The great migration

16 years ago today, I loaded up a U-Haul truck and moved down to Atlanta from NYC. I had only planned to be here for a short time. I had every intention of moving back up to NYC once I got my life and finances back on track. I couldn’t really imagine living anywhere else. It was late ’95, right before the ’96 Olympics and job prospects were good in Atlanta, but the bagels and pizza mostly sucked. I didn’t know how to drive, which was a big liability in Atlanta, but was won over when I realized it was warm and not “freezing with a possibility of snow” in early April.

I was 25, an art school dropout, and had just left a 7 year retail career as a department store sales manager. I had burned out on retail and chronic neck and upper back pain made it impossible for me to haul boxes and clothing around all day. I had no real office skills, had no idea what I wanted to do, had no degree, and had no clue where my relationship with my boyfriend was going, so why not get in a truck and drive away? Except that I was moving down to live with family I barely knew. That story alone could fill a book.

I still remember straining to get my last glimpse of the Statue of Liberty as we drove out of NYC and into New Jersey. I wondered then, and for many moments during that first very difficult year if I had made a mistake. I had planned to stay only about 6 months or so, but 5 months after I arrived, my boyfriend decided to move down to be with me. I was having a hard time and clung to him like a drowning person on a life raft. He found new friends and reinvented himself as the life of the party. We broke apart and got back together for 7 more years. As for my family? Well, most of them moved away within a decade.

The job market and the generous nature of the people I met allowed me to get an office job almost immediately. I worked first at a law firm as a legal assistant, and then for 13 more years at a professional services firm. Now I’m in the midst of career change again, but when I look back – what a whirlwind!

I went from being an artist with a retail career to a management-level career in enterprise content management systems and processes. During that time, I married, divorced, graduated college Magna Cum Laude with an English degree (in Creative Writing), published a chapbook of poetry, embraced spirituality, traveled a lot, was on the board of two non-profit organizations, became a Reiki Master and started a business, got married again, and had a child. (Not all necessarily in that order, and often concurrently.)

I followed a number of divergent paths. Some people I know, it’s pretty much a straight line. Everything they do and everything they’re into and everyone they hang out with pretty much falls into the same category. I seem to straddle a number of different things, and it took me a while to accept that this is how I am. I’ve had people frustrated with me because I haven’t been painting or writing poetry lately or don’t want to go further into corporate dronehood. Things fall away, come together in new patterns and fall away again. I have very intense, but mercurial talents. Yet, it’s awkward to be at a party with people I see once a year and have to dodge the “So, have you written any poetry lately?” question. I’m noticing how we tend to freeze-frame people, expecting them to be exactly as they were the last time we saw them.

The one thing I did realize today is that I became an adult while living in Atlanta. Meaning, I went through the trials and necessary work to see, accept and allow myself to be the person I am today. That process wasn’t always easy and it’s still under development. But I often wonder if I would resemble at all the same person I am now had I stayed in NYC. Somehow I doubt it.

I like Atlanta, but don’t want to spend the rest of my life here. I could probably name a dozen different places I’d like to try living for a year or so. My husband and I have our sights set elsewhere in the future, but my stepson has to graduate high school first. Unlike when I was 25, I can’t just pack a truck and drive off on a whim. But one day, we will. And I can’t wait.

(Image credit: Clinton Steeds on Flickr)

3 responses to “The great migration”

  1. I love this! Thanks for sharing your story, I don’t fall into the “straight line” category either. And I, too, grew up after moving to the ATL, about 20 years ago. But, I love Atlanta and don’t plan on leaving. And, when you do venture out on your next migration, at least we’ll always have twitter!


  2. I always found that the greatest quandary for an artist has is financing. you get a job to pay for your craft and while it pays for your craft, you rob your craft of time. very cyclical problem. I never signed on to make magazines my sole artistic outlet but I made a deal with myself to make some time. I’m not holding up my end of the deal these days. my craft is going to show up at my door one day and deliver a big gut punch. I’m not looking forward to it.

    1. You and me both, Jim. (Those days back when we were making art seems so long ago, doesn’t it?) My only consolation is that you don’t have to be young to write or make art. Maybe that’s an excuse not to try harder, but it also keeps me from beating myself up about it. Having little kids is a drain on the creativity for most. I do still write (i.e., this blog and others) but the poetry muse seems to have gone on an extended vacation. I did write ONE poem this past year, though. Maybe she’s living in my next location.

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