5 min read

Back to the map

There used to be this indoor flea market in Chelsea, snaking around the curved concrete of a parking lot, back when I first moved to New York.

I'm all about the printed stuff at these; shopping for vintage dresses is just too difficult at these spots, and maybe this was true everywhere by 2009, but it seemed like none of the really nice stuff made it out to these things, that the vintage shopkeepers who tended to collect and care for those pieces were not going to chance their exposure to the remnants of car exhaust, cheap popcorn finger stains, and whatever else.

I would rather flip through old photos (shopping for "fake relatives," someone told me once about her collection of Victorian portraits, so I'm always thinking of that). I want to see what weird magazines some particularly cool dead person left behind. (Someday that will be me, if they survive that long.) I want to find forgotten letters and postcards with the postmarks.

And I look at maps. Collections come to me on whims: a framed map of Tibet I got at one flea market (an homage to 90s TV, if you know, you know), but after that, big wall-sized maps of the United States.

I was peering closely yesterday at the one in my study that serves as a kind of outline for A Woman Is Against the Law and was struck by what big cities didn't make the cut whatever midcentury year it was produced. There is no Helena, no Scottsdale.

In the thick of it still, hence the lazier pace of newsletters, but now that I've just handed off the biggest stack of draft pages yet to my editor, I am back to the maps and outlines and cards to reorient to what's next.

Yesterday was also the first time I realized I had knocked out all of this archival research. Mary Heaton Vorse: I spent miserably-grey days at the Reuther Library in Detroit in January, and in March I stayed at her house in Provincetown. I had even written the exact address (466 Commercial St) down for myself some point in the past that could be years back by now, certainly years before I would see the house for myself. So yes, there's tens of thousands of words written, but this—this week—is my real satisfaction with this book. I wrote down a name. I wrote down her life. I went there.

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