For a few years there, before “smartphones” (still questioning the nomenclature), there was the standalone GPS. Remember those? Garmin was a household name (much like Kleenex or Bandaid stepped out in front of “tissue” or “bandage”). My family gave me a Garmin when I moved to Atlanta so I wouldn’t have to navigate bananapants traffic patterns–especially the dreaded Downtown Connector–whilst holding Mapquest directions in my hands (remember those from even before?).
I came to understand that I could. not. even. with the system’s navigation instruction voice. I would get so furious every time I missed a turn. It would say, “Recalculating.” I would get more and more frustrated, missing turn after turn. “Recalculating!” I felt it mocking at me, even though yes, I know the word was spoken exactly the same.
Rage, like I didn’t know I could feel (until later on in life when I hit perimenopause and was confronted with brain-invading devices like leaf blowers), consumed my entire being such that I fantasized snatching the stupid thing from my dashboard, rolling down the window, and throwing it under the wheel of an oncoming semi with an Ursula-worthy cackling, maniacal laugh. Eventually, I found the mute button and appreciated the silent guidance much better.
One day whilst listening to Sharon Salzberg, one of our country’s leading meditation gurus, on On Being, she helped me reframe my GPS angst. In her calm, clear voice, Salzberg mentioned how, when she finds it difficult to let her mind settle, she smiles and thinks of her GPS’s invitation to “recalculate.” It’s simply a note from the universe to let go and gently move in a different direction. What a lovely, utterly Zen, non-violent use of the image.
As I mentioned, these days we tend to use the apps in our smartphones to get around. A few months back, I went on a roadtrip with my friend Julie across the rolling hills of rural Georgia to see a blues show. I noticed that her G-Maps was set to navigate like a traditional map, where the compass always oriented toward North with our direction ever-changing. I was instantly disoriented whenever I glanced at her screen because, for fifteen years now, I’ve been following GPSes set to reorient themselves in whatever direction I was going.
Suddenly, it struck me, and I blurted out to Julie, “I’ve been doing this all wrong!”
What I meant was, my brain’s become quite lazy, letting the compass reorient itself this way and that, showing me which way to turn. I rarely have a sense of the real cardinal directions. When someone says, “Oh, it’s the other Hodgepodge Coffeeshop that’s South on Moreland,” I look at them blankly because I don’t have any sense of the grid in my own city. (Although, frankly, Atlanta’s notion of a “grid” is laughable at best.) Still, there’s some ancient knowledge, an inherent birthright in me that’s been lost.
I used to know some of this when I led orienteering activities back in my camp days. We guided kids through fun exercises in how to read maps and find posts in the woods where they would mark their papers with unique nail prints to prove they’d found their goal. This was the OG geocaching.
A few days after I got back from my day trip through rural Georgia with Julie, I changed my GPS settings. Hoo boy. What joy (and sometimes terror) it’s been to relearn the map with true directions. My brain hurts, but it’s good to have a learning challenge (other than Wordle and Duolingo) in my middle age.
Here’s what all this has really got me thinking about and how it applies to storytelling…There’s this quote from bell hooks (asé!):
“People only call others ‘marginalized’ when they perceive themselves as the center.”
I think that relearning the map where I’m not the center of that arrow, so that I have to think about which way I’m turning, is a great reminder. I might be the s/hero of my own stories (thank you, Jo Carson, and also asé!, mine is not the only story going on around here. I mean, as a Leo, I always want to think I’m the special starfish, but I’m not. At least, not always.
It’s a great lesson to recalculate the importance of where my story fits in the grander picture of things. And the planet. And the universe. I challenge you to go find someone else’s story to listen to today.
BT-dubs. If you don’t know how important maps are to my story work, you might enjoy reading about life maps here.