09 september 2015


I first made the vector-based map of Minneapolis that makes up the backdrop of September for a wedding invite, seen here. It’s based on an antique map provided by the couple, with creative liberties taken. Before using it in the calendar, I talked to them about it, though I think ethically it’s a bit of a gray area since I also would have felt comfortable making another map to use. Regardless, I did the work initially for them and I appreciated their eagerness to see it used in another iteration.

The map itself took many hours, not necessarily because it had (though perhaps it did) but because it involved occasional outside research (checking historical blocks against modern blocks for a more visually pleasing representation, aligning streets, deciding on representations for water and green space, etc.). My background is in geography and while I ended up there because of a deep love for systems and patterns thinking and an inability to tamp my curiosity about the world down into the neater and tighter little boxes of other liberal arts and sciences, my four years immersed in the department also awoke my latent love of maps (I already had a small collection and prided myself on my sense of direction).

Working on this map came with two unexpected residual effects. Firstly, I found it changed my relationship with the city I grew up in in small ways. I have an increased sense of ownership over the city, not in an evil way, but in sort of a beneficent overlord way. remember drawing that block, that intersection, that quirky curve of street! I better understood those property-ownership paintings of history that show a rich man and the land he owns. I also have this weird sense of recognition when traveling on streets I’ve been been before and flashbacks to tracing them out in vector form, zoomed in to the umpteenth percent.

Secondly, it took a few podcasts to get it to the point where I was satisfied with it. Many of these came from a really powerful series on the incarceration of innocent people on The Story, a now defunct podcast. My own great-grandfather was imprisoned for eight years for a crime he didn’t commit, losing much of his children’s childhoods and that family story has shaped my view of our criminal justice system since my own childhood. Perhaps that’s why, for maybe up to a year after designing this map, I had very specific memories of almost the exact words of Dick Gordon’s guests when I’d see particular intersections. Now it’s faded to more generalized associations, but it was still a very striking and unexpected brain association to experience and I enjoyed the extra texture it gave my life for that while.

The map itself is, along with the pencils, is my tip of the hat to September as the traditional start of the school year for much of the U.S. I still have trouble accepting that our local public school system now starts before Labor Day (and indeed, given August’s propensity for heat, putting children in buildings designed to be empty in the summer still seems foolhardy). Despite my ambivalence towards school itself until college, I’ve always had what some call the “office supply gene”–a deep affection for and pull towards the accoutrements of order in the face of chaos. (An aside: did you know that Linnaeus, intellectual parent of the wonder that is taxonomy, invented the index card? True story!) Colorful pens, smooth-cutting scissors, rulers with each increment so nicely market out.

Summer is all the chaos and excitement of too-much or not-enough sleep, tangled things, experiments and novelty, hare-brained ideas and full-fledged delusion. It’s about experiencing everything with no time to sort or process because even those days spent talking with a shared water bottle of mojitos at the beach end up spiraling into everything under that bright sun.

But with fall, everything starts plinking into order. The pace doesn’t slow down so much as it stops being a leaping-twirling-flitting jog and starts putting itself in order. Here and there. This and that. Line up the good ideas, jettison the bad. Look over all that data collected and start sorting it like Linnaeus. Pencils for erasing, because we’re in the analytical stage and plus there’s a real pleasure in the act of using a sharpener–the tangible results (a wide stub, a packed shavings receptacle, a shortening stick) of work performed. I love the computer for many of the same reasons the index card was novel–it allows for me to write in a non-linear fashion–but the physicality of the pencil, a good pencil, has a strong attraction.

In the styling for this photo, you’ll see some of those accoutrements of the new school year. The map pencils of color-coded order on a chaotic world, your pencils as their hardness deviates from No. 2, map and T pins, a scissors, a slide rule, a stapler.

The happify calendar is available for purchase here.


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