Sunday, October 16, 2011

I give a talk to Washington Map Society in the Library of Congress

J.C. McElveen, Program Chair of Washington Map Society, gives me a nifty plaque in Library of Congress
Through the serendipity of worlds colliding, I was invited to give a talk on the sort of decorative and often illustrated maps I've been producing for the last 30 years to the Washington Map Society in the Geography & Map Reading Room in the Library of Congress on October 13, 2011.

Years ago, I met my friends Ernest Lilly and his wife Esther McClure at Lunicon, a science fiction convention held in Westchester, NY. They currently live near DC, Esther works at the Pentagon...Ernest reviews tech gear...their church friends, lawyer J.C. McElveen, and his wife Mary (recent poet-laureate of Alexandria) brought up the topic of mapmaking and Ernest mentioned he had a friend who made maps...and thanks to map geeks and science-fiction aficionados having a talk, I was invited to speak.

J.C. kindly gave me a topic and description: Mapping Real and Imaginary Worlds: Graphic Design in the Pursuit of Learning. 

The "pursuit of learning" part troubled me a tad. I'd made maps in pursuit of a fee, for the love of a challenge, for the joy of combining illustration, calligraphy, and narrative interpretation into a graphic representation of the book's story, but I wasn't sure about the education. Then I realized, duh, I'd been the one to learn things along the way. That I'd learned to go from a 19th century style of  drawing with a crow quill and Mitchell's calligraphy nibs (sizes 5 & 6 for text, 3 1/2 for titles) to the 21st century using Adobe Illustrator with a digital pen.

I found and scanned about 70% of the maps I've done, doing high resolution first then saving a copy for PowerPoint at a smaller size. I struggled with making the slide show in PowerPoint on my mac. Come on BILL GATES make it easy! The circular spinning time hazard symbol happened with every action.

Here is what Jim would hear as I was working:

"Oooh, I forgot about this cool map I did for that murder mystery book!"
[sound of scanner wearily buzzing]
 "Too bad I don't have a bigger scanner, I am getting so tired of matching up two scans."
[Jim grunts a bit off-stage]
"Wow I am up to slide 36, Jim..."
"Great" he says, shaking salad dressing.
"OMG I can't F&*#&ing get this image to drop onto the page, it keeps disappearing and taking the text with it. Why the f*&$^ is this taking so long? Now I have the circling eye of endless Godot  ff&%&*"
"Maybe you should eat," he says, plating the salad.
"Maybe Bill Gates should apologize for not making PowerPoint work on a Mac, he said such nice things about Steve, couldn't he make nice with the software now that Jobs is dead?"

I switched to using Jim's laptop, all PC and here PowerPoint worked as it was supposed to, clunky, but doing the job.

On the Bolt bus to DC I continued to rewrite my talk. I was feeling nervous. After all, these were map experts. I'd come to it as a graphic designer. I was a lightweight.

And then... after being treated to a Chinese dinner (thank you for the meal!) where my nerves made my conversation less than scintillating...we walked through a dramatic lightning storm to the map reading room, a wonderful cavern in the basement of the modern Library of Congress building. The space is teeming with history, maps, and globes that just beg you to look at them...I enjoyed talking to Mary McElveen about poetry until I started to notice people sitting down and looking expectant...then it was time. I was introduced by J.C.. Jim clicked the slides and the opening one appeared on a large monitor. I held my notes in one hand and once I started, I never once needed to look at them. As I talked, some mysterious process took over. I channelled my father's ability to give a lecture, my mother's ability to engage a class, and I enjoyed myself. The best part was watching people relax, especially those who might have been a bit worried I'd do a face plant. People nodded, laughed, leaned forward. It was fun! I discussed failures and milestones, difficult unnamed clients and amazing projects...And 45 minutes later I was done. I answered questions, had my photo taken as I was given a commemorative plaque, more excited buzz, I was asked to give electronic copies of my maps to the library collection! Tom Sander, the editor of The Portolan (the Washington Map Society journal) wants me to write a 3,500 word article based on my talk, and the head of the division, Ralph Ehrenberg, offered to show me around their collection on my next visit to D.C. Oh, it was grand. I am ready to speak again.

Later Jim told me he was so proud and added "you are one of the only people I know who speaks in full sentences." Yet another one to thank all my parents for, full sentences are a fine way to talk, even when cursing out software.


Joseph Hayes said...

And a new career makes its appearance! Very proud of you, as always.

Hilary Schlessiger said...

Brilliant, Claudia! A superblend of a few of your outstanding talents. How fortunate your audience was.

Hilary Beckett