Art, Science, and Life as Cartography

By Judith Dancoff

“Artistic creation is a voyage into the unknown,” says the writer Peter Turchi in his book Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer.  “In our own eyes, we are off the map. The excitement of potential discovery is accompanied by anxiety, despair, caution, perhaps boldness, and always the risk of failure.” Sometimes writers have the happy discovery of finding something we hadn’t anticipated, could not even have imagined; other times, writes Turchi, “we strike out for what we believe to be uncharted waters, only to find ourselves sailing in someone’s else’s bathtub….Further complicating matters is the fact that our vehicle for discovery is the work we’re trying to create.”

Last week, changing the voice of one of my narrative threads from first person to third, I was Magellan, rounding the Horn of Africa; yesterday, questioning those pages, I was lost in a bog. This morning I return to Turchi’s premise, and simply work to find my footing on my ship, determined to stay open to all possibilities. 

A dancer and choreographer here Dasha Lavrennikov has been intrigued by the idea of cartography, and has placed a map-in-progress in the barn, for all of us to compose together. Colored pens are positioned at the ready, tracing paper, but I am shy. I am not ready to present my voyage because I do not yet know if my world is round or flat, windy or cold; whether the bogs that I sail into will lead to some miraculous Northwest passage, or end my journey altogether.

Gingerly, so gingerly, I want to welcome this new life as an explorer of the unknown, until the shape and likeness of my continents  become clear.

If I can find my footing on this journey here at the Ranch, I know I will have achieved a lot.