Atlanta-versary

Over the past month, I’ve kind of forgotten how cathartic writing is for me. I’ve been consumed by a bizarre work schedule, teaching myself how to code, reading, making notes for a book-length poem/essay I’m researching, and doodling in my sketchbook. I’ve been working steadily on editing a few essays that are near-completion, but I haven’t really sat down and just written. As I sit here, only three hours away from effectively working all weekend, working on tutorial lessons about variable scope in JavaScript, I find my attention drifting and expanding, becoming something like a spring whose source has been suddenly tapped, and is flowing everywhere.

The solution? Write.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the choices I’ve made in my life. Some make me squirm, some I wish I could undo, some I’m still a little angry at myself for making, some make me worry I’ll never be capable of making the “right” choice. That I’ll forever be just a few inches away from the life I was “supposed” to be living, but could never quite grasp.

I moved to Atlanta a year ago, more or less. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date. I left Buffalo, New York on August 15th, I arrived in Atlanta on the 16th. But then I left Atlanta for a week in Denmark at the end of August, and returned more “permanently” on August 30th. I lived for a month in a tiny AirBnB rental (referred to as a “pod”) in a basement. I moved into my first “home” here on October 1st. What is the anniversary of my arrival here? Of my arrival into this new life I created for myself? I’m going to stick with August 15th. I didn’t arrive in Atlanta that day, or into a new “home”,  but it was the day I drove toward a fresh start, toward an unspooling mystery, toward a place and time where I would recreate myself and my life, despite the fear and doubt that followed me the entire way.

After a year?

Things are only slightly more clear, but I’m a lot more comfortable in the fog. I still don’t know if Atlanta will be my home forever, but it certainly feels like my home for now.

Three weeks ago, I had to return to Buffalo very last minute, and could not afford to fly. So, I drove. I remember being on I-75, driving past the exits for Marietta (a suburb of Atlanta), horrified by the 16 lanes of traffic that moved like an unpredictable sea around me. Atlanta really is a garish place in some ways, I thought to myself. But the farther I drove away from this city, the more I felt myself missing it, feeling estranged outside of it. I missed even the ludicrous drivers, the moronic lane-changing, speeding, bird-flipping, aggravated honking. The lavish sports cars and luxury sedans, the massive, heaving SUVs that the Buckhead mothers cannot competently commandeer, the tricked out speedsters, the glimmering rims; I missed all of it.

This is a wild, beastly city. It’s too big for its own good, it’s congested, angsty, spacey, destructive, creative, quiet, blaring, ancient and infantile all at once. I’m not sure there is another city in America that is more perfectly emblematic of the dualities within all of us, as both individuals and as a society. It’s also emblematic of the reality that these dualities must be reconciled and understood in order to be cultivated or built upon. This is a city of unruly extremes, and to live here and thrive here you must be not only tough minded, but flexible and open, willing to accept the extremes and all of the unknowns that they spill into the future. This is a city that will challenge you, drive you mad, and make you sick. It is also a city of tender creativity, love, attention, and natural beauty. It is still figuring itself out, and there is no predicting what will become of Atlanta. So, you must simply be present.

Moving here was very tumultuous, and my start was rough. It felt like I was being tested, when all I really wanted was some peace, some quiet, a break after years of struggling. After a year, I feel strangely at ease, and inwardly peaceful, even though my surroundings haven’t gotten any easier. What has changed instead is my attitude toward myself, and how I cope with difficulty, uncertainty, and painful emotions. The unknown has become beautiful possibility rather than something to fear. Getting here has not been easy, but here’s the secret I’ve uncovered in the process:

‘Getting here’ is not the goal, instead: strive for constant arrival. It is what allows every day to feel like a gift, it is what makes mystery gorgeous, it is what makes you creative, generative, and ecstatic about being alive. Because there is no longer a final destination, life feels like an unfinished map without borders, brimming with infinite possibility. You get to design the landscape, the roads, the intersections and roundabouts, piece by piece, in any direction and style you choose.

Let me share some things I love about Atlanta so far, as well as some things I want to focus on and cultivate in year two of my journey of this city.

SO FAR:

