Friday, September 30, 2011

Lessons Learned from Hannah Montana

Blast from the past: this post should have been written and published back in January 2009

Before diving into the lessons I’ve learned, I should probably explain why I ever started watching Hannah Montana in the first place.

Around Christmastime 2008 I purchased a DVD named Bridge to Terabithia. Maybe I’d heard a good review, maybe Amazon recommended it to me, I honestly can’t remember. In any case, it arrived, I watched it, and fell in love, an instant favorite. If you’ve never seen it, you simply must.

At the end of Bridge to Terabithia, the first song during the credits is one by Miley Cyrus called “I Learned from You”. Another instant favorite. I’d never heard of Miley before, but I knew I loved this song, and I needed to have it in my iTunes, so I ordered the soundtrack (the rest of which is also quite enjoyable). After further investigation, I also discovered that Miley stars on Disney’s Hannah Montana, and so, for kicks, I thought I’d check YouTube and watch an episode or two.

I highly doubt I’m among Disney’s target audience for the show, and you can judge me all you want, but I enjoyed it. Why? I like the premise: it reinforces the truth that celebrities are normal people, too, apart from the idealistic pedestals upon which the public places them. They have real lives and real friendships; celebrities may live in a different societal world, but they’re still people.

For those not familiar with the show (which I'm assuming is everyone reading my blog), the story is about teenager Miley who leads a double life as pop-star sensation Hannah Montana. During the day Miley goes to school, and no one knows she's a celebrity. She does this because her fans are, in a word, crazy (not like padded-cell crazy, but autograph and picture crazy), and Miley would never have a normal life if people knew who she was. Only her family and two closest friends know about her split personality.

I love the parallel to reality that Miley/Hannah’s life necessitates: the desire to be treated normally, and because of that, the inability to reveal her complete self to anyone but her closest friends. Isn’t that the world in which we all live? Trapped by societal expectations. For fear of judgement, or simply being “treated differently”, we each keep secrets and hide much of ourselves away. Thought of this way, Miley’s story, and much of Hannah’s music, hits home in a whole new way.

Now I’ll grant that, in her rebellious teen years, real-life Miley is not always a positive role model for the tween/teen crowd. Sadly it seems few teen super stars survive the spotlight unscathed. Nevertheless I contend there are valuable lessons to be sought from her on-camera alter-ego. I will grant that many of my observations are eisegetical, meaning I’m reading more into the text, or in this case TV show, than the author intended. I’m okay with that. I believe in a God that speaks in new, surprising, and unexpected ways, and so whether the Disney screenwriters had the same agenda as I draw out doesn’t really matter to me - the lessons stand regardless.

Season 1

Episode 1: Miley worries about telling her best friend about her secret double identity as Hannah Montana. “If she knew the truth, I’d never be just _Miley_ again”. Fill that in with your own name. Don’t we all have those feelings? ‘If so-and-so really knew who I was/what I’ve done/where I’ve been/what kind of person I think I am, they wouldn’t see me as myself anymore, they’d only see that label, they’d only see the headline.’ We’re afraid of being treated differently, which is why we’re scared to open up.

For me, this is where I find the appeal in Hannah’s songs “Just Like You” and “The Other Side of Me”. And similarly, Joy Williams song “We”.

Episode 2: Miley and Oliver are close friends, but Oliver has a crush on Hannah. Side-note, Oliver hates gum. What’s admirable about him: even after learning of Hannah’s disgusting [albeit feigned] gum-chewing habit, Oliver looks past this surface blemish and continues to profess his love and affection.

As someone who too often tends toward the superficial myself, Oliver’s example serves as a potent, however comedic, reminder that no one will ever be “the perfect match”; true love means learning to live with the imperfections.

Episode 4: Miley has a hard time asking a guy out. Typical teenage drama, whatever. Here’s why it hits home, though: Miley is a rock star, used to performing in front of thousands of screaming fans, but a one-on-one conversation intimidates her.

The largest crowd I’ve spoken to in recent times was 600 students and teachers at Minnehaha - certainly not thousands. But speaking/singing/playing in front of a crowd doesn’t freak me out. But one-on-one conversations, man, those can be absolutely nerve-wracking! Especially if she’s cute.

