"We've got to get you on your purpose," an old friend had the nerve to tell me the other day over lunch. She meant well, I think. Actually, I didn't follow up for clarification. It sounded like it might lead to more introspection than I could stomach at the moment.
I've been up to my eyeballs in self-reflection lately. Three months ago, I left my position as music editor of Creative Loafing and took a sabbatical to go find myself. It was time for me to write that hip-hop memoir about how I fucked up my life 19 years ago, but by the end, I'd come to the realization that I've been playing it way too safe ever since.
So now here I am, on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and the 50th anniversary of his dream, when it hits me that I'm the same age he was when he was assassinated. You don't need me to tell you my legacy thus far pales in comparison: a marriage on the wane, no children to show for it, not even a Nobel Peace Prize. I always thought midlife crises were for men of different hues who could afford to splurge on convertible Maseratis. But yes, I too have a dream car.
For five and a half years, I covered music in Atlanta. I saw Janelle Monáe go from underground Atlanta it-girl to CoverGirl. I watched a scene that inwardly struggled to define itself come to rally around a #NewAtlanta hashtag. I heard a hundred subgenres revolve and evolve, from garage rock to trap step. But in a city as musically fertile as this, you never have the scene totally covered, you're always playing catch-up. And it was all starting to catch up. I heard the voice of Chris Rock in the back of my head, laughing because I was on the verge of becoming the old man in the club. "Do these gray hairs in my beard make me look distinguished," I wondered. "Or decrepit?"
It was a dream job, but my dreams were changing, my outlook expanding. I replaced MTV with MSNBC on my remote control's speed dial. I developed a crush on Rachel Maddow. Politics became the new pop, and punditry my latest passion and pet peeve in one. I felt the urge to contribute to a different conversation, so I checked out.
Dr. King lived another five years after his "I Have a Dream" speech, what history considers his most defining moment. If he were keeping score by the same criteria, and I doubt he was, there were probably times when even he felt like he wasn't doing enough, wasn't being as effective, was turning into the old man in the club.
I thought about not returning to Creative Loafing after my sabbatical was up. Thought about a lot of things. There were days when I had writer's block so bad I wanted to end it all. But I couldn't pen a decent suicide note to save my life. Then I started to realize it was this job that gave me life. Not the job in itself, but the sense of responsibility to something greater than myself.
So now I'm back. With a new title and mission. As the staff culture writer I intend to dig deeper into Atlanta's asphalt. To help unearth some of the treasures that make this city unique. Like every other American metropolis, we're approaching a period of post-gentrification that feels full of promise and apprehension. The increasing suburbanization of the inner city makes me more curious about what was and what will be going forward. I want to help investigate, explore, observe, and report from both the receding and emerging edges. To chronicle the subcultures in danger of disappearing, and to shed light on those breaking the surface. We're all mixed up here together, different races, classes, and identities, trying to negotiate this shared space. Yet that doesn't mean our conversations always have to hinge on what separates us. So I'll be searching for the intersections that make us all human. Because I know I'm not the only lonely soul in this city. And it would be a shame, in this age of unprecedented interactivity, for us to fail to connect.
In a sense, I feel like I'm being given a second chance here at CL, here in Atlanta, here in this moment. I'm reminded of why I chose the journalist's path in the first place, and it fills me with a renewed sense of purpose.
I guess that's my vision in a nutshell, half a century after MLK articulated his. It might not be the kind of dream people will still be trying to interpret 50 years from now. But if it can wake me up tomorrow morning and give me something better to obsess over than my own mortality, that'd be more than I could hope for.
Unless someone wants to foot the bill for a 2013 drop-top Maserati?