Atlanta Whirlwind

I had these images of having plenty of time to write interesting, informative and pleasing blog posts about the things I’m doing.
Instead I find myself running ragged ever since I left CT – with no end in sight.
Yesterday in Atlanta I visited The Jimmy Carter Presidential Museum and Library, the historic home that Margaret Mitchell lived in while she wrote the majority of Gone With the Wind, and I ended the day visiting The High Museum of Art ( It was half price on Thursday nights!)
I really enjoyed The Carter Center. As a child my first awareness of politics was Watergate. (Wait. What? What’s a President? We have a President? And he lied?) So by the time Carter was being elected I totally wanted him to win. I had a teacher at the time who made us engage with the political process by choosing sides and visiting the local Party offices and volunteering.
I was so displeased by what I’d seen since becoming aware of politics that of course I chose to campaign for Carter.
Since leaving the Presidency the man has done many commendable things in this world and I enjoyed immersing myself in the facts of it all.
Plus it was kind of awesome to stare upon an actual Nobel Peace Prize.
A helpful museum guide named Tony broke the rules and took some pictures of me. He also gave me the Jeopardy-worthy little bit of trivia: There are only two cities in the world which house two Nobel Peace Prizes. One is Atlanta (I went and saw King’s today!) and the other is Soweto, where medals for Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela reside.
Somehow I enjoyed that tenuous connection, what with the week’s news being filled with the goings on at the memorial ceremony to honor Mandela’s passing.

(More text below photos.)

IMG_1919 IMG_2171 IMG_2200 IMG_2210 IMG_2250 IMG_2329 IMG_2425 IMG_2435

Here in Atlanta I’m staying with a nice older gentleman named Al. It’s a booking I made via Airbnb – a service born of the sharing economy whereby you rent out extra bedrooms in your house, or pay a cheap price to stay in someone else’s extra room. I’ve been renting out my extra room that way for a few years but this trip is my first chance to really utilize it for myself. (If you don’t know Airbnb yet, do check it out.)

Anyway, Al lives just on the outskirts of Little 5 Points. I spent a good amount of time here in the 80s when Vette (my lifelong best friend) lived here.
Today I started the day with a short walk to Little 5. Truly worthy coffeehouses and a collection of stores I wish I had access to on a daily basis. I spent a few hours wandering and browsing. Enjoyable day.

IMG_2847

A Facebook post, saying where I was, got me a message from a friend saying she had people not too far from here and that I should visit and deliver a hug and greeting.
So I did.
That introduced me to the Lake Claire Land Trust.
What a fantastic place! With land bought from Marta, they have created a meandering little city oasis with playgrounds, sweat lodges, a small amphitheater, performance spaces, and I met an emu named Lou!
That was a great detour and addition to my day!

IMG_2896 IMG_2915

Then I jetted off to The King Center to pay my respects and learn a thing or two. The complex is rambling and covers many blocks. I got to see Atlanta’s second (or was it the first?) Nobel Peace Prize.
I was somehow humbled to stand near his tomb. The gravity of it all. A friendly pool cleaner named Lawrence took my photos for me.
I really like meeting real people to chat with.

IMG_2957 IMG_2987 IMG_3013 IMG_3038

I was going to go back to the Lake Claire Land Trust tonight for a Friday night friendly jam but that’s not gonna happen.
I walked a couple blocks from Al’s for dinner at a place called Babette’s and, at 9pm, have landed next door at JavaVino – a coffeehouse wine bar combo and I’m downing more wine than would allow me to be comfortable driving back to the Land Trust.
Here I sit writing this bit on my iPhone in hopes that when I get back to the house I’ll upload some photos and make this a real blog post.

My original plan for this trip was to cruise along the northern reaches of these southern states as I head west but a Facebook post last week from a friend might be sending me north from here to Tennessee – to McMinnville – where there is a concert tomorrow known as Bluegrass Underground. Once a month they have concerts that (I think) are filmed for PBS and December’s is tomorrow and billed as “A Pirate’s Christmas.” So yeah. I think I’m changing my plans and going north tomorrow.

IMG_3107

Goin’ Walkabout… or something like that.

This is the rough draft I wrote for a speech I gave the other night.

***************************

Somehow I found my way to the very first MoMonday ever in New Haven. That was back in the spring.

Since then I have become friends with Rich DiGirolamo, who is the driving force behind MoMondays in CT.

My use of the term friend is quirky. I don’t call someone friend unless we actually do things together. Maybe we don’t always, or currently, but to get the friend title, we’ve got to spend some real time.

One of the things I love about Rich is that he makes it happen.

Actually. Makes. It. Happen.

