A Brief Map of My Redemption // Kerry Beth Neville
Unfold a map and it is like opening an accordion’s bellows, one pleat after another-- air flows across the reeds and sound vibrates inside the instrument’s body. As you open the pleats of a map, you can locate your exact position on the planet but you can also see the world unfurling around you. You can see what else might be possible beyond the constraints pinning you to your present coordinates. You can trace the places you’ve been but you can also dream of where else you might go. Miles Harvey writes, in The Island of Lost Maps, “A map has no vocabulary, no lexicon of precise meanings. It communicates in lines, hues, tones, coded symbols, and empty spaces, much like music.”
This poem by Jack Gilbert was my anchor.
We look at a map to find out where we are because we are usually lost, but really, it only suggests the many direct or circuitous ways that we find our way forward and through the terrain of earth and heart. We are cartographers plotting our way through past routes and future wanderings, writing our own story into being. And a map always reveals this truth: we are not stuck in place or fixed by circumstance. Robert Harbison writes, in Eccentric Spaces, “to put the world on one sheet of paper…make(s) us masters of sights we can't see and spaces we can't cover.” Our present location might feel fixed: lost, in despair, enraged, desperate, alone. But with a map in hand, we can see that there are so many possible routes for what seems like an impossible journey.
The poem was part of the map.
A few years ago, I was fixed in place: suicidal, alcoholic, anorexic. No possible way out, right? The isolation of rumination kept me on a dead-end road that led only and always to my death. One morning, I realized that I had two possibilities: I could choose to die or I could choose to live. A simple if-then proposition. If die, then stay on dead-end road. If live, then back up, open the map and see where else I might go. Expansion of the imagination instead of contraction of my heart. Each turn, left or right, each route, highway or backroad, kept me moving, sometimes in reverse, but more often forward, one mile after the next.
One night, I sat down and mapped out my journey in a small notebook. A cartography of all the right and left turns, all the forwards and reverses and forwards, of where I had been and where I was hoping to go. I wrote it down because I needed to remind myself how I got to joy and balance and to remember how hard the journey can be but how fucking tough I am.
Kerry Neville is the author of the short fiction collection, Necessary Lies, and the forthcoming collection, Remember To Forget Me. Her fiction and essays appear in journals such as The Gettysburg Review, Epoch, Glimmer Train, and Arts and Letters. She is an Assistant Professor at Georgia College and State University and summer faculty for the University of Limerick/Frank McCourt Summer School at New York University.