My journal cover exclaims, “Magic is something you make.” It has been a year and a week since I returned to Atlanta. The moments I recorded in my journal attest to the magic and mayhem of my making. The past week in review speaks to the efforts of the year. On Tuesday, April 11, 2023, I led 15 hungry cyclists to my favorite Indian restaurant in Decatur. That Thursday, I added a third bookshelf to the collection at my townhouse. On Saturday, by dumb chance and good luck, I spent an afternoon sailing Lake Lanier with friends. Finally, I joined local Bike Grid enthusiasts for a slow roll up Peachtree Street Sunday. The magic is ON, and I continue to cast a few designs forward.
On April 11, 2022, I shipped my collection of old journals and mementos from my ex-boyfriend’s apartment in Tokyo to my mother’s home in Tucker. Shortly after that, at customs & control in Narita, I turned in my Japanese residence card. Then, with both anxiety and goals as carry-ons, I set off to my hometown. My three-prong goals for Atlanta were: to make a home, participate in the community, and to do meaningful work. Here are my thoughts on a few critical magic milestones from this return.
For the first five months of my return, I took up a garden-facing room at my mother’s house. Over the pandemic and in Japan, I had longed for an oven. Beyond that, my ideas of home were transformed by my experience going from a 1,100 square foot house (Bluffton, South Carolina) to a 200 square foot efficiency (Suginami-ku, Tokyo). The Atlanta I returned to was (is?) in a white-hot housing market. Things were expensive and going fast. I wanted something cozy and inside the perimeter.
Eventually, I bought a townhouse in a Chamblee-area community to store my books and souvenirs. In this complex, I can hear birds chirp from nearby woods while I drink coffee in the mornings. On the grounds in the rear of the property is a park that follows a creek that later connects to more water. This place is a great place to get my footing.
In pre-COVID Tokyo, I was part of a thriving international community of ex-pats. My social silence grew as our gathering spaces and social outlets diminished post-Pandemic. I missed eavesdropping in the grocery line and making conversations with strangers. On returning to America, I looked forward to creating and being in community again.
Through a CouchSurfing(CS) event last summer, I made friends with a group of the Atlanta cycling community. Through group riding here, I have found another sort of home. Atlanta by bike looks different. I began to appreciate the nitty-gritty needs for cycle infrastructure. On the Beltline, cruising through the newly connected areas of Atlanta, it is much easier to see historically underfunded areas in the grip of gentrification. My cyclist amigos share a sense of civic duty. We made good chit-chat with a city official on our Sunday ride. As we deepen community relationships through fun and advocacy, I suspect I will continue to appreciate the new takes on Atlanta.
3. Meaningful Work
When I left the US in 2017, I was tired of the direct services legal work I had been doing in southern Georgia (across the river from Bluffton, SC, where I lived at the time). Thankfully, the sabbatical from law practice (and respite from Trump) brought me a new way to examine my professional capabilities. From there, I found joy in teaching, coaching, and consulting.
Time in Tokyo also transformed what I dared to envision for Atlanta (granted, Atlanta may never be as progressive. It sits in red Georgia, after all.) Upon my return last year, I started attending seminars at the intersection of housing and justice. I volunteered for a conference where I met GSU Professor and Housing Scholar Dan Immergluck and got a copy of his book Red Hot City. Atlanta’s car-centeredness points to the complex interplay of transport, housing, and access. In another seminar, I crossed paths with an old Atlanta CS friend who was Dan’s student and just finished his master’s in urban studies. At such a seminar, I learned about the movement to Stop Cop City. Finally, through the right partnerships, I feel lucky to have identified work for a community-based small-scale developer in Atlanta bringing affordable housing to under-developed parts of the city.
4. Tough Stuff
One of the most challenging parts of my move has been the saga of my journals. Since age 7, I have intermittently written words in journals to deal with life, changes, and reflections. In Tokyo, I took on the task of reading and notating about 25 lbs of handwritten diaries. Unfortunately, those journals I sent from Japan last year did not make it to Tucker—thanks to the US Postal Service. Then, to add salt to the wound, my family lost three generations of jewelry in a burglary from my mother’s home around Christmas time. As I figure out how to carry these losses, I am grateful that I can still appreciate what is in front of me now.
From my complex’s backwoods, we can eventually get to Briarcliff Road. My family has lived on various parts of this road during our 30+ years in Atlanta. If you take Briarcliff Road and travel on it south, you can eventually see the changes brought about by the Beltline. In a sense, I rode back home without knowing precisely what it would bring.
Opening up to a breeze can refresh your room or your life. The capacity to restore is at the heart of my beliefs and hopes about home. To live as you dream requires determination. It helps to have supporters and to build in community. Reflecting on the intermittent roller coaster of the last year, I feel blessed to have found a warm sense of community. After long perseverance, I am engaged in work that I believe makes the world a better place. Finally, as I continue my personal mission of flourishing to the bounds of my human potential, I hope to make more time to write and share as I organize, educate, and empower.
What an amazing year! Very, very sorry about the journals. That is so tragic.