I heard about a small bright spot coming out of the Cambridge community this week: Danielle Geathers just became the first black woman to serve as Student Body President at MIT. In the article linked above she reflects on the importance of prospective students seeing their own culture and background reflected in the student and staff community - especially in leadership positions.
The Greater Boston community has a long way to go though. I work in an MIT-owned building in Kendall Square, a Cambridge neighborhood and business community often criticized as an ivory tower exponentially driving up property prices and rent largely due to the presence of Google, Facebook, Amazon, plenty of biopharma companies, and more. My company’s main function is to provide affordable and flexible workspace and accessible networking opportunities for startups and innovators, in an otherwise expensive, exclusive, and densely occupied business neighborhood. But, as the price of rent continues to sky rocket, the company ends up having to charge more per square foot just to cover our own rent, which works in direct opposition to the goal of accessibility and affordability. (Note, we offer free events and donate space to/partner with various community-oriented initiatives and nonprofit orgs, but this is obviously not enough to fix the issue of inaccessibility overall.)
With the current exclusivity in our neighborhood in mind, last year, the Kendall Square Association kicked off a monthly Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion learning community bringing together local KS business leaders. The focus of this discussion group was "Can Kendall Square pilot and scale ways of building inclusive institutions, by applying its [Research & Development] mindset to the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issue?"
Since that group started, it sounds like there has been a lot of openness to accountability and self-criticism and lots of thoughtful ideas for future changes and initiatives to support the goal of making KS a more equitable and inclusive community. But of course there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of those ideas are far from being rolled out. (Read more on the KSA DEIB initiative here.)
Because it’s easy to point to everyone else and whether they are/are not doing enough, I’m trying to turn the mirror on myself as a cog within the greater Kendall Square wheel. My big questions for myself within this context are:
1. What can I do as a member of a Talent Acquisition team in a Kendall Square business to make sure I am helping create a company that provides a welcoming, safe, worthwhile, and engaging community for existing and prospective BIPOC staff?
2. How can I work with my company to bring more BIPOC into positions of leadership and other parts of our work that are not accurately reflecting the community and population within which we operate?
Given that my team works in hiring and HR, DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging) naturally surfaces in our work every day and it's something we always address up front when hiring for the Talent Acquisition department. But I am challenging myself with the questions above because my professional identity has always felt secondary to me; I've often felt like my individual identity is that I like to make art and that my professional day job is a way to pay the bills while I also work on creative things during my free time. But I'm recognizing that with my line of work, that's a place where I can make a tangible impact in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here's some sobering context: Boston was recently voted last in a survey on how welcoming eight major US cities are to people of color. Last. In a region of the world know for being extremely progressive and liberal. On average, I interview anywhere between 5 and 25 people every week, have worked on entry-level to C-level searches, and my team reviews hundreds of resumes and applications from all over the world each month. We are responsible for finding valuable contributors who reflect the fabric of the community around us. And right now, we have a number of ongoing initiatives to keep ourselves accountable... but we are continuing to listen and learn and admit where we can do better.
Layla F. Saad held an Instagram Live lecture on the topic yesterday, titled "The Revolution with not be Colonised... by White Business Leaders" and this has been a nice resource to make sure I am pointing the finger back at myself and my company whenever I think about racism. She reminds me that it is a shield to simply call out others who are not doing enough when the most effective calling out should be happening within myself and my immediate sphere. View Layla's full session here.
Some helpful words written and emphasized by Layla that white business people like myself should keep in mind:
“The revolution will not be businesses, brands, and leaders who have silenced black voices for all these years, only now to post a black square and proclaim “Black Lives Matter”. The revolution will not be white-washed into a movement where people with white privilege get to feel like benevolent white saviors once again. The revolution will not be slotted into capitalism and used to sell white supremacy back to us.”
Here's a little slideshow of what I've been working on since mid-March... the images are terrible quality because I haven't scanned them in or anything, but you get the idea.
Social distancing in response to COVID-19 has been a strange experience for me so far, as I'm sure it has for everyone.
I'm lucky that 1. I still have my job and it can be done 100% from home and 2. my natural default is to stay at home working on quiet things. I know that considering oneself an "introvert" is all trendy right now, but being in the comfort of my own home working on quiet things is where I'm happiest. I've slowly realized that it's how I recharge, so being able to do that every day - even take work calls from the comfort of my personal desk - means that my social battery is full much more consistently, and a fuller battery means that I have more energy to work on projects.
