Map World

April 20, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography, Play

I often keep a post-it note pad with me when I’m out and about. During meetings, I often doodle. Mostly I draw faces, experimenting with expression and line quality. I store those images that feel unique. A little stack of faces are collecting at the right side of my desk.

I took a couple years off of college between my junior and senior years. The reason I chose to leave college for a time was because I adored it. I didn’t want my education to end. I felt that at the point that I graduated I would need to start drifting toward a career. I did not look forward to never having my summers off again. I did not look forward to a life focused on something other than learning.

A good chunk of the two years I took off was spent as a waiter in a resort on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico near St. Petersburg. I was living by myself in a garage apartment. My landlord, whose house I lived behind, was a young author writing a movie script for a movie to be called Conan the Barbarian.

I was experiencing a lot of anguish, feeling alone a lot of the time. It was autumn 1974.

As the months rolled on, the pictures I would draw on my waiter pad began to collect, forming a little gallery in my apartment. My work was tending toward the surrealistic. During this time I was putting a lot of attention into lucid dreaming. My dreams were often feeling more real than the afternoons and evenings spent serving sun-burned Canadians. Those dreams were influencing my waking and my art.

While the images proliferated, my buddies Bill and Jim invited me to hang out with them in their rented house a couple miles away. Bill had been majoring in political science with a passion for 18th and early 19th century Austria-Hungary. Jim was an armaments fiend, familiar with a vast array of military jets and rockets, fascinated by 18th century Prussia. I was mostly exploring aboriginal mystic paths, Castaneda and humanistic psychology.

To be able to participate in Bill and Jim’s arcane history discussions, I picked late 18th century France and proceeded to make myself the household expert on grass roots revolutions. It was an odd complement to my studies of shamanistic practices.

A friend offered me a massive billboard heavyweight piece of paper, a cigarette ad, which I unfolded in the living room of the house. Bill and I both had a passion for maps. We began a multimonth adventure designing a planet with countless societies on the back of the giant cigarette advertisement.

We quit our jobs to collaborate full time on the making of the map world.

Whereas Bill was inclined to develop riffs based on personalities and situations that we were attracted to in hippie counterculture, I was drawn to developing cultures based upon psychological models and individual and group dynamics. We developed intricate island nations and continents with robust histories illustrated by the many surrealistic images that had appeared on my waiter pads.

Bill’s contributions evolved to an appendix three-ring binder filled with arcane details about the cultures along with clippings from newspapers and magazines that illustrated their specifics.

I concentrated on small but elaborate illustrations. I created maps showing the dotted paths that explorers had taken to discover the various amenities of this planet. Developing a hieroglyphic language with lots of suns and moons, Bill and I occasionally yammered at each other in the nonsense syllables that the hieroglyphic symbols theoretically represented.

While we were lying on the floor drawing images, Bill mostly composing text, one of us would start a story describing something happening at some point, somewhere at sometime in the history of this world, and the other would pick up the narrative thread, adding to the tale. Back and forth we’d go, deep into the St. Petersburg Spring and then into the summer of 1975.

I remember a particularly stormy day with wind gusts over 50 miles per hour. Bill and I withdrew from the map to go outside to observe those robust gusts. Two friends, Ken and Linda, joined us from down the street. A shopping cart lay on its side along the parkway, rattling from the gales. I got an idea.

Running back into the house, I tore the tie-dyed sheet from my bed and yelled to everyone to gather around the shopping cart. I put the cart in the street, climbed aboard, tied the two bottom corners to the starboard and aft sides and prepared to lift the sheet. I would be the mast and yardarms. I asked Ken and Linda to steady the ship, one I imagined was sailing across the Map World seas, and I told Bill and Jim to catch me where I was having Ken and Linda point.

There was no traffic on our sleepy boulevard. But there were parked cars. Ken and Linda let go of the cart. I steadied myself, stood and let out the sail. The wind blasted against my backside, and I took off like one of Jim’s rockets. I picked up speed while careening down the street. I could not see a thing because there was a sail in my face.

Everybody started yelling. I dropped my hands and allowed the sail to furl so that I could see what all the commotion was about. I saw the parked car at about the same moment I slammed into it. The owner of the car was sitting on his stoop.

When the police arrived, the owner of the car wanted to make sure his insurance covered the damages. The officer decided to call the damage vandalism. He told me that he couldn’t exactly give me a moving violation ticket, there not being an easy way that he could make that stick, it being a shopping cart that I was driving. The officer seemed amused. The owner of the vehicle agreed not to press charges. He was less amused.

The time came to pack up the giant billboard map. I went back to finish up school, reveling in one last year of academics. Bill continued celebrating Florida’s endless summer. Jim quit his job as a pith-helmeted guide on the jungle cruise at Disney World and went into the armed forces to become a translator and career officer. We never heard from Jim again.

Looking at the post-it note images that are stacking up, 35 years later, I’m wondering how to best combine them. I’m not into exploring the surreal anymore. Now I find “waking life” fascinating and attractive.

With the pictures I’m making now, I am seeking to make a face as fascinating as a doodle can be, and I am lingering over each line like tiny features in a map. I’m curious as to what they will eventually combine to become. All I need is a brisk wind behind me, a couple collaborators and some imagination.


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