Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ordinary Perfection

It was a perfectly ordinary Monday night.  The air was just cool enough to be invigorating.  The spring breeze brushed my hair against my ear, and I heard whispers of pastels and peace.  Cooper and I were out for an evening stroll and all was well with us and with the world.

Ordinary perfection.

But as we were walking back to the house Cooper did something unusual.  He stopped in his tracks and slowly craned his head around to look behind us.  I hadn't heard a car or anything so I looked back to see what had gotten his attention.

It was a wild coyote.

He was standing in the middle of the road, looking at us.  Hungrily, I might add.  

I started to walk ahead calmly.  I looked back and saw the coyote was following us.  I sped up and so did he.  

That's when I let go of Cooper's leash and told him to run home.  He's faster than me and I figured he was the main attraction anyway.  Cooper took off.  

I started running too.  I looked over my shoulder and saw that the coyote was coming after me.  Thank God I made it home before I found out who was faster - the coyote or me.

Frantically, I opened the back door and Cooper and I zoomed into the kitchen like two bullets hitting a Manhattan phone book.  Grant was making his lunch for tomorrow and Audrey was putting her hair up in pink sponge rollers.  I stood doubled over the counter, panting and dripping sweat.  

"What HAPPENED?" Audrey asked.

"Is this mayonnaise expired?" Grant asked.  

"There.  Was.  A.  Coyote.  I.  Think."  I gasped.  Audrey rushed to hug me.  Grant ran into the backyard to see if he could catch a glimpse of the coyote.  He didn't.


When I recovered my breath I sent a similar text message to a few friends and neighbors.

Their responses were very different, which is what I love about all the people in my life.

My neighbor responded:
"Apparently they are all over...they can be sneaky...pretty cool, though, right?"  (It's nice to have people in your life who remind you that "scary" and "pretty cool" are just twins separated at birth.)

My BFF said:
"Oh jeez!  We have no coyotes in Califorina.  Just sayin"  (She knows that I'm too lazy to do a google search and find out that there are actually MORE coyotes in California than in Tennessee.)

My man said:
"Wha???  Are you okay???"  (So sweet!  Clearly I was fine because I was texting but still his first reaction was to make sure I was okay.  Love that guy.)

Another friend said:
"You turned yourself into prey when you started running."  (Good point.  But I don't think I could have stopped myself.  I mean, who could?  Well, except for maybe Grant, who ran towards the danger.)


I think I'll always remember that night.  Partly because it's the night Cooper and I didn't get killed by a coyote. 

But more than that ...

It was the night when the wild and the domesticated co-existed, sort of.    The night when the lines between scary and "pretty cool" blurred.  The night when the the winds blew pastels and peace one minute, and the next they carried the scent of prey to the hunter. 

It was the night when the ordinary and the extraordinary were both perfect in their own sacred way.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

A blog about blogging

A couple of weeks ago while we were in Beijing I had a really hard moment.  Emotions were running high and the tears were flowing.  I retreated to my room because that's what I do.  In my moments of greatest stress I retreat into myself. 

And I worked my way out of myself and out of the room by writing. 

That's another thing I do in my moments of greatest stress.

By writing about what was happening, I was able to see that event for what it really was.  I was able to see my role in things.  I was able to see my way out. 

The result was a post that some of you might have seen.  It was on my blog for a few hours.  I had a conclusion in the blog and I thought it was a positive one, but I went through some prickly places on the way to the conclusion. 

The trouble is, someone in my life who is important to me saw only the prickly places and not the positive conclusion.  And it hurt him.  And he let me know.

It gave me pause.  The Downtown Diner is my restaurant.  I get to cook whatever I want here.  If someone doesn't like the food they don't have to eat here. 

And yet, I had posted something that hurt someone.  And I wasn't sure how I felt about that.  I wasn't sure if it's more important to me to express myself freely on my blog, or if I have an obligation to be respectful of people here. 

Am I free to write whatever I want as long as it is healing to me, even if it in turn hurts someone else?

Again, the Downtown Diner is my restaurant, so I have to make this decision. 

