Memory’s poetry

In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it.
— Michael Chabon, Moonglow

None of that’s very close to the truth, I suspect; part of it’s what my youthful mind made (and wanted to make) of the scaffolding of facts, the rest of it what memory (forever more poet than reporter) has pushed into place.
— James Sallis, The Long-Legged Fly

Memory and imagination cannot be separated. Remembering is always a form of imagining.
— Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking

Writing creates an artificial memory, whereby humans can enlarge their experience beyond the limits of one generation or one way of life.
— John Gray, Straw Dogs

Memory fades, memory adjusts, memory conforms to what we think we remember.
— Joan Didion, Blue Nights

Memory showers desire, desire infects memory.
— Olivia Laing, Crudo

Still from Rashōmon, directed by Akira Kurosawa

Still from Rashōmon, directed by Akira Kurosawa

Memory is cumulative selection.
— Anne Michaels, ‘Miner’s Pond’

Memory would select, arrange, retouch, lie.
— Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

We are all wishful creatures, and we wish backward, too, not only forward, and thereby rebuild the curious, crumbling architecture of memory into structures that are more habitable.
— Siri Hustvedt, Memories of the Future

In memory, time collapses. Time-that-was and time-that-will-be become simply then.
— James Sallis, Sarah Jane

This is, of course, exactly how both events and memory of them proceed: associatively, digressing, sliding, jolting, looping.
— Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish

With nothing but a single memory one can endure a long and tedious existence: repeating day after day, like oxen yoked to the miller’s wheel, the pedestrian gestures of everyday life.
— María Luisa Bombal, ‘The Final Mist’

Still from Wild Strawberries, directed by Ingmar Bergman

Still from Wild Strawberries, directed by Ingmar Bergman

unsettling to wonder how much of it was merely imagined or improvised; melancholy to realize how much of anyone’s memory is no true memory at all but only the traces of someone else’s memory, stories handed down on the family network.
— Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

But memory is cunning, it completes its sleepless marvellous task in secret, breaking the substance of lived experience into fertile soil for fiction
— Antonio Muñoz Molina, Like a Fading Shadow

Memory is repetition. Sure. But it is repetition with a difference. It is not recitation. It is repetition that creates a felt variation in the ways things appear. Repetition is what makes novelty.
— Simon Critchey, Memory Theatre

Writing fiction is like remembering what never happened. It mimics memory without being memory.
— Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros

half of memory is imagination anyway.
— Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds

Memory, as it happens, is a fairly unreliable search engine. It’s fuzzy and utopian, honoring an imagined past over a real one.
— Jessica Helfand, Design: The Invention of Desire

Still from Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan

Still from Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan

man is separated from the past (even from the past only a few seconds old) by two forces that go instantly to work and cooperate: the force of forgetting (which erases) and the force of memory (which transforms).
— Milan Kundera, The Curtain

Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history.
— Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

That’s the problem with history, we like to think it’s a book – that we can turn the page and move the fuck on. But history isn’t the paper it’s printed on. It’s memory, and memory is time, emotions, and song. History is the things that stay with you.
— Paul Beatty, The Sellout

Memory is a tough place. You were there. If this is not the truth, it is also not a lie.
— Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory.
— Jean Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

I note that I’ve lived longer in the past, now, than I can expect to live in the future. I have more to remember than I have to look forward to. Memory fades, not much of the past stays, and I wouldn’t mind forgetting a lot more of it.
— Denis Johnson, ‘The Largesse of the Sea Maiden’

Still from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry

Still from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry

Time capture

Where shall I start? How do we begin a conversation? We would have to move around in time, the past the present and the future, but we are lost in all of them.
— Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

People need foundation myths, some imprint of year zero, a bolt that secures the scaffolding that in turn holds fast the entire architecture of reality, of time: memory-chambers and oblivion-cellars, walls between eras, hallways that sweep us on towards the end-days and the coming whatever-it-is.
— Tom McCarthy, Satin Island

For him everything happened in the present. Hopi Mean Time, a friend once called it.
— James Sallis, Eye of the Cricket

