My idea for a story involving a cartographer first came out of my pen while I was writing at a workshop I participated in earlier this year. Anyone who knows me even a little bit will not be surprised to learn that I started with the idea of a room full of old maps and atlases, because I have a strange addiction to them and have amassed a pretty nice little collection. Nothing priceless, mind you, as I’m not a Serious Collector, but enough that I’ve had people ask me for help when they’re looking for anything map-related. :)
As I was doing some research online and looking at books about the subject, I came upon a book about creating imaginary worlds for RPG (role playing games) and a memory it sparked made it clear that I have been flirting with a fascination with cartography and maps and the idea of “place” for a long time. Like, decades. I have salted my life with maps, basically. For example…
Exhibit A: In high school American History class a friend of mine had the idea to fill a spiral notebook with what amounts to a RPG description of a world of our own creation. We would share the notebook back and forth in class, and write about the people who lived in the world, the governmental structure, topography… I remember that the government was ruled by females, but that’s about it. I would love to read it today. If you know Karen Balke, ask her if she still has it.
Exhibit B: Fast forward to my years as a young mama in my mid-twenties… I was working at a local school library and one of my tasks was to clean out and organize the filing cabinets stuffed FULL of maps and other resource materials. There were many multiples of maps from National Geographic Magazine, and I was fascinated with them. I didn’t have plans to hang them or display them at all, but I asked the librarians if I could keep one of the maps whenever there were more than one or two in the file. I stashed them away in a drawer in my bedroom – there were only 8-10 – and forgot about them.
Exhibit C: When I started using my stash of ephemera and fabrics in crafts, I began picking up old maps at estate sales and flea markets. As I got them all organized and was cleaning out some drawers, I discovered the ones I brought home from the high school and realized they were more than a recent interest. I have been making picture frames covered in maps for several years, as a way to use them up and justify my continuing purchases. (I also started making tote bags out of old bed linens to make that collection legitimate… it’s a thing.)
And now, A funny story: My son brought an old atlas home from school last year, proud to say he found it on the giveaway table at the end of the year. He was only mildly disappointed to find that I already had three just like it. There are worse habits to pass along to my children, right??
To me, maps are works of art, even if they are mass-produced gas station maps. Even the ones that are considered “disposable” are fascinating, especially when they have faded ink markings where the owners highlighted the route they followed on their trips around the country. There is something about having a peek into the lives of others that has always interested me – which might (partially) explain my passion for repurposed and vintage items.
I am also intrigued by the changes you can track in communities and geographic areas by comparing old maps to newer ones. Now that I am digging into a study of cartography itself, I expect to be fascinated by what I learn about the history of mapping our world, and the people who live in it.
So, I guess it makes sense that I am writing a story that will include a healthy dose of info about maps and map-making. My amazon shopping list is growing with book titles that I want to look into, and I have recently been granted the opportunity to sit in on a cartography class at a local university. I’ll try to sit down and share some of the things I learn as I go. Maybe you will find something interesting in the humble road map as well.
Can you think of things you have been drawn to your whole life? If you’re a writer, do they make it into your stories – on purpose or accidentally? Please share!