  • I love the trees. I take walks just to look at them, how they filter the light, how their own colors change through the seasons, at different times of day. I love examining the layers of urban forest here, its density, how light or dark it may look or feel as I walk beside it, or through it.
  • The insects–every day and night a chorus of them. I loved especially that even during the winter, on warmer days, they would come out from wherever they’d been hiding and sing a little. I’ve gotten in the habit of talking to them, especially when they surprise me with their presence.
  • The juxtaposing of old and new. Atlanta does actually have plenty of older architecture, both  in the form of homes and larger buildings. I love the borders between those older buildings and the newer ones next door or down the street. I like how their edges appear when they overlap, how they’re trying to exist in one space, peacefully aligned within a single composition.
  • That it’s both grounded and lofty. There are so many little groups of people and start-ups trying to make the city (and the world) a better place. Whether it’s related to art, music, urban farming, bicycling, trees, technology, transportation, education, social justice; whatever it is, multiple groups exist here (or are being created as I type this) in hopes of better supporting it, creating more diversity and opportunity within it. And these groups all start small, on the ground-level,  and build upward, outward, expanding slowly in hopes of achieving something new, for everyone. It’s an inclusive city on its own level, unlike any place I’ve encountered before (while also being grotesquely exclusive in other ways, but I’m not here to discuss that right now). And being surround ed by so much creativity makes one feel more capable of creating something new, too!
  • It kind of has everything, if you’re willing to look for it, or drive for it. It has busy city streets and quiet, forested roads replete with bungalows with glittering porch lights. It has southern food and fine dining and Buford Highway where you can find restaurants and markets representing nearly every corner of the world. It has Your Dekalb Farmers market; a bizarre and overwhelming mega-sized store with every ingredient, spice, vegetable or fruit you could dream of. It has parks that are so deeply forested you can get lost in them and forget you’re in a city. It has some of the worst traffic in the country, but also a really pleasant subway system, if you’re able to use it. It has cafes that are too-cool-for-school and tiny shops and eateries created to truly benefit their community. Their are crafty shops and galleries and hideous plazas full of chain stores. In short? If you want it, you can probably find it here.
  • It’s weird. Unlike any other kind of weird I’ve encountered. There really is a little bit of everybody here, the freakiest freaks and the classiest cats. I think of Portland, Oregon, where I lived in 2008-09, and how it defines itself as weird, and I think defining oneself ultimately limits oneself. Because Atlanta continually evades definition, it can be anything. While this is both good and bad, it does allow for unusual amounts of diversity and experimentation.

WHAT I HOPE TO DO IN YEAR 2:

  • Create more habits and regularity. Beyond finding a coffeeshop I visit on the regular, I want more routine in general. It’s been hard doing that while working as a server (with a very irregular/unconventional schedule), but that will that come to an end over the next year. And even if it didn’t (come to and end) I think I’ve finally  figured out how to create routine in my life even when my schedule fluctuates so much. I’m moving to a new apartment in one month, and  that will be a perfect opportunity to start fresh in establishing new rituals and routines that allow for both more regularity and more exploration. I want to regularly explore my new city more! I want to feel more connected to places and people within it, to include them on the map of my life as I continue to design it.
  • Attend more events that cater to my interests. Again, finding my way out of serving will help with this! Working so many nights and weekends has made it hard to go to readings, gallery openings, workshops, and the like. I look forward to increased opportunities to go to these events. I’ll be exposed to more people and work that inspires me and creates a sense of connection to this city.
  • Hike more. I want to make it a goal to get out of the perimeter to hike twice a month. There IS plenty of beautiful in-town hiking, but we’re surrounded by mountains, lush forests, rivers, marshes, and open fields. It’s all out there, still unknown to me!
  • Have a simpler home life. I can’t wait to move into my new apartment! I love where I live now, but I live in someone else’s home. When I moved in, it was already furnished and filled and established. My room is my sanctuary here, but I’m excited to have a living room and a kitchen that are clean and simple and nurturing as well.
  • Create a new career. More on that later, because it’s dependent on a wide variety of conditionals whose outcomes are still unknown to me! But, to reveal a nugget: I want a career that is meaningful, interesting, and challenging, and that pays the bills, most importantly, DOES NOT use the part of my brain that I use for creating my essays, poems, drawings, and paintings. A long time ago, I thought my career needed to reflect my most important interests and aspects of myself. Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m extremely multifaceted. I can learn and do and enjoy and excel at a wide variety of things. And I’m happiest when my career allows me to use my brain, but has nothing to do with my art forms. If I were to get lucky and stumble into a situation where my art started making me money, that would be great, but I can’t make that my goal. I need the freedom to create the kind of work that keeps me feeling inspired, alive, and fresh, even if it will never make me “popular” or easily marketable.
  • Maintain the connections I’ve got. I feel so fortunate for all the kind and interesting people I’ve met in my first year here, not to mention the three people I already knew here before I relocated! It has been such a surprise to find so many people I feel at ease with; who make me laugh, who I make laugh, who I can have fun with no matter the circumstances, and with whom I’ve learned so many new things, had meaningful discussions, and created joyous memories. I look forward to another year of adventures and friendship with each of these individuals.

Somehow, despite still being unsure of whether or not I’m making the “right” decisions, I feel more at peace, more creative, and more confident in myself than I’ve ever felt in my past. I’ve learned, also, that I’m the kind of person who learns from experimentation, exploration, and perhaps most importantly, from fixing my mistakes.

That’s all for now. Thanks, Atlanta, and everyone and everything in it, for such a memorable and meaningful first year! I can’t wait to see what year two brings!

❤ Katie

 

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