outlining my homework rather than the !.A.1.a. method. I am an engineer and am INTJ but really very close to even on the logic-creativity split. I think from the middle and go all directions. The other engineers always had to go back to the beginning and feed down through the tiers when they got interrupted. Drove me crazy. As for the GPS thing, I learned long ago that computers are devices that let you be wrong 1000 times faster than you could be on your own. Always check to see if the answer is within the realm of what makes sense. GPS systems should be handled the same way. If your dyslexic tendencies overcome the input, you’d better be able to recognize that in the answer or you are in real trouble. Intuition works the same way. Sometimes you just know something is WRONG even if all the facts that show are disputing that.

    • The habit of estimating the right answer is deeply ingrained in me. When I get to the checkout stand, I know about how much I should pay. When I leave the house, I know about how long it will take me to get where I’m going. It’s easy for me to make a small mistake, but my calculator lets me make huge ones!

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