When it Comes to Creativity: Ditch The Map by Catharine Bramkamp

ditch-the-map-and-pursuethe-dragonsLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us “When it Comes to Creativity: Ditch The Map!” Enjoy!


As my best friend, Milly drove her daughter from Maryland to Manhattan so the budding dentist could try, one more time, for a career in dance, the dancing daughter thanked her mom for helping with her dream and asked,

“Your parents must have helped you with your dreams too, right?”

And my friend blurted out, “Oh, hell no.”

You may be like us, a member of a generation (end of the Boomers, vanguard of the X) raised to view dreams as frivolous and completely unhinged from the real world.  There were rules to live by, immutable truths, you graduated, you were nice, you kept your voice down, you did not make a scene.  Oh, and don’t get pregnant and don’t dive into the Yuba River. This advice wasn’t bad, most of it was based on, like 85 generations of experiences: graduate, get a job, get a husband, buy a house, and spend the next 50 years working to keep that one job, that only husband, that forever house.

Right Path, Right Map

When we graduated from school, it was said we were on the “right path,” and we stayed on the “straight and narrow.” We moved forward counting sign posts along the way, like a big game of Life.  We inherited family heirlooms, maps crisscrossed with easy to find red highway lines and suspicious narrow blue lines, and we never, ever, drive on those dotted lines.

Don’t abandon the game. Don’t drive off the map.

For there be dragons.

But what if all the interesting stuff is outside the map?

How do you get there?

You must be your own compass. You must hunt for those dragons.

There are steps and suggestions all over the internet, but the one I have for you is: honor the vision, honor that dream.

Just as our parents suspected, dreams are not practical.

The road to them is not recorded on any map, like paper towns. But finding those roads is critical.

I believe that my own parents spent so much energy avoiding disappointment that they never courted magic and serendipity. They distrusted roads with no markers or signs. They did not want to get lost. They did not want to waste time moving towards unknown destinations. They never got into a car without a map.

If you realize you’ve been following a well-worn path, that you’ve been dragging yourself from town to town, viewing the same scenery, speaking with the same people, it’s time to take a deserved detour.

Since you can drive yourself, since you are in charge of all the maps, now is the time.

Take that dark road with the twists and turns. Take a road with no clear destination.

Drive on the dotted line. Jump off the fast track that leads to nothing specific and ditch people who insist that here, here is your destination, and when you arrive, you have made it.

Have you ever defied Siri or your GPS and turned left when the voice clearly ordered us to turn right?  

How did that feel?

Yeah, it felt like we just did something crazy. Something magic.

All I heard growing up was talk of maps, paths, and the price of gas. I was given my own collection of AAA maps so I would always know where I was going: follow the red lines, the highways, and you will reach your destination in an efficient and timely manner. You will win the game.

Back then, family life was organized on the principles of benign dictatorship. No one was asked for input, no one was asked how they felt. We got in the car. We stayed quiet in the back (full disclosure, we didn’t have seat belts or car seats, the only compensation.)

If you were raised by members of the silent generation you know the rules: Stay the course and you will prosper and achieve security and acquire stuff. There was no talk of magic. Ever.

My German, High School Social Studies Father would have broken out in hives if I had thrown Magic into the mix. So, I never did. Kept it to myself. Moved out, got that job.

Expressing the creative, the whimsical wasn’t a supported thing. In fact, it wasn’t considered a thing at all.

Wild creativity was just a childhood phase, something to out-grow.

It took me years to figure out how to move off the map and out to the edges to find my dragons, and even more years to slay them, to make space for a creative life.

Your family gave you a set of maps.

The Internet is littered with maps, advice, directions, and reviews on the destination. We are constantly told where we want to go, what is the best place to visit.  Where do we all want to end up.

But maybe that destination isn’t right for you.

Chuck the maps, press down on the gas, and head off the edge of the known world.

For there be dragons, and wonder and opportunity.



Catharine Bramkamp, author

Catharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English, and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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