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A Paper Road is a road laid out in a development or subdivision plan. Paper roads exist only on paper, never having been developed, but they have a legal existence, whether on private or public land. They are especially common in New Zealand, where they were created primarily for future access in rural areas (though in some cases, their layout was determined without checking whether the topography was acceptable for a road). Some Districts are reputed to have as many paper roads as actual roads.

The map is not the Territory.

Although paper roads exist on navigational systems and maps, they do not exist in reality.

So, one can never reach his or her destination using a paper road. One has to find one’s own way. Beyond the literal definition, exist the vast interpretations of paper roads as a metaphor.

Paper is disposable, fragile, ephemeral. It can be burned, ripped, drowned, lost, discarded. A road cannot. A road is sturdy, rugged, dependable. It requires an act of God or the universe to destroy it. And yet the two words, like lovers, live together, beside each other–deeply somehow, ensconced.

What do we do when the maps we are given fail us? Whether by AAA or the PTA, by our parents or government or religious institutions? How do we know when our own maps are failing us? How do we revise? Depart with confidence? Trust in arrivals? Journey on?

Literature is strewn with metaphorical paper roads. The Odyssey, The Iliad and The Inferno. The poems of T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. The essays of E. B. White. Montaigne and Joan Didion. The references are endless. There is barely a piece of good writing that doesn’t in some way include a metaphorical paper road. Dancers construct paper roads to shift from assemble to arrierre, painters to transform blank canvas to adumbration, musicians to ascend from note to bar to rest. It is the very nature of art itself: to create a reality that did not exist before. To set out an idea or feeling or thought and arrive at its manifestation is in some way to have traveled by paper roads.

The United States of America is built on the paper roads of great minds. The internet, emerging technologies — all varieties of webs created to link us in ways were not before linked.

Paper roads are vertical and horizontal. Figurative and metaphysical. Internal and external. They connect geographies of thinking, topographies of responsibility. They are the very bedrock of this idea of evolving the conversation.

We must create our own paper roads to exit the pain of grief, to enter the joy of our children, our partners, our dreams. To claim the room to be. And the momentum to forge ahead.

We all have access to Route 1 and Main Street but even there, our experience on any given day driving down the very real road that has been paved according to plan is filled with paper thoughts and paper dreams and paper feelings that might be different tomorrow.

The roads of communication, of connection must always be new if they are to serve our individual and collective journeys.

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This begins to address the concept of paper roads but is far from exhaustive. The links below provide a fuller picture but again – limited. It is a living, breathing concept brought to life most fully, only by our individual personal experience with it. It is merely cognitive until we make it more.

Advising artists support and help guide the growth and outreach of the Evolve the Conversation experience. Guest artists are present at our salons. Both are invited to provide statements on the topic.

Kelly Coveny View Statement

The Paper Road of People
There are roads that run through our heart, like major arteries. They sometimes get congested; sometimes flow with great ease and speed. Zooming. They go under construction, need repair. Occasionally, they are crippled by accidents of word and deed. Then again, they flow. Zooming.

They are lettered with the names of the ones we love. M…O…T…H…E…R. They are paper but feel more like concrete. Permanent. A part of us. Unchangeable. The path we travel to go north. And south. East. And west. We trust their well-worn grooves to traverse the rough terrain of where we are afraid to go.

Then one day, we never know exactly when, the road changes, reveals itself as paper. And for a while, we don’t know how long, we have trouble finding our way.

Kim Bridgford View Statement

Paper is a way to transformation. It can be folded into a bird or an airplane and made to fly; it can also lead us in new directions, and map our imaginations. We might say that each time we sit down in front of the printed page, we are presented with the paper roads of possibility. Since I am a poet, for me the road is both the horizontal line across the page, and the vertical road of the poem’s development. If we are true to ourselves, to the moment, and to our sense of craft, no paper road should ever be the same.

Rachel Basch View Statement

I’d seen the car pass by me several times as I walked. Finally it slowed, and the passenger side window was lowered. “Do you know where Chambers Road is?” The driver leaned across a young girl with a gift wrapped box on her lap. “We’ve been driving around this neighborhood for half an hour, and I just can’t seem to find it.” The woman pointed to her car’s GPS. When I asked where she was headed, she waved a party invitation and told me the street name. Simultaneously, the child called out the name of the birthday girl. I live in a small town, and as it happened I knew the family and where they lived. When I finished giving directions, the woman asked, “Just out of curiosity, where is Chambers Road?” “It’s not a real road,” I said. It’s a hiking trail. I pointed up ahead to a glorified gully. “Are you sure?” she said. I imagined that the girl had already missed two or three party games, but the mother’s need to resolve the confounding discrepancy seemed more pressing.

I’d been thinking of Paper Roads only in terms of the value of imagination, the perfection of the thing unseen, vs. the evil of the concrete, the known, the limited. But this encounter made me think about our commitment to beliefs even after they’ve been proven to be both beside the point and inaccurate. How much of my life has been lived according to a false road map, one based on someone else’s intended land grab? And how reluctant have I been to relinquish the useless paper road?

Erik Blicker View Statement

A road on paper. Yet there is no road staked out. A paradox?

When used as a metaphor for life's road map. A life paradox?

A paper road only exists on paper which lies in contrast to the fact that your parents or guardians give you a map that doesn't exist on paper.

But in your mind. The explorer in all of us ventures from this road.

Seeking wisdom, love and creativity. Finding new roads through chance and exploration.

What do you do when there is no map for life?

