Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Splash of Southern Comfort & Jane Austen


Up close & personal in Auburn, AL
I've been asked more than a few times, what are the things I love the most about Jane Austen? And of all the answers I've given, one of my favorites is that the way she writes about people transcends even her own time period. I don't think I need to point out the longevity of her popularity to prove my point. 

Even if you aren't a fan of her novels, Jane's characters are a lot like you and me--flawed, imperfect, worried about life's mundane details and perhaps just looking for someone who gets it.

I shouldn't be surprised at this point that Jane Austen can still sneak up and inspire me. As I recently returned from my adventures in Alabama, I was struck by the realization that wherever my travels take me, Jane is always there to offer some guidance. 

And after the experiences I had throughout the southern landscape of Alabama, that guidance was much appreciated.
I am the first to admit to admit that I can be an over planner and think things out TOO much on occasion. Is it wrong to want things to go according to a plan? I don't think so, but then again, I've experienced the results of over planning as well. What a lesson that was. Needless to say, it taught me that more often than not you have be open to spontaneity, or else miss out on some one-of-a-kind experiences.

In a nutshell, my journey through Alabama was similar in that there were a lot of unexpected surprises, instances where I had to think on my feet and moments I simply had to soak in, knowing I may not have the same experiences twice. Whether I was running back and forth from one study abroad fair to another, or driving through a deserted-looking town that had seen better days--there was something around every corner to appreciate. 

Demopolis, AL @ sunset - courtesy of my friend Sam

I'm not sure if it was all the hours I had to myself driving from one location to another, or the time I spent reconnecting with an old friend from my year abroad in Scotland, but there were numerous instances of reflection and introspection. I was able to take in the sights of classic southern architecture, appreciate the taste of my first Alabama barbecue and most importantly--talk to students about the opportunities to be found with international travel. It was a heady combination that affected the senses and brought home to me why I love this job so much; because when it doesn't actually feel like a job, you know you're on the right path.

So where exactly does Jane Austen come into all this? Honestly, I'm not sure I have a black and white answer. Given that I look for any opportunity to tie her to ALL my life experiences, I'm sure you could take your pick :). I did mention, though, at the start of this post one of my favorite reasons for loving Austen--that being that she writes about people who are relatable, even in the 21st century. Maybe it's that I'm meeting an array of new faces in my recent traveling that put these thoughts in my head. Or maybe it's that I'm finally getting the opportunity to reconnect with friends I already hold dear to me. It may even be both. Either way, every new face, old face, every laugh shared, conversation had, problem solved (or not so solved), has continued to teach me something new about people. And isn't that what Jane Austen does? No matter how many times you read her novels, there are new ideas and thoughts to walk away with. 

The view of a perpetual traveler
You don't even have to be traveling yourself to recognize these moments. There are so many opportunities to appreciate those around you and to learn something new from them. No matter how old you are, you never outgrow a learning experience. Give yourself the chance to open your eyes to the influences that surround you, and you just might be surprised. Just as a view is different from 30,000 feet on airplane as it is while driving a rental car across the comforting landscapes of Alabama, so can your perspective be different when you live every moment for what it's worth. 

So what are YOU waiting for?