Book of Marvels
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Office Geography

"Of course I remember that map!" my mother said. "I put it up on the kitchen wall and everyone laughed at me, but we must have looked at it ten times a day."

I'm sure it must have been our mean old neighbor--who accused me of twisting the head off a baby bird!-- who laughed at her, not everyone.

Last time I was home, I was looking at the top of the closet of my old room, wondering what might be left of me there. Not much. The map was on a shelf at the back of the closet, covered with dust and torn nearly in half. I'm not sure what year it was published, but it was hanging in our kitchen in either the late 50s or the early 60s.

I'd been wanting to change things in my office. I wrote an article a while ago about a designer who uses feng sui to make corporate offices more congenial. I was tempted to have her feng sui my office at home, but figured she'd tell me some things to do and I'd never do them and it would be yet another thing I'd wasted money on. But inspired by her, I went home and threw away my weight in magazines and papers and reorganized my shelves so that I could actually find things. I didn't want to disrupt my life enough to paint--even though she told me, "No one should have white walls!"--but I imagined painting them a sort of watery green. Then I realized that the map would fit quite perfectly over the window behind my desk. My husband taped it together, and we hung it with bread ties (or something like bread ties ).

Isn't it lovely? This picture was taken in late afternoon with the sun slanting in from the west, making the map look like stained glass. Behind it, you can see the window of many mullions that has made so many painters groan, also the vine that is slowly covering that side of the house and making the issue of painters moot. Now I know that the color I wanted for my office walls is the green of Afghanistan, Turkey, and Romania-- not the somewhat more garish green of India, Finland, and all of the United States.

When I'm groping for words, I stare at the world gone by-- that big yellow Soviet Union, the smaller fatalities of Zaire and Yugoslavia, also yellow, and pink extinct Rhodesia. It's quite possible that I'm learning all the wrong geography. I find myself saying, "Oh, that's where XXX is"-- then wondering if it too hasn't changed into something else.

On the right is the real Book of Marvels, still with me after all these years. On the left is my daily to-do list, not quite done. Posted by Picasa
We had a globe and I used to lightly press my finger to a certain latitude and spin it gently to see where in the world I would end up. Alas, I've not traveled very far from my beginnings, at least not physically. Fortunately, the mind can wander extensively.

I've been comtemplating turning my desk around to face the window in order to facilitate better daydreaming.
I used to be fascinated with a globe that we had at home, too-- in my living room now. It was probably also from the 1950s and was glass with a light inside it. I used to get up early in the morning, when it was still dark, and let the world light the room. I always thought I'd travel far too-- didn't really do too much of that until lately.
Your map is indeed beautiful with the light coming through it. I like very much how you've put this piece of your life to use. You've inspired me to put up a big map of the world for my children, even if they do laugh at me.
Hi Krisin, The map is lovely with the sun shining through it. Very inviting place to write. It reminds me of the maps that we used as window shades at out cabin when I was a kid, back in the 60s. I wrote about it a poem that you can read if you're interested.
Such delightful images in the poem, Helen! I love those old school maps-- and what a perfect use for them.
I love maps. Also, you inspired me to throw away a stack of magazines (without looking at the table of contents {very important}). Maybe I should go back to my pledge of throwing 3 things away every day.
At our house, we have a giant flat map of the world pinned to the wall in the kitchen. Perhaps, as Tom Friedman says, the world is flat, because when I was a boy there were no flat maps in the house, only the globe. In any case, that map serves the same purpose as the dictionary I hand to my teenage sons whenever they ask me how to spell a word, or how it's defined. Go to the source, my boy.
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