Oct. 4, 2007

cartography

Or, alternatively, the art of making maps, in ten parts

feature song share:
they don’t love you like i love you. -Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Maps

i just don’t write when i’m happy, but since i am under strict orders to keep on going, here i am.

the whole map-cartography thing has been sitting on my mind for days, and on my hard drive for a few days more, unfinished for so long that i thought i’d shelve it in the end anyway. i was having this huge writer’s block that not even nicotine and caffeine could dissolve, and i’m like, oh god, this is it, i’m too happy to write.

turns out the equation just needed a little alcohol. hehe. and true enough, before i could even catch myself, things just started snapping into place and i just. feel. so. relieved.

1. .
I look at maps in times of desperation. It’s what I do whenever I’m thrown something I’m not familiar with. Every so often, this work leads me to offices on streets I’ve never been to before, and step one would be to look for that trusty Metro Manila street map and plan from there. It’s something Cap, I guess.
Or maybe that was just me, trying my best to look as if I knew exactly what I was about to do. I’d end up taking a cab anyway; the photocopy of the page with the street is only mostly for my peace of mind.

2.
The art of making maps is something I know nothing of. There’s looking at maps, and I’m not even good at that; I’m not even good with directions, entirely. Perhaps many would think I would at least be skilled at something like this, since my father was a pilot, and he was a terrific map reader, but perhaps this was something learned, something not passed on with genes. Or maybe it was something genetic that I unfortunately did not get more of, I better get in touch with my sister on that.
But really, I was just too prone to taking the wrong turns, entering one-way streets or going the opposite way when the right move was to go the other. Perhaps my father-pilot would be ashamed to know this.

3.
I remember this certain trip I was on, it was particularly stressful. She and I didn’t know better, I guess. I took the map into my own hands, and tried so hard to make myself believe that we were going somewhere.
We ended up going in circles, hitting one dead-end after the other. We hit something, turned back around, made another wrong turn.
I was reading the map all wrong, but then I was too proud to say, upon hitting the same dead-end over and over, that we had been there before, that we had just, in fact, kept on taking the turns in the same exact order, leading us to the exact same place.
I wanted to believe I could read a map right, that I could take control over the situation. In the end, I realized, the map I had on was wrong for the trip we were supposed to take.
We later parted at an intersection, and she has taken a new companion since. Maybe now they’re going somewhere better. I’m glad.

4.
As for me, I kept my map, firm in the belief that it was the right map for the destination I wanted to end up in. I studied its corners, noted where I made the wrong turn, especially where the dead-ends were. I put an X over where I ended up most often in the last trip I took, a bright red mark. I put a dot on the place where I stood. I am here.
I took myself on a dry-run. In true Cap fashion, I tried the route out myself, going as far as going alone would permit. We take a turn here, a U-turn in the slot over there. This road is one-way, while this one, this one can be entered from this point. I took note of street signs and buildings. Next time I’d know better. Next time I wouldn’t get lost. Next time I wouldn’t go in circles anymore.
Next time I’d get somewhere.

5.
Along the way I met a traveler. She had her own map – in every way, a Capricorn like me. The shoes she had on gave me the impression she had traveled this way before and, from what little calculation I could do, I figured, perhaps more often in the past than I had.
We compared notes. How cosmic was it that the places we took note of, the roads we had memorized, were almost the same? I dismissed it as an instance of great minds thinking alike, rationalizing that sometimes, some people viewed certain things similarly.
And so it would happen that she liked doing dry-runs herself. I’d meet her on the road, sun shining so brightly behind her that it formed a halo around her head.
I’d say, “Hi, how has your trip been so far?” and she’d smile in response. It was a smile I’d begin to look forward to every single day after. “Hope it’s been well.”

6.
On some days, we’d walk together. There were times I’d look a bit sad, remembering how my recent trip fared, the memories etched on old benches along the road, at the sides of buildings I had once looked at with someone else.
The traveler I met would sometimes seem sad herself, as she recalled her own previous trips. “It was here that we,” she began, that one rather rare time she actually talked to me, only I couldn’t remember what came next. Perhaps this was me, tuning out the rest of the sad sentences she filled with a certain kind of nostalgia that I had initially related to, but eventually grew jealous of.
Jealousy. The moment I caught myself, I looked immediately back to my map, a little panicked. This was not in my plan. Feeling this way was nowhere on my map, which was then but a collage of parallel and perpendicular lines representing roads and buildings that happened to come together.
But then, there was no stopping how I felt. Every day I set out, practicing my route, half-hoping she would be there, somewhere, practicing hers.