The minute the ‘now’ is apprehended, it has already passed.
— Douglas Rushkoff, Present Shock

Now, in this moment, I feel that vertiginous thrill course through me. As I step recklessly into time I have not yet lived, into this book I have not yet written.
— Han Kang, The White Book

And if I can’t go back, can I flatten time so it does not slide into memory, so I can see it all in the same instant, laid out like a map?
— Joanna Walsh, Break.up

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
— T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The rules of time travel have been written not by scientists but by storytellers.
— James Gleick, Time Travel

Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.
— Jorge Luis Borges, ‘A New Refutation of Time’

So emotion, fear, age, isolation, body temperature and rejection can all affect our perception of the speed of time, as does concentration, or ‘attention’
— Claudia Hammond, Time Warped

I’ve come to believe that all the arts are about time, but that the novel in particular is about the and-so-on of things, continuance and continuity, the continuum.
— Ali Smith, ‘The Novel in the Age of Trump’

However, a dance, a poem, a piece of music (any of the time arts) occupies a length of time, and the manner in which this length of time is divided first into large parts and then into phrases (or built up from phrases to form eventual larger parts) is the work’s very life structure.
— John Cage, Silence

Narration – storytelling – is the relation of events unfolding through time.
— Margaret Atwood, On Writers and Writing

Collage is an institute of education where all the rules can be thrown into the air, and size and space and time and foreground and background all become relative, and because of these skills everything you think you know gets made into something new and strange.
— Ali Smith, Autumn

It's a Man's World by Pauline Boty

It’s a Man’s World by Pauline Boty

Move on. Out. Into. Back. Forward. Why can’t you just be a memory with the rest. Bottled. Hooded. Closed sequence.
— Ann Quin, ‘Ghostworm’

We’re well past the end of the century when time, for the first time, curved, bent, slipped, flashforwarded and flashbacked yet still kept on rolling along. We know it all now, with our thoughts travelling at the speed of tweet, our 140 characters in search of a paragraph. We’re post-history. We’re post-mystery.
— Ali Smith, Artful

The past is no insubstantial, thready thing, sunlight slanting through shutters into cool rooms, pools and standards of mist adrift at roadside, memories that flutter from our hands the instant we open them. Rather is it all too substantial, bluntly physical, like a boulder or cement block growing ever denser, ever larger, there behind us, displacing and pushing us forward.
— James Sallis, Eye of the Cricket

who had stopped time by making pictures of the movings of the world.
— Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

Nowadays we voyage through time so easily and so well, in our dreams and in our art.
— James Gleick, Time Travel

Stories have always manifested a twofold nature, deriving their impact and pleasure in part from the difference between the chronology of the story to be told and the ordering and presentation of that chronology.
— Michael Chabon, Maps and Legends

The only things which the mind cannot examine are memories of the future.
— Han Kang, The White Book

& time to them is not deep, not deep at all, for time is only ever overlapping tumbling versions of the now.
— Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood, Ness

You can’t, it seems, take the slightest interest in the activity of writing, unless you possess some feeling of futurity. The act of describing would involve some notion of the passage of time. Narrating would imply at least a hint of ‘and then’ and ‘after that’.
— Denise Riley, Time Lived, Without Its Flow

Maybe this will be the way it goes, from now. Every few months fresh knowledge of the past, of how good it was compared to the present.
— Megan Hunter, The End We Start From

As always we go on living our lives forward, attempting to understand them backwards.
— James Sallis, Eye of the Cricket

Yes, I think that’s true: the future is always unwritten. But history and stories are written, and they are written from the balcony of the present, looking out on the electrical storm of the past; that is to say, there is nothing more unstable than the past. The past, in its indeterminacy, presents itself either through the filter of nostalgia or through the filter of preliminary impressions.
— Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia

without time there is no life.
— Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

Illumination

A candle is enough to light the world.
— Wallace Stevens, ‘The Man with the Blue Guitar’