When we met, and looked at each other and said “OMG, I love you! We could be friends!” Rich made the first call and said we had to do lunch. Truth be told, I’m not always so good at that. I meet folks I might love to be friends with but I don’t always find the time to pick up the phone. But he made the call, made the plans, made it happen. Just like he does here at MoMondays. He’s making all this happen with sheer will here in New Haven.

That kind of determination and relentless push to get things done inspires me.

You want something done – you gotta make it happen.  No amount of wishing is going to bring results like a couple of well placed actions will.

And I’ll tell you a little secret; If you move through life, always saying “I want X” or “I want Y” and then the chance for it comes along, you’d better jump on that chance. Otherwise your life is just wishes.

Me?

I’ve been walking around this earth for nearly a decade saying I want to get back out on the road. I want to see different scenery every day, eat different places, sleep different places, drive different roads, meet new people, make new friends, and have long conversations into the night with them if at all possible.

My chance to actually do it is now, so I’m taking it.

I’m packing up my car and driving off on December 8th. That’s just over a week from now.

It’s true I’m the script writer for this play I’m starring in, but I’ve often had trouble with the plot.

I’ve always envisioned my life as somewhat of a Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell says we all want to be the Hero.

The Hero has a decent life. Nothing to complain about. Even a life of happiness and contentment. Then he’s called, often without the desire for such, and  somehow given to see a bit of a different life, a different world. It may not be what he wants, but our Hero doesn’t quite say no. Not really. Because this is the way of it. This is the path of things. This is how it goes. Whether she wants it or not, the Hero heads into the new world.

There are challenges. There are ups and downs in this new world. There are pitfalls and beauty and fun.  Sometimes a dangling carrot brings great rewards. And sometimes it only nets a carrot. And always. Always. There are dragons to slay.

I wanted this story. The excitement. The adventure. But I couldn’t see how this plotline related to my life of late. So much of my life’s excitement, travel,  and adventure happened when I was younger. But it’s always been sort of a dream of mine to have this mythic life.

And then, last week, a close friend of mine with whom I was sharing all this, pointed out something very interesting. It’s all just a matter of flipping the story on its head.

I’ve always been aware that the key to happiness is to constantly readjust what you know, believe and feel, to suit both your reality and your story.

You are the author of your own life. This play is yours to construct.

If you don’t like your story, create a new story.

And if you saw me the last time I spoke here you know I wasn’t much liking my story. After traveling the country in a van for nearly a decade I came home for family reasons and to be with my mom during a rough time and I ended up starting a cafe. It was a very successful business for a while and I loved it for 13 or 15 years. But the sameness of my days began to wear on me until I felt like my life had been reduced to ordering large cups.

I was pretty unhappy deep down. I wasn’t living the Hero’s Journey I felt I needed and wanted.

And if you were here before, you know that I began to make the changes that would bring my life back in line with this blueprint I’d always had for myself. A life of excitement, adventure, new people and new scenery.

I got rid of the majority of my material possessions. I sold the Coffeehouse and stumbled blindly around doing little bits of things that helped other people free themselves from clutter and objects that add little value to their lives, because for the moment, that was something I could understand. Though for a few years now I’ve been unable to move myself past that stage.

And with a simple flick of the wrist, my friend last week, flipped my whole story around and I’ve seen it all in a new light that I find exciting and exhilarating.

I know now that this sojourn in Connecticut was my long dark night of the soul. Okay that sounds a bit dramatic, because truthfully it was fun and fulfilling for a damn long time. But it became tedious. A burden.

And there were dragons to slay.

I lost my mom, to cancer. I miss her every day. Selling the business I’d poured my heart and soul into for 17 years. Getting rid of my possessions. Selling, just recently, my childhood home. Dealing with releasing old loves that no longer suit me.

But I’ve done it.

I’ve killed those dragons.

I’ve completed all the quests and like a video game, I get to move on to a new level .

And like the Hero on her journey, I get to return home now.

I get to go back on the road.

My chance is here and I’ve said I wanted it for so long, that I have to take it.

I’d be full of horse hockey if I said I knew what the road holds for me now. I haven’t a clue.

I’m going alone, if you’re wondering.

And one of the things that pushed me over the edge into actually doing this…

I have a friend on facebook. We knew each other in grade school and I haven’t seen her in 35 years. Last month she took a solo trip to Italy for 3 weeks. I was so impressed. I asked her what prompted this and she said “Because I always promised myself I’d go to Italy before I turned 50, and since I’m turning 50 next year I decided to get on it.”

That echoed in my head for a couple of weeks and I knew I was about to get on it.

I’m terrified. Of course I am. This is HUGE.

But I’m also open. Completely open. And ready.

And I’m going back out on the road.

