Monday, June 24, 2013

The Mapmaker's War

The Mapmaker's War. . . I am currently submerged in this wonderful book by Ronlyn Dominique

Often it can be the first line or few paragraphs of a book that really draws me in. . . this one went beyond pulling me in with the following early narrative. . .

With meticulous care, you planned your provisions, though not your expeditions. 

Adventure wasn’t in the hunger to come but in the quest of what to follow. You packed your pouch | nuts and fruit, soft bread and hard cheese | along with parchment and ink, cloth scraps and straight edges.

You mapped the hidden worlds when you were still young enough to see them.

Spiderwebs and honeycombs taught the wisdom of symmetry. To you, everything before your eyes was built upon invisible lines and angles. The very spot where you stood only a point among many. A girl is not always in her place, you thought. A girl can be many places at once. And so you were. When you settled upon a space in the forest or meadow, you made a grid on the earth with small steps and tiny flags until there were row upon row of even little squares. You took your seat within the grid. You moved from square to square, noting what stood still and what passed by. All day long you observed and measured, sketched and colored. That which was off the edges appeared on the parchment as well. There were mysterious realms of bees and ants and creatures never seen before, with tiny castles and bright gardens.

In my previous post, Paracosm, I spoke about the beginnings of my imaginative childhood worlds and how they have been with me all through my life, even when I tried to put them aside. . .

This book took me immediately back to those days and the themes within it, mostly mythic and universal, truly touched a part of my soul that recognized it instantly as kin.

I feel like this is my charge again, among the worlds that others often neglect and, in some cases, never see. There is work to be done and many uncharted places to visit here. . .

Mapmaking is much more than pen to paper

It is about perspective and acute observation
It's about seeing with something more than our eyes
It's a visual poetry

When we look at early maps, what do you see? Do you see the world as you now know it NOT to be and think, "Oh, they had it so wrong then!" or do you simply surrender to the wonder and beauty of it, of the time and place and the impossible motivation that made people create them?

How we see maps tells a lot about us too. . . 

What a good mapmaker sees, or what a mapmaker reads are more than pinpoints and land plots.
There is nothing finite about a map and the good ones seem to have no beginning and no end.
Like the art of writing kanji, each line begins off the page and then, on the other end, the motion and movement which are always present, carries the brush off the into space. 

It is not a series of points.  . but the motion of a living, breathing entity.

It does not end.

And so, again, I hammer home the point (to myself) that where we come from, the formative parts of our imagination, the maps we made, have no end.

If we try to constrain it to a page
A part of our history
A finite set of coordinates
It is incomplete.

Maps of all kinds change too

There is a second story I love and often return to that has this same effect on me. You can, of course, read this one too but you can also HEAR it read on the podcast, Selected Shorts, if you are inspired enough to dig for it online.

It's called "The Mappist" by Barry Lopez

Of course, the pattern here, for my own purposes, is telling.

I am always returning to the mapmaker within
The charts and excursions of my youth.
My landscapes

Nothing stays the same and that is why we should, I believe, revisit and remap those spaces too. . .
it's why I intend to do so for the remainder of my days . . . my motion in a lifetime that also began off the page, appeared, and will one day exit into space again.

And through it all, I will remember this line from "The Mappist", to help keep my sense of placeas I go

“don’t make the mistake of thinking you, or I or anyone, knows how the world is meant to work. The world is a miracle, unfolding in the pitch dark. We’re lighting candles. Those maps- they are my candles. And I can’t extinguish them for anyone.””

Make your maps. dive into YOUR landscapes, and most of all tell and retell your stories as your miracle unfolds.


Saturday, June 15, 2013


It has been awhile since my last post and the reason is singular and simple. Writing does take my soul deeper into my own experience and, recently, in writing some unrelated thoughts to answer someone else's questions about my life as a maker-of-things, I came to a deeper revelation about that very part of myself. . . and so I have taken the time to really mull it over internally and explore it fully before writing about it here. And this is what I have discovered. . .

If there is one thing that most artists I know have in common who have been able to create a successful art business, and even most people I know who are TRULY happy with their day to day lives, it is that what they live, what they are creating and what they love in life is a direct link to something from their childhoods and that untainted past. Some part of them that never quite went away and fuels, in some way, their life pursuits today.

On the extreme end of those childhood experiences, there is the idea of the creation of a paracosm which is defined as: a detailed imaginary world or fantasy world, involving humans and/or animals, or perhaps even fantasy or alien creations. Commonly having its own geography, history, and language, it is an experience that is often developed during childhood and continues over a long period of time: months or even years.

I had many such worlds in my childhood.

Nothing I played, drew or created was just a game but had back-story and detail and a running dialogue within.  From my imagining of being alive in ancient Egyptian times or in the Roman Empire, Pompeii, Alexandria, Druid times, Viking times etc and on down to my creation of little towns and worlds each year with the model railroads I built under our holiday tree.

