This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 22nd week, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was young and studying to be an artist one of the most common training tactics was to draw still lifes. These static renditions in graphite and charcoal were merely academic and provided little more than a lesson in line and shadow, which is fine and necessary for any budding draftsman. But the term “still life” has always troubled me — at its very core it is the penultimate contradiction in terms.

Nothing in this world can remain breathless in one position and be considered truly alive.

In much the same way, I know too many valuable people who are living a still life. Most have been beaten down by experience, robbed of any sense of wonder or imagination. The hunger to remain curious is one of our most essential vitalities. Without it we are little more than a static plate of fruit — a mere lesson in line and shadow from which someone else may learn to draw.

So much of my life has been spent with both hands out in the dark, finding my way to a better place. I know many with a similar uncertainty in their footing, each step taken in trepidation and still knowing it will always be better than standing still.

Every day I draw a new road to follow on the map of my life. The path we each chart is unique to us alone and is well documented.

The permanence of my path is set down in ink on the landscape of my experience. The wonderful thing is that I am allowed to choose which way to go and chart an utterly original course to get there. In the corner is my legend — the key that tells me true north and the increments of my journey.

The cartography of a person’s life can be seen in their face with every mile laid out in stark relief for anyone to see. If you want to understand the kind of life you have lived do not use a mirror. Instead look into the eyes of someone who knows and respects you. That will always be your finest reflection and the truth of your experience.

When I express enthusiasm for anything, it is clear in both my gesture and expression. That behavior is a steadfast part of my countenance and anyone who sees my face reads my map clearly. The geography of my good and bad experience has led me straight to this point and no better guide is required than my own exuberance. When someone else’s face lights up, I see so many rushing rivers and thoroughfares of dynamic experience, either already lived or yet to come.

For many people, their smile is the biggest part of that enthusiasm. But a smile is no mere curl of the lips. For me the eyes are the smile. They project a magnificently subtle intensity and give tremendous context to a sparkling face. In much the same way we are drawn into the smile of the Mona Lisa.

The atlas of my life is neatly folded, kept close and well-worn from over use.  As tattered and stained as that map may be, it remains a beautifully rich and flawless portrait of a life well traveled.

In my darkest and most desolate times the cartography of my past experience has always been a guide, a reference for the positive direction in which I have been journeying and the roads I long to chart.

It is not now, nor will it ever be, a still life.





12 thoughts on “Maps

  1. A ragged soul.. “lost, in pieces, disconnected”, sarcastic you must be for your words come from anything but. Thank-you. I look forward to following you and your inspirational blog.

    • Thank you, Sunni. You’re right, you know — people always remark that “You’re as young as you feel.” I firmly believe that reflects an active brain working at full capacity. My father is 90 and is still the youngest person I know, both physically and mentally.

      Thanks for stopping by. I always enjoy your thoughtful comments. Cheers.

  2. Pingback: Space | Things I See and Know

  3. I never before stopped to consider what a huge oxymoron “still life” was. I love looking at ratty old maps, thinking about the journeys they’ve taken, the dreams they’ve inspired, the wrong turns they’ve prevented (or encouraged!). I like the metaphor that our life experiences create our own personal maps, that we can examine just like we study a printed Rand McNally atlas.

    • Your comments are always enlightening. I hadn’t even thought to cover the concepts of wrong turns and detours — I shall have to add those if I ever expand this text. So very happy you appreciate the metaphors. Sometimes I fear people will tire of my metaphors. I’m trying to think a bit broader but analogies are a big part of how I see the world and how I therefore communicate. I’m cursed I suppose. But as long as you keep coming back, I suppose I’ll continue doing what feels right. Thank you for reading.

      • I decided that there is no point in writing if I am not writing how and what I want to write. I don’t think my writing would be worth reading if I tried to sculpt it into something that meets other people’s demands or expectations. And I certainly would not enjoy the loss of the freedom to just go with whatever is in my head/heart/mind when I sit down in front of the keyboard. If I am going to write, I want to get joy from the process. If other people happen to like the result, that’s great, and I’m flattered, but it is not my main motivation.

        So I say keep going with the metaphors if that is what feels right to you. Those of us who enjoy your thought-provoking posts will keep coming back for new insights. Before long you’ll have a loyal following of devoted readers, but I’m willing to bet that even those who only stop by once will go away thinking.

  4. Interesting way of describing life, I generally say the rich tapestry of life but I like your thinking. Great post as always, gives the little grey matter something to ponder.
    It’s in the eyes where I find the truth, some smiles don’t reach the eyes, that’s when I stop and wonder.
    Keep filling that map of life up, maybe someday it will include Brazil:)

    • Thanks, Maggie. You always have the nicest things to say and, as ever, I’m delighted you have taken the time to stop in and offer an observation or two. Love your insights. And yes, Brazil would be just marvelous if only I could scrounge up some air fare. Hopefully in the next year or two. Best.

  5. This really hits home for me. My physical life now is much stiller than it used to be, but that hasn’t stopped my mind. You have, as always, expressed your theme beautifully.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

    • Arlee,

      Your comments still inspire. I truly do appreciated that you stop by and read a bit of what I have to say. I’m especially happy that it affects you in such a positive manner. Thank you again for reading.

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