In ten days.

I don’t want any of this to sound like I’m tooting my own horn or like I think I’m better than anyone else – “Hey look at what I get to do.”

But it’s the people who get out there and get going on what they want, the one who get things done and make things happen who inspire me.

So I hope to inspire you.

To never give up on the dreams you have.

To always keep your eyes open for the opportunities.

To make a new story if you have to.

And to remain open to the world and all the beautiful souls who inhabit it.

And if you do all that, and if you’re really lucky…

You just might meet a new friend who’ll give you the opportunity to stand on the stage at MoMondays and tell your story.

Thanks Rich.

***************************

P.S. Yes. I’ll be blogging about my journey here on this blog.

Could She Be A Hero?

Image

For reasons I can’t explain I’m drawn to books about the old south.

When I was a kid I generally picked my reading material solely based on the heft of the book. I disliked books that ended too quickly. I’m not sure how I found my way to Gone With the Wind, but I’m sure it’s size had something to do with it. I must have been somewhere around 11 or 12 the first time I read it.

I truly loved the book. So much so that I read it 4 or 5 times before I was 20. And I’ve read it 4 or 5 times since.

As a diary enthusiast I’ve read diaries from a number of various persons involved in the conflicts of the 1860s – from slaves who could write, to ladies of various plantations, to soldiers from both sides.

But it wasn’t until I took a class with Cecilia Miller at Wesleyan University that I’d ever gotten around to reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, (though I’d always wanted to.)

Published in 1852, still more than a decade before the Civil War, it gives some perspectives on slavery that many Americans of the time went to great lengths not to see or think about.

The novel begins at the Shelby’s plantation in K’ntuck, where we meet some of the slaves, and learn that Mr. Shelby has gotten himself into debt and even though he is a kind master, he must sell some of his slaves. So he sells Tom and a little boy named Harry. The deal in the planning stage, is overheard by Eliza, Harry’s mother and that night she runs. She and her husband are lucky enough to find each other along the Underground Railroad and they eventually make it to freedom in Canada. Hers is a gripping tale. Tom takes his fate much more stoically and travels down river with the Trader and is eventually bought by Augustine St. Claire as a sort of indulgence for his daughter Eva – a very spiritual child. When Eva dies, Tom is promised his freedom because of what an upstanding man he is and how much Eva loved him. But when St Clair unexpectedly dies too, Tom is sold again to an awful brutish man who dislikes Tom’s morality and eventually, Legree and his men beat Tom to death.

The characterization in the novel is exemplary and I loved it at the same level that I love Gone With the Wind.

Lately I’ve struggled with the idea of heroes and why I declare mine as I do. And I wonder why there are no women in my battalion of heroes. In my mind I’ve been wondering if I have any female heroes. In an effort to see if Stowe could be one, I visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Hartford Connecticut last weekend.

Image

It was a fine early fall day, sunny and bright.

I wandered through the visitor center waiting for the house tour to begin.

For sale in the museum store were a great number of contemporary books on social justice as well as kitschy writing implements, and numerous items with quotes – buttons and mugs and such.

In the learning center I enjoyed the display of book covers from around the world, showing the many languages the book was translated into.

Image

Image

There was a large bulletin board inviting visitors to say “Who is Uncle Tom to you?” I was both miffed and intrigued by the competing opinions that Obama is Uncle Tom and Obama is not Uncle Tom. Hmmmm.

Image

Image

Harriet was from a large and somewhat famous family of outspoken individuals. Her father and brothers, mostly pastors. Her sisters, all writers. But she outshone them all when she published Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Image

Her Husband Calvin Stowe convinced her to publish under her own name so there might be more impact if the public knew this came from a real person, and a woman at that.

Publication skyrocketed her to stardom, making her, at the time, much more famous than her neighbor Samuel Clemens.

The house tour was as interesting as an historical house tour can be. Not a very ostentatious home; a couple of parlours, a modest kitchen, and 3 bedrooms upstairs. No photos allowed inside.

James was an excellent guide on my tour, with insightful stories about the timing of various events, family life, her children – especially two twin daughters who acted as her managers and never married, and a son who drowned in the CT River at the age of nineteen.

Image

He also gave an interesting perspective when he told us that Harriet was not modest. She was most likely to brush her fingernails upon her lapel and say “Yes, I wrote that, and I’ve gotten quite rich from it.”

The Stowes traveled widely on her earnings, and Calvin was able to leave his teaching position.

While it is debatable whether or not Abraham Lincoln, when he and Stowe met, actually said the exact words pictured at the top of this page, it is certain that her novel made it much easier for the north to embrace the Civil War.

Image

A great novel. A well preserved historic home. But not my hero.