Tuesday, December 06, 2011


I think most would say I'm pretty sensible and methodical in making a decision. I study every option, talk to several trusted individuals to get a range of opinions, make my pros and cons list so I am resolute.  I am a tireless researcher. Heck, I researched all the options for house numbers for my tiny brick colonial for almost a year before I settled on something. I can pretty much tell you anything you want to know about house numbers. (Not as many options as you would think.) You've got aluminum address plaques, casted bronze or steel numbers or perhaps ceramic terracotta tiles? It's ridiculous, I know.

For some things in life, I just can't make a decision until I've done my due diligence -- until I'm sure I've exhausted every resource out there. Where does this come from? I'm an academic at heart and just love the research part of any assignment. The more information the better. During grad school, I could get lost in the stacks all day, planting myself in a dark study carrel hunting for the perfect primary source, searching for inspiration from a dusty book --  or going through hours of microfilm until I was motion sick scanning and squinting at the soft focused screen. How different would it be to go to school today? Do you think you could identify one student under the age of 18 that's used a card catalog, microfilm or microfiche?  I'd emerge from the bowels of the library, mind racing from all the info I'd unearthed. The hard part was making myself finish the research portion to start synthesizing the information into something cohesive. A good long run often did the trick -- that's how I usually came up with my best ideas.

So you'd think with major life decisions, I'd utilize the same methods, my decisions carefully thought-out. I have a confession to make -- not so. College, for example:  did I talk to guidance counselors? Did I research rankings of top universities? Did I visit dozens of colleges? No. My brother visited Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio when I was a freshman in high school, came back and told me it was a beautiful school. He didn't think it was the right fit for him but he smiled at me and said, "I think you'd like it there. I kept picturing you going to school there, Mel." And that's what sealed it for me. I knew all through high school where I would be going. I applied early decision and before Christmas break I had a purple and white Kenyon College decal on my Volkswagen's rear window. It was one of the best decisions in my life.

Sometimes inspiration does not strike and I blindly make decisions based on others' expectations. That's what I call my detours in life. I joke that my parents were very open-minded about their children's career paths. "Melanie, you can be anything you want to be as long as you're a doctor, lawyer or you get your MBA." After a short stint as a Candy Striper in high school, I quickly decided against med school because I couldn't stand the smell of hospitals. I wasn't much of a bean counter or interested in selling anyone anything, so, by process of elimination I figured I would be a lawyer. I moved to Boston after Kenyon working as a paralegal for a law firm. I really should have been happy with my promising Ally McBeal life. Living on Beacon Hill right next to the "Cheers bar" I could walk through the Commons to work. I worked in  a building on Franklin Street and I had my own office with a view of the Boston Harbor. Little did I know that it would be the best office space I would inhabit thus far in my life. But I found the staid, corporate atmosphere of the workplace to be stifling. Nothing inspired me there. Furthermore, I couldn't write the law school application essay explaining why I wanted to be a lawyer -- a sure sign it wasn't for me. After a year, I quit the law firm. Just like that.

So fast forward to present day. I'm back to work after being a stay at home mom for over 6 years.  I call myself a producer/writer in television news and documentary although I think the job is best described as creative problem solver and designated worry-wart. How did I pick this path? God knows no one in TV is in it for the money.  For every story I develop or write, I get to become a pseudo expert on crazy stuff like crocodile relocation in Jamaica, exorcisms in Manila or Japanese organized crime. I've always appreciated that. But is that how I chose my career? No. I was so tired of the corporate wardrobe I wore every day in previous jobs. I remember coming home and peeling off panty hose on a 99-degree summer day muttering to myself that some Frenchman (not FrenchWOman) invented panty hose. Not only was it uncomfortable, it was distracting and constraining, draining any original thought out of my head. I liken it to ties for my male followers out there. The whole corporate dress code felt like a uniform of conformity not an expression of the creative self.

In TV, the executives are referred to as "the suits" and they are usually housed on a separate floor or even a separate building than those making films. The rest of the crew --  the producers, researchers, writers, editors, etc. -- they sport casual Friday attire all week long and that doesn't necessarily mean dressing like you just rolled out of bed (for some, maybe -- actually, I remember a wildlife filmmaker who spent so much time in the bush he never wore shoes in the office). For some, clothes speak to who they are as individuals. Their true personality shines through in a well-worn t-shirt or a kick-ass pair of boots. I think I will always prefer working in the trenches wrapped in a toasty sweater and jeans rather than a tailored suit, my feet warm in bulky hiking socks and toes snuggled into my clunky clogs. As you can see, it's all rather happenstance how I've arrived to this place in my life. It was my loathing for panty hose which pushed me onto my current career path.

So here I am again, standing at another crossroads personally and professionally. Like the classic Clash tune asks, "Should I stay or should I go?" Do I protect and nurture what's familiar or do I move on to something new? I suppose I could go into research mode and carefully craft and calculate how to move forward. But instead, I'm here at this intersection in my life waiting for something small to inspire me, to lead the way -- an encouraging smile and a pat on the shoulder from a big brother or perhaps my irritation with a corporate dress code.  I'm sure someone will interpret this posting as a sign of passivity. But I don't see it that way. Some things in life don't make any sense at all and the right move is not always the most sensible one. I guess it's following your gut or dare I say your heart. While the thoughts swirl around in my head screaming at me, my heart whispers faintly. Sometimes if I'm too distracted, I miss it. I'm sure it will all crystallize eventually for me like the thesis of a paper or a story line for a script. Most likely it will be on a long run, headphones on listening to music as loud as my iPhone will allow. Because for me, music drowns out my head and ignites my soul. If I listen carefully, I'm sure the answer is out there... somewhere.

Thank you so much for visiting Apple Moon and reading all the way to the end of my ramblings. Now that I've shared how I make big life decisions, I would love to hear how you've dealt with the crossroads in your life. I welcome your comments below.


LarryToldMeToStartABlog said...

Oh Mel, I'm so glad I found your blog. How did I not know you had one? I totally relate to the research and agonizing over (possibly) trivial decisions and jumping in somewhat blindly to big ones. I spent 4 years picking out the towel bars for our bathroom but opened a coffeehouse without even having the most remote semblance of a business plan.

Melanie said...

Yeah, it must be the romantic in me that wants to believe that some things you should do even if logic and common sense get in the way. It's called taking a chance -- following your heart. You are a brave woman and I so admire you for that my friend.