As the daughter of peripatetic immigrants who never quite found their footing, I have always felt alarmingly fluid, lacking not only anchorage, but a sense of constitution. Without a clear notion of provenance or the reassurance of belonging, that constant, solidified “I” became the horizon of my ambition. It was a myopia that blinded me to other pursuits and interests. All I sought was a place to be still in my own image, and learn the confines of myself.
Most symptomatic of this obsession was my longing for signatures: elegant, recognizable penmanship, a bar where they knew me by name, a uniform to whittle my feral anxieties down to an unthinking sense of self. That’s how identity works, right? Anything rehearsed over time can approximate instinct. When I discovered the world of perfume, I latched onto the notion of a “signature scent” as the quickest means to my end: the shortest of shortcuts to a sense of self.
When I was 21, I became obsessed with a thought. Or, I suppose, it was really more of a feeling. I had entered my penultimate semester at Hamilton College, simultaneously enrolling myself in the math department’s infamous Philosophical Foundations of Mathematics seminar as well as Advanced Painting in the art department. My degree was in math, but I couldn’t escape my undying love of charcoal and paint. For years, I had studied math and art in tandem, shuttling across campus between the departments.
At first, I considered them entirely separate. Different subjects, different goals, different processes… different. But as the years went on and I delved deeper, I experienced a growing suspicion. Finally, immersed in that semester’s combination of courses, I looked my suspicion in the face and wondered: are math and art the same?
The book Third Coast Atlas is an expansive attempt to define the Great Lakes region and re-evaluate it as a place with a story to tell beyond its constituent cities. Editors Charles Waldheim, Mason White, Clare Lyster, and Daniel Ibañez have compiled maps, plans, diagrams, timelines, photos, and more. In keeping with the subtitle—Prelude to a Plan—they aim to describe the current state of the Great Lakes more than offer prescriptions for the future. From the intro: “Third Coast Atlas offers a telescopic survey of the synthetic and natural phenomena of a specific place in the world. It is equal parts cartographic compendium, photographic record, resource index, urban analysis, ecological almanac, and design projection.”
Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of her fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and bought a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.
“That’s an . . . unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”
Flirting with her customers was a habit she’d picked up back when she worked as a barista, and it helped with tips. She didn’t earn tips at the movie theatre, but the job was boring otherwise, and she did think that Robert was cute. Not so cute that she would have, say, gone up to him at a party, but cute enough that she could have drummed up an imaginary crush on him if he’d sat across from her during a dull class—though she was pretty sure that he was out of college, in his mid-twenties at least. He was tall, which she liked, and she could see the edge of a tattoo peeking out from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a little too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he were protecting something.