One brand takes fire from another, until it is consumed,
a flame’s kindled by flame;
one man becomes clever by talking with another,
but foolish through being reserved.
— The Poetic Edda, translated by Carolyne Larrington

If thou hast knowledge, let others light their candle at thine.
— Thomas Fuller, Introductio Ad Prudentiam, Part II, Moral no. 1784

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Isaac McPherson, 13 August 1813

Everyone, after all, goes the same dark road – and the road has a trick of being most dark, most treacherous, when it seems most bright – and it’s true that nobody stays in the garden of Eden.
— James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

What is the meaning of life? That was all – a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.
— Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

But cloud instead, and ever-during dark
Surrounds me, from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off, and for the book of knowledge fair
Presented with a universal blank
Of nature’s works to me expunged and razed,
And wisdom at one entrance quite shut out.
So much the rather thou celestial light
Shine inward, and the mind through all her powers
Irradiate, there plant eyes, all mist from thence
Purge and disperse, that I may see and tell
Of things invisible to mortal sight.
— John Milton, Paradise Lost

The quality that we call beauty, however, must grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.
— Junichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

How simultaneously freeing and paralyzing to untether the moorings of the previously unquestioned Known.
— Sergio De La Pava, A Naked Singularity

what is unknown is always more attractive than what is known; hope and imagination are the only consolations for the disappointments and sorrows of experience.
— Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Admitting that we don’t know allows us to learn. The darkness of Not Knowing creates freedom and space for new sources of illumination.
— Steven D’Souza & Diana Renner, Not Knowing

the realisation of my childlike illusion that in studying a work of art I would be following a detective trail that might lead to some ultimate illumination.
— Michael Jacobs, Everything is Happening

In self-consciousness lies the root of our ability to reflect on ourselves, on the shortness of our lives, on the profound mystery and the absolute beauty of the physical universe. And the Fall didn’t take place just once, six thousand years ago, or thirty or forty or fifty thousand years ago when the first human beings thought about death and life and who they were, and made patterns and marks and images to register this thinking – the Fall happens in every human life, at adolescence. We leave the unselfconscious grace of childhood behind and take our first faltering steps through the complexity and mire of life towards whatever we can reach of wisdom, which it is our job to increase and pass on. If there was no purpose in evolution, there is a purpose in our individual lives, and that is it.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

This new source of illumination, what Francis Bacon called ‘the torch of analysis’, inspired a quest for reason – to discover answers to ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ and dispel fear of the unknown. Its penetrating light pierced depths previously beyond our grasp, as nature was itself cleaved into separate elements and its underlying mechanism laid bare.
— Nick Sousanis, Unflattening

Suppose knowledge could be reduced to a quintessence, held within a picture, a sign, held within a place which is no place.
— Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Because I can no longer raise
the questions,
because I cannot support
truth or its widower’s eyes,
now I will be flame,
the young man says.
— James Sallis, ‘Memory’s Empire’

why should we want to know everything? Imagine how sad it would be if, one day, we arrived at the end of knowledge. With no more questions to ask, our creativity would be stifled, our fire within extinguished.
— Marcelo Gleiser, The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected

A candle only burns once, and always downwards.
— Benjamin Meyers, The Gallows Pole

All nature is a fire: everything forms, everything blossoms, everything fades. We are slow clouds…
— Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

To look into those dark spaces was to have a direct glimpse of the future.
— Teju Cole, Open City

The knowledge flickered with promise like a mirage, but it still trembled just out of her reach.
— Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth

Legacy

Seeds lead us just as much into what came before as into what comes next.
— Nora Bateson, Small Arcs of Larger Circles

Those who have preceded have left a rich heritage upon which to build the future. From the various cultures, lessons will be learned and incorporated with the ideas of our ancestors.
— Jonas Salk, ‘Are We Being Good Ancestors?’

Nothing makes sense without reference to what went before, and what comes afterwards.
— James Rebanks, A Shepherd’s Life

There’s no completion in patterns,
For patterns are constantly restitched in new patterns.
There’s no completion in history, which kneels
bare and mute at the feet of the future.
— Alan Lightman, Song of Two Worlds

In this way traditions are kept alive as new thoughts are added. The effect upon the old and the new is then not ‘either/or’ but rather ‘both/and’.
— Jonas Salk, ‘Are We Being Good Ancestors?’

