I don’t remember exactly when the switch happened, but I remember being rather bored with maps in grade school, and at some point along the way, being exhilarated by them.
I guess the change occurred when I found myself on a real journey, far from home. Maps became the way that I was able to have a sense of place, of where in the world I was. Growing up in a small town, I didn’t need maps. I knew where mostly everything was and directions to new places were very simple: “Go to the End of Pavement and turn left.” “Go to New Bridge and turn right.” In the wider world, maps became the way I’ve overcome wandering around in a directionless fog.
To this day, I love maps! But as usual, when I discover something about myself, I can’t just leave it at that. I want to know, like my children did when they turned 3, why? Why do I love maps? I mean, what’s the big deal, really?
This weekend, while planning a road trip, I received advice from my mother-in-law to use the GPS. I want to like it as much as she does, but something about the GPS rubs me the wrong way. The computerized GPS “lady” tells me just where to go, and I’m told that if I just listen and follow her directions, I’ll be set. But more often than not, she’s led me astray. It’s always the map, that old-fashioned piece of paper, that brings me back to a sense of grounding.
And herein lies the answer to my question, as far as I can figure it. I love maps…and so many other things that are laid down on paper, because I’m a visual learner. Perhaps my sweet mother-in-law (and she is sweet) is an audio learner. That could explain her love of that voice that so ably directs her through the darkness. But me? I need to see the lay of the land.
This affects so many things in my life. It’s the reason, when someone spells out a name, I have a hard time getting it right. But if they write it down, it’s fixed in my memory and I couldn’t spell it wrong if I tried. I need to see a thing before I can process it well. I know something through the sight of it.
It’s also the reason when someone tells me their address it’s not very helpful. “What is it near?” I ask. When I can picture the neighborhood, then I know right where to go, and the address becomes another tool to get me there. But not until I know first the area where I’m heading.
My visual learning “handicap” has become less of an obstacle now that I understand it. Having discovered this nuance about myself, I can ask for what I need rather than feeling powerless. I can ask for a visual.
So how does this relate to my writing life? I can’t help but wonder if my visual processing is also the reason I’ve been drawn to the writing life. Because what I’m essentially doing, through my writing work, is creating a visual. Even before that, I’m seeing a visual in my mind. And it sticks. My aim, therefore, is to transfer the visual in my own head into a word picture — a word map if you will — so others can see the same or a similar visual.
That’s the magic of the writing process, as Stephen King says in his memoir, “On Writing;” that ability to take what’s in our mind and put it into the mind of someone else, at a different time and place than when we first “thunk” the thought. Pretty cool, huh?
Now that I’ve processed all this, I see what potentially is a stumbling block as the very thing that gives life to my writing. If the price I have to pay for writing well is having to have a visual embedded in my brain before I can move forward with and bless others by it, it’s a small affliction I’m happy to own.
Q4U: Have you ever discovered your”handicap” is the very thing that makes you good at what you do?