In 1993, technology gifted the directionally impaired with the 24th Navistar Satellite, completing the network now known as the Global Positioning System, or GPS. My girlfriend calls her GPS "Jill" and wouldn't leave home without her. My husband loves his GPS (affectionately known as "Gypsy"). "Take next slip road left," Gypsy says in her calm British accent. It took several months before we figured out that a "slip road" was an exit ramp. Who knew? Gypsy is now several years old and a bit past her prime, so, like every other man in the world, he would love to trade her in for a younger model.
Personally, I have enough people telling me that I'm headed the wrong way, so I don't need to invite an electronic nag into my car. Plus, I've always had a pretty good internal compass. Of course, it helps that we live in the Chicago area, where the lake is always east, you can see one of the world's tallest landmarks (still and always the Sears Tower to me) from many miles away, and the whole city is organized according to a numbered grid.
But I maneuver well even beyond Daniel Burnham's brilliant organizational plan for the Windy City. Sure, I print out my Mapquest route before heading someplace unfamiliar, but I'm not afraid to veer off the beaten path. Nor am I afraid to stop and ask for directions when things get a little confusing (you try finding the Comfort Inn in Mt. Vernon, Ohio at 3:00 in the morning).
My kids and I are intrepid road trippers, tackling the 1,200-mile trek to visit my parents in Florida at least twice a year for at least six years now. Our greatest dread is getting stuck in traffic on the Interstate, so we often take the next available "slip road" in search of an alternate route. With our trusty compass, we know that as long as we are heading mostly south and a little east, we can't go too far wrong. You have plenty of time to correct course over 1,200 miles, and it always feels better to be moving — even meandering slowly on surface roads — than just sitting.
If only the metaphorical road of life were as easy to navigate. Lately I feel like my life compass is completely out of whack — like someone tied a blindfold on me, spun me around for a couple of years, and has now shoved me away, shaken and dizzy, to find my way.
I don't think I'm unusual feeling a little turned around at this particular stage in life. My twins are high school seniors now, and getting ready to begin their own journeys. The "little" boys are in junior high, and while they may still need me to drive them around, they have definite ideas about where they want to go.
I feel like I've reached a kind of crossroads, a place where I need to choose the right direction or I could get seriously lost. So, here I sit, stuck in the traffic of inertia, waiting for a sign to point me in the right direction. I hope I don't need to follow Chicago's example and burn the city of my life to ground before I can develop a workable plan. Perhaps I can rely on our current state of financial emergency for the necessary inspiration. Victor Hugo said:
"Emergencies have always been necessary for progress. It was darkness which produced the lamp. It was fog that produced the compass. It was hunger that drove us to exploration. And it took a depression to teach us the real value of a job."
The depression Hugo referred to took place in the 1800s. I guess not much has changed in the intervening 200 years.
If along your life path, you've discovered a successful short cut, please share it in a comment here. If you know anyone who needs a good freelance writer, please point him or her in my direction. And if you travel over the holidays, may your trip be easy, your journey rewarding, and your return safe and sound.