It stands for human life, our connection to our past, our present and our future.
— James Kerr, Legacy

What legacies will we leave behind, not only for the generations that succeed us but also for the epochs and species that will come after ours? Are we being good ancestors…?
— Robert Macfarlane, Underland

If we want to be good ancestors, we should show future generations how we coped with an age of great change and great crises.
— Jonas Salk, ‘Are We Being Good Ancestors?’

We have an obligation to make things beautiful, to not leave the world uglier than we found it. An obligation not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not to leave our children with a world we’ve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged and crippled.
— Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats

What is a legacy? I’ll never get to see.
— Emma Sedlak, What Slight Gaps Remain

There are never bricks to put in place from which to see everything, only stepping stones towards what’s next.
— Nick Sousanis, Unflattening

what mattered was not the past at all: it was the future. One must keep moving, creating what will be: acting in the world and making a difference to it.
— Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café

It is cathedral philosophy, the thinking behind the people who designed and built the great cathedrals, knowing that they would never live long enough to see them finished.
— Charles Handy, The Empty Raincoat

Cathedrals were created as compelling statements of a complete theory of life: of our deepest needs, our spiritual destiny and the guidance necessary to live the right life. The religious project may have lost its allure, but we should hold on to the scale and sincerity of its intent.
— Alain de Botton & John Armstrong, Art as Therapy

When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget that you are inside them and that the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analyzed and argued and shifted our assumptions. They are the fruit of labor. Forgetting means a failure to recognize the power of the process and the fluidity of meanings and values.
— Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story Is This?

But it is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision. It will take courage. It will take fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations when we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking.
— Greta Thunberg, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference

this legacy, eager to be given, yet no one wanting to carry its burden
— Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much

True leaders are stewards of the future. They take responsibility for adding to the legacy.
— James Kerr, Legacy

If we are to be ancestors to such a future world, we will be seen as wise forebears. If not, we will be seen as prodigal forebears who, at a decisive moment, dissipated an opportunity by not assuming responsibility for the future evolution of our species.
— Jonas Salk, ‘Are We Being Good Ancestors?’

I want to get away from the kinship structures that are supposed to hold me together. To mess up the story I have been told about myself. To hold the story upside down by its tail.
— Deborah Levy, Hot Milk

Our time is limited. Understanding the fragility of life is the first step in understanding our role and responsibility as a leader. Our greatest responsibility is to honour those who came before us and those who will come after, to ‘leave the jersey in a better place’. We are the stewards of our organisations, the caretakers of our own lineage. Our actions today will echo beyond our time. They are our legacy. Manaaki Whenua, Manaaki Tangata, Haere whakamua. Care for the land, Care for the people, Go forward.
— James Kerr, Legacy

To have a home is to have a biography. A narrative to refer to in years to come.
— Deborah Levy, Swallowing Geography

All that remains is legacy.
— Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse

Reading as creation

This is part empathy, part thievery. Empathy, in art, is art’s part-exchange with us, its inclusivity, at once a kind-ness, a going beyond the self, and a pickpocketing of our responses, which is why giving and taking are bound up with the goods, with the gods, with respect, with deep-seated understanding about the complex cultural place where kindness, thievery, bartering and gift-giving all meet, make their exchanges, and by exchange reveal real worth.
— Ali Smith, Artful

I was reminded of a question a student once asked me: ‘When does a work of art happen?’ Firstly, in the moment of its production – in the mind, then studio, then display, when its constituent parts lock into context. Secondly, when the art meets its audience and gaps, productive or otherwise, between the creative intent and its reception emerge.
— Dan Fox, Limbo

no act of reading can ever be passive.
— Jonathan Basile, Tar for Mortar

Every reader writes the book he or she reads, supplying what isn’t there, and that creative invention becomes the book.
— Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros

