Darkside of the Sun: Maps & Me

Mike Corrigan

Mike Corrigan

By Mike Corrigan

BN Columnist

We are hungry for stories, and I am hungry for elsewhere. When I was in fifth grade I copied out of Collier’s Encyclopedia maps of Tennessee (tilted), Maine (extruded), Texas (warped), Wisconsin (butchered), Florida (dangerously warped) and Arkansas (don’t even ask). Given my draftsmanship skills, or lack of same, I would have been better advised to try Colorado or Wyoming, or at least one of the less polygonal states, like Iowa, or Oregon.

But, I was young and foolish and thought I could know it all. So foolish that I also copied the towns and cities list, with attendant census populations, and so I can still tell you the approximate 1950 head counts for Erie, Pennsylvania and Evansville, Indiana (both around 131,000) and many other American cities. This qualifies as information so useless that retention of it may well be a marker for dangerous mental states.

Story-hunger takes different forms. We read novels and mysteries and science fiction, we watch movies, we listen to country music, we read newspapers and watch the news. Some of us even read the sides of cereal boxes at breakfast, searching for the clue. We can’t help it, you know, this addiction to the pursuit of accountings of our lives, through the words and stories of others. Stories are as vital as air.

Stories, like everything else, didn’t used to require the intermediary, of course: no author or screen or “content provider.” People told other people stories. Yes, directly! On the porch, around the campfire, wherever. Joseph Conrad was one who recognized the speaking voice, reminiscing, as a powerful icon and tool, and he had “Marlowe” narrate The Heart of Darkness and The Secret Sharer. But even Marlowe was an intermediary, and his literary descendants, like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, gave us narrators with some distance and depth and dimension — but they still served as authorial stand-ins.

Today, it’s usual to find a contemporary novel written in the first person singular, and in present tense. This is a symptom, reflecting the national tendency toward rampant individualism and focus on the self. I think we tell too many stories about ourselves, for ourselves, because we don’t trust anybody else anymore, we don’t trust others’ stories or motivations (literary or non-literary). I think one of the reasons for the popularity of our Maine writing neighbor Stephen King is, he tells stories the old, world-involving way, with lots of characters displaying lots of different human motivations, and he writes third person, and this makes for a careening plot line. Using this time-honored method, Stephen probably doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, either, and so he writes to find out.

This summer, I’m combining my love for other people’s stories and my lust for cartography by going out and living the map. I’ll meld Peter Lewis’s love affair for small towns (BN, July 9, 2015) with my appreciation of Elsewhere, even suburbs and cities. I’m crossing the United States, there and back again, on U.S. Route 50. I want to hear the stories of towns and cities, told by the townsmen and citizens themselves. I want the news, and I am seeking out the local news. I want to know what has happened and is still happening with community, and communities, in America. That will be my focus, and to hear them I’ll travel from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California, the heart of the heartland.

Along the way, I’ll discover something of myself, too, my own strange story unraveling. I hope so. Maybe, unlike Peter Pan, I can finally grow up, or at least, like Pinocchio, become a Real Boy. But I need to hear those voices. And I need to see those towns. I need to, even if every single Main Street and mall is like every single other. That’s the lifelong hunger, to go see.

I’ll report back, and I’ll do a blog several times a week, too. (O, frabjous day, another blog! Just what the world needs!) Anyway, I’ll write to find out. Hope you’ll join me on the trip. Be kind of lonely if you don’t...

Mike Corrigan, who says he is leaving July 23, writes columns exclusively for The Bridgton News. The blog has already started, prematurely. “Almost Home” is at 50thereandback.blogspot.com

Go subscribe, and see if you can figure out where he is, this week. (Can’t see why The Bridgton News isn’t enough of a “platform” for Mike, but maybe that’s just us.)




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