I haven't been south of North Carolina since I was 22. Florida doesn't count as it's a world if it's own. I've never been to South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi or Arkansas. I saw Tennessee in Memphis, March 2007. The last time I was in Louisiana was in 2004, before Katrina, as if it is vitally important to distinguish if we were there "before" or "after". My last visit to this particular corner of the country was June 2006, to Birmingham where I am headed back to today. (Actually there's a good chance I celebrated my 22nd birthday in Birmingham; I can't quite remember.) I'm physically and emotionally exhausted from a solid month of nonstop activity - personally, professionally and fraternally. This past weekend was a crash - outside of the time I saw a few friends, watched the first Penn State game of the season or was cooking and canning, I felt physically incapable of doing much more than crying into space. No photo editing, no writing, no packing. I tend to hit a point where I've been going at it so hard that the end is hitting a concrete barrier and I don't know what to do other than wait for the stunned feeling to slowly subside.
The first time I was in Alabama, I couldn't get over how far away Pennsylvania felt, how NORTH. It made all the claims of Maryland and Virginia being part of the south seem silly. Typically I get all life reflective flying 10,000 feet over mountains already 10,000 feet high, but here I am over probably central North Carolina feeling the same way. I can look at my life from a different direction. Alabama Round 1 occurred within a month of my return to the United States from 4+ months in Italy and traveling through Europe. I couldn't handle the vast choices at Target and forgot to take my ID to bars because it was never necessary in Rome. Now on Round 2 I have to wonder in what ways I've changed. There's the obvious- graduated from college (and grad school), on my third (and favorite) job, married with a house, calling Maryland and not Pennsylvania home. Other things are the same - the same 3 people first on my list to call/text/email about what odd or unexpected thing happens. The same doubts about where I want my life to go from here. This post could easily morph into all the conflicting life feelings I've been having of late, but if I do address them in this medium they deserve their own space. Another obvious change is that this time I'm heading here in the capacity as a national board member in the fraternity, something I never could have dreamed 11 years ago as an active member, considering severing ties. Back then, 2 people begged me to stay. Today I have my 6 fellow board members who have my back. To talk about how grateful I am for Phil, Risa, AJ, Vicki, Hao and Christina would also take an entirely separate post.
So having finished Americanah on the plane, I'm waiting for this flight to land, for once having no idea of arrival time, so I can re explore and rekindle that odd love I found for Birmingham 11 years and 2 months ago. I'm looking forward to meeting people I've only known through email and others I've never met while spending 3 days at the Professional Fraternity Association conference. I'm worried about the projects I have at work that won't stop despite me being 4 states and a time zone away. I'm apprehensive about finding an ATM so I can get cash for the bus and a tip for the shuttle. I'm worried that some people will judge me for ANOTHER trip away from home and that it will deepen some divides that have been slowly forming over the past couple years. I'm excited to visit the Botanical Gardens and see a newly found band on Thursday night. I'm nervous about completing several kinds of work while being present at the conference and fully exploring the city. I'm hopeful to sleep and stretch and blog and photograph and learn.