Everything had a place, a story, a reason.

When I sit and create the things you see in my shops, in all three of my shops, they are, in no uncertain terms, a direct link to my childhood experiences and explorations of the world around me.

As I grew into my teens and 20's I, like most, felt a need to become more "grown up" and set off into the "real world" to find my way. . . this was, unarguably, the greatest mistake I ever made. One that I plan to rectify for the rest of my days.

And I truly believe that the "mistake" part of that was the desire to leave that childhood past far behind.  Of course, in my quiet, alone moments, I allowed myself to indulge and revisit it at times but, as my world became cluttered with people and social events and owning businesses and adult life. . . I left more and more of it there.

I will, in the near future, reveal more of my own paracosm and try to show how it formed me and how it has come full circle.  How I believe that life is indeed cyclical and how we often allow the negative aspects, people and events to remain with us along our path while discarding the most integral parts of our soul which are meant to help us as we grow into our later years because they wre there at the foundation of who we are. 

The thing that is often NOT talked about with paracosms is how so many adults are creating them daily in what we like to think of as our adult world. This life is. for lack of a better definition, ALL fantasy. All paracosm.  It is US who creates the place, the story and the reasons for anything in our worlds. And if you can step back and allow that one idea to sink in and become truth, then you may recognize how the choosing of it is always up to you.

Whatever you subscribe to is indeed part of your created paracosm. Career pursuits, ideals of success, ideals of relationship, security and contentment. . . even the dialogues we desire to hear, the way we fantasize about one thing or another. . . we create all of those too. Do they work? I can't speak for anyone but me. Except to say that whatever you believe in is strictly YOUR creation. And often we are so caught up in wanting to "belong" in a union, a community or group, an accepted circle of some sort that we allow too much outside information and influence to shape our world within.

I tried many adult paracosms over the last 20 years that just did not fit because the inherent landscape of my childhood was simply too strong to be changed that much.

So, when I began to return to it and allowed myself to roam within it freely again just a few years ago, I immediately recognized that what I sought, what I desired and what made me happiest had been there all along. . .  I began creating the creatures and worlds that were alive in my thriving childhood imaginings. I allowed them all to come back and through that indulgence I suddenly began connecting with others who found them appealing for whatever reason.

The more I allowed myself to dwell within that paracosm again, the happier I became.

The more of the "adult life" I left behind, selling my business, moving away from the grind of the city, leaving happy hours and social commitments and the larger community behind, the happier I found myself being as well.   

My world of many and much became a world of few and little and allowed me the space to grow into that vast landscape again. It requires a lot of space. . . a lot of solitude. . . and a lot of internal silence.

I do believe paracosms are truly meant to often be singular experiences. But for children, that never seems to present much of a problem does it? For me, as that child, that alone time was so precious and desired over almost any activity involving others. I had friends. More than I can remember but only a few who were able to occupy the landscape I created in my deepest imagination.

It is funny how, as adults, so many take such a strong dislike to being alone. And maybe, just maybe, that is because we are not happy with the paracosm we have created as an adult.  If it requires others for happiness, it is not deep and true enough. There is nothing wrong with wanting to share what is within. . . but that will follow the act of creation. . . not the other way around. Find and know yourself completely first and THEN others can follow safely in your footsteps. YOU are the explorer of the landscape within. The better you know it, the more likely others can traverse it with you in safety and
 the more likely you will attract the right people to be a part of it.

I had that wrong for years too.

And of course, for me, this is all ultimately about creativity. One of my favorite writers once said that "if you want to be a writer you just have to be crazy enough to sit down and let the words bang out."

Often people come to creative pursuits from the perspective of how they can make a living doing the thing they want to pursue. . . but this is really backwards thinking. . . the creator must create first and find it within . . .  it must come from the places deep within that are the storehouses of the inherent.

Those who try to "create to sell" rarely find success and almost never find lasting happiness or fulfillment within that pursuit.I tried that as well and guess what. . . it never worked.

I am glad I found my way back. Reconnected with the child within who had been waiting all this time for me to finally understand that HE is who I am. He was, after all, there first. He was born, not of a plan or a constructed architecture of hope. . . not of a reinvention that I contrived or designed. . . but of something so deep and pure that it simply can not be ignored.

I shall never set him aside for anything again.

So think about the idea of your lifetime thus far and the paracosms you may have once created and continue to create now.

Do you see the paracosms of your yesterdays and today?
Do you find it all to flow in a cyclical way too?
Do you see the pure essence of YOU in the child you were?
Does he/she still have a foothold in your adult world?
Are you kind to him/her when he/she appears?

I hope so.
There will likely never be a truer "you".