22 January 2013

Draw a circle.

I used to love looking at maps, when I was a kid. Ok, I still love looking at maps, but I don't seem to have many anymore...

My favourite places would be circled, sometimes with hearts or highlighter. It was a real boon for map circles the summer my family jumped on a bus and rode it all around Europe.

But I'm not sure I ever thought of circling Atlanta. What was home, back then, was just the standard, the jumping off point, the place to leave behind in my dust.

Since I've been away, though, I seem to have grown a sort of hollow and invisible extra heart. It's formed of sheer nostalgia for Atlanta, and it only beats for that strangely quiet and sparse city.

And as everyone knows, once you leave home, you can't really go back. We've all changed too much, and someone filled in the space you left, and there won't be room for you when you return. Or there will be room, but it won't be your room. More like the guest room.

I first heard about the Atlanta Beltline years ago, when I was still living in Decatur, working in a coffeeshop and wondering how I would ever get out of Atlanta. Originally, a Georgia Tech student's thesis, the Beltline back then seemed like the wisps of a dream, too beautiful to hold on to. It could never really happen.

The idea was to use old light rail track that was still in the ground around the city as the backbone of a continuous park that would connect Atlanta's sprawled neighbourhoods by walking/cycling track & public transit. Currently, these neighbourhoods are only connected by roads. Atlanta's public transit system, MART(it's smarta!), attempts to join up the city, but it fails on both expense and sheer distance. It's a half hour walk from a MARTA station to the Virginia-Highlands district.

The Beltline is imagined as circling through and around Atlanta's neighbourhoods, but also creating new park spaces, and presenting new public art to the city. Some of the walking/cycling track sections are already finished, and I visited with Allen and Lance on a crisp afternoon (once again, congratulations to Lance for finally putting a ring on it, and to Allen for saying yes!).

Public art by Alex Rodriguez. In the background, you can see City Hall East, and for the first time, I was eye level with the fifth or sixth floor.

The Beltline project doesn't have much funding, so it might never happen in full. And it's disappointing that a proposal for a small tax increase to build the streetcar lines failed last year. But what's happened so far gives the city such a new way of being, I can't really imagine how great Atlanta could be in 15 years.

On the walking track that day, I found myself breathless at seeing so many new perspectives in a city that I always thought I knew a little too well.

A stunning sunset falls below the skyline.

And strange signs pique one's curiosity.

When I still lived in Atlanta, I couldn't wait to get out. I spent years wishing I'd just bitten the bullet, ignored my parents and gone to school in NY. I was so sure Atlanta was this 2nd rate town and would never change.

So I left.

And just a few weeks ago, I walked along and came across so many people, strolling, jogging, playing with their kids and cycling through a part of the city that was once just scrub and fencing, I realised that while my back was turned, Atlanta had changed. Here was a place to hang out with people, without cars. Here was a place for community gardens, for art and, really, for people. What I thought was this half-assed excuse for a city had just done this amazing, beautiful thing.

I was stunned. And when I got home, I traced the map of the Beltline, just to see where it goes.

The Beltline did what I should have done, years ago: it drew a circle around my favourite place.

** Apologies if this post comes off a bit overly weepy and nostalgic. I've only been back in Manchester for about a week and I'm really sad about not being home and not being with my family.

13 January 2013

Street Fashion?!

For those of you who knew me in, oh, say 2007, this post might come as quite a shock. I've just been featured on a fashion blog.

It's strange because until about 2009, I wore dirty jeans and t-shirts, every day, with no jewelry. I kept the same dirty sneakers, day in, day out, for years.

But just this week, I was wandering around downtown Decatur (a city east of Atlanta) with Lynn, and I was stopped by a fashion blogger!

Cameron Adams liked my necklace, a Tatty Devine piece in a now-discontinued pink colour, my Red or Dead tights, my 7 year old Penguin jacket, and my New Zealand boots.

Anyway, it was a fun little encounter.

Check it out: http://atlantastreetfashion.blogspot.com/2013/01/street-scene-east-ponce-de-leon.html

07 January 2013

Make it rain.

This year marked the first New Year's Eve I've spent in the States since 2007. I wanted to spend New Year's Eve in New York, partly because I love NY and haven't been in a long time, and partly because I wanted to catch up with one of my best mates who lives there.

Khalil and I met in middle school, when one of my neighbours wouldn't stop hitting him. Girly hitting, but still. It was weird. She had a tiny crush on him.

And we went to nerd camp together. By the time we were in university, Khalil was the guy who would drive 7 hours up from New Orleans if I told him someone hadn't treated me right.

But I hadn't seen him in about 5 years. In that time, Khalil had gone to grad school, gotten married, moved to NY and who knew what else? I had moved across the world, and then moved halfway back, gone to grad school, broken up with Craig and oh, oh, loyal readers, you know what else.

Seeing Khalil again, I was slightly worried everything might have changed. What if we have nothing in common anymore, and what if we don't laugh at the same jokes? What if his wife finds me annoying and doesn't really want me in her house?

All those worries were for nothing, as Khalil and Meghna (his wife) are super lovely and we all got along so well. 

It felt like some friendships, the really good ones, never go away, even if you leave them unattended for awhile. Like some friendships are super sturdy succulent cacti. They'll just wait, reserve their water, and survive until the next rainfall. 

Steven is another. I hadn't seen him in 7 years. He's had the American middle class life happen to him since then. He works for the government, he owns property and he's married. He's happy and so different to who he was when we were in high school. He's sincere now, and not guarded like teenagers are. We had a beer and chatted about who we are now, who we've become and what's shaped us. And even though we have both changed immensely since we first became friends in the 10th grade, we are still friends. We still laugh at the same jokes and we care about each other. It was nice to be reminded.

And Shetu, too! We hadn't caught up in at least 5 years, and he's married now, to a lovely woman named Megha. They even have a cheeky little 2 year old who has her own Twitter account!

But we sat down to a lovely dinner that Megha made, while we chatted and laughed. We found that our friendship, too, was just fine, even though we'd forgotten to make it rain lately.

I don't really do New Year's resolutions very well, but I do like to reflect around this time of year. In the last year, I have lost some friends. There have been disagreements and hurt feelings and miscommunications and dark dark times. 

But I'm excited about 2013, because I've learned something that really matters, at least to me.

Lives can change completely. You thought you'd never have to plan past 35, but now, you're thinking about 40. You can move anywhere you want and you can fall apart and lose yourself. You can think you've screwed everything up and have a meltdown if you want. You can lose track of the people you care about, and the people who care about you. You can leave and leave and leave. But when you come back... if you come back... your friendships are still there. You just need to make it rain sometimes.