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::: center home >> being here >> last donut? >> the map


The Map
Dec. 9, 2014

For as long as I can remember, the first thing you see when you step into the Center is a large map of the world. It is covered with pins. You quickly figure out that each pin represents the home institution of one Fellow. It is an arresting sight and a conversation starter. Fellows returning to the Center for a conference or a talk stop in front of it and scan.

"That's my pin! That's me!" they say.

The Center has been hosting heftier cohorts of Fellows for over three decades. The total count of pins is now quite large, numbering many hundreds. Each year, we add new pins. Perhaps we'll do it at the start of the term; or the end of the term; or at the start or the end of the year. Inevitably little confusions arise. Did we already place the pin for this Fellow? There's already a few pins in this city. Do we need another or not?

With hundreds of pins to place, the little confusions grew until, a few years ago, we had just lost track of who had pins and who didn't. We needed a better system and, for that matter, a better map. Our old map still had national boundaries drawn when Julius Caesar invaded Gaul.

This triggered long discussions with the Center staff. We needed something easy and sustainable. The proposals multiplied. What about pins with little paper tags on them naming each fellow? The silence that followed said clearly: "OK, as long as you don't expect me to be the one making all those little tags!" We thought of magnets that could be stacked to show multiple fellows. But then we'd need a huge steel sheet on which to put the map.

We eventually settled on a system of color coding by year. We'd procure pins with heads of many colors and assign one color to each year. Then the accountancy would be reduced to checking that each year's cohort of roughly a dozen were properly pinned.

For the longest time, nothing happened. You might think that procuring pins with roughly thirty different colored heads is no challenge with the mighty resources of the internet. The reality proved otherwise. It took an eon to get them. We had the new map selected soon enough and Joe McCaffrey had assembled the "who came from where, when" data into a nice spreadsheet.

Then the day arrived. Cheryl and Joe stretched the new map over the wall.

It was both a little challenge and a moment. Soon, a few of us clustered around pushing and prodding, to get the map secure and straight.

A few pins went up. It started with years in the late 70's and early 80's. One of these is my pin from 1983-84. Look! That's my pin! That's me!

Well, perhaps. There's more work to be done. The key to the colors and a binder with the Fellows' names has still to be added. So all I can do is guess.

A little while later Cheryl and Joe appeared in my office. The Fellows are meeting this afternoon. Would they like to mount their own pins?! Of course. That became the first agenda item of the afternoon reading group meeting. The pinning ritual proved to be quite jolly.

As an agenda item, I found the pinning had significant competition. Maria had baked a cake for us. "It's a Romanian mystery cake!" I quipped. Before I had a chance to deliver the explanatory punch line, Maria interjected: "It's chocolate mousse." I was moving under inertia, so the punch line came automatically: ". . . because it's baked by a Romanian and we don't know what sort it is . . ."

We then moved to the serious business at hand. Nick had given us a paper to read and Maria stepped up to the whiteboard. She had covered it with a neat, multicolored summary of Nick’s paper and she proceeded to explain it, line by line, in the strict 5 minutes allocated to her.

I listened and ate mousse cake and I'll admit that the mousse cake was so good that my attention was quite divided.

John D. Norton



Revised 12/12/14 - Copyright 2012