I was invited to speak at a conference in New York this week about lessons I’ve learned while talking with all the wonderful authors I’ve had the honor to interview on Uncorking a Story. One of my clients is also attending this event and let it slip yesterday that she’s a huge Billy Joel fan and that he just happened to be playing Madison Square Garden last night. Since the Garden is only a few blocks from our hotel, I decided it would be a good way to show a client some love, so I found two seats on a broker site (the show was sold out) and treated her to the show.
When I was in high school, I went through a huge Billy Joel phase and, as it turned out, going to the show last night was a great way to feed my inner teenager, who I must admit, has been starved for attention as of late. I do believe we have to take good care of our various parts of self as they try their best to protect and take care of us. I recently attended a five day retreat and one morning our Yoga instructor (it’s not lost on me how pretentious that sounds) walked us through through a guided meditation where I had the opportunity to spend some time hanging with my younger self, and it was a very powerful experience—so powerful that I was moved to tears and wrote something deeply personal to that younger child which I will not be sharing with you today (or maybe ever). But it was beautiful, and personal, and very, very therapeutic for me.
Four songs smacked me in the face last night. The first was My Life, his opener. I play this one often on my acoustic guitar because it’s fun and easy (which is a prerequisite for yours truly). It also reminds me of a crazy Tom Hanks sitcom from the 80s called Bosom Buddies (a show with a premise so nutty, it could have only come out in the 80s). Last night, though, I didn’t think of Tom Hanks or Peter Scolari in drag—I thought of a person who is desperately trying to claim his life for his own.
I don’t need you to worry for me ’cause I’m alright
I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home
I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life
Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone
I know it’s common in middle age (and I am technically north of middle age) to feel as if we’ve lost ourselves somewhere along the way. When we are trying to advance in our careers and raise our families, we tend to put our personal pursuits on hold (so much so that our inner teenager may not recognize what we’ve become). I remember being surprised to hear that my father and his brother once dreamed of being entrepreneurs and even had a product they were developing in the automotive space. I was amazed because the Don Carlon I knew did nothing but work for American Express for 43 years and then retire, but it was refreshing to know that he had bigger dreams for himself than corporate life. Dreams he had to put on hold when other priorities came calling.
I too have made many compromises over the years putting my own hopes/dreams/desires on hold in order to provide for my family. One of the reasons I’ve turned to writing novels is that when I’m writing, I can dream and imagine characters who had the ability to do the things that I’ve always wanted to do, but didn’t. There is little that I can truly control in my life, but when I’m writing I can literally play God. It is a great escape for me and I find it to be very cathartic.
So that’s My Life. Next up is Vienna, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard and a place I’ve always wanted to visit. There’s a line in that song, though, that I’ve heard before but never really listened to until last night.
But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
Hearing that line pushed me into a mini existential crisis. I had just been thinking about My Life and now Billy (we are on a first name basis now) is giving me bigger life advice (well me and the other 20,000 audience members). Basically he’s saying that you only live once and if you don’t do the things you want to do in life, you are going to die with regrets. That inner teen in me, who was muted for so long, started whispering in my ear during Vienna, “Do you remember when we were fun? When we craved adventure? When it was okay to be silly? Stop dreaming and start doing.”
That inner voice can be a pain in the ass at times, but it has a point. Do any of us want to wake up one day and realize that life passed us by? I certainly don’t!
Next up is one of my all time favorite songs, which he performed standing up so he could hit the requisite high notes (and snap his fingers)—An Innocent Man. I interpret this as him as singing this song to someone who is on the fence about returning his affections. Maybe it is someone who has been hurt before by another or perhaps it is someone who just can’t love themself and therefore cannot truly love another person. But dammit if these lyrics didn’t start the emotional waterfall flowing again.
But I’m not above making up for the love
You’ve been denying you could ever feel
I’m not above doing anything
To restore your faith if I can
Some people see through the eyes of the old
Before they ever get a look at the young
I’m only willing to hear you cry
Because I am an innocent man
Not only is he trying to show someone how much he loves them despite their hesitations/inhibitions, but he’s giving a hint again at fears around life passing by—seeing through the eyes of the old before ever looking at the young. Life can get messy. It’s ugly sometimes. None of us are perfect and I really feel for whoever he’s singing to as they are clearly struggling with something, but I do believe that there is hope if we are willing to put in the work. It’s not easy—in fact, the notion of surrendering our fears, inhibitions, anger, and resentment, is very scary because we have to explore why all of those things are manifesting in our lives, and that takes a lot of courage because sometimes we have to go into some dark, lonely, and scary places. But when we do, we can come out so much better on the other side. It’s worth it!
Mike, you just saw one of the best singer/songwriters of all time last night and you are getting really deep here. Lighten up a bit, will ya?
I get it. No one ever accused me of under thinking anything (except maybe that move to California in 2014), but I have one more song to reference before calling this one quits. And So it Goes. This one came out when I was in high school and I remember listening to it on repeat after my first real breakup.
And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows
So I would choose to be with you
That’s if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break
Here’s the thing about love—it isn’t always fun. Love can be one sided. We can offer our love to someone else and there is no rule that says they have to offer it back to us. Offering our love to another is both an act of bravery and of vulnerability (and you can have this heart to break). Love, though, isn’t just an emotion. Love is also a verb.
Love requires action. Sometimes that action is how we show up for others but it’s important to remember that sometimes that action is how we show up for ourselves. I do believe that we cannot truly love another person fully, openly, and intimately, unless we love ourselves for who we are. So what do we do to show that we love ourselves? For many years my behavior suggested that I didn’t really love myself as much as I thought I did. I didn’t make time for self-care. I neglected my diet. I didn’t give my body the exercise it craved. I numbed myself with too much wine and stayed up too late, depriving myself of the rest I needed. And just to bring this full circle, a lot of this stemmed from the fact that I realized I wasn’t living life on my terms (My Life!). I was a passenger when I should have been in the driver’s seat.
So, I started to take better care of myself and, once I did, I felt as if I was showing up differently in all of my relationships. It also enabled me to find the strength to have hard conversations that I would tend to avoid (How Glennon Doyle of me). There was a time when I couldn’t voice what I wanted in life but once I uncovered what that truly was, I knew I was doing myself a disservice by staying silent.
So the Piano Man was more than just The Entertainer last night. He did more than just put me in a New York State of Mind. Don’t Ask me Why, but he gave me truths into the human condition and I felt compelled to share with you all. Maybe it’s time to book that trip to Vienna.