The meaning is what emerges from the interaction between the words I put on the page and the readers’ own minds as they read them.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

the reader’s imagination automatically completes the writer’s.
—Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel

But imagination is not and never has been optional: it is at the heart of everything, the thing that allows us to experience the world from the perspectives of others: the condition precedent of love itself.
— Katherine Rundell, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise

We write and we read in order to hold another human being close.
— Anne Michaels, Infinite Gradation

The writer does not know for whom she writes. The reader’s face is invisible, and yet, every sentence inscribed on a page represents a bid for contact and a hope for understanding.
— Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking

Perhaps the ultimate blank is the space between the reader and writer – or, more accurately, the space between the story we create and send out to the world and the story each reader perceives.
— Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

And this ideal reader may prove to be anyone at all – any one at all – because the act of reading is just as singular – always – as the act of writing.
— Margaret Atwood, On Writers and Writing

Meanings are for the reader to find, not for the storyteller to impose. The sort of story we all hope we can write is one that will resonate like a musical note with all kinds of overtones and harmonics, some of which will be heard more clearly by this person’s ears, others by that one’s; and some of which may not be heard at all by the storyteller. What’s more, as the listeners grow older, so some of the overtones will fade while others become more clearly audible.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

But if stories are one of the ways we make sense of the world, they are also how we experience whatever doesn’t makes sense, whatever cannot be fully understood. Stories are how we stand in the presence of mystery. If mystery, the genre, is about finding the answers, then mystery, that elusive yet essential element of fiction, is about finding the questions.
— Maud Casey, The Art of Mystery

I know from writing lyrics that some details – names, places, locations – are desirable; they anchor the piece in the real world. But so are ambiguities. By letting the listener or viewer fill in the blanks, complete the picture (or piece of music), the work becomes personalised and the audience can adapt it to their own lives and situations.
— David Byrne, How Music Works

A work of art, therefore, is a complete and closed form in its uniqueness as a balanced organic whole, while at the same time constituting an open product on account of its susceptibility to countless different interpretations which do not impinge on its unadulterable specificity. Hence, every reception of a work of art is both an interpretation and a performance of it, because in every reception the work takes on a fresh perspective for itself.
— Umberto Eco, The Open Work

That’s the thing about books. They’re alive on their own terms. Reading is like travelling with an argumentative, unpredictable good friend. It’s an endless open exchange.
— Ali Smith, The Book Lover

Composing’s one thing, performing’s another, listening’s a third. What can they have to do with one another?
— John Cage, Silence

The purpose of a story or poem, unlike that of a diary, is not to record our experience but to create a context for, and to lead the reader on, a journey.
— Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Journeys start in ignorance
— Glyn Maxwell, On Poetry

the urge to fill blank spaces is fundamental to the quest for knowledge.
— Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

All maps are the product of human imagination. They are scripts of thought and reasoning and embody all manner of storytelling; each line, shape and symbol has a purpose, a value, a direction and a significance for those who create the maps and for all who interpret them.
— Huw Lewis-Jones, The Writer’s Map

Trust the art, not the artist; trust the tale, not the teller. The art remembers, the artist forgets.
— Julian Barnes, Keeping An Eye Open

Bit by bit, discoveries reconfigure our understanding of reality. This reality is revealed to us only in fragments. The more fragments we perceive and parse, the more lifelike the mosaic we make of them. But it is still a mosaic, a representation – imperfect and incomplete, however beautiful it may be, and subject to unending transfiguration.
— Maria Popova, Figuring

I am simply converting the things I have consumed – food, yes, but more importantly the stories I have read, dreams I’ve had, people I’ve met and conversations I’ve overheard – into a different form.
— Nell Stevens, Bleaker House

The place of reading is a kind of yonder world, a place that is neither here nor there but made up of bits and pieces of experience in every sense, both real and fictional, two categories that become harder to separate the more you think about them.
— Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros

The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Art is always an exchange, like love, whose giving and taking can be a complex and wounding matter
— Ali Smith, Artful

Woven

Two novels published in the past few years have inspired this small experiment. I was intrigued by the manner in which George Saunders incorporated passages quoted from other texts into Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury, 2017). They provided background context to the central narrative. They also raised a question, through their multiple, often contradictory voices, regarding to what extent history is itself a fiction. The other novel was Jeremy Gavron’s Felix Culpa (Scribe, 2018), the entire narrative of which is composed of a patchwork of fragments stitched together from other texts. The novel as bricolage. In both cases, quoted passages from different sources follow one after the other. There is no additional commentary. They are creative exercises in curation.

