New Beginnings: Alabama the Beautiful

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 As I write this, I am sitting on the couch with my cat draped across my shoulders, with the window open and sunshine filtering in. It is 11:30 am on a Monday, and I don’t have anywhere to be. I am unemployed for the first time since the dark months immediately following my college graduation 7 years ago, and I’m not quite sure what to do with that.

On January 26, three men showed up and carted off 95% of my worldly belongings. On January 30, I said goodbye to my wonderful coworkers over one last round of drinks at the office. On January 31, I boarded a plane bound for Montgomery, Alabama with the other 5% of my worldly belongings. And here I sit.

Seven months ago, my husband took a job that brought him here. We loaded the car with about 50% of his worldly belongings, including 2 cats, and drove him down here over the course of two days. Then, after a week of getting him settled, I boarded a plane back to New York City.

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 I had an intoxicating Summer and Fall in New York, meeting people, sharing ideas, enjoying exhibitions and cultural events. In the dizzying pace I set for myself, things like writing fell off my to-do list, because reflection was too complicated, because I had too many thoughts and feelings and experiences to convey. And then, the cold and grey of Winter set in, and E came up to visit for two weeks over the holidays, and we rung in the new year without ever really talking about what I think we both knew to be true: I had to choose my personal life over my professional life and move to Alabama while E finished out his fellowship.

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 It was a decision I had been avoiding, because quitting my job and upending my life meant relying on someone outside myself, trusting that I would be able to figure it out at some point. It felt like I was betraying a part of myself, and my place in the sisterhood. I was paralyzed by the knowledge that I could get hurt in the process. But, hey, eventually (hopefully not for a while yet) I’ll just be dust in the ground and all my potential for hurt and for joy and for experience itself will be spent, so let’s go live somewhere where the seafood looks different from what I’m used to.

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So, I’m in Alabama full-time, with an emphasis on exploring a new place (as always) and investing in things and activities that will enable me make good choices once we’re back on the move in June 2015 (this is a new one for me). My furniture is scheduled to arrive this week, after which I’ll finish settling in and get back to writing and sharing and trudging through the backlog of REALLY AWESOME STUFF that I’ve been up to in the last seventh months. In fact, just yesterday I stumbled on an everyday object here in Montgomery that led me on a path right back to my beloved New York world’s fairs of the 20th century. The world is a strange and mysterious place. And I am, truth be told, pretty stoked to get to know a new-to-me part of it.

Back in the US…A

Around 11:30 on Saturday evening, our plane roared into LaGuardia and we were, more or less, home. Our trips to Disney World and to Mexico had been fun, but we were both nursing colds, tired of eating out, and missing our cat. When we got back to our apartment, Tessie practically leapt into our arms, and we both puttered around for a bit, letting all the pent-up energy from a day spent in various modes of transportation disperse.

We learned some important things on this vacation. It was our first major trip together, with the exception of another trip to Disney World a couple of years ago, and a short trip to visit E’s grandmother last winter. Those don’t really count, though, because I can do a Disney vacation in my sleep, and visiting family is basically like being at home in a different climate.

This vacation taught us that:

  1. Squishing two totally separate trips into one trip is really a pretty bad idea. Going to Disney World is a monster of a vacation under any circumstances. In this case, we were cramming 3 parks into 2 1/2 days, trying to contend with the half and full marathons snaking around and through those parks, negotiating the higher crowd levels that came with those marathons (and their runners and spectators), and trying to spend time with family who were also down there. Then, after those 2 1/2 days, we jumped on a plane and landed in a foreign country. Our time in Mexico was its own monster vacation, with sites to see, ruins to explore, and beaches to visit. Because the trips were so very different from each other, it was an entirely different beast than visiting, say, 2 European cities (even disparate ones!) in one vacation.  If we had been smart (and interested in preserving our sanity), we would have spent an extra day or two in Florida to take the pressure off to SEE ALL THE THINGS so quickly, and saved the Mexico trip for another week or month or whatever. Unfortunately, my frugality led me to scoff at the idea of spending the extra money on flights when we were so much closer to Mexico in Florida. Frugality? I shall scoff at you, next time.
  2. All-inclusives are, generally, not for us. We got a Groupon for an all-inclusive at a price we couldn’t turn down. Otherwise, I don’t think we ever would have ended up at one. Initially we planned to use the resort as a home base for the week and venture out a lot to other areas, including the possibility of staying at another hotel or two a couple of nights (the Groupon was seriously a steal). Due to the insanity of vacation planning, that didn’t happen. The first 24 hours or so, we were feeling very out of our element in that environment, where people really go above and beyond to take care of everything for you. I know how weird this sounds. “What, you didn’t like people WAITING ON YOU HAND AND FOOT?” No. And maybe it has something to do with the socio-economic forces at play when staying at an all-inclusive resort on the beach in an area where many of the locals were moved into towns on the other side of the highway when tourism began to grow in the region, but I think we’ll avoid all-inclusives in the future. I could see visiting with a group — intergenerational family group, or a group of couples, or of friends — but for me and E, we’ll stick to regular old hotels.
  3. We should be picky when trusting a guidebook. We were led both to the least fun part of our trip (a hyper-touristy area in one of the cities near our resort) and the most astounding part of our trip (a nearly deserted, pristine beach in a nature preserve) by the same guidebook. My gut told me to avoid the former and rush to do the latter, and I should have listened to it. But I trusted the guidebook. So it goes.
  4. We are really, really glad we didn’t have a “big” honeymoon right after our wedding. The amount of work that went into planning this vacation was immense, and the last minute lead-up was, for all our planning and forethought, still pretty frantic. And that was without a giant life event standing between us and the plane ride! The further I get from our wedding, the happier I am with our decision to stay local, invest in the hotel room, and keep things blissfully quiet on our honeymoon.
  5. You really can’t have a second honeymoon. On our actual honeymoon, we were seriously in la la land the entire time. I don’t think we’ve ever been nicer to each other than we were on that trip (and that’s not to say we are terrible to each other in daily life, but rather to say that not a single temper flared, snarky comment was made, or moment of sulking happened the entirety of the trip). This vacation, which my mother kept referring to as our honeymoon, was a regular old vacation. We had a great time and it was a lot of fun, but there wasn’t the glowing buffer to keep regular life out that there was on our honeymoon.

All those lessons learned, I can’t wait to go on our next adventure! I’m already scheming over some small trips over the next couple of months, and dreaming up our next big trip. We’re thinking something more urban, since this vacation was all about hanging out in gorgeous beachfront locales (tough life, eh?).

In any case, I’ll have some more posts on the things we saw (including our super weird, half-abandoned hotel [see: cheap Groupon]) and fun stuff we did in the days to come. I have to keep remembering that there are places with beautiful weather and sunshine when it’s 19 degrees here in New York.

Hmmm, maybe that doesn’t actually make me feel better, per se.