My company asked my team to work from home the week of March 9th, which was fairly early in the Boston area, and so it's been almost a whole month already. Time slips by pretty imperceptibly and the days melt into each other without the normal commutes and different surroundings to break up the day and mark the time. But I'm really grateful to have an activity that keeps my mind so occupied during such a scary time. I save at least 10 hours per week not having to commute, I get more sleep, and I can still stay up a little later working on projects without worrying about being tired at work the next day (I'm naturally a night owl, as much as I've tried to be otherwise).
In the last 3 weeks, the only places I've gone are the grocery store around the corner a total of four times, and the local Blick art supply store, which I rollerbladed to for a curbside pickup order of art supplies. That's it. Otherwise I've gone for walks around the neighborhood, sat on my deck, and stayed in my house. There are moments where I'm a little concerned about how much time has passed with me moving within such a tiny radius for days at a time - mostly because it's just strange - but for the most part I feel in my element being tucked away in my room with my guinea pig and headphones and a very clearly demarcated 8 hours for work each day that end exactly at 5pm. Then I usually eat dinner with Chris and spend 4-5 hours working on art.
I've made so much progress in the last month and it really knocks me on my butt how productive I can be when I'm not feeling tugged in every direction at work and getting deflated by the rough commute. It's like art school again, where the main expectation I had of myself was to be at my desk getting things done. The more I do that for my day job, the more I can build a routine for it on my personal time and it feels less intimidating to sit at my desk.
Obviously it's not all sunshine and daisies; there is a different kind of stress always looming, you know, the big, lumbering kind that comes with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and economic crisis and dread that I have the virus and am asymptomatic. When I go to the store, I've started wearing a mask that I use for oil paint mixing, just in case. And I know I'm lucky that I still have a job and that I can put myself at minimal risk and that Chris is still working, while so many people in my life have been furloughed or laid off entirely or have to put themselves at risk. Chris works as an electrician and technically falls under the "essential" category of work, but he also works with his dad and stresses every day about either exposing his dad to the virus or his dad being exposed on a job site. They just applied for a small business loan to keep them afloat so that they both have the option to stop working and stay home. Chris might even stop at the end of this week just to reduce the risk that his dad is facing, even though they tend to go everywhere together anyway and are exposed to the same people and surfaces. But he worries that if they don't get the loan, they won't have any income.
But it is a relief to carve out a quiet part of this bizarre period to work on something I cherish. I started working on much bigger paper, and am really invested in the idea of working with colored pencils all the sudden. I may incorporate watercolor washes still, but I do love simple contour drawings. That said, I kinda feel like the crayon/colored pencil look with monochromatic shading has been done a lot lately (especially with digital drawing platforms) and it's a bit uninteresting; I don't just want to choose to do it that way because it's popular right now and I know it will be accepted fairly easily. I still don't see that much watercolor out there in the graphic novel world and it's one of my favorite mediums because it can both be extremely bright and extremely subdued without feeling all over the map. I may still push to see if there is a way to incorporate it. But the last thing I want is to make unnecessary work if what I have stands on its own, or to trash something by incorporating too many ideas.
Looking over the year so far, I've made a ton of progress with thumbnailing which is a huge relief. It's not the most interesting thing to post about, but I've tried to force myself to chip away at that and now only have maybe a quarter left to thumbnail somewhere in the second half of the book. It still seems like a lot to go, but I was worried if I didn't start allowing myself to dive into the finished product, I would stall out and get discouraged.
A couple weeks ago, I decided to illustrate a full chapter as a test-run: working speed, efficiency, practice with different faces, level of detail, color pallet, material, size, and texture. So far I have three pages done and I'm loosening up. I'd like to have this as a proof of concept by the end of the summer (I know that seems far away but I'm still learning and drawing comics is still foreign to me). Then by the start of 2021, I'd like to have a couple chapters to start shopping around and see if this could go anywhere. But that's not really the important part. Regardless of where it goes out in the world, I need this story to be on paper and not just in my brain, so it will always be something I'm working on even if people don't appear interested in reading it.
Anyway, yesterday I accidentally messed up some shadows in the last two panels of the third page and they really felt like eye sores to me... so now I'm going to spend the next couple hours tracing everything. Womp womp. At least I can fix some other little things that were bugging me I guess.
PS: I think I can actually draw a bike now without the need for a visual reference! I love the feeling of being able to invent something in my brain and put it on paper without needing to crosscheck Google images; though I do have a rich collection of bike images and other tricky-to-draw things on a Pinterest page, not gonna lie. Reference photos are always super important, but it's a relief when you can stop relying on them all the time and trust your own brain. The easier that becomes, the faster the drawing goes!
