Last week I hurried to send a package out to the US in the hope it would reach its destination by Thursday. Asking my American colleagues to take it home in their luggage and post it from there, begged them to ask; What was so urgent?
“It's a map.”
This naturally led to the question, “A map of where?”
I began to explain; “Well...nowhere really...it's a map of a place…from a dream I had.”
The map outlines islands I had dreamt of one night, years ago, when I awoke with the vivid image of its coastline – and an urgent need to recreate it.
I often wake from sleep with a memory of thoughts or ideas that I need to capture on paper before they evaporate. I sometimes do this in the middle of the night and fall back to sleep straight afterwards. Most of these scribbles lie by my bedside waiting to be found, jolt a memory and a smile, before being thrown away. A few though, have become 'to-do's or plans, some, the beginnings of designs, and others, blog posts.
This particular scribble became larger and more detailed and ended up finding a place for it on my wall. If I ever had difficulty getting to sleep, looking up at it, remembering the sound of the sea from the dream, and following the ‘coast’ with my eyes helped me to nod off.
When I came to move out of my flat, it remained on the bedroom wall as other possessions were packed into boxes. It seemed a strange thing to put in storage and move to another country, but somehow I had become strangely attached to that scribble hanging on the wall. By chance, that’s when I came across the website of the Hand Drawn Map Association.
As well as doodles, scribbles and dreams, I have always had a ‘thing’ for hand drawn maps, and I was amazed to find a website dedicated to just that. Browsing the site opens a collection of expressions from people all over the world, sharing their experiences and their sense of place through sketches.
This was a way I could store and share the experience I had had that night. I scanned the map of the ‘Newfoundlands’ and submitted it to their collection. It has since featured in their book, From Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association, and now with a little help from the US post service, sits in Arcadia University Art Gallery amongst the other exhibits of Nowhere: Selections from the Archives of the Hand Drawn Map Association.
Since first submitting the map, I had thought of it once again when listening to a fascinating talk at last year's The Guardian’s Activate Summit. Ed Parson, Google’s geospatial technologist – declared both his love of maps, which made sense given his live of work, and, more surprisingly his concern at the impact of the endeavors of people like himself, to make maps so accessible. Coupled with mobile device technology, he had realized one day that his teenage daughter would never in her life have to experience ‘being lost’. From his perspective, this might lead her to lose the skills we use to find our way by reading the world, rather than maps. ‘What would she do as an adult if one day her battery died?’ he asked. This question has stuck with me as vividly as my dreamt-up coastline.
I hadn’t visited the HDMA site for some time, but this rush to find the map and address it so it reached the exhibition opening led me back. Browsing through the collections, a fascinating world can be patch-worked together, with emotion and personality - features yet to be translated by Google. The mind-set and situation of the map-maker, and elements of their character can be seen through the pen strokes.
Maybe an overuse of technology might cause us to risk more than just the experience of ‘being lost’, perhaps the experience of ‘finding our own way’.