At the start of the year, I saw something in one of my regular news haunts — the Guardian, perhaps? — that was, essentially, “Hey, the hot new thing is psychogeography, I bet you’ve never heard of it!” and I rolled my eyes so hard they almost fell out; I’ve been going on derives for more than two decades, thanks to my history as a pretentious art student, thank you very much.
The whole thing got me thinking about psychogeography and personalized maps, however, which got me thinking about the fact that the world changes around us in ways that we don’t necessarily think about until confronted with. The last time I was back in my hometown, I was struck by how physically different it had become from my last visit. Admittedly, there had been years — 5 or 6, likely, if not more — since I’d been there before, and even then some of the changes were underway or had already taken place. But, literally, there were streets that no longer existed that I remembered clearly, and buildings that were the landmarks I knew to identify my location that were no longer there, or changed beyond recognition.
Most obviously, the house I grew up in is gone, to all intents and purposes. It’s been sold at least twice since I left, and split into a duplex, with new doors installed on an entirely different wall, creating a disorienting effect when I pass by — my brain reads the entryways as they are now as wrong, as if people are now walking directly into the bathroom and why would you do that…? It’s more than that, of course; the walk I would make from that house to the local train station doesn’t exist as it was, either; there are roads that are now dead-ends, shops I used as signposts to take a left that simply aren’t there anymore. The same with the walk I did every Saturday to go downtown, a necessary pilgrimage to feel alive and not alone; entire streets that I walked down are just memories now.
I was struck by this the way that only someone who hadn’t been there in years could be. I mentioned the many differences to my family who remained local, and in every instance, it was as if I was mentioning a long-forgotten event from decades earlier. “Oh, yeah, I forgot that happened…”
We create our own maps, our own cities and towns and spaces, in our heads as we move about each environment on a daily basis. And sometimes, those spaces change when we’re not looking, and all that is left are these ghosts overlaid on the world that’s coming.