A thousand maps

I have never been known for my map reading abilities. Or my sense of direction. The gods apparently overlooked me when dolling out these gifts. When I was little my family used to joke that I could get lost in the tiniest of airport terminals. Back when humans used paper maps, I was a roadtrip co-pilot a time or two. It never went well. I had to actually turn the map to align with what direction we were going or else I couldn't make sense of it. I can’t even consistently say right when I mean right or left when I mean left. I blame this on my undiagnosed childhood dyslexia. It used to drive my very precise, far from dyslexic ex-spouse mad.

“She was not very good at staying on course. She wanted to wander down alley ways to catch the light shining onto a pink wall. In order not to get lost, she sometimes would refer to a map over and over, hoping to commit the path she wanted to take to memory, only to have no fucking clue which way to go the next time she looked up from her steps. Poor thing. She sometimes walked in circles.”

- Said Nobody in Particular

I almost started the next paragraph with this little fib (because sometimes the mind fibs to oneself): “Despite my directional ineptitude, I’m luckily really good at wandering. I’ve roamed five continents and always found my way”. But that’s bullshit. Pre-GPS/iPhone era, I was always afraid of getting lost when I was alone. I remember being alone in Ho Chi Minh city…alone in Paris…alone in Singapore…and I was always afraid I wouldn’t find my way back to wherever I started. I was always nervous to wander too far. Or to wander too deep.

This seeming inability to follow the many road maps I’ve been given to get where I want to go and the fear to truly step off the beaten path seems symbolically relevant.

I woke up the other morning with a sudden “realization” that every significant decision I have made in the last twenty years has been made in poor judgement.


I have spent the last few days pouring over my memories of the cross roads and the road maps. Trying to decipher if I’ve been as aimlessly lost and impulsive as my worst fears imagine I’ve been. Trying to decide where my current decision making falls on the spectrum between clarity and idiocy.

Many of the decisions made in my twenties were “shoot myself in the foot” sort of decisions. I thought I had thought them through ad nauseam. But what did I know? Hindsight is 20/20. I wanted a life overseas but I jumped ship on Peace Corps early mostly because the object of my desire was dragging me around like a door mat so I ran from it. I left my stupid bureaucratic refugee camp job before it could get good mostly because post 911 I felt I should go back home (and a dude wanted me home). I didn’t chose a nursing niche out of the gate that would have finally positioned me to launch, after aforementioned failures, into a global career because I was focused on my dead father’s cancer. I kept tying my own hands behind my back. Then would chase my tail and bonk into walls as I tried to untie the knots. I wonder if, in two months, I’ll question the sanity behind leaving a job that sometimes allowed me the chance to sit in the Boston Common between patients…that paid me to travel a good chunk of my day, with the windows open and my lungs belting out country music love songs.

I started this post wanting to title it “A thousand maps, a thousand wrong turns” because I was daunted by the sheer number of “mistakes” I worry I’ve made. But as I write, my fingertips are changing their tune. Yes, there have been a thousand maps, but the turns I’ve made haven’t been wrong. They were all made in good faith, in earnest, to the best of my mental and soulful abilities at the time.

The decisions I made in my twenties were enmeshed in an essential stage of development. Since the tender age of 17 I had craved motherhood. I had no fantasies of a spouse and a wedding but I wanted a small child to hold my hand while we flew kites on a beach. I need not chastise myself for making choices based on my heart and my womb back then. I’ve clearly grown out of that now that my perineum has been sewn up twice from birthing large babies. The decision to resign from my current job has been made without regard for the man I’m crazy about. In fact, resigning bodes poorly for our togetherness. The fact that I did it anyway shows just how important it is to leave this chapter behind…how far beyond my womb I am (which is good because it’s seriously all tied up).

Other decisions along the way have been impulsive but they weren’t bad. Some were essential. Many were compromises for others’ benefits. Leaving a very short stint at a horrid hospice desk job (it’s not even allowed on my resume) was just plain wise. Talk about soul killing. Booking it out of a weekend paperwork shuffling gig was also truly a godsend. Who takes a weekend job when still married with two small children? A recipe for speeding up a divorce that was already looming on the horizon. The back and forths between roles at the agency I’m about to leave were understandable tides. Didn’t hurt them. Didn’t hurt me. I didn't bounce around, dating tons of agencies. I danced within one. And built years of mutual fondness and respect (amidst the daily irritations).

So I hereby conclude…that what I do is arrive. And depart. And arrive elsewhere. Am I that unusual? I try to look at the road maps of life. But sometimes I get lost. We all do. Some of us swim in the quagmire of decision making longer than others. Some of us crash into walls because we’re curious and hopeful but lack the Girl Scout preparation gene. I am where I am because of everywhere I’ve been. I am where I am because of every mistake and every wrong turn. Without the impulsive move to leave Peace Corps I may have wound up in an international life that I’d have never questioned the downsides of until it was way too late. Without leaving my oncology job to try my hand in home hospice, leaving a city I loved for a man I’d divorce, I would never have had my boy and my girl exactly as they are. If I’d chosen a more practical nursing niche I wouldn’t have known Richard or been witness to the stories behind hundreds of front doors.

Like pieces of tissue paper layered upon each other, it becomes impossible to figure out what the design should have been or could have been had a few pieces been placed elsewhere. Catching the light, its beauty is what it is. The glue can’t be dissolved. The fragile petals of color can’t be relocated. We can decide next time not to put green overtop of purple. We didn’t know when we first did it that it would turn brown. Maybe we actually liked it brown back then. But we have new choices based on what we’ve learned. No point in worrying or wondering. Keep layering. Keep walking forward. Our destinations are ours. Left turns and right.

I am not fully healed. I am not fully wise.
I am still on my way. What matters is that I am moving forward.

- Yung Pueblo