They’re jammed into the side pocket of my driver’s side door. Every time the door swings open, a couple always threaten to spill out. Jumpers. I reach down and shove them back into line where they still bulge like sails. They are an assortment of directions. Some are print outs that are several pages long, the black ink of their arrows and route markers faded to gray. Others are handwritten on pieces of notebook paper or on scraps of stationary. These tend to have more detailed notations to aid the process of piloting by page—if you hit the Burger King, you’ve gone too far; the parking lot entrance is actually on Devine, not Clemmons; the blinking light means you’re about five minutes out.
Why do I have them? What’s the point of this paper trail?
He makes fun of this odd junk-drawer collection of documents that are, to him, somewhere between trash and psychological disorder. “You know there are like, no fewer, than fifteen different ways to electronically navigate these days, right?” I agree, but every time I think about dumping out these pages, I stop.
There is something about clutching paper in your hands connecting you to navigation that feels like a talisman. It’s as if, before Siri, before GPS, before we handed our critical faculties over to our microchip overlords, we were required to put our faith in something else entirely. The map, the atlas, the messy coordinates scrawled on the back of a cocktail napkin were the sacred objects of our travel that not only tethered us to the imagined destination, but were artifacts of road in the rear view.
This is why each time I lift a sheet or two out of the pocket with the intent to toss it in the recycling bin, I always end up smoothing its rumpled corners and smiling as I think about driving two hours to hear music at a great, funky club that has long since gone out of business. I remember roadtripping to reconnect with friends who I hadn’t seen in four or five years. I notice that some of the directions bear the address of one of my first apartments in the “from” designation, cataloguing a time when the journey was as much about growing up and moving through heartbreak and failure as it was about finding my way to new places, to new adventures. They’re extra passengers I’ve picked up over the years. Each destination tying a thread to some version of me.
When impermanence is so prized—the messages that disappear after five seconds, the information vaporized into “the cloud,” the way people wink in and out of our newsfeeds like broken Christmas lights—I find myself edging closer to what’s tangible. I want the paper trail, not the digital crumbs. I want to retrace the route with a finger tip and feel the proof of the path.
I sift through these sheets of paper and find myself finding myself all over again. As precious as souvenir concert tickets or grade school Valentines, these materials are really pages in a bigger book, are chapters in a story that’s still unfolding.