A monthly column from The Writer’s Center

by Whitney Fishburn

When your wayfinder knows more than your GPS

This scene made me laugh out loud when I came upon it recently. Seeing it I felt smug, validated, and amused all at once.

Smug because I have a bugaboo about outsourcing my wayfinding to artificial intelligence and will always do my best to avoid doing so, even if it means I make a few wrong turns.

Validated for all the times I felt I had no choice but to use my phone’s GPS, ended up lost anyway, and thus in conversation with the Voice Inside My Phone, saying things like, “You’re crazy. Why are we going this way?”, and then having the last word by calling it something unflattering as I pull into a service station to ask someone not inside my phone for directions. Such a scene is also described by my twenty-something son as me acting like a deranged old person.

And I felt amused because just think of how many drivers had to have found themselves in that dead end street, backing in and out of strangers’ driveways, having my kind of blue conversation with their GPS, to have provoked the county to install the scolding signage.

I had a good laugh, took the photo, and resumed my stroll. By now, my mind was wrapped around planning that night’s dinner menu.

A block or so later, I stopped in my tracks. I realized I had been given a sign.

Here’s the lead-up: I work from home and had decided to go for a walk to clear my head. I had not been following any particular route, was just ambling from street to street, taking in the Fall foliage, listening to the occasional wren or cardinal if their songs weren’t drowned out by leaf blowers, and thinking about whether to write and publish something personal as part of a larger assignment I had been given.

After about a half an hour mulling and strolling, I had decided to go forward with my vision for the piece. I am blessed to work with good editors who, unlike GPS apps, do give good directions. If I didn’t like the direction the work took, I could go in another one, or even leave it parked for a while.

It was at that moment of clarity and resolution that I came upon the sign.

I like to think that life offers us plenty of meaning and metaphors if we pay attention, which is why I say this was a sign to me that said in essence, “Trust yourself to get where you need to go.”

Which is to say, sometimes as writers we really don’t know where we are going, but if we listen to our innate wayfinder, odds are that we will eventually arrive, even if we have to suffer some bad advice along with the good. Other times we might know exactly where we want to go, but aren’t sure how to get there.

Maybe that’s the time to go for a walk.


Whitney Fishburn is an award-winning journalist based in Chevy Chase, Md. You can find her at documental.substack.com