When I was a wee lad (5’ 11”, 210 lb.), back in my junior year of high school, we took one of those classic tests designed to magically deduce one’s most likely path to career and life success. My 55-year-old self can’t recall a single question from the test now. In fact, most of the memory from this event consists of filling in the ovals (completely) on the answer sheet (in #2 pencil) and the resultant career of choice subsequently handed down by the gods of career aptitude.
First, I do recall that, as a kid who liked to draw, I took great pride in filling out my answer sheet ovals. They were always impeccable, even if the answers were dead wrong. Second, in the haze of time passed, I recall meeting with my guidance counselor to go over my now clarified path to a well-lived life. The result?
Yes, that is what the computer algorithm decided my career should be. A quick check of the dictionary told me I should be a maker of maps. The gods of career aptitude must have a sense of humor, right?
When I broke the cartographer news to the family at the dinner table that night, my brothers and sister rolled to the kitchen floor in uncontrollable laughter. My ever-supportive mother gave an enthusiastic “How nice.”, while my civil engineer dad responded, “A mapmaker? Hmmm…that’s different. So how are you going to make a living then?”
Even though I love maps, I did not become a cartographer. My collection of National Geographic maps handed down from my dad is one of my favorite treasures. Books with maps, both fiction, and nonfiction, line my bookshelves. Eventually, I became a molecular microbiologist, a writer, and a sports coach, not a cartographer. For years, I’ve always wondered about that career aptitude test and how it could have been so wrong.
A few years ago, though, I realized the computer wasn’t wrong at all. The testing algorithm rocked it. Maps are an integral part of everything I am and do. From mapping molecular processes in infectious diseases to mapping stories and illustrations to mapping out sports practices and gameplans. Turns out, I’m a cartographer through and through.
Maps, at their very core function, are tools to give us direction. A map can be a tool to help a hiker get from the parking lot to the mountain vista and safely back to the parking lot. Maps can help a writer build the foundation of the story they want to tell. They can also be tools to help worldbuilding (think J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth) or be used as a plot device (think HP’s Marauder’s Map).
In short, don’t short the value of maps in any aspect of your life. They are especially valuable tools to have in your writing toolbox to help turn those story ideas wandering aimlessly in the desert into an actual fully-fleshed oasis of stories.
Below are some of my favorite maps I use in my life as a scientist, a writer, and a coach.
- The Human Genome Project
- The NF-kB Pathway
- Mapping COVID-19 @ The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
- Story Mapping post by Gabriela Pereira at dyiMFA
- Heather Montgomery’s excellent STEM Tuesday post on Sound Maps.
- Writing Radar by Jack Gantos has great examples of how to use a map (his neighborhood and house growing up) to generate stories.
Sports Coaching Maps
- Football scouting and game planning – A coach scouts the opponent by mapping out what the opponent has done previously. It takes a lot of work and most colleges and professional organizations dedicate many manhours toward this endeavor.
- Baseball spray chart maps – I love to keep baseball hitter spray charts. First, like scoring a game, it keeps one mentally sharp during the course of a baseball game. Second, it allows a coach the data to better position his defenders in the field.
Your MUF July 2020 Aptitude Test questions are below. Please use a #2 pencil and fill out any oval shapes or other doodles completely. The gods of middle grade thank you.
- What are your favorite middle grade books which contain maps?
- What are some middle grade books you wish would have had maps?
- How do you use maps as tools in your own life?
- How do you use maps as a writer or a reader?
Have a great summer! No matter how crazy 2020 is going for you, here’s hoping you have a reliable map to help navigate your way to the other side.
Stay safe. Be kind. Make good things.