Look to your love, passion, creativity, art and music for the path.

And maybe even ask your parents.

Joe Carvalko View Statement

  Once there was a paper
boy who wrote nothings on paper
about a paper
girl who lived in a paper
world, and the paper
boy cut-out paper
dreams about the girl and a paper
ship that sailed over a paper
ocean to a paper
land where the ship took flight on a confetti wind, where below a clamoring paper
crowd watched them soar above paper
wows and giddy trivialities, paper
arms reaching high, calling, trying to bring them down, again and again, but the paper boy and paper
girl rose higher and higher, toward the Sun, paper
eyes never looking back, never looking at what might have been in the paper
world below, writing paper
poems with paper
hearts, living paper
lives, loving each other, ...on paper.

Anne Wells View Statement

I am excited for this conversation. The idea that we are constantly remapping the course of our lives is motivating and inspiring to me. It reminds me yet again that anything and everything is possible. The past does not dictate the future. We can dream BIG and map the course accordingly.

James Nave View Statement

All my journeys begin in my imagination. Where will I go next? What's flashing around corner? Who will I meet and what will I do when I meet them? Will I trust my instinct? Does it really matter where I go or how I get there? When does a paper road become wide enough to travel down?

Brian Hoover View Statement

a Sketch
The initial strokes aren't meant to last, but he doesn't understand. Unmodulated intensity, each mark harsh and final; the guide lines seem to vie for dominance. The intended result—a stark and stone-walled castle—is impossible to see for the mess that by now ought to be yielding to it.

Abby T. Redmond View Statement

My initial thoughts on the concept of Paper Roads reminds of the art of cartonnage, which was a fascination of mine in art school in Paris.

Darina Karpov View Statement

The immediate association I had when I heard 'Paper Roads' was the act of drawing. As a painter I have always relied on paper. Drawing as a way of creating a relationship between thoughts and what I want to make. It's the closest I get to seeing my thoughts unfold, and map out their movements.

David Fitzpatrick View Statement

A writer told me a few times that art begets art; so my initial curiosity and interest about paper roads is in one way quite selfish. I want to see where the conversation goes, where it floats to, what it reveals. And then when I'm not paying attention so intensely, maybe I'll find a new way.

Peter Repplier View Statement

Interesting conversation is in short supply these days, so any attempt to elevate (or evolve) it seems like a good idea.

Debbie Casey View Statement

Life is full of paper roads. We all travel different roads during different periods of our life that lead us to happiness, sadness, fulfillment, success, into new relationships and career paths. The options and possibilities are limitless. I find it comforting to know that if I am headed down a road and it’s not taking me where I want to be both physically or emotionally, I can take another road – another direction. Sometimes it takes awhile to get into the headspace to realize that I have the power and opportunity to alter my direction or situation by taking a different paper road. I guess that is why we should all be grateful that these roads are not set in stone so to speak but they are limitless, flexible and ever changing.

Glenn Schloss View Statement

I have access to beats in my head 24/7.

On the computer I can click the mouse and ryhthms are instantaneously played and crafted. Drum machines and software synths of all shapes and sizes can time stretch and manipulate a 2 bar phrase to infinite. We're talking grooves of epic proportions.

Studios across the land churn out the beats everyday and spoon feed it to the masses. Drum sample CD's and MP3's flood the market place; Hip Hop, Rock, Big Band, Jazz, African, South African, South American ----- you name it. There is a great demand for the all mighty groove.

The legendary Buddy Rich once said, "But, I don't think any arranger should ever write a drum part for a drummer because if a drummer can't create his own Interpretation of the chart and he plays everything that's written, he becomes mechanical; he has no freedom."

Where is the next big groove? ......Who's got it?

Rhythm, soul and technology continue to inspire my paper roads. No formal charts or maps needed here. Just my imagination.

So I pick up my sticks and keep playing.

Kim Kupperman View Statement

When we lose our ability to read a map, where will we be?
Worse, when we are unable to ask for directions, who will we be?

Joe Sequenzia View Statement

This fascinates me: the idea that either by the time you get to something it is changed or not there AND that you must write out your intentions to make them, real.
An old quote form of all people David Lee Roth: "Funny thing about dreams is that a lot of them do come true. -Problem is by the time you get there you’ve become somebody else."
I do not believe in destiny. I do believe in intention.

Eli Portnoy View Statement

Paper Roads seems like a metaphor for "anything is possible" even if the idea seems unrealistic, unattainable and downright crazy. Mapping out the possibility of future gives the unknown a sense of hope wonder excitement and a place to stand to make it real, make it your own

Amy Coveny View Statement

Da Chen said it best, Paper Roads are our intentions. We embark on our journey projecting like a radio tower our intentions. There are so many twists and turns that can be unexpected and leave our desired, intended road un-pathed. Robert Frost deconstructs this in his poem "The Road Not Taken". It is a powerful poem for it reads differently depending on your perspective. Sometimes we outline two paths or roads that diverge and yet being one person we cannot chose both. Hence the Paper Road that is never traveled by our mere intention nor made by life experience.

Paper Roads Video Select a video and click to view. There are currently 9 videos available for Paper Roads.


On Transcending Paper | Da Chen

The Tangible Connection | Da Chen

On Opening Spirit | Marlon Saunders

Travel’n | Marlon Saunders

For All We Know | Marlon Saunders

On Finding Footpaths | Matt Jensen

Walking Landscapes | Matt Jensen

Paper Roads

Paper-Roads Images

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