What Mel Did
What Mel Did - two little black girls

When I Grow Up

When I was at school, I wanted to be an actress. This was in the years before we stopped grouping these creatives into male and female gender types recognising them now only as ‘Actors.’ (Or ‘Act-tours,’ dahling.)

As I was also good at art, the back-up plan was to be an artist of some description. Although, unlike Banksy, it didn’t occur to any of us then to politically spray paint our way to fame and fortune.

But acting or, God forbid, being an artist wasn’t a “proper job,” so certainly spray painting subversive graffiti onto government buildings wouldn’t have ranked high with le parents. Banking, nursing, teaching – they numbered among the proper jobs and the plan was to leave school clutching my ‘A’ levels en route to teacher training college to read English.

That was the plan.

Then somewhere along the line, I wearied of toeing the line and was more than a little sick of studying. Admittedly, I was good at it but, again, more than a little fed up.

Certainly there was no money, or question really, to take a year out to watch giraffes mating in the wild or gaze in wonder at Thai sunsets. My version of taking time out was going to business school unplanned and falling in love with computers and technology – also unplanned. I outgrew wanting to become an actor and becoming an English teacher was relegated to “one day” as my life took a different turn.

That turn took me onto Corporate Avenue, securing management roles which only became really interesting when I rejected the dehumanising ‘Human Resources’ mantra and subversively put back the person in ‘Personnel Management.’

Learning about our motivations and disinclinations as people through mediums such as NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) was bloody fascinating, and this deep interest was the route to finding a way into the most challenging of personalities, including my own.

Learning we do nothing which does not benefit us in some way (yes, even destructive behaviour) was the key to finding the joy in management. Typically, managers I meet today incline towards bypassing the messy business of actually deeply caring about what makes someone tick.

The study of human behaviour whilst a world away from my original creative leanings, was where I should have stayed.

Rather, over the years my ego joined the other rats slip sliding our way up the greasy pole and is why, until recently, I have thought of myself as a corporate being.

Watching my children pursue their dreams – some not dissimilar to my own as a girl – has made me challenge in midlife the labels I have slapped onto my back.

Today, in redressing the balance of corporate and creative, I spend my free time being the person I was and the work I do to pay the bills, whilst not entirely unpleasant (not entirely), is what I do to pay the bills.

I’m not sure whether this is a re-casting from corporate to creative or, indeed, whether I always miscast myself in order to please whomever I thought needed pleasing at the time. But maybe that has been the easy excuse all along, since creativity takes courage. Courage I didn’t have in my early youth.

This is my muse this week, as I was asked that oh so complicated question “Who Are You?”

And without hesitation or recourse to a well learned script, I replied “I’m a creative.”

It has taken me 40 years to get back there.

And is probably why I cried the first time I read what is now one of my favourite poems:

Love After Love

by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.



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