On the western side of the map, I like to draw mountains. Mountains always feel right on the west. I tend to include lakes, too, because the idea of a mountain lake is always pleasant.
I draw a lot of maps. My co-workers make fun of me for it, they say things like, "You need to make friends not maps." Or if they’re a bit older, they’ll say, "Samantha, you should find yourself a man not invent worlds."
I don’t appreciate the assumption a man would make things better for me, but I do like the idea that what I do is make worlds not maps. I am not a skilled writer, nor am I very good artist, but that doesn’t stop my brain from filling up with ideas. I see the world as something to navigate through, and the best way to navigate is with a map.
I’ve made hundreds of maps of imagined places. It’s odd behavior for a thirty-four-year-old woman. But what’s normal? For something to be odd, we need to come to an agreement about what normal is, and while I imagine society has an idea of that, I don’t see anyone out there writing essays entitled "How to be Normal," or "What Makes All of Us the Same."
Anyway, I guess I’m a little self-conscious about all this. I suppose it’s because, at work, I’m surrounded not by my fellow oddballs but by the type of very normal people who’d appreciate an essay telling them how to be more normal. Which isn’t meant to imply anything. They’re all nice people. But if there was some consensus on what normal was? They’d be it.
I work at a small accounting firm. It’s the type of place people come to when they hit thirty or so and realize they have no idea what they’re doing with their money and their lives. They’re usually at least somewhat panicked about the very idea of death. Or at least terrified of growing old. I am convinced we all have a switch in our bodies that triggers this.
One morning, we wake up and suddenly the idea of growing old is just there. And the feeling doesn’t go away like it did when we were younger, when we have these fleeting moments to acknowledge we’ll eventually age, but then we return to the chaos of youth.
Everyone I work with is older, for the most part, and most of them don’t have hobbies outside of the job itself. I’d venture a guess that me doing anything at all would cause suspicion but drawing maps of imaginary lands is grounds for avoiding me if we run into each other outside of work. One time in the cereal aisle at the grocery store, the CEO avoided eye contact with me for a solid three minutes by reading the back of a Frosted Flakes box.
But I can’t help how I see the world.
When I’m not at home drawing, I spend the majority of my time at a small bookshop called Leonard’s. Nobody named Leonard has ever owned the bookstore, nor has anyone named Leonard ever worked there. Gus, the owner, tells me he picked the name because it was already on the awning. Decades ago, Leonard’s was a hardware store, and the sign was well-designed and sturdy, so Gus decided to keep it.
I consider Gus a friend, though it's mostly a working relationship. Or whatever you call it when you have friends who fit into a specific niche and don’t work well outside of that. I wouldn’t, say, invite Gus to a barbecue. But as long as books and history are concerned, we get along well. I guess it’s more like a hobbyist relationship.
I always stop into Leonard’s after work on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Mondays and Wednesdays, Gus hosts a local woman’s writing group, called the Colorado 14’ers, because, apparently, there are fourteen of them, which honestly seems like a lot for a small mountain town like Estes Park.
It’s not that I can’t go in those days, I just find the ladies uptight and loud. Fridays, I like to go home and work on my maps, and the weekends are just too busy to spend any time with Gus.
It’s on a Tuesday Gus greets me with a smile big enough to make me worry. "Samantha," he says, teeth showing, "have I got the book for you."