Life in Atlanta

Whenever I travel or go home, I am invariably asked how I like Atlanta.  Every time, I respond with variations on vagary, generally offering the impression that I do not love the city, but I do like my life here.  I do so because it is difficult for me to communicate through small talk all of the wonderful and awful things that have happened to me here, and to wrap them up into a judgement on the city itself.

The truth is that I love the life I have built for myself in Atlanta.  Since my first visit here, my schedule every week revolves around the fixed point of Thursday night Bible study.  My best friend’s brother and his wife host at their home, where between eight and twenty people gather for dinner, community, and a well-researched analysis of one chapter from whichever book of the Bible we are studying at the time.  Afterward, we play games or Smash Bros., or just enjoy good conversation, often over a beer.  I arrive early every week to help get the house ready, and that is usually where I write these posts.

When I moved here, I had a job lined up as a barista.  I was at that job for about nine months, but I left in January of last year.  Since then, I have worked every Friday cleaning my friends’ house, sold salsas and tamales at a farmers’ market in the summer, folded laundry for a family in the suburbs, and taken on freelance work for my dad.  In my off times from those jobs, I workout, look for other jobs, and generally reevaluate my life.  I also travel a bit, and I have had the privilege to host my friends and family in Atlanta.

Most importantly, I have nurtured a community of friends here.  I hang out with various parts of that friend group weekly, and we usually keep one of the many Atlanta goings-on on our horizon.  So far my favorite is Matilda’s, an art gallery and outdoor concert venue that hosts local artists.  We took several bottles of wine, fancy snacks, and a few friends to see Blair Crimmins and the Hookers there, and thus found the formula for an excellent evening.

There were so many times in the past year that I felt tempted to see my move to Atlanta as a mistake.  I felt that the city was rejecting me like a transplanted organ.  I know now–I knew then–that that perspective was wrong.  It takes time to settle in a new place, to build a new community.  Moreover, it takes faith that the seeds you plant are worth cultivating.  Right now, I am experiencing the joy of seeing those seeds yield true fruit.  But there were times, along the way, when I thought my plants would not flower, and there were plenty of seeds that never sprouted.  I stayed because I believed that God had brought me here for a purpose.

I have a wonderful life in Atlanta.  It still has its difficulties and complications, but it is, overall, fruitful.  I know that such a life could be cultivated anywhere.  But I am glad it is here.

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Tourism

“Of course I don’t believe in ghosts.”  That is what I told my friend, and it is true…mostly.  I do not believe in plasmoidal, discorporated spirits that walk the earth after the deaths of their respective bodies.  But I do believe in the soul, in a God, and in supernatural power.  And I have always been fascinated by the premises of ghost stories–derivations on the idea that a being with unfinished business can leave his or her soul behind to complete its purpose.  And, a few weeks ago, I found that I very much believed in the notion that a place could be haunted–perhaps not by bodily ghosts, but by the people who have passed through and the tragedies that have been witnessed there.

On Moreland Avenue, south of the Starlight Drive-in and well within the city of Atlanta, stands an abandoned honor farm, consisting of nearly 500 acres of rolling hills and a few prison buildings.  And, a few weeks ago, I went there with some friends from Atlanta and some friends from Rice who came to visit for the weekend.  The buildings have burned twice, and the evidences of fire are still heavy in parts of the main edifice.  There are various artifacts, such as a room of smashed toilets, and vines twist from the ceiling to greet the plants that have settled in the foundations.  Most strikingly, however, there is graffiti covering every available inch of the walls.  The place is truly remarkable–a living installation of art and obscenity splashed across a canvas of history.

What I was unable to photograph, however, was one particular hallway, which contained the solitary cells. The first area we explored, it was dark and chill, lit only by a vent at the end of the hallway and one or two doors open at the back of abandoned cells. People had graffitied the insides of the cells–one artist drew an inmate over a cell’s bench, with a speech bubble holding the words, “Mama tried.” As we made our way down the corridor, stopping to look in each cell, I was struck by the impression of the people who had passed parts of their lives there, who had probably been lost to loneliness in those rooms. The debris of beer cans and post-prison trash told, also, of the people who had passed through since, tourists in the darkness and loneliness. And the ever-changing graffiti speaks to another kind of tourism, leaving a bit of oneself in that place to join the souls that were lost there.