So, I took the post down.  Because I want the Diner to be a place where people feel safe and treasured and respected.  I want my heart to be all of that too.

Therapy.  It was therapeutic for me to write it, but posting it to my blog is less important.  That piece of prose can always live as an entry in my journal, or perhaps as a chapter in the book I publish one day.  Under a pseudonym, naturally. 

On a side note, I believe that as we communicate in the digital world we are leaving traces of ourselves that one day our great great great grandchildren will sift through to figure out who we were.  Even the communication that we believe is private today, like our emails and texts and messages on online dating websites - I'm pretty sure our progeny is going to have access to all of that. 

Perhaps we're no different than our ancestors who threw a whiskey bottle down the hole in the outhouse thinking it was gone forever, their little secret.  But now decades later we do archaeological digs on that spot and we unearth the secrets of the past. 

The kids and I found this antique medicine bottle at a construction site in the 12th South area. 

I predict our great grands will do the same thing. 

To assume my descendants will do research about me seems presumptuous, but if they do, I hope they will look at the world I held private and the aspects of it that I put out in public, and see that I was consistently authentic and also that I used good judgment. 

I doubt they will say that I never hurt anyone.  But I hope they will see that any pain I inflicted was unintentional, or that the hurt served a higher purpose and was not just a selfish catharsis. 

I would be honored if they decided to create a space like The Downtown Diner in their lives.  A place where people are honest and real with each other, and yet balance that against being fair and caring and kind with one another. 

That's a legacy I'd be proud of. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Love grows best in houses just like this

This morning I was washing a dish and Grant needed to throw something in the garbage can, which was in the cabinet just in front of me.  So I turned off the water and held the soapy dish in mid air above the sink, while he
                    threw       away    
                                                  the   paper

It felt like forever.

That's when Audrey pushed me gently from the side so she could get access to the microwave to heat up a breakfast sandwich.

And that was the moment when I realized that although we have 960 square feet in this house, my whole entire family was standing on 4 square feet of it. 

All of us. 

And then, the dog walked over just to see what was going on. 

For almost three years we've been living in a 2BR/1BA house.  You might think it's not such a big deal for three people to share one bathroom.  But there was this one Saturday evening when Grant flushed my hot rollers down our one single toilet.  Late on a Saturday night.  It's hard to get a plumber to come out on a Sunday. 

It's also hard to do without your one single toilet until you can get a plumber to come out on a Sunday.

Sometimes when I tell this story people ask me how Grant managed to flush my hot rollers down the toilet.  These people know my son, so I assume the question is a rhetorical one. 

A few times every day I think to myself that I need to get a bigger place when our lease runs out in July. 

And yet every year in May I look around at the real estate market to see what's available.

And then I look around our cozy little house.

And then I sign that lease again, one more time.  Swearing to myself that it's only for one more year.

There's a song by Garth Brooks called "Love Grows Best in Small Houses".  And thanks to this house, I know he's right.

But you know, love grows best in little houses,
With fewer walls to separate,
Where you eat and sleep so close together.
You can't help but communicate,
Oh, and if we had more room between us, think of all we'd miss.
Love grows best, in houses just like this.

The Club None of Us Wanted to Join

“When you get divorced you become a spokesperson for the club none of us wanted to join.”

That’s what one of my friends told me when I got divorced.  He predicted that people would start coming to me talking about what it’s like to be divorced, asking questions about the process, asking for recommendations for divorce lawyers, asking if it’s worth it to put your children and your family through all of that. 

And I thought to myself that the club would be better off electing me the club treasurer than the club spokesperson.
Because I have no clue what to say, club.  Really, no clue. 

Can I tell you something?  And let's pretend it's relevant, but really I just want to tell you.  My sister?  She goes straight to the source.  No spokesperson required. 

