The map is not the territory.
Not only is the map not the territory, it’s often not even the map.
We have these linear, two-dimensional schemas of what constitutes reality. We try to encapsulate the luscious, ever-shifting landscape into a cartographic rectangle. We convince ourselves that if we plan ahead, if we are sensible, if we are thinking, functional adults, we can chart a course from point A to point B. We think that point A is really point A rather than point Anywhere, and point B is an end point rather than point Beyond.
I am surrounded by maps, currently. I’m sitting here at point Anywhere, with my paper maps of what are commonly known as American States and their corresponding glossy advertisement bundles/tourist brochures, and my instantly-summoned Google maps that tell me things like how many hours I can expect to drive from New Jersey to Virginia, San Antonio to El Paso, desert to redwood, mountain to river, kindred heart to kindred heart, sea to sea to inland sea. Sometimes I change the settings and ask Google, what if I was walking, instead of driving? How long would it take then? How could Google ever know? Of course it doesn’t know.
I am not a tourist. The brochures aren’t going to do me much good, I’m noticing. The maps may be marginally more useful. They are not maps designed for gypsy-pilgrims. Whoever made them was thinking of consumer needs, political boundaries, efficient, high-speed travel. The only shrines and relics I can make out, hazily, come in patches of green and brown, names of state forests and national parks, waterways, sanctuaries for wild creatures and humans who long to be feral. The maps can’t zero in on the hidden thoughts and waiting arms and kitchen tables of so many loves, multi-dimensional loves, ever-changing, mysterious, stardusty human loves.
Zooming out abruptly, the continents are still drifting; the Earth is changing before our eyes; the universe is still expanding.
In the microcosm of my speck-life, I observe my relational countryside being populated and depopulated, my tiny orchard left to an uncertain fate, my seeds dispersed to be grown in other gardens.
My life isn’t getting with the linear program, it turns out. There’s no obvious trajectory. There’s no tidy beginning and middle and end. I am supposed to write a book, a memoir, a tale of a journey. When did/does this journey begin? On June 6, 2014, when Lily and I get into our car and leave our valley behind? It can’t be. It started long before that. On the day I was born, April 22, 1972? No, no, long before that. Nothing makes any sense without all of our ancestors and all of the context. But memoirs only make “sense” if they don’t include everything, if they are relentlessly idiosyncratic, if they draw upon illuminating anecdotes without dwelling too long on the boring parts.
I ask myself, What expectations am I bringing to this project that I must lay on the fire and burn? How about these: I fear that it will be my only chance to write a book, and I want it to be as brilliant as possible. I want to say everything I need to say. I want answers. I want to be fully present for every moment of our journey; I don’t want to be mired in dread of it ending, or feeling skittish and shy in new places. I want Lily to have the time of her life. I want to be flowing in the current and not clinging to the roots sticking out of the banks.
It’s too much to expect, isn’t it?
My muse stands before me, solid and murmuring and touching my hands and my hair.
May you write, imperfectly. May you say some of what you need to say.
May you not dwell on your “output.” May you cherish what arises, as it is.
May you sacrifice brilliance for sufficiency, and may there still be a scintilla that peeps through.
May your answers dissolve into questions. May you be satisfied with their impermanence.
May you forgive yourself your humanness, your lapses, your fears, your dissociations, your stumbling.
May you allow the child her own observations, her own connections, her own mistakes.
May you know that the journey began long ago and will not end, not in September, nor when every love falls away, nor when you die.
With every lurch of the caravan towards the next town, may you realize that you are already at point Anywhere and point Beyond.