In another life, I could have been a cartographer. I simply love maps.
Road maps. Old maps. Topographical maps. Biological maps. I love maps.
It is probably truer to say that I love visual information presentation, but let’s stick with maps.
As a kid, I remember staring at maps that came out of the National Geographic or in my books and literally tracing the courses of rivers with my fingers, trying to understand what their winding patters told me about the lands through which they passed.
I would look at maps in history books, and see how topographical features literally and figuratively changed the course of civilization. There are several reasons, for example, why Montreal sits where it does, but most of them are geographical.
(Magazine art for my article on efforts to understand how proteins bind drug molecules.)
Later in my life, I would draw maps—at first geographical, but later biological. The biochemical mechanisms that cells and organs use to communicate, to rejuvenate, to function are maps unto themselves, each criss-crossing with others, offering alternate routes to the same destination. The latter point is why diseases like cancer are so hard to treat.
Maps allow me to take journeys, but not just in the physical sense of providing direction. They also give a factual tether to my fantastical imaginings. I can go places I may never visit, understand things unfathomable, while pouring over a map.
And map systems like Google Street View have added to those imaginings. Often, when I write, I will visit the setting of my story on Google Street View to help me paint a more vivid picture of the location. Sometimes this makes my narrative sound more like a travel brochure, but that’s my fault and can easily be handled with editing. The important thing is that the reader gets the essence of what I’m trying to convey.
(Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. Setting for the climax of my murder thriller screenplay)
My writing itself is a map. Like Google Street View, I am only giving the reader what fits within a specific frame, in essence guiding the reader. But at the same time, I cannot control what the reader thinks or how the reader feels as he or she journeys through my word jungles.
Just as with my childhood adventures of following rivers and mountain chains, the reader is free to layer his or her own imaginings on top of mine. And so, I have written not just one story, but hundreds or thousands.
I guess I became a cartographer, after all.
(Overview of my neighbourhood in downtown Toronto.)
I agree maps are fabulous for giving information and interest in their own right
Until I started writing this post, I had forgotten about the infographics of the National Geographic maps…I pinned those suckers to my walls for months at a time, trying to wring every last piece of information from them
I found maps and the information they contained ignited my imagination and when I was teen I walked across parts of Europe, mostly Germany, with friends and not only enjoyed the places but also the discovery of the actuality of the landscape versus my expectation from the maps as I planned the journeys. I have never lost my fascination with them since! Best Nicholas.
They can be windows into culture and a certain kind of creativity as well.