Let's see, back to our topic.  Over time I found there was truth to my friend’s assertion.  Some people did come to me with questions like that. 
But if you keep your radio tuned to only one frequency you’re only going to pick up one channel. 
I turned the dial around and I realized that people were not only opening up to me about marital issues, they were coming to me about all kinds of things. 
Caring for their parents, grieving their dog’s death, trying to conceive a baby, worrying about their kids’ college fund, stressing over their children’s grades, waiting for the results of a biopsy, staying overnight in the hospital with a loved one, burying a brother…

I’m not sure what triggered this exactly.  It might have been my divorce.  It might have been the fact that I was tuning my dial into them and listening.  Maybe people can tell that because I’ve been through the fire of a divorce I won’t judge them for whatever they’re going through.  Maybe they sense that a chord in me will sound along with theirs. 

Whatever the reason, I found that my friend was right, I did become a spokesperson.  But it was for a different club, one I’ve always wanted to join. 

It is the Club of Being Real With Each Other. 

I’m Melanie Gao, and I’m here to take your questions. 


More Stories About Nothing

This is another story about my obsession with the song Everlong by Foo Fighters.  I listen to it almost every morning as part of my morning quiet time and as a result, it's become the theme song for my life. 

I've waited here for you

This is a story about a grey sweater.  I flew to Silicon Valley to do some training last week and I stayed with my BFF and when I arrived we started talking about the outfits I was planning to wear during training and I told her I couldn’t wear my grey sweater tomorrow because it smelled a little too much like planes and rental cars and me, so Pat put my sweater in the washer. 
The next morning I found a grey sweater in her closet and I borrowed it since mine wasn’t dry yet. 

I left the house before she got up but when I returned in the evening she was just coming home too and she hugged me in the driveway, then she backed away and said, “Is that my grey sweater?”  I looked down and remembered that yes, yes it was and she hugged me again and said, “I love that you would borrow my sweater without asking!” 

And I found myself surrounded by not one but two layers of warmth and softness.
I throw myself into
And out of the red
Out of her head she sang

This is a story about liquid oxygen.  The kids and I flew to Beijing for Chinese New Year and Grant was feeling congested in the plane so we bought a couple of holistic remedies from the duty free magazine. 
One was a small bottle of oxygen drops that you can put in your water and the bottle claims that it hydrates and helps prevent jet lag.  Grant and I were in.  As we opened the bottle, Audrey looked at me with great skepticism and asked what the ingredients were.  I read the bottle, “Water, hydrogen peroxide, sodium chloride...“  She nodded.  “Yeah, and what’s missing there?” 

I looked at Grant and he said, “Oxygen is everywhere, they probably don’t need to add it.”  I nodded. 

And I pointed out that the bottle was a nice blue glass bottle and Grant noted that the needle dropper was also made out of glass and we concluded that that was a hallmark of quality pharmaceuticals.

And we dropped 10 drops each into our water bottles.

And I felt myself snuggled between my outspoken and critical-thinking daughter and my faith-filled and adventurous son.   
Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in

This is a story about a cup of coffee that I never got.  There is a special man in my life now and if someone has a better word than “boyfriend” would you please give it to me because I’m no longer twelve and need a better word than “boyfriend” and I don’t like “partner”. 

And he lives far away so we have to make great efforts to see each other in person and recently he re-routed some of his business travel so he could be in Nashville when the kids and I returned - fully oxygenated, mind you - from China so that he could give us a hug and a tray full of Starbucks before he made his way east and home. 

But we got way-laid on the way from China and I will spare you my sob story of why but the net effect was that we were not in Nashville to receive the coffee or the hugs and my guy (we’ll settle for that for now) made his way east before we got to see him.  And I was terribly disappointed and so was he but as we texted later that night we came to an important realization together, which is that we are not in control of how things work out and God always has plans that are bigger and better than the ones we make and if we keep filling our lives with our own plans we don’t leave any space for God to do his work. 

And so we prayed together over FaceTime and thanked God for the space he had just created in our lives, and we asked him to do His work there. 

And although he and I were separated by a thousand miles of customs and immigrations and security and roller boards and gate agents and pretzels and diet Sprites and and baggage carousels, I have never felt so close to my guy. 
And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
These were stories about nothing and everything.  And you read them, which means you are a part of my everything.  Thank you for being here with me.   
The only thing I'll ever ask of you
You gotta promise not to stop when I say when I say when

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy New Year from the Gaos

 Dear Friends,

We want to thank you for being with us as we journeyed through 2013.  