In connecting the dots, traversing the gaps between fragments and stitching them together – a meaningful whole emerges.
— Nick Sousanis, Unflattening

The association between weaving and writing, between thread and text, between seamstress and artist, is a constant in the history of literature and art.
— Jorge Carrión, Bookshops

weaving is itself a model for storytelling’s integration of parts and materials into a new whole; it is a technology that creates containers and models complexity.
— Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story Is This?

It is no coincidence that our terms for fibre and fable intertwine. When we want to recount a story, we spin a yarn. If we deceive, we pull the wool over people’s eyes.
— Esther Rutter, ‘Making’

A meandering line sutures together the world in some new way, as though walking was sewing and sewing was telling a story and that story was your life.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

I passed my workdays making sense of the world for others, taking up fragments of sensation and information and piecing them together, stitching quilts from leftovers and rag-ends of the world’s fabric.
— James Sallis, Others of My Kind

A thread now most often means a line of conversation via e-mail or other electronic means, but thread must have been an even more compelling metaphor when most people witnessed or did the women’s work that is spinning. It is a mesmerising art, the spindle revolving below the strong thread that the fingers twist out of the mass of fiber held on an arm or a distaff. The gesture turns the cloudy mass of fiber into lines with which the world can be tied together. Likewise the spinning wheel turns, cyclical time revolving to draw out the linear time of a thread. The verb to spin first meant just this act of making, then evolved to mean anything turning rapidly, and then it came to mean telling a tale.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Women who spin, weave and knit are legend, from Homer’s Penelope, unravelling and reweaving a shroud as she waits for Odysseus’s return, to mythic Ariadne, saving Theseus in the Cretan labyrinth with her ball of yarn. In Greek mythology, the three Fates, the Moirai, hold the mother thread of life – Clotho spins it, her sister Lachesis measures it, and Atropos clips it short. In Norse mythology, the Norns, goddesses wielding shears and spindles, do likewise.
— Esther Rutter, ‘Making’

The world is made up of facts, he says in his book, facts that are atoms, the smallest unit into which spoken reality can be divided. Language weaves meaning together like an invisible needle, linking these facts by means of the thread of its logic.
— Luis Sagasti, Fireflies

Every history has more than one thread, each thread a story of division.
— Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Coupled, their interplay and overlap facilitate the emergence of new perspectives. Actively interweaving multiple strands of thought creates common ground. A richly dimensional tapestry from which to confront and take differences into account, and allow the complex to remain complex.
— Nick Sousanis, Unflattening

Tantra is the practice of extending, of stretching to make connections, of creating something from those connections. Tantra is the weaving of multiple threads and the extrication of one part from the whole.
— Nisha Ramayya, States of the Body Produced by Love

Stories are not only a sequence of things that happen, they are also – or they can be – patterns as well. The shape of a story-line can weave in and out in a shape that is attractive in an abstract way, which is aesthetically pleasing no matter what it means.
— Philip Pullman, Dæmon Voices

Like Ariadne’s thread allowing Theseus to journey into – and safely out of – the mythical labyrinth, a story means to lead the reader somewhere.
— Peter Turchi, A Muse and A Maze

To spin a yarn. To tell a story. You take something amorphous and lumpy and you order it. You twist it into something with a purpose.
— Nell Stevens, Bleaker House

a truth that is built, like all human truths, on a story woven of wishes, possibilities, and lies.
— Michael Chabon, Manhood for Amateurs

