Our minds create maps of every place we go. Apparently all animals do this, not just us. And those cognitive maps are not necessarily accurate or drawn to scale. Like the iconic map of the London Tube designed in 1933 by an electrical draughtsman named Harry Beck, the best maps make a complex system comprehensible by eliminating information that isn’t essential and simplifying the schemata to mostly straight lines. Beck’s map is conceptual, not accurate, but it is the most famous and most emulated transportation map in the world.
There are emotional maps too. These are more complex charts than a transit system schemata or a topographic map of the terrain. For one thing they include the additional coordinate of time. The past is constantly linking and looping back into our present, and our memories of how things used to be are constantly being stretched taut by how those places change. The map of a life is layered, dense and highly specialized. Some friends share a layer or two, but this complex of overlays and connections ends up being a map only comprehensible to one person.
Visiting California is the inevitable return to the deep foundational grid of my personal map as well, the one formed by a childhood in the Bay Area and college years in Santa Cruz. As richly engaging as present tense California is, it is still for me just a glass floor atop the isometrics of the deep past.
I spent time with some extraordinary art and artists while I was there—Holly Downing, Ramah Commanday, Tim Rice, Jorg Schmeisser, Theodora Varnay Jones, Laura Corallo-Titus, Marsha Cottrell, Howard Hersh, Kathy Greenwald, Shelby Graham, Norman Locks. Landscapes that continue to take your breath away. Exquisite food. And of course the wedding of dear pals Sally and Meehan. I’m in a kind of sensory overload so it may take a few days for all the cognitive systems to fire up again.