I really mean that.  You were with us.  And we are grateful for that.  

You saw us be bold in 2013.

You saw us be beautiful.

You watched as we wandered the globe.  
(Some of you tracked our every step using Find Your Friends. It's all good.)

But, let's be honest.  You also saw us fall flat on our face in 2013.

You saw us struggle.

You saw us when we were afraid.

Some of you heard us yelling at each other.  

We're sorry about all the yelling.

(I just whispered that apology.  It felt appropriate.  In a too-little-too-late kind of way.)

Throughout the year, you were with us.  When we needed you, you showed up. 

When we called, you came.

You changed my tire at 6:30am.

You picked my kids up when I was stuck in traffic.

You helped me turn off my smoke alarm at midnight.

You healed my "sports" injury.

You showed up.

Via skype late at night.  

A quick text, first thing in the morning.  ("OMG it is freezing out there!  This is not why I moved to the South!!"

The early morning coffee dates. ("Okay, how are we going to get through this week?")

The sweet cards and letters.

 The heartfelt conversations over drinks on my deck in the evening in the summertime

Sometimes what you did was smile at us, at a moment when we really needed to remember that there are good things in the world.  

The point is, you were there.  
We were never alone this year, and neither were you.  
We did 2013 together.  
And we love you for that.  

We can't wait to see what 2014 holds for us.  All of us.  Us.  You.  All of us.
Full speed ahead.  
Pedal to the metal.  
Let's go get this thing stuck.  
What do you say?

(It really is going absolutely perfectly.  I know you know that.)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

the post that wrote itself

People told me not to blink.  They said one day I would wake up and she'd be in college and I'd wonder where the time went. 

None of that has been true for me.

When I think back on this day, it feels like an eternity ago.

Buddy took that picture when Audrey was four hours old.  Do you see that smile?  It's real.  She came out, she smiled at us, and then she faded back into a distant infant cloud and didn't peek through it again until she was about six weeks old.

But she came out and in those first hours she smiled at us.  First order of business.

Tonight we'll celebrate her 13th birthday with a few of her closest friends.  We're either going to be at the mall or else I'm taking the girls to a restaurant for a nice dinner.  It's hard to say right now. 

Because we haven't decided yet. 

Because the party is still 10 hours away. 

And because she is my daughter. 

If each day is a grain of sand, I am feeling the weight of this one in my palm.  So heavy. 

I don't know why. 

I wish I knew where I'm going with this post.  I wanted it to be a touching tribute to my daughter and her debut into the world as a teenager. 

And now it's about me and sand.  Sand?  Seriously, sand?  Where did the sand come from? 

I wanted this post to be funny and independent and radiant and smart, like Audrey. 

But, I can't seem to make it cooperate.  

Aren't you asking yourself right now what my point is?  Because I sure am.

Can I tell you something?  About a year ago, when she hugged me the top of her head used to fit right under my chin.  It doesn't anymore.  The top of her head is level with my mouth now.  Every morning I hug her and I push her head back down, hoping I can somehow get it to fit under my chin.  But it never does.  It doesn't cooperate any better than this post does.

It seems to have a mind of its own.  Non-plussed by what I want.  It is writing itself. 

And it occurs to me that I have no choice but to let it go out into the world.... 

A few minutes ago I was the author of this blog. 

And now, I am just the one who's going to hit that little orange box in the top corner that says "Publish". 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Siren Song of the Red Bricks

It was the fall of 2012.  My baby niece Bliss was just about a year old and I was taking care of her during the day while my own kids were in school.  Bliss was in that learning-to-walk, I'm-so-adorable-no-one-can-resist-me phase. 

I was new in Nashville and was trying to establish connections in the corporate training world so I could get work here as a freelancer.  I was in that don't-know-anyone-in-town but would-someone-please-notice-how-capable-I-am phase. 

And I had scored a networking meeting with a very influential entrepreneur in town.  He was in that I-wear-Converse-sneakers-to-work and feel-free-to-bask-in-my-brilliance phase.  And his office was in one of those abandoned warehouse places.  The kind that have exposed brick walls and polished cement floors.  And he was willing to meet with me.  With me!