I became anxious at this point, keeping one friend in front of me and one behind. As we moved through the rest of the prison, I stepped cautiously, but I inevitably broke tiles and displaced the dust. I was anxious not to leave any of myself behind, but such a goal was impossible. I was also tourist in a world that was clearly haunted.

“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape, condemned to repeat itself, time and time again until it rights the wrong that was done.” This quote, from 2013’s Mama, is one of my favorite characterizations of ghosts. But I actually think that haunting has more to do with history than with anything else. As people come and go through places–especially older places that have already borne witness to the course of history–they leave bits of themselves behind. Another crack in the tiles, a cigarette butt among the shards–these are the ghosts that remain. The Atlanta Prison Farm is haunted, I do not doubt, but not with ghosts. It is haunted by the weight of all the of the people it has witnessed, the layers of art on its walls, the curiosity of the myriad tourists, ever coming and going.

What I’m Doing Right Now.

I wish I could change the title of this blog to “Manifatlanta”, because that is where I am now trying to move.  After a crappy 2013, I’m doing a change of scenery again.  And I’m traveling a lot.  Here are some of the things I am doing, have been doing, and will be doing so far in 2014.  This is going to be kind of disjointed.  Major life transitions disjoint my brain.  So does my on-the-road diet (CAFFEINE IS JOY!!!!!!!!!!).

This is a Walking Dead joke. But it’s also what I’ve been up to: “I’ve got stuff. I’m doin’ things.”

I’ve been watching The Walking Dead.  I like it very, very much.  That show just gets me.  And I get it.  We love each other.  I’ve also been looking at a lot of Walking Dead memes.  I love those too.  Most of them are hilarious.  Like the one above.

I’ve been scouting a new life in Atlanta.  I went in January, and I’m here now.  I’m couchsurfing.  I’m looking for a second job (I got a first one as editor and ghostwriter).  I’m looking for a place to live in mid-April.

I’m moving in mid-April.  I’m moving to Atlanta.  I have an internal tantrum about twice a day because I don’t really want to grow up and move away.  I want my entire life to be the same forever.  Except not.  I’m scared.  Of course I’m scared.  If I wasn’t scared, this would be a safe path.  But adult me has to tell little girl me that several times daily.

I’m going to NYC in April.  My mother’s and my birthdays fall on consecutive weekends, so I’m going up on a Friday, spending the weekend with friends, staying for the week, then hanging out with my mom and aunt.  It’ll be pretty amazing.  I’m taking the bus.  And I’m going to read poetry at The Bowery.

I’m auditioning for Jeopardy!.  That’s right: I took the test, and I got an audition.  It’s in Chicago.  So I’m going Austin–>Atlanta–>Chicago–>Austin–>Atlanta–>NYC–>Atlanta in the space of about 5 weeks.  I’ll let y’all know if I get to go to San Francisco to maybe be on the show (or wherever it shoots–California’s really big).

I saw 300 in IMAX and 3D and was depressed for an entire day (so was Aunt Kathy, who saw it with me).  It was 300 with more gore, more unhealthy sex, less art, and less hotness.  We finally got some ice cream to cheer us up.  It kind of worked.  Man, that was so depressing.

I saw snow.  It was Snowpocalypse, Part II, during my January trip, so that was pretty cool.

Seriously.  I can’t oversell this: I look up Walking Dead memes every day or every other day.  I can’t post my favorite here, but this one is the one I quote most (yes, I’ve taken to quoting memes).

Ok.  Carmen’s on her way to pick me up from Octane, so I’m posting this as-is.  More sometime, but just so you know, “I’m doin’ stuff.  I got things.”