Over the past three months my geographically-challenged mind has received a fresh set of eyes. Actually three sets. But for today I’m only telling you about one of them. It is a family joke that Mom can get lost anywhere.
Only a couple of months ago, I wasted over an hour trying to negotiate my way between the slacks section of an average-sized clothing store and the fitting room. Each time I arrived at one point, I lost my bearings to return to the other.
When my family learned of my pending book tour, as well as an increasing number of speaking appointments, they decided the time had come to address the problem.
The first phase came the day after a major car accident. We were at our eldest son’s home about four hours from our own. He set up a GPS on my cell phone. I learned the initials GPS stand for Global Positioning System. Satelites in outer space would track where I was in the grand scheme of things. He showed me how to insert my desired destination into the gadget and explained that it would not only tell me how to get there, it would also show me the way home. This, he felt, was becoming increasingly necessary.
I hasten to explain I do not, as far as I know, suffer from senile dementia or Alzheimer’s. I simply switch off and don’t pay attention to my surroundings. I have a husband who never gets lost—so why do I need to pay attention? Unfortunately, he isn’t always with me.
The following day, my husband and I set out for our home town of Port Elizabeth. Eager to experiment with our new toy, we set the cell phone to tell us how to find our home address. Sure enough, a pleasant sounding lady spoke out from my phone, telling us to turn left at the next corner. From then on, she gave us clear directions.
Once we got over the spooky feeling of being tracked by 24 satellites, we enjoyed knowing that “someone” knew where we were along the lonely South African highway.
The first hitch came when we turned off the national road to take a short bathroom break and drink some coffee. Our cell phone lady took it in her stride, however, telling us that she was “Recalculating . . .” A few seconds later she said, “Turn left and then turn left.” That would get us back on track.
When we arrived in Port Elizabeth, we made a slight detour via the police station to sign forms in connection with the accident. I shoved my cell phone into my purse and we walked into the offices. As a tall policeman came up to greet us at the counter, his eyes widened as a bored-sounding voice announced, “Make a U-turn—now!”
One of the problems with using a GPS on a cell phone!
As writers, do we really need a GPS?
- As writers we often get asked to speak or to attend a book signing in an unknown location. If you’re like me, it doesn’t even help if you live in the town. If it’s a few miles from home, you’ve had it.
- As writers, we’re regarded as professionals. The last thing we want to do is arrive at our location an hour late because we got lost along the way—even if the host’s directions were faulty, as once happened to me. (No, I wasn’t an hour late, but that was no thanks to her wrong directions that had me touring the suburb before getting directions from a passerby at a shopping mall.)
- If you come across road works and need to take a detour, you can end up completely lost. The beauty of having the GPS on your phone is that even when you didn’t anticipate needing satellite navigation, you’re likely to have your cell phone with you. If you’re on your own, pull over and enter your destination into your phone system. Then get instructions before you get even more lost. (I know you wouldn’t use your cell phone while driving.)
- If you’re traveling alone, you can’t drive as well as juggle maps and possibly a flashlight. Then again, if you’re travelling alone you don’t want to rely on a GPS on a cell phone. Maybe investigate other options, and read next month’s thoughts on the topic.
How about a GPS for our writing?
- Always carry a small notebook. You never know when you’re going to want to jot down phrases, descriptions, words or even ideas before they get lost in your ever-busy mind. The notebook, plus a pen or pencil, needs to be small enough to slip into a purse or pocket. Unlike the cell phone GPS, you need to transfer the information to whatever form of storage you prefer (journal, notebook, computer file, etc) as soon as you get home.
- Every publication, genre, or publishing house has its own GPS: its very own guidelines. Follow the instructions closely if you want to be sure of arriving at your publishing destination. Otherwise your prize-winning article won’t even reach the slush pile.
- You may be in familiar territory and think you can manage without the guidelines. Keep them available, and check in from time to time. The beauty of a GPS is if you go off track, it will help you find your way back onto the correct route. The guidelines do the same. But you can waste a lot of time by driving / writing blindly without following instructions.
- There will be other occasions when you’ll need to use your own initiative and intuition. In The Office, Michael Scott drives his car into a lake, because he’s determined to follow instructions. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIakZtDmMgo) That’s taking guidelines way too far.
I am grateful I now have a GPS on my cell phone. I haven’t yet had to use it to find my way home from some obscure location, but I’m sure that’s just a matter of time. Meanwhile, if you know of one I can use inside a department store, I sure would be grateful.