I arranged a back-up babysitter for Bliss but when the day of the meeting came, of course the back-up sitter had the flu.  And our Plan B sitter was out of town.  Plan C was having a root canal, Plan D had to study for a big exam and Plan E had moved to Cincinnati six months ago. 

And so after consultation with my sister and her husband we resorted to Plan F, which was me taking Bliss with me to my networking meeting.

I know, I know.  I know.  

But let me tell you it was the exposed brick that led me to believe this was a solid plan.  I mean, when people choose an office space like that, doesn't it mean they are casual and laid-back and so focused on substance they don't even notice style?

The simple answer is: No. 

People choose office space like that for one of a few reasons:

A) They are 22-year-old millionaires.  They graduated from college at the age of 17, and have already created and sold a start-up and profited greatly from it.  They work in office space like this because it reminds them of the meat packing district in Manhattan, where they used to live.  They are too young to have children, much less any tolerance for them.

B) They are 30-year-old billionaires.  They have started and sold two start-ups and for them money is just a way of keeping score.  They have kids and they also have a stay-at-home partner who takes care of those kids so they can focus on substance as well as style at work.  They work in an office like this because it is in stark contrast to their home, which is child-proofed and fluffy and cuddly.  They come here to get away from all that.

C) Some other reason. I don't know what it is.  But I do know that it means they don't like having babies in their office.

When I checked in with the receptionist I explained to her that I had to bring a baby with me to my meeting with her boss, and she smiled graciously.  "Oh, he has a baby about the same age at home!" she said. 

Was it my imagination or did she emphasize "at home"?

As I looked around the office my illusions about the viability of Plan F began to fade.  All of the desks had metal frames, topped with plates of glass.  There were no IKEA bumpers on those corners either.  The walls were indeed exposed brick.  Blood red brick.  And the polish on the cement floor seemed especially slick to me. 

If offices were people, I was standing face-to-face with an anorexic runway model. 

Soon the CEO came out to meet me and when I apologized for bringing a baby to the meeting he said, "Oh, I have one about the same age.  At home." 

It wasn't my imagination.

He took me to the "conference room", which of course had no table.  Tables in conference rooms are so Gen X.  This one had two leather chairs and a small oil drum with a plate glass topper.   

The CEO and I started talking and Bliss began to crawl around the room.  The exposed red brick beckoned to her the same way you and I are tempted by the walls in those indoor rock climbing gyms.  She started cruising around the room, one red brick at a time, and I started to think this meeting might actually go okay.  The CEO explained to me how people abstract out their titles nowadays and he suggested I do the same.  Instead of being a corporate trainer, could I abstract that out to describe what I really do? 

But this is where I get stuck.  Because what I really do is train people.  In corporations.  But I wanted to be cool like the CEO so I started brainstorming.  Corporate storyteller?  Communications medicine woman?  Success diviner? 

Based on where I was heading with this, what happened next might have been for the best.

Just as you and I occasionally lose our grip on the rocks at the climbing gym, Bliss lost hers on the red bricks and crashed down on that slick concrete floor with a thud.  Then there was screaming, and consoling, and some ice in a bag, and then melted ice on the slick concrete floor, and as I shoved my laptop in the diaper bag the CEO said, "I guess we have to wrap this up now but send me an email and I'll introduce you to some people in the industry.  I have some ideas of people who might be able to help you." 

I shoved my laptop in the diaper bag.  Can we just rewind to that one frame?  Yes, the one where I'm holding a wailing baby in one arm and stuffing my laptop into a diaper bag with the other.  That one right there.  Yes.  

Can we please just sit here for a second and cry together?  

What made me think Plan F was ever going to work?  Curse you, red bricks.  Curse you.  

And I think this goes without saying, but let's take "success diviner" off my list of possible titles.

The next day I sent the CEO an email and asked if he could introduce me to those contacts he had mentioned.

"Thanks for the mail.  Remind me who you were again?" he replied. 

