Common Coin

By Joshua Callandret

Joshua Callandret is a writer residing in Savannah Georgia. He develops online courses for the Savannah College of Art and Design while also pursuing his MFA in writing through SCAD eLearning. His interests revolve around the intersection of space, culture, and digital media, and in particular how both well-established and burgeoning technologies affect the perception of reality. Originally from Louisiana, his childhood was shaped by the waters of the bayous, the swamps, the mighty Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Jordyn Callandret is a fine artist living and working in Savannah, Georgia. She studied at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she received her BFA in illustration. She seeks to reveal the hidden beauty in the mundane and banal aspects of life through her portraits and conceptual work. Drawing from a fount of personal experience and imagination, she hopes to restore a vision of the world that embraces honesty and locates truth in oft-overlooked places.


Jordyn Callandret, Interwoven (2016) Watercolor and ink

As a child, I had a pastel globe that was suspended in a faux-brass frame. I’d run my smooth fingers over its lightly textured surface and feel the topology of this big sphere of rock and water that zips through our solar system at roughly 19 miles per second while I sat cross-legged on the living room floor. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the globe served as my first lesson in relativity in the non-physics sense. The oceans were a light, almost sky-blue, and the counties were displayed in tints of green, pink, orange, and red. The borders and color of each country was relative to that of the surrounding countries. After locating North America, and then the United States, I’d zoom in on Louisiana, and finally Baton Rouge, which was the closest city to my small hometown to see where I was, or rather where the globe said I was. I saw the borders of all the states and nations, as well as my location in the world in relation to the USSR, Italy, Columbia, Sudan, and elsewhere. And yet I hardly knew what existed beyond my front door.

The globe also showed me that rivers often serve as the natural borders for states and nations. Maps distort the shapes of continents and the oceans, but the globe showed me the interconnectedness of all of the earth’s water supply. Here is the division between the earth and the land. Here are the coasts. Here is the division between nations. Division is woven into the very fabric of our world: light and dark, water and land, earth and sky, the visible and invisible. The sum of these distinctions form the basis of our experience. These opposites prop each other up like a house of cards, they oscillate like a see-saw tethered to a fulcrum that enables them to move as one.

Today, I rarely look at a map, let alone a globe. My chief concern these days is not how various places relate to each other geographically, but rather how long it’s going to take me to get from here to there and back again. And how much it’s going to cost. I seem to have lost my place in the world, only to be reminded of it in the things that I purchase. “Made in…” is the defining phrase for the present age, second only to “Distributed by.” These phrases tell me in a pseudo-specific way where my things come from. I could go back to my childhood globe and point out where each product was made, manufactured, assembled, or designed, but only with a country-level precision. I couldn’t narrow it down to a region, or a province, or a township. In the same way that my globe didn’t mark my hometown of 1400 people, I couldn’t mark the exact places where people work on farms or in factories to make smartphones, harvest avocados, brew beer, grow quinoa, sew chinos, make automatic dishwasher soap pods, harvest coffee, extract ore, mash trees into paper pulp, or melt sand into glass.  I could only say “This came from, let’s see (squints)—Canada, and this is from (flips the tag down) Bangladesh. And this here is from Germany.” I couldn’t tell you where the dyes come from, or the raw materials, or even the finished pieces to be assembled elsewhere. But if you asked me, I could probably tell you with confidence at what store you could find a such and such.

I read about these places in the news. I hear about the goings on around the world from my coworkers and friends, and yet these places remain intangible to me, reduced to photographs, articles, and of course, those ubiquitous stickers and tags that tell me that such places exist. Like a friend’s signature on a handwritten letter, these labels are the evidence that these products haven’t appeared ex nihilo—there’s someone else on the sending end of this message and I’m just the recipient.

Anyone who’s looked at the earth from an airplane or seen a picture from such a view has no doubt observed the so-called patchwork of the land. It makes no difference whether you view the earth from the cockpit of a crop duster, or the window seat of a 747, or from the International Space Station. Our planet’s topography looks like someone tried to use up every scrap piece of fabric left over from other projects and ended up making an extremely eclectic but homey quilt that has a loose sense of order, yet defies repetition. Waves of green ebb and flow. Trees adorn the land like stippling while fields plowed with GPS assistance attempt to impose a rigid structure on what is, in context, a landscape filled with irregular patches—some lush and dense, others barren and sparse. Now zoom out a bit. See the rivers, the seams of the states and countries that preceded our imposed boundaries. And again, zoom out until you see the oceans to which those rivers run. King Solomon pointed out long ago “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” It’s all movement, tireless and strong. And it is upon this movement that our globalized economy has grown.

Ships are like needles laden with the thread of imported goods that traverse the aqueous woof and warp of our world. Like the needle of a tailor, which guides the thread that binds up disparate pieces of fabric, these vessels bring something new to a preexisting social fabric. The thread that a needle pulls—mending, binding, decorating—is a foreign substance, an addition that becomes part of the fabric itself. So it is with the goods that these container ships carry across the ocean, up a river delta, and finally to a port, where they are unloaded and disseminated throughout the fabric of the city. Medical supplies, food, raw materials, oil, and finished goods, among other things, arrive in Lego-like containers. These containers hide their contents from the passerby, but their effects are readily perceived. Like the slow and silent flow of the river that deposits sediments from unknown places, creating a palimpsest of diverse soils that enrich its shores, these goods transform the city’s very essence. The ships that sew the world’s nations into an ever more interdependent economy reveal that our common currency is not coin or check but need—the need for survival and restoration.

Today, I spy these ships slinking up and down the Savannah River like lazy juggernauts. They move in and out like the waves, with only bullhorn blast and diesel rumble to announce their going and coming. They pass under the Talmadge Bridge, growing by turns exponentially larger and smaller in my field of view as they head out toward the Atlantic Ocean. I sometimes watch them slip past Fort Pulaski and the oyster shell muck surrounding Cockspur Island until they fade into the hazy horizon of competing blues between the sky and sea. I know not where they are going, or from where they came, or when they will ever return, and I realize that I know little more of my place in the world than I did when I could wrap my arms around the globe as a child many years ago.