[The following is a transcript of the story I told at The Story Party South – Spring Edition – on Thursday 30 March 2017, the theme of which was ‘fresh starts’.]
Tomorrow’s a big day. It’s the last page of the latest chapter of my life – my working life, anyway. But what good story begins at the end? Let me take you back fourteen years and to Rome, where the seeds of this story and my fresh start were sown…
It was February 2003 and my lovely mum had taken me to Rome as a birthday treat. While we were there, two things happened. Firstly, I fell in love – not with a flesh and blood man, but with a bricks and mortar city! In the years since that first trip, I’ve been back numerous times – both for work and play – and Rome never fails to quicken my blood and make me feel more intensely alive. The second thing that happened – and what brings me here tonight – is that quite by chance, I discovered what it was I wanted to do; what I wanted to BE, more accurately.
The Keats-Shelley Museum sits at the foot of the Spanish Steps – on the left as you descend to the Piazza de Spagna – with a view down the Via dei Condotti, where Caffe Greco still serves coffee and cornetto to Romans and visitors alike, just as it did in Keats’ day. As a student of literature, I couldn’t not visit and so it was one morning that I found myself in the second floor rooms where Keats spent the last few months of his too short life. A young American PhD student had shown the small group of visitors around and afterwards, I got talking to her. We were probably much the same age, but she seemed so much more grown up as she talked about her work. As we stood there talking, something clicked and I thought, ‘That’s it. THAT’S what I want to do. I want to spend my days connecting people to the past in a way that makes it meaningful to them. I want to be a museum curator.’
So what on earth happened? How is it that I’m only now – some 14 years later – taking my first steps towards realising my dream of becoming a museum curator?
Well, I think it was John Lennon who said, ‘Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans’ and that is certainly what happened to me…
I don’t remember now whether it had been a particularly long or difficult week at work, but I do recall being THRILLED to discover that one Friday evening – not long after I got back from Rome – I had the house to myself. At that time, I was living at home with my mum and my older brother (boomerangs the both of us!), so this was a rare treat indeed and one I intended to savour, starting with a bath…
Well, long story short, I found myself trapped in the bathroom, inadequately clad in a towel, mentally girding my loins to undertake the undignified scuttle through a sitting room that was unexpectedly occupied by my brother and his friend who’d elected to bring their curry home with them rather than eat out. Hardly a capital crime on my poor brother’s part, I think you’ll agree, but I was FURIOUS – irrationally so – and by the time I had made the red-faced run back to the safety of my bedroom my resolve had found an entirely different direction: I WOULD buy my own place!
And so I did. On 31 July 2003, the little flat that I still call home became mine and I fell in love for the second time that year – more bricks and mortar, I’m afraid, but just like Rome it’s been an enduring affair (more so than the other kind, it has to be said, but let’s not get side-tracked!)
And then? Well, more life…
By now I was in my early 30s and working in local government after seven years managing a research department at the local university. Happily, my working life was somewhat more successful than my love life, but I knew that I still hadn’t found my metier – however much I enjoyed my role as a Strategy Advisor (and I did), I was still ‘doing’ rather than ‘being’; it was the latest (and certainly most fulfilling) in a series of jobs, but still not a career. A move out of Strategy and into Children’s Services confirmed that local government wasn’t where I wanted to end my days (although God knows there were times when it felt like the end OF days!), but by then I had only the haziest notion of what to do next. I knew I wanted to work in a more creative field, but nothing more specific than that. What had happened to my dream of becoming a curator?
Well, it turns out that while I had forgotten about it, it hadn’t forgotten about me…
It was about this time that Helen introduced me to Diane – a life coach specialising in helping people to realise their dreams. And thank God she did, because it was through working with Diane that the little seed planted all those years ago started to germinate. It took a little time – it must have been seven or eight weeks before ‘Museum Curator’ appeared on the list of five things I would do if age, gender, time, money, education and experience were not factors (a weekly ritual that ended every session with Diane) – and it wasn’t immediately obvious how I was going to achieve it, but there IT was.
Diane maintains that when you ask a question, it doesn’t take long for the universe to answer – and so it was. Shortly after completing my work with Diane, the opportunity arose to take voluntary redundancy and I didn’t need to be asked twice! Which brings us full circle, for tomorrow is my last day as a local government officer and my journey can begin in earnest.
In the synopsis that I gave the organisers of the story party I said, ‘It’s a tale of love, life, connection – and two dead poets…’ but on the night – Shelley notwithstanding – only one, Keats, made an appearance, the second having been sacrificed to the gods of the narrative arc. It was the right decision, but for anybody left wondering about who the second dead poet was, here’s what would have been the final paragraph had it not been scythed…
Before I leave you, you may be wondering about the second of those dead poets I mentioned. Well, as surely as it was John Keats who gave me the ‘what’ of my fresh start, it is Emily Dickinson who articulates the ‘why’ in these verses:
I died for beauty — but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room —
He questioned softly ‘Why I failed’?
‘For Beauty’, I replied —
‘And I — for Truth — Themself are One —
We Brethren are’, He said —
And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night —
We talked between the Rooms —
Until the Moss had reached our lips —
And covered up — our names —