I told him I was the corporate trainer from yesterday, the one with the baby.  I figured that would jog his memory, if memory was indeed the problem here.  I also wondered if he was simply repressing all memory of me.  Corporate America's first PTSD victim.

I was also prepared for the possibility that he was blowing me off.  That I wasn't going to get any contacts from him and that the meeting had been in vain.

He responded, "And what did we talk about again?  Who was I going to introduce you to?" 

This was the point where I realized that I was definitely not going to get any contacts out of this meeting.  It dawned on me that with my misguided baby meeting, I might have offended someone who had the potential to tarnish my image in the city.  I'm not saying he had the power to ruin my reputation in Nashville, but he could give it a good ding if he wanted to. 

So in a truly humbling moment I admitted that my best option here was to slip away unnoticed.  To hope that he really couldn't remember my name or who I was.  That Bliss had hit her head so hard on those red bricks that even the CEO had lost all memory of that meeting. 

And so I responded with something kind and vague and I never bothered him again. 

And as far as I can tell, he didn't do anything vengeful.  My reputation in Nashville appears to be intact.  I started finding corporate training gigs in town.  Even my sister and her husband forgave me for the sizable bruise on their baby's forehead. 

But I will always remember that day as the one where Bliss and I were lured in by the siren song of the red bricks.  We both thought we knew how to walk, and we were both wrong.  It was the day we both fell hard and left crying.  But our bruises healed and we got back up and tried again.  Against all odd and perhaps better judgment, we didn't give up. 

But still.  Curse you, red bricks.  Curse you.  That one hurt. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

This is a Story About Nothing, Really

This is a story about a song that's running through my head lately.  It's called "Everlong" by Foo Fighters and it runs through my head all day lately.  It is the soundtrack for my life.

I've waited here for you.

This is a story about mac and cheese.  I was making some tonight and the water was already boiling when I realized I didn't have butter or milk.

Which, incidentally, means that the only ingredients I had to make mac and cheese were this box and, well, water.


This is a story about my neighbor's punk rock band.  Because happily, my baby sister lives across the street so I turned the water off and walked over to her house to borrow some milk and butter.  I took Cooper with me so he could get a little walk in.  On the way I passed my neighbor Chris, who was sitting outside and playing music with his punk rock band and I swear to you they were playing "Everlong".  Chris saw me and raised his beer can to me in a happy salute.  "Rock on!"  I yelled to them.

Sometimes I say something that I think sounds cool and then immediately hope the person didn't hear me.

I throw myself into
And out of the red, out of her head she sang

This is a story about real estate contracts.  My sister and her husband were reviewing one and their two-year-old daughter Bliss was sitting next to them on the orange leather sofa, happily playing with a laptop.  But my sister needed the laptop so she cleverly took the laptop away from the baby and handed her the iPad.  Which the baby cleverly tossed over the side of the sofa and smiled with great satisfaction when it hit the floor with a crack.

"Did you just throw the iPad on the floor?" my sister asked.

"No," said Bliss.

"But I'm sitting right here and I saw you," said my sister.

"No," said Bliss.

Did I mention she's two?

Bliss looked at me.  I looked at the floor, stifling a smile, which was mostly prompted by gratitude that my kids are not two anymore.

Then I remembered mine are tweens and I stopped being smug.

Come down
And waste away with me
Down with me 

"Are you smiling?" asked my sister.

"I need to go," I said.

This is a story about escaping.  I leaned in to give Bliss a kiss as I left and she swung her arms around my neck in a monkey-like embrace.  "Go with you!" she ordered.  Her parents said it was okay so I put her pink star shoes on her and she took my hand and I led her onto the front porch and away from any punishment that might have been related to that whole unfortunate iPad incident.

Slow how
You wanted it to be
I'm over my head, out of her head she sang 

This is a story about my dog being really poorly trained.  We untied Cooper's leash from the front porch but before we left he growled menacingly at my sister's 100-year-old dog.  My dog is so damn aggressive lately and I don't know where it's coming from.  My friend Glen said I need to get Cooper in this domineering hold and that will take care of everything in a matter of seconds but when he described the hold it just sounded like something you could get arrested for in the South so I settle for an overly-aggressive dog instead.