7.
One too many times, I’d find her on the exact same point I usually ended up myself at the end of the day – it wasn’t the end of the trip, technically, but it was as far as you could go if you were trying out the route alone.
“Hi,” I’d said breathlessly once, resting my hands on both my knees, panting slightly at the effort, the afternoon sun behind me drawing out beads of sweat out of my brow. “So, this is the end for us, huh?”
She nodded, smiling wanly, hands on hips. “I guess it is.”
I bit my lip briefly. Surely, there was more I could say, just so she would stay and not turn right back around, her trip for the day having ended. “I’ve never really been past here, you know.”
She quirked a similarly sweaty brow at me, smiling a little wider in response. If one would squint, perhaps it could be read as surprise. “Really?”
“The last time,” I said, breathing out, “I was going around in circles with someone. We never really got past here.” I took out my map, pointing to the bright red ‘X’ I had marked it with. “Most of the time, we’d be stuck here, and we’d fight all the way back to where we began, trying to figure out who was to blame.”
The traveler I met just nodded without a word.
“One of these days, I’d get past here,” I continued.
“One of these days, I would too,” she just said.
I smiled at her one last time before bidding her farewell. “Hope to run into you one of these days,” I just said, as a means of saying goodbye.
“I hope so too.”
She hoped so too. I took that phrase with me that night as I slept, tucking the words carefully under my pillow, as if in doing so I’d be legitimately waking up with something of her at the very least.

8.
There would be mornings I wouldn’t run into her at all. Later I would find out she was too sad to try the route out that day, certain memories bearing down on her heavier than usual. The sun was too bright out, she’d say, it illuminated far too many moments she would rather not remember at the time.
It was in mornings like this that the desire to travel right beside her felt so strong. And though she did seem like a girl who deserved honesty, I kept this to myself carefully, for fear that I might scare her away had I spoken of it.
However, I knew this much – it was just a matter of time before I would betray myself.

9.
When the day of breaking came, I was sitting right on the spot where the road for solo travelers ended, my back against the wall. It was almost nightfall when she came jogging by, ultimately unable to disguise the feeling of shock upon finding me there on the pavement.
“It’s getting late,” she was first to speak. “What are you still doing here?”
I stood up, shakily, wiping my hands on my jeans. “I,” I tried beginning, looking everywhere except straight at her. “I was waiting for you, actually. I haven’t seen you in days.”
“I’ve been doing some thinking,” she just said, slowly, as if she were indeed still thinking at the very moment. “How have you been?”
How I’d been. To say that the lack of her presence on the road for the past few days drove me almost insane was to completely understate things. I leaned back against the wall, my knees fading. “I’m not quite sure.” When I looked up, she was looking at me curiously, a question silently lying on her pursed lips. “I’m standing here on the verge of something, of actually crossing this,” I gestured across the street. “And I was wondering.”
At this I stopped myself. Could I not wait, could I not just settle for wondering some more? Must I do this now?
“Wondering about what?”
“Wondering if you would, you know. Cross it.”
“You know I couldn’t cross it,” she said, shaking her head, smiling as she took out her map, an almost exact replica of mine. “My map says I couldn’t.”
“My map says I couldn’t too,” I just said. “Does your map say we could, though?”
Looking at her for the first time sincerely that afternoon, the silhouettes of trees around us fading on her face as the sun slowly disappeared, I realized she was taking a tad too long staring at her map. From where I stood against the wall I could see her eyes darting all over the rows of streets and alleys on her map, as if she were still trying to find the answer to my question, even when I could see very clearly that she already had. I could feel my breath hitch somewhere in the middle of my throat, the blockage painful as I waited.
“Well?” I said again after a long quiet while, not really out of impatience, but more in an effort to breathe. “What does it say?”
“Well,” she breathed out herself, dropping her map to her side. “Technically it says we could, but…”
The word hit me squarely in the chest, approximately over where my heart used to beat. But. “But?”
“But the route’s difficult and complicated. I’d love to, but I don’t think I’m ready for it.”
Was she saying what I think she was saying? Was she saying that it was not at all an issue of whether she wanted to cross it with me, but rather whether she was ready to cross it with me?
Pushing myself off the wall, I found myself standing close to her, suddenly brave. “So what?” I asked, not at all cocky with my whisper very weak. “But if you ask me, nothing’s as easy and simple as this.”
I know all the right turns, I’d wanted to add. I haven’t been this ready all my life. With her looking back at me the way she had, I knew I didn’t have to say anything more.

10.
It was one fine day when we decided to cross it, finally, tucking our maps back into our pockets. I held her hand as we did, knowing very well that the map had no details as to what lay ahead.
“I haven’t been here before,” I confessed. “And my map is only as good as my experience.”
At this she took out a pen, a clean sheet of paper, and her sunlit smile. “We’ll draw up a new one,” she just said.
Cartography, I’d been told, pertains to mapmaking. It was something I knew nothing of, actually. All this time I’d relied on maps already made, roads already taken as guide.
But with her smile so bright and the road ahead wide and her hand in mine warm, there was little room for fear.
As I looked up, the buildings were new, clouds flitting across their glass panels like I’d never seen them before. It was like opening my eyes for the very first time.#