So along with International Correspondence Writing Month (Ink-a-Rhino for some) maps have suddenly regained prominence in my life. I’ve always enjoyed maps. Including people who use them, make and find pleasure in them.
I had a long-time friend who, when he felt the need to relax, would follow the course of rivers in an old and detailed atlas he inherited. He told me he had been doing this ever since he was a child. It provided hours of inspired contemplation and deeply enriched his life. It also made him great at trivia games focused on geography.
Until I left primary school, every classroom I ever entered had at least one or two immense pull-down maps rolled onto brackets and attached to the blackboards. Unfurled they offered unlimited distraction. A place for daydreaming and exploration and adventure as well as introducing us to the wider world. And much like handwriting, maps like these offered a glimpse into ourselves. A springboard for pensive inner conversation about where we saw our place in the world. And while the modern era tried endlessly to replace this with every sort of electro-mechanical advance in technology. Slides and film strips, always in darkened rooms, 16mm and overhead projectors and those atrocious VCR towers. For years I secretly yearned for the simplicity of a large map of my own on the wall. At times I considered ginormous wallpaper editions, but could never decide how serious this map commitment was. That was until last year.
With my participation in Incowrimo set and the decision to continue writing well past the end of the month; a not unreasonable set of circumstances had me purchase a small laminated world map. It fit nicely under our shelving and right next to the dining table where I wrote. I tacked it up, rustled some decorative pins and took out my bundle of letters and began to identify where all of this correspondence was going to and coming from.
Pretty soon I began to notice many ‘new’ things about the world. Most of it my ignorance. For some of you this may be easy; but could you point out with confidence Suriname or the Seychelles or Estonia? Which is bigger Madagascar or Japan? Or which is closer to Seoul, Manilla or Hanoi? Where exactly is Idaho or Wales. And is Kazakhstan really the same size as Central Europe? There are answers to these questions funny enough, and most of them can be found on a map.
Over the past several months, this map that I purchased has been a companion piece to my life. And while it’s definitely not the superbly drawn pull down version of the world produced by DENOYER-GEPPERT * in the middle of the last century; it has done the job.
But alas the world I knew has changed, and the signals have been there for a long time.
In part it was a letter I sent last week. My correspondent had mentioned their unfamiliarity with Canada and I on my ignorance of their corner of the Pacific. It wasn’t just that the country in question was at the other side of the table and I rarely changed seats. I was becoming uncomfortably aware of how Eurocentric and ‘western’ we presented the world and how it has come unreasonably to dominate most other views.
While travelling in Norway a number of years ago, I had the fortune to see maps where the North Pole was placed at the centre. Even for a Canadian this was a chilling shock but it did make incredible sense. It was clear who your neighbours were, and how your country was positioned in the world in important and overlooked ways. And I realized while writing this letter that my idea of the world, especially the picture I carried around in my head, placed me a little to the left but still, essentially, smack dab in the centre of things when in reality the centre of things is more likely closer to the Bay of Bengal.
I sensed right away that something had to be done; and a map by Arno Peters wasn’t enough. The world that I knew through correspondence, stories and news, the one I carried around in my head, just didn’t match the one stuck on the wall. It seems the sun has finally set on European colonization and we’re all overdue to find a new map. To that end, I figured I’d do it myself and what I found, while still not the wallpaper edition, might fit the bill. I have real map pins this time, and look forward to discovering new places and friends.
I’ve come to understand while corresponding this past year, just how deeply coloured our concept of the world is by what we are exposed to, what we read, and what we say. And it’s why I welcome International Correspondence Month. The thoughtful, handwritten conversations. The friendly introduction of new stories and perspectives. The exchanges of insight, joy and inspiration. The marked passing of time from posting to delivery. The patient and steadfast reply. The preparation. The space it takes. The paper. The ink. The pens, the stamps and yes the glue.
It’s why we co-respond.
The New Map – I’ll yet post a few pics of the old one before retiring and putting it away.
*(you probably know them today for those plastic body part models in your doctor’s office)