I think of threads as parts that frame, as repetitions that enable memory, destruction and recreation, as continuities that loop and accrue meaning. Threads are moving bodies and the movements themselves, narratives and the processes of narrating.
— Nisha Ramayya, ‘Threads’

The reader is Theseus in the labyrinth, unspooling thread in order to find his way out of what he’s getting himself into.
— Peter Turchi, A Muse and A Maze

Theseus must use the ‘clewe of twyne’ that Ariadne gives him. The word ‘clewe’ derives from Old English cliwen or cleowen, meaning a rounded mass, or a ball of thread. Eventually it became our word ‘clue’. It lost its material significance, and retained only its metaphorical meaning. But still, there it is, hidden but present: the clewe is in the clue (and the clue is in the clewe). Every step towards solving a mystery, or a crime, or a puzzle, or the riddle of the self, is a length of yarn tossed us by the helping hand of Ariadne.
— Charlotte Higgins, Red Thread

A labyrinth is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like a thread on a spool. It contains beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return. There at last the metaphysical journey of your life and your actual movements are one and the same.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

The labyrinth is about power and powerlessness, mastery and terror; it is also a coiled line, a thread, a narrative, a fabrication, a fiction.
— Charlotte Higgins, Red Thread

In this folding up of great distances to small space, the labyrinth resembles two other manmade things: a spool of thread and the words and lines and pages of a book.
— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

The scene that we weave and pull apart together is learned by heart, it dwells in memory; not simply a context, or an event, or an image, but a frame, a programme, a system of relationships and repetitions. In other words, the scene is not simply that which is created, but that which creates; not simply a part of a whole, but a part that comprises a whole.
— Nisha Ramayya, ‘Threads’

its recalling an understanding of pattern instead of a wound, something woven into me, a part of that composite I had become which was a fraction of what I might have been
— Jessie Greengrass, Sight

The web and the labyrinth are first cousins among metaphors. A woven web (whose threads can resemble a labyrinth) is made with the same skill, Minerva’s skill, required of the architect of intricate buildings, or poems.
— Charlotte Higgins, Red Thread

for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world.
— Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

Show your map

Like all people who feel uncomfortable in an uncomfortable world you want to make a map. Well let me tell you it is difficult to make a map in splintered times when whole worlds and histories collide.
— Deborah Levy, Beautiful Mutants

We organize information on maps in order to see our knowledge in a new way.
— Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

The story is a map, the landscape a narrative.
— Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust

‘What do you do?’ is a conversational gambit that many people dread hearing. How to respond? What if you consider yourself hyphenate, a multifaceted individual who, for pleasure or for income, does many things? What if you find it difficult to communicate this in a digestible way? What if your personal sense of identity and self-worth is founded upon the avoidance of neat labels and the impulse to categorise? Do you filter and select, presenting just part of who you are? Often this is the most convenient path to take.

It is one I am guilty of having followed recently, with a website rebrand, focused on who I am and what I currently do. The indalogenesis domain name that I had used since late 2013 had a defunct Twitter association, as well as a story involving a childhood home, a regional symbol (the índalo) and a love of cycling. But it did not convey what I can offer to potential clients as a freelance writer, editor and mentor. So I have replaced it with richardmartinwriter. Even then I have had to erase the hyphens, highlighting just the writing aspect of the services I offer. What am I? Who am I? A writer and and and.

The ‘What do you do?’ question requires a simplified response. It demands abstraction and clarity in the same way that a job application form, CV template and LinkedIn profile do. There is little allowance for the complexities and occasional chaos of our lived experience. Where there is space for commentary of any sort, we are expected to apply a degree of narrative coherence, making sense of memories and past events, creating connection and continuity. It is necessary to supply a beginning, middle and end, summarising what has brought us to this current juncture in our lives.