Twas the night before our 4th anniversary when all through the night, not a creature was stirring, not even me, since I was unconscious because I fainted on a packed train. Thank you to Chris for rushing home to feed the pigs and waiting for hours at the ER before he was allowed to see me. Didn't think year five would start with us sitting on a hospital bed, but glad he was next to me.
While I was sitting in intake I made this doodle on the last page of Twilight New Moon. It's me imagining better commutes that I've had.
Some backstory: sometimes I'm affected by vasovagal syncope due to low blood pressure and sensitivity to blood. Twilight had a particularly bloody scene and I hadn't eaten lunch, so down I went. Usually I just need fresh air and food but an ambulance happened to be called this time and I got stuck in the ER for hours, ironically without food and with blood tests. All is well though! Got discharged, Chris brought me home, we ate pizza, and lived happily ever after. Also shoutout to my very fun EMTs, Andrew and Chris. They were a riot. And the nice nurse on the train who jumped into action.
This was my first time attending MICE! We attended a panel discussion on graphic memoirs, including Travis Dandro (King of King Court), and a Q&A featuring Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets), led by my teacher from the Graphic Novel workshop, Paul Karasik (How to Read Nancy).
I picked up a few comics along the way, including one from a fellow classmate and another from her husband, and can't wait to dig in!
Two years ago, Grandma Rose and I spent our shared birthday together for the first and last time. She was turning 85 and I was turning 27, with exactly 58 years between us to the day. It was the last time I ever saw her. It's hard knowing that our birthday will always be bittersweet now, with only one of us here to celebrate it. But I'm so glad that I will always have her name as mine and that we had this beautiful day together that our family put together. I recorded our conversations that day so I could always remember it, and her laugh, and how charmed she was to be surrounded by her family. Miss you grandma. Happy birthday.
This weekend my parents came to visit. They brought a huge load of things from my grandparents' house, which I'm still sorting through but so touched to have in my possession.
On Saturday we went on a tour of the John Quincy and John Quincy Adams properties. It was a beautiful day for it. After we wrapped up, we stopped by Clam Box and had a late lunch while looking out on the water. It was nice to see them again after all of the stuff that's happened in the last month.
After visiting Rotterdam, I decided I'd try to get more into biking my commute instead of taking the train. The train has been so miserable lately and I find it difficult to use that time productively when I'm squashed in there like a sardine. Since mid-April, I've been biking consistently most days (even in the frequent rain!), and I've been tracking everything on Strava. I set an annual goal of 1000 miles to keep myself motivated, with the understanding that I'll probably slow down once it gets cold. We'll see how it goes! Also, I feel like this is a good exercise replacement for me given that my knees aren't what they used to be (I'm only 28! D:) and this is a low-impact activity. At the very least, I'm a lot more comfortable with city biking and hand signaling, which used to be very scary for me.
My best friend and I went to see Lucy Knisley celebrate her new graphic novel, "Kid Gloves" last week and it was such a great experience.
Her comics were my first introduction to graphic novels, and I've since developed a deep love and reverence for the graphic memoir genre. When I read Lucy's writing, I feel like I am receiving very heartfelt learnings from a wise (and witty) older sister. 'Kid Gloves' is so moving and heartbreaking and informative and lovingly rendered, and as a person very new to aunthood and the baby world, I couldn't put it down. Please read all of her books if you haven't already!
Also, thank you for the excellent portrait, Lucy! We were both incredibly starstruck and impressed by your artistic/physical endurance. We will cherish this forever!
Above you will also see a watercolor portrait of Linney, Lucy's beloved cat who is the subject of many funny and touching comics.
Chris and I each grew up in a yellow house. Down the street from our apartment is our favorite house. It's so symmetrical and has great big windows, and the sweetest little dormer windows. Sometimes I pretend that I'm independently wealthy and will one day move into this house. I made the mini version for Chris several years ago, to pretend that it's actually our house after all.
The company I work for recently added another building to our Kendall Square campus; we now have five floors in the former Microsoft building. My parents and I toured it recently (read: I walked them around without knowing where I was going) and it is pretty swanky! I also enjoyed the gender neutral bathroom options and the very clear signage about this choice.
Also including a couple photos of buildings downtown, back when it was still light when I got out of work. And a photo of me as Han Solo during our office trick or treating event. Some of my friends call me Han, but I don't think many people got why I chose it because Star Wars is once again a big sensation these days. One of my roommates was also Han Solo this year and it was totally unplanned.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Brookline, MA.