I was so inspired by seeing Tolkien’s maps of Middle Earth when I attended “Tolkien: Maker of Middle Earth” at the Ashmolean back in June. He created drafts and drafts of various maps—adding and subtracting as he thought of things. By his literally mapping out of the universe he created in his head….if we stepped into it, not having read the stories…we would still have the maps to go by to explore.
When I finished my MA thesis this past May, I put it away. I wasn’t happy with it; it felt flat and uninteresting to me. I’ve known it all along, but it’s missing something. For a piece that is supposed to be looking through the lens of childhood and growing, it has precious little of this, only certain key events. It needs the other stuff, too. Tolkien’s maps have been working on me such that I had an inkling of what I could do in order to get back into contact with that ‘stuff’ missing from my memoir: I’m now creating a map of my childhood, ‘Amy’s Universe’ as it were, until I come up with a different name.
I’ll build it section by section, the places/people/natural elements most important to me growing up, until I have the entire map of Newport with all the pieces assembled. I had a bike…and so I had free reign of the entire town, wherever I could bike to. The extent of this territory, and the places I went as a young child should be shocking once it’s fully on paper. Just like Tolkien’s, my map might contain ‘flaps’ that reveal additional details when lifted. My efforts won’t be artistic like his as the photo above with it’s pencil crayons and childlike wording indicate, but the point is to generate content, content that is missing from my memoir, the stuff that just might make it live.
As it stands, my memoir is a one-dimensional story, so these maps are my way of trying to get back into the head of the little girl that I was, as much as I can I suppose. As I look at the one section I have already, I can more readily see how I escaped into the natural world, into other people’s houses. And despite what was going on in my own family, there was still magic around in the landscape, enough to perhaps keep me whole.
In tandem to the map-making, I’ve started a card file—thanks to an article by a woman who kept all her remembered bits and pieces in a recipe box to manage the details of her own memoir. As I create my maps, I will write down the details that the maps help me to remember. It might be that the material I’m generating will have nothing to do with revising the thesis and making it into an actual memoir that might someday be publishable; maybe it will be a different project entirely. But I think I’m on to something. In my thesis, I write of very specific events, but there is nothing else. My childhood was more than that. And there needs to be more than just those events if I am to truly show how my childhood contributed to developing this disease as an adult. Anyway…it’s work that I am enjoying.