What is it about maps? Not so much the regular kind of maps, the ones that try to depict things, or do depict things the way they are, the ones that help us get from A to B. I’m here, and I want to go there. Map, take me. Not that kind. I’m talking about maps people create to represent something personal, to chart their perception of reality, or a reality, or a fragment thereof.
It’s not about precision; it’s about interpretation, which, really, is what fiction is all about. Fiction is a map. The map of a moment, a day, a while, a feeling, an encounter. Fiction creates maps – read a good story and you know what the world of that story looks like. That world can be a breakfast nook, or the ocean, a train station, an office, a bed, a garden, a camp, anywhere. Stories are landscapes, even if that landscape is a cup of coffee.
So, how can we create a fictional map of a world? How do we go straight to the illustration, bypassing the prose? How do we make a pictorial representation of a story we want to tell? Are some stories better told through a map. A map does that thing all pictures do: it fits onto a single page. A map is a desire to fit an entire story onto a single page.
Think of a relationship. An ex lover. (I’m thinking of one now.) How do we create a map of that relationship. I’m seeing a map with bits of Venice and bits of Brighton and bits of Stoke Newington. I’m seeing a train ride and a plane ride and dinners in restaurants, an Indian restaurant, a posh vegetarian restaurant. It all starts in the living room (of a mutual friend). I’m seeing the ex’s kitchen and my kitchen, his bed and my bed. I’m seeing a walk on the beach.
When I think of the relationship like that, in terms of place, in terms of the spaces we inhabited together, a map begins to form and I can imagine it all on one page. I don’t want chapter after chapter; I don’t want a book. A map is an accumulation of data over time. A map cannot be evidence of something that happened all at once. Nothing happens all at once. Maybe death. But as long as there is life there are multiple layers of time. No, even death, for parts of the body begin their decomposition at different moments.
An accumulation of data over time. And of change, or maybe an obliteration of change, because a map fixes the picture, freezes time, hides change and history and what has gone before what appears on the page. Whatever goes on the page implies that this is how things will be from now on, forever.
I close my eyes and think of Clissold Park. I say to myself that the tennis courts are not important to me, that they do not appear in my imaginary Clissold Park, my personal interpretation of the Park. But by excluding them, I include them, and I think how they are there to divide up the park, to separate playing fields from playground.
Parts of the park were more important to me once. The dog-free zone was where we sometimes took the kids for lunch. The playground was where we played with them, and where M and her girlfriend and I took her son, K, to play when he was still a boy. And there was a gravel football pitch where now there is a small grassy knoll and the skatepark. A group of men used to play boule at the edge of the gravel pitch.
Now when I think of the Park, what matters to me is the running path. But the running path wouldn’t exist, wouldn’t be what it is, without everything else in the Park. And the map of the relationship, the one that started in the living room of a friend. It ends on one of the roads off Clissold Park, a road on which he used to live, round the corner from my flat, but he has moved away now, to another country, and the map of our relationship is even more frozen in time.