This is a story about the stars.  The three of us walked back down the street - a truly unruly dog, a headstrong two-year-old and a two-handed woman holding a dog leash, a plastic bag, a stick of butter, a small bottle of milk, and a sticky toddler hand.  My niece kept up a constant chatter as we made our way slowly across the blacktop.  Flag, car, sausage, grass, car, drive car, want drive car, want ride car, car.  Then she pointed up at the night sky and said "Stars!"  And yes, the stars were beautiful. 

Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in 

Back at home my niece and Audrey and Grant giggled in my bedroom while I finished making the mac and cheese.  And the mango smoothie and the edamame.

And I wonder
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again 

As I stood in the kitchen I really did wonder that.  Will it feel this real forever?  Will it ever be this good again?

This was a story about nothing.  About a day I walked down the street, and back.  And I'm sort of in awe of the fact that you read it, especially since I had such a non-compelling title.  But here you are and since you read it, you are also part of this story.  You are part of my story about nothing.  Which means you are also part of my everything.  Thank you for being here with me. 

Do you think it will feel this real forever?  Do you think it will ever be this good again? 

The only thing I'll ever ask of you
You've got to promise not to stop when I say when 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I can't believe I have an opinion on Miley Cyrus

Normally here at the Downtown Diner we don't talk much about pop stars.  When Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction, we hardly noticed.  Kim Kardashian's 70-something-day marriage was a blip on our radar.  We recognize these events for what they are - probably staged and definitely trying to get us to buy gossip magazines.

However Miley Cyrus is tugging at my heartstrings for some reason today.  Maybe it's because of the hours and hours that Audrey and I spent watching Hannah Montana together back when we lived in China.  It was hard to find age-appropriate shows in English for her, and when we discovered Hannah we bought every season on DVD.  And watched them over and over until we knew every line by heart. 

Then I lost track of Miley and didn't think about her again until this week.  I didn't watch the VMAs and would never have known they happened, except that all day yesterday people were talking about Miley.  I heard things like:
"She is no longer a role model for my daughters."
"I'm embarrassed to share a gender with her."
"She has gone the pitiful, crack-pot way of so many child stars before her."

Personally, I wish I could give Miley a hug.  Because she is going through one of the most difficult transitions known to mankind - child star to young adult.  And she's doing it all with this huge spotlight of public attention on her.  If history is any indication, this is a tough transition.  Because I can't think of anyone, anyone, who has done it successfully.  Not Britney Spears.  Not Gary Coleman.  Not Michael Jackson.  Not Drew Barrymore. 

(Update: While I do love my brushstrokes broad, my friend John Lilly pointed out that many stars do make the transition smoothly.)

I don't know anything about being a child star.  But I do know something about transitions.  I know what it's like to give up something that is so intrinsic to you that without it, you don't know who you are anymore.

If I'm not Buddy's wife anymore, then who am I?

If I'm not the mother of this beautiful, intact family, then who am I?

If I'm not a manager in a Fortune 500 company, then what am I?
If I'm not patient, forgiving, tolerant to the bitter end, then what am I?

Miley, I know that these questions have the power to wake you up in the middle of the night.  And you sit up straight in bed, not sure of where you are or even who you are.

I get it, Miley. 

When you ask yourself those shattering questions about who you are, you are the only one who can answer them.  So you try a few answers on for size and you see how they feel.  Some will feel right so you keep them.  Things like:

I am courageous.

I am honest.

I am curious.

Some will feel wrong, and you will reject them.  But you only know they are wrong after you try them out.  Things like:

I am good at painting.

I keep calm under stress.

My hair looks good in pigtails.

My point is, this is all a normal part of transitioning from what you were to what you will be.  You're caught in between the "was" and the "not yet".

Let me tell you, your haters right now don't move from the "was" to the "not yet".  They stay where they are.  They're comfortable there.  They will tell you you're a bad role model.  But you and I know that throwing ourselves headlong into this transition is role modeling something they cannot even fathom.  And that's okay.  They don't have to get it.

But they will never get the heady joy of choosing the colors for their own butterfly wings.  You and I have that.  We always will.