“All I ever wanted was a world without maps.”
When you ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up, there are a fairly standard slew of responses: firefighter, teacher, actress, veterinarian, detective. Careers are simple when you’re small, boiled down to the very basics so I think it threw my 1st grade teacher for a loop when I deviated from the age-old responses and declared that I wanted to be a “cartographer.” A word my Grandfather had taught me while showing me his collection of handmade boats in bottles. I had always loved maps; there was something so magical in the curved sides of countries and the miniscule blue lines that snaked across landscapes.
I like to think it was a thirst for adventure that cultivated this obsession (and to an extent it was) but it was equal parts a desire for security. There was something comforting in the finite nature of coastlines and rivers. Life felt safer with a map to plot my course, to draw a route from point A to point B.
But as life moved on, I grew frustrated with drawing routes and crafting itineraries. All my plans seemed to deteriorate. Things came up, obstacles arose, reality got in the way and borders became blurry. I stubbornly fought to resist these intrusions on my plans, tried to correct them immediately, veer back on path.
It took me a while to realize that plans and maps seem safe because they’re limiting… They might help you avoid some sticky situations but they’ll also deprive you of the most exhilarating surprises. When you follow a map, you’re afraid of detours. You don’t make pit stops. You don’t make unexpected friends. You fail to explore the side streets and, let me tell you, the best lives are lived on side streets.
Living life without a map has lead me to some obscure destinations and experiences. I was stuck in a coup in Thailand, I accidentally offended a communist dictator, I inadvertently dated a cage dancer. I’ve worked with HIV+ orphans in East Africa and with high-powered divas at a fashion magazine. I befriended a fifth-generation cheese maker in rural Sicily and know how to make ricotta from scratch. My life lends itself to accidental adventure of the freakish variety and I tend to hold on, let my hair down and go along for the ride. I never would have stumbled across these rich experiences if my eyes were downcast on a guide book from here to there.
So today I live my life in a land without maps: where people and stories are more important than borders and nations and where the only thing that’s certain is the uncertainty lurking down the side streets.