No folding necessary

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the maps we draw inside our own brains. I’ve been driving since I was about eighteen, so I’ve experienced many places I’ve lived as a network of roads. I knew the best route from one place to another based on the loose grid of highways and back streets. I could tell you where all the gas stations were, and which fast-food chains had drive-throughs.

I don’t experience Seattle that way. I gave up my car shortly after moving here. We have great transit, and gas prices had just started to shoot up. It’s hard to find parking. I didn’t feel I needed a car or its hassle. This means that my mental map of Seattle is a bit different. I know the roads where I’ve done extensive walking, but otherwise my town exists as a schematic of bus routes. I know where these routes overlap and how to get from one end of the town to another using the system. I know where to stand out of the rain while I wait for my ride, and which stops are most pleasant. I barely notice the gas stations now, and I haven’t been in one for months. I rarely have occasion to step into a fast-food joint.

I’m starting to understand a bit about how the neighborhoods connect to each other, but that’s only because I frequently look at maps. I try to see the larger picture, to know the layout as a whole. I’m slowly getting that overview. I think I love Seattle more because I have met it at ground level. I know the details that one cannot see from a vehicle window. I know where the cute coffee shops are, and where there might be a dusting of hot pepper flakes in the street because there is a pizza bakery nearby. I know the smells, too. The International district smells like fortune cookies and fish; my neighborhood smells like salt air and coffee. I am glad to have this chance to get to know my town so intimately, because I love it here. Seattle is worth the attention, and I will give it to her. My brain is creating new maps of this place with every new experience I have. They look like lace—how lovely!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

105. What do your internal maps look like? How do they reflect your lifestyle and values? Sketch one of these maps out on a piece of paper. What details get the most attention? How might your perspective differ from someone else’s?

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