Lie to me once, shame on you

Lie to me twice, shame on me. But what if you lie to me with maps? No idea what happens then. But our class is prepared for that contingency now.

This spring, we read parts of How to Lie with Maps by Mark Monmonier (thanks to the recommendation of my friend and professor at AUM, Terry Winemiller, geography guru).

We talked about visual rhetoric this semester (which Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham said was a cool thing when he visited our school earlier this spring!). We talked about ethos, pathos, logos this semester, too. We talked about ways we persuade… even when we aren’t thinking about it, even when it’s only with an image.

As the spring term winds down, students are creating, or have created, their final projects: 1) an analysis of several maps using How to Lie with Maps, and 2) thoughts on the map of Montgomery they recreated for our partner writers at Oklahoma City University (we just exchanged maps at a symposium hosted by OCU on April 18).

Below are the blog pages where students from this Honors Composition II class created their map/research/writing projects.

I’m dazzled.


“Holy Mackeral, Batman! There’s something fishy here.”

I always wanted to be Robin, rather than Batman, because Robin got a motorcycle. Well, not happening for me. Who’d sell me a motorcycle now? But I do evoke the “Holy ______, Batman!” phrase frequently in my mind, if not in my life, even sans motorcycle.

There’s really nothing fishy going on, I just thought it was better than Holy Strawberries (we’re in a jam), or Holy Dill (we’re in a pickle), or Holy Guacamole (we’re a taco dinner). In fact, everything is lovely.

Y’all are finishing up your papers to post to your blogs (and finishing up maps that we’ll be mailing to OKC–rather than try to explain to the airport officials that several small dragons are not stuffed with anything “fishy”).

Tomorrow, I’ll add all the blogs to a new post so our friends at OCU in OKC can see what we’ve been doing (so don’t forget your photos–online, please!). And we’re going to explore the work they have been doing as well as wrap our heads and hearts around what we’ll be seeing in the great state of Oklahoma.

I’m calling my category for this post “of maps & memory” because we’ve been dancing around these ideas all term in one way or another… and perhaps the most powerful combustion, combination, collision for me has been the memory palace and memorial. I realized just recently that I remember things about my mother who died in 1992 by mentally wandering around in the house I last lived in with her, the one in California that we no longer own. (This came to me as I was talking with my father yesterday eating an Irish Easter meal–just like my mom used to make… and we talked about all our favorite dishes she cooked–and I just saw the house and where everything was stored/existed.)

Most of her possessions are in the hands of others now. I chose only to keep a few pieces of jewelry, a coat rack, books, and a few pieces of art that really meant something to her. She knew I didn’t want to lug around a 4-bedroom house worth of wood furniture, stuffy china, a billion lamps, and five sets of crystal all my life. She, of everyone who’s ever known me, understood I needed to travel light in this world. And I mean that in two ways–I needed to own few things, and I wanted to be surrounded by light–goodness–the light of grace and dignity.

It’s only in the last few years that I have managed to simplify my life and face the fact that sometimes the dark side wins–though less often than you might think. I am mostly always successful in beating the dark side, slapping the bad right out of its mouth. Giving it the stink eye. You know: I crush it definitively in a devastating blow.

My mother gave me that ability–or rather she insisted I cultivate opportunities in which I could practice being light and good, and then she said, “Go be good, be sweetness and light, change the world.” No pressure.

Mostly what I got from my mother is an appreciation for being aware of specials moments when they are happening: teaching, talking, eating, cooking, reading. She said, “Every minute counts. Don’t waste a minute doing something that’s unkind.”

Another thing she told me was, “You don’t get to have bad hair days because you have enough food, and a car, and both your parents are alive, and you have all your limbs, and a school that keeps you safe and helps you learn. Put your hair in a pony tail, get in the car, and stop whining this instant.” And I did.

When I miss my mother, and I do regularly, I wander around in that house (in my mind–my memory palace of that house). I knew where everything was in every cupboard, in every closet, in every drawer. I cleaned that house from top to bottom so many times–I can’t even count that high. I loved cleaning that house (I actually love cleaning still). And I loved tidying and being organized. So I wander through the house and open a cupboard that held the Easter decorations, for instance (which is what I did today), and remembered how we’d decorate our house and table for Easter dinner. I remember where we put our special Easter dresses and shoes (new ones each year) in the guest room closet–and how we’d get dressed and then walk into the back yard for our mother/daughter ceremonial Easter day photograph. Sometimes we wore the same colored dresses, once the same exact dress that my mother made for us–one bigger for her and one smaller for me at 6 years old. Once we had matching purses and shoes but our dresses were very different. (I forgot to mention how I was awful about taking pictures, and made my poor father take more than one photo of us–always.)

Right next to the Easter cupboard, on either side, were various holiday cupboards because Mama was a decorator extraordinaire. I can remember everything about our lives if I open the cupboards of that hallway in my memory palace. I will one day lose this memory palace unless I write it down, but for now I’m so happy that it’s still mine, and I can visit and share it with my Dad. Today at Easter Supper, we started naming all the things Mom used to make that we loved to eat, we raved about the chicken divan, the turkey tortilla casserole, the seared steaks, the beef stew, the chicken soup, and then decided there was just one thing that stood out on the other end of that spectrum. White fish with ketchup. I mentioned it and Dad said, “Oh, I remember that. I didn’t care for that at all. I ate it, but I never said anything good about it. I kept hoping your mother would take it out of the rotation.” She eventually did, but she was not quick enough for me.

As we prepare to visit a place where lives were found to be so precious and have been memorialized, and remember people who have changed Oklahoma City ever after–let’s think about the individual ways we may each remember those we’ve lost and how we memorialize them so we are open and graceful and dignified and can appreciate what we will learn.

“Holy Memories, Batman! Will we be able to remember everything?” No we won’t, and that’s why public memorials matter so much to who we were, who we are, and who we become. We’ll be looking at this map.

Map of the Oklahoma National Memorial & Museum

And we’ll be trying to learn what this map means to those who drew it, created what it represents, and THEN what it means to us. We will leave Oklahoma, each with a memory palace of moments and images and thoughts to hold close that can be traveled through again and again–as long as you have a map and remember where everything is and what it means to you. And that, right there, is the point of expanding your minds with travel. That right there.