When You Know How to Read Maps

Miss Spider knows the way home.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 55,529

GPSes that I own: 0

You can think I’m kooky. But I like maps. I like navigating by knowing which way is north and which way is south and figuring out by messing up a few times the best way to get to a new place.

Or asking a local where the best taco restaurant is and then trying to get there by remembering that the old guy with one tooth said to turn at the bent elm tree near the Smoky the Bear billboard. My kids call this old fashioned.

I call it self-preservation. I also call it fun.

When my friends and I first got our driver’s licenses, we used to drive around Atlanta. We didn’t drive around to get somewhere. We drove around. We found new routes, happened to see boys, followed them, lost them, saw restaurants, stopped to eat, made wrong turns, saw big mansions, ended up in dangerous areas, and found our way out again. We didn’t need no stinkin’ GPS.

My husband’s other wife is an English chick named Madge. She is the Voice of the GPS.

He always takes her side in any dispute, even though she has been proven slightly glaringly wrong on more than one occasion.

With his old GPS, we had a whole 30-minute section of interstate that Madge insisted was actually a large lake.

And with his new GPS, we have re-routed in rather major ways… once, for the better; once, I was pretty sure we were going to end up in someone’s basement in a Silence of the Lambs-style redux.

We head out on long trips, and my husband gets wonderfully excited. Like, the kind of excited where no caffeine is necessary.

Him: I want some coffee.

Me: We just left. Can’t it wait?

Him: Coffee.

It used to be that he would start similar rants each time we traveled about how Starbucks needed to build flagship stores along the interstate exits. Then, when they did, he ranted about how difficult it was to know where they were located. Then, when the GPS started telling him, he would lean over to Madge and start pressing buttons as I shrieked and said things like, “Braking, braking. Red lights. RED LIGHTS!”

And Starbucks would pop up in fifteen locations, most of which were about twenty miles off the highway.

Starbucks searches are the only time he gets testy with Madge. The rest of the time, his irritation is directed at me, like when the cars start backing up about 50 miles outside of Atlanta, and I pull out a Georgia map and start telling him a route we could take to get around the mess.

Him: We can check the GPS!

Me: But I have a map. And I can read it. There are little lines on here that tell me stuff.

Him: But Madge has the latest updates.

Me: You’re trying to tell me that they’ve built a few new interstates since… 2011, when this map was printed?

Him: [Sigh.] Look. Madge says to take a right.

Me: Into the swamp? Madge isn’t very smart. I vote on taking exit 87. We don’t have off-road tires.

And then there are the times when Madge has said there was a restaurant in a certain location, and when we arrive, there is an empty building. Or a pond. Or scary people.

I know: maps are so 1988.

But I’m glad I know how to read one, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to drive around and mess up and find my way again. Sometimes life isn’t all neat and tidy, and it definitely doesn’t come with an instruction manual. My advice? Learn how to read a map, and pull out Madge for a laugh. Make a wrong turn and wait for her to say, “Reconfiguring… reconfiguring… reconfiguring.”


Backseat Navigation, Eyes Closed

You can only imagine where you’ll end up.

Words written in novel so far: 14,696

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Days of school until summer: 2 1/2

I can’t lie and say I never got bored as a child, mostly because my mom would shout to the world, “LIAR!”

But even with all of the free time in the summer, I remember being bored less during those long, lazy days.

Some years, I was in daycare, roller skating to Kool & The Gang and The Beatles. I was all about the disco ball but unfortunately never mastered skating backwards with proficiency.

On hot afternoons, we sat under trees on the playground and French-braided each other’s hair.

When I got a little older, I owned time. Time had no value or boundaries, and I rolled around in it, let it spill over me in an abundance I would never know again.

I love the pool; we used to spend hours there and never got bored. I love to read; just lying on my bed with nothing to do but read The Once and Future King was my idea of heaven.

But one of my favorite things was when my friend and I would say, “We’re bored! What can we do?” and her mom, who looked like a Skipper doll and often burst out into “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To,” would say, “Get in the car.”

She had a little white car (make and model unknown; see why here), and we would stretch out in the hatchback section and close our eyes.

“Here we go!” she would sing out.

My friend and I would pay attention to each turn: left on Emory, right on Holt, right into the high school parking lot… no, maybe that was the next right, into the church. Dangit!

Once you got off track, it was impossible to salvage the Navigation Game. But we tried. Oh boy, did we try.

Summer is here again. I want those fun memories for my kids. And I also want to write my novel and see its progress… I want happy memories of this summer for me, too.

As a fiction writer, they say there are two types of writers: the Outliners and the Pantsers (as in Seat of Your Pants).

I’m a Pantser for the most part. I have an idea of where the plot is going, but I’m always sad when I see that something bad has to happen to one of my beloved characters.

I’m in the backseat, eyes closed, visualizing the left on Emory, right on Holt, driving, driving… but we didn’t turn at the high school like I thought we might. Oh? We’re still driving? Wow. All the way to Lower Roswell?

With writing and with summer break, the most gratifying part is that there are still surprises around every corner.

This summer, there will be the pool, there will be lazy afternoons of reading, but if my kids give me a precious few hours of writing time each week, maybe one day, I’ll say, “Get in the car.”

They will climb in the minivan, close their eyes and get ready to play the Navigation Game.

This time, only I will know where we end up.