So the first part of Neighbors is up! It's called "Discomfort." This is the comic I've been working on about housing and homelessness. I'll post new chapters over the following 8 weeks on sodelightful.com/comics, and each week's post will come with extra notes here on Patreon. Go ahead and read the comic first before coming back for tangentially-related rambles!
When I was an undergrad in college, I took an Ethics in Journalism class with Robert Jensen, and I still remember the day when he introduced the concept of mental geography. From what I remember, the idea of mental geography was that our beliefs about a place shape our behaviors toward it. We start to think of physical elements in our landscape (rivers, freeways, etc.) as mental barriers to accessing different parts of the city. Anyone who has had to endure a friend complaining about a spot being 'too far away' because it was on 'the other side of town' has felt the effects of mental geography. Communities form as both cause and effect from these pre-conceived notions of the accessibility of certain neighborhoods. For example: in Austin, Interstate 35 runs North to South dividing the city into "east Austin" and "west Austin". It may not geographically be that much farther to walk one block east of the freeway for a meal versus one block west to downtown, but that big freeway and our associations with east Austin being a worse part of town, stemming from historically inequitable development, make it all seem too far away in our minds.
In our journalism class, we were talking about the concept as a precaution to not let our mental geography get in the way of going somewhere to talk to people or to research a particular story. It was a reminder that places that sometimes felt far away were actually closer than they appeared.
The Bay Area is rampant with mental geography. Many who live in the city are loathe to cross the bridge to the East Bay and vice versa. Driving around and through the East Bay itself can feel like traversing multiple worlds as one crosses these mental/physical barriers in the span of blocks. The cognitive dissonance of so much shiny, new development alongside such rundown, neglected despair starts to get under your skin even if you don't look too closely or learn any of the history of an area.
I lived in West Oakland for three months this past spring, and once again the freeway served as a line of demarcation between the symptoms of gentrification and the ghosts of redevelopment + redlining. In my mind's eye, I was on the 'wrong side' of the freeway, which colored my experiences, reactions, and over-reactions to the events of this comic.
In trying to understand my uneasiness, I ended up researching the ways systemic racism has shaped our cities. The comic Neighbors touches on a bit of this research, these blogposts will go into some more detail, and the bulk of the nuance and complexity will continue stewing in my head for future projects.
As I am coming to see this year: home, housing, homelessness, belonging, and community...these are themes that have been on my mind and in my heart for many years (one might even say: for many generations)...whether I have been consciously aware of them or not.
Hope you are game to come along on this journey.
P.P.S. There is movement on the Slowingly front! I'm working on the script again and looking forward to sharing updates soon.