So, I’m still thinking about Make Cycle 4. Each topic is really thought-provoking (or I’m a slow thinker) and sometimes it’s not until midweek that I have a decent idea. Then there’s the whole work thing getting in the way. All this is to say, I’m still thinking about changing systems.
The system I’ve been thinking about is mapping. I loved AAA’s Triptiks that were printed out and bound in little books. You got your route highlighted in yellow (an early sign that I would be all about color coding as a teacher) and fun facts to read along the way. Infotainment before the web made it a word! My early experience with maps was all about getting somewhere, knowing where to go, and giving name to the unknown in between. What Metro stop should I get off at if I want to get to this location? What are the stops in between? Do I have to change lines? etc.
However, there are a lot of other ways to think about maps. In Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making the main character meets Mr. Map who says:
Leef taught me to copy out my own memories onto parchment, to paint a perfect path. . . a path back to the things I loved, the things I knew when I was young. That’s what a map is, you know. Just a memory. Just a wish to go back home–someday, somehow.
Mapping a memory takes the system of cartography and flips is, making it a reflective process rather than an outward looking one. This is the mapping of the early explorers who were making maps from experience/memory as they literally charted new-to-them territory. The maps they created could also be used as guides for others, but were in fact a form of memory for the makers themselves.
With so few of us experiencing locations that are truly unmapped, have we lost touch with the memory aspect of map making? Or, do only certain, select individuals retain that flip side of the mapping idea? For myself, the idea of going out into the world, having new experiences (even if they are not in undescribed territory), and then coming home to sort them out rings true. When I’m “in the thick of it” as a friend says, I am just in it. I don’t necessarily reflect or change. But then, once I’m at home, I can think about the experience, review my memories, and let the experience impact who I will be as a result. I map a new self as I create my memories.
In The Collected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, TS maps events of his life in detail–the path of dinner table conversation, the ears of corn with bugs, the path his dog takes around the ranch. He does this because he can’t not do it, but also to make sense of his world and to transfer his experiences to memories. In addition, he makes detailed diagrams or maps of natural history specimens. When asked how he can do this so well, he asks
Do you ever get the feeling like you already know the entire contents of the universe somewhere inside your head, as if you were born with a complete map of this world already grafted onto the folds of your cerebellum and you are just spending your entire life figuring out how to access this map? (315)
He goes on to say
When I make a map that exactly captures what it is trying to map, it is like I already knew this map existed; I was just copying it. (316)
In finally getting that map or memory right, one recognizes the truth that was already there. Mapping a piece of experience, and then another, and another at some point gets us ever closer to the whole. Maybe the whole is home?
S. E. Grove also weaves together ideas of map making and memory in The Glass Sentence. In it maps of moments in time include sounds and smells in addition to the events, which are collections of the memories of many people combined into a single map. Mapping as a collecting memory making is another interesting idea to add to this new system of mapping that I am imagining. It prompts me to think about the collective “complete map” and whether in mapping, even collectively, our way home we are ending up at a common point, or a group of slightly different ones.
Included in all three authors’ ideas of maps is the notion that maps “lead us home again” to a deeper understanding, to a different self, to truth. Equally important though is the role we each must play in creating this map to and for ourselves. Someone else may start us on the path, or share some way points, even introduce us to friends we did not know previously, but ultimately what these stories illustrate is that we all must be our own cartographers.
So, as I think about reimagining mapping as a system, it may in fact be that I am looking to pick up some pieces of an older understanding of mapping, throw in a dose of the fantastic, and a bit of the maker movement to imagine a shift towards mapping as creation rather than exclusively consumption. In adopting the idea that a map is a memory, a way home, and an exercise in comprehension, I imagine something more complex than photo album or a journal. I imagine something that combines understanding of change and process with experience and identity. Because, when we say home, don’t we mean our true selves?