Reality is invariably more shambolic than this. More a hyperlinked web of avenues followed and retraced, jump cuts to elsewhere, occasional returns, disappearances and new beginnings. It is a ball of wool, a tangle of spaghetti, rather than a long straight line or a ladder extending ever-upwards. There are parallel paths too, simultaneously followed, within this entangled mess. Both/and rather than either/or. In his recent book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, Alan Lightman observes, ‘From all the physical and sociological evidence, the world appears to run not on absolutes but on relatives, context, change, impermanence, and multiplicity. Nothing is fixed. All is in flux.’ Our lives in a nutshell.

This is what Kenneth and I were grappling with when we were thinking through the theory behind The Neo-Generalist. It resulted in the continuum, which attempted to visualise the blending of specialism and generalism, and the disjointed, contextual experiences that characterise learning and work. While we walked and talked, we took in a Grayson Perry exhibition in Margate, which fuelled hours of additional conversation. While it was on, Provincial Punk, hosted by the Turner Contemporary gallery, provided me with several opportunities to spend time standing in front of Perry’s A Map of Days.

Fragment from Map of Days by Grayson Perry

Fragment from A Map of Days by Grayson Perry

In the Map, Perry presents his complex personality and plural identity in the form of a walled city. Streets, buildings and other locales represent personal traits and behaviours, indicating a self-exploration that embraces both the positive and the negative, that poses questions, as well as providing answers, binding together truth and fiction. At the centre of Perry’s map is a labyrinthine garden, in which a figure walks, off-centre, pursuing ‘a sense of self’. Each time I look at the Map, either in a gallery or online, I question how my own version would differ from Perry’s. What words would I choose? What images?

As a reader, writer and erstwhile film academic (yet more hyphens), both words and images exert a certain magnetism on me. Together they are particularly powerful. Images, of course, were one of our earliest forms of communication, including the aforementioned índalo found on a cave wall in southeastern Spain. Each of the letters we use to write are themselves images, so it could be argued that the bond between word and picture has always been hidden in plain sight as far as typography is concerned. Why, then, are we so limited when invited to sell ourselves to a potential employer? Why do only words matter to the recruiter? Why is such weight lent to words either of the most simplistic and anodyne variety or words so buzzy they are hollowed out of all meaning?

So much time is expended on the crafting of a CV. It is something that summarises our past, the schools we attended, the qualifications attained, the organisations worked with, the roles fulfilled. It is a record of selected facts, facing backwards, destined for the archive. It allows little space to present who we are and what we can do. An artist, at least, can show a portfolio of their work, making it as varied as they wish. They have images as well as words at their disposal.

Social philosopher Charles Handy has often spoken of the portfolio career. This is one that includes paid endeavour, charitable work, study and domestic chores. It all contributes to learning and the acquisition of skills. Something picked up in one field can provide insight in another. But how to present these multiple avenues via which we learn and work? How to capture and convey our multidisciplinarity and the potential this offers? Perhaps, like Perry, we need to draw our own maps, reflecting our convoluted journeys, our diversity of experience, the lessons we have learned, the places visited, the destinations yet to be attained. These could be maps of possibility, of intersections, convergence and mash-up. Maps that look to the future and what might be.

Such maps can be presented in numerous ways. They could be topographical, covering breadth and depth of experience. They could demarcate a series of islands, suggesting how you have navigated from knowledge to not knowing to yet more knowledge, dealing with ambiguity and uncertainty. Or perhaps a network map of connections and intersections or an infinite loop like the neo-generalist continuum.

A map can be presented and interpreted in many different ways, it prompts curiosity and questions, inviting a conversation that rapidly leaves behind the shallow waters suggested by a curriculum vitae. A living document that has the potential to enhance the organisational Atlas; a book of personal maps. Why not show your own map and move beyond the CV? Allow yourself to choose what defines you rather than conforming to a template.

The map of what we call reality is an ever-shifting mosaic of ideas.
— Marcelo Gleiser, The Island of Knowledge

Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map’s information is what’s left out, the unmapped and unmappable.
— Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

The process of making a map helps us rise above the limits of the local to see the whole, but this bird’s-eye view isn’t suitable for all audiences. Often we must aim for simple visuals that make the complex clear, focus attention, and transform ideas and understanding into decisive action.
— Peter Morville, Intertwingled