Lines and dots… that’s all a map really is. Lines and dots printed in tiny colors on sheets of paper that you can never seem to fold the same way twice. You don’t want to be seen with a map, else the locals pushing past you on the street mutter about annoying tourists under their breaths. So you try to be as inconspicuous as possible, shoving it quickly in your purse, backpack, briefcase, or pocket to avoid notice. The lines and dots are helpful, but can sometimes make you stick out like a sore thumb.
It’s what the dots mean and where the lines go that make a map important.
Consider the image below. At first, it doesn’t mean much. Can anyone guess where this is?
If you guessed London, you’re right. It’s nothing but a series of lines and dots. In this case, the white and yellow lines signify roads. The blue windy line is the Thames. The dots here have numbers, symbolizing how many of my Facebook photos are tagged at different locations.
A map can tell you so much, but there hits a point where its meaning is different for everyone.
When you look at this image, you may see nothing but meaningless lines and dots.
When I take a peek, though, I see memories playing in the back of my mind of my semester abroad. I picture myself walking through the campus of my host university, squeezing my way into a Tube train at Piccadilly Circus after attending the theater, and nipping in for a few minutes with my favorite paintings at the National Gallery. The lines are paths my feet have taken. The dots are places I’ve stopped to explore. Part of my heart aches when I look at the image, wishing desperately that I could be back in that place.
A map can tell you all about a place, but it can’t tell you what it’s like to be there. It gives you facts, but not experiences.
Great writers, though, can give meaning to maps with words. Most fantasy novels have maps at the beginning of them, giving a guide of lines and dots to follow and the story fills in the details.
I don’t claim to be a great writer, so I’m not sure I’m able to give meaning to the map of London that I have shared with you. However, being an English major has introduced me to lots of great writers who know the city even better than I do. I have a complicated relationship with Virginia Woolf, but she gives you a pretty good idea what London is like in her novel, Mrs. Dalloway.
“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”
There. Do you feel it? For a moment, you were right there with Clairissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, and me, walking the streets of London and basking in the bustle of life.
Do you have any maps with special meaning? What places are most special to you and why?
This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.