In late 2021, I injured my back at a small dance party. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that after two years of pandemic-related stillness, my bones were like fossils in a rock tumbler. I went home, fell asleep on the couch and woke up in excruciating pain. On the MRI, you can see my burst disc, the lowest one, at the top of my sacrum and below my last lumbar vertebrae. The disc has exploded to the right, and its jelly is poking into my sciatic nerve, causing excruciating pain down the outside of my right leg.

That summer, I ran into a family friend I hadn’t seen since we played Barbies upstairs and eavesdropped on the grownups through the air vent. We jumped in the lake and treaded water, catching up on thirty years’ worth of life. Like me, Felicia had had back trouble. She had not one, not two, but THREE burst discs in three different places on her low back. Also like me, she felt like her career was at a turning point. Felicia – who is Black – had been leading internal DEI work at the university where she was a longtime employee – a process that was challenging in all the ways that such work is for BIPOC folx making change within predominantly white institutions. But something was shifting. She had been invited to author a chapter in a book on organizational change and DEI. She had been invited to consult for other organizations. She was interested in starting her own business. Then, she drew a connection that I had failed to draw in the previous nine months of pain. “My back is my foundation,” she said, “and it makes sense that my foundation is shifting right now.”

My foundation is also shifting, like plates of land colliding in new ways. Within a month of my back injury, a project I was working on – the Ten Dimensions of Powerful Arts Education Practice – was published. This project is the culmination of my twenty years working in arts education – the relationships I’ve been lucky to develop, the values I’ve unearthed about why I feel creativity is essential to every young person’s education. At the same time that year, my creative life was shifting: I wrote and performed a short solo work of theater, called “Eat the Mama.” It was my first deeply personal creative material, and I shared it with family and a cross-section of friends and colleagues from work. Also that summer, I wrote my first teleplay – a spec episode of “Ted Lasso” – in a class at UCLA Extension.

One year after my floating catch-up with Felicia, the tectonic shifts in my life continue to collide. This summer, my eight-year term at the Hewlett Foundation comes to an end. My family and I will be moving to Los Angeles so I can engage more fully in my creative work. And there’s the launch of this site, JessicaMeleCreative, where I bring my creative work and my philanthropic work into one unified practice. It is where I will share my writing and performance. It is where I will blog about arts education, motherhood, philanthropy, the nature of work, creativity, and all the experiences that led to my core values of creativity, learning and justice.

When plates of land shift, volcanoes explode, and tsunamis roll. But also: mountains are born. Islands emerge. New contours make themselves visible. I’m starting to see a new landscape and a new life rising from the crust. And I’m learning to shift along with my foundation.