Lesson #2: Lack of honesty can ruin a relationship. Miley’s crush invites her to a Hannah concert, and in typical sitcom fashion her double life completely train wrecks their date.

For Miley, physically being in two places is impossible, and leads to romantic catastrophe. For me, being divided emotionally means a failure of commitment. Being divided spiritually means failure to live up to my potential. A servant cannot have two masters.

Episode 6: Miley’s grandmother comes to visit and gives preferential treatment to Miley's brother Jackson, almost to the exclusion of showing any affection toward Miley. In the end Miley learns this is because she’s always been in the spotlight, relegating Jackson to life’s backseat. Grandma knows this, and that’s why she pampers Jackson on her visit.

There are some deep theological truths here. First, God doesn’t necessarily treat everyone equally. I can identify with the sadness Miley feels over being ignored - how many times have I wished for the blessings others have? How many times have I wished God would have given me that new car, that new job, that new guitar?

The flip side is that I'm not privy to the details of that other person’s life. How could I know the gift I coveted came to them timed exactly to lift them from a financial crisis, a deep pit of depression, or a feeling of worthlessness to the world. That’s God’s business, not mine.

Even when it looks like God is playing favorites (and that favorite doesn’t happen to be me), that doesn’t change His unending, uninterruptible love! Miley’s grandma loves her just as much as she loves Jackson, but *shows* it more to Jackson because, after so many years living in the shadow of Miley’s Hannah fame, *that’s what he needs*.

There’s an object lesson for Miley, too: all the time she felt like her grandmother was ignoring her, all the hurt those feelings brought, maybe that’s how Jackson felt with the entire family’s agenda structured around Hannah all the time. So, the next time I’m feeling like God’s ignoring me, I’m going to try to remember all this. Because it’s not all about me. Maybe someone close to me needs Him more urgently.

Episode 10: Miley's Dad says something like, “Sometimes it’s not about what you say, but having the courage to say something.”

This wisdom was given to Oliver specifically as it relates to getting a date, but I see applicability in more areas of life than that. Namely, simply standing up for what you believe. Even if you’re not well spoken, the act of speaking, possibly disagreeing, says more than the mere words ever would. In college intro psych class I read about a study which affirmed people are more likely to stand up for their own beliefs if someone else in the group does so first. Have courage: be the person who puts themselves out there. Sometimes you’ll find yourself alone, but my guess is, more often than not, you’ll find unexpected allies.

Episode 11: Miley, as Hannah, encourages a girl to ask out Oliver. Later in the episode, Miley sees the girl in the lunchroom with another boy… As it turns out, she’s breaking up with her former boyfriend, but the way her email is worded it’s unclear. It’s a sitcom, so everything works out happily in the end.

Appearances are deceiving, which reminds me how crucial getting both sides of a story is before jumping to a final conclusion. For me, this episode also illustrated the idea that God looks at a person’s heart, whereas people only see the outside (1 Samuel 16:7).

Episode 12: Miley encourages her Dad to go back out on the road to perform. He resists, “But–“. She cuts him off: “But nothing. But’s just a word you use when you’re afraid to try.”

“But” is the story of my life: “I want to do more with my music but–“. “I want to be a full-time filmmaker but–“. “I want to exercise and eat healthy but–“.

Miley’s retort hit me instantly, and it hit me hard. Time to stop making up excuses. Time to live.

Episode 14: Another teen superstar enrolls at Miley’s school, and he milks his fame for all it’s worth. Miley (rightfully) becomes upset.

The deeper meaning may not apply to everyone. Or maybe it does, I’m not sure.

I’ve often dreamed what fame might be like. And as I’ve written about before, my ambition toward that end is my Achilles heal, having previously robbed me of meaningful connection to God through my music. Watching Miley play out the scenario of revealing her Hannah identity helps keep me in check. I don’t like the culture I see looking in on Hollywood, and I don’t relish the prospect of giving up my privacy as happens to the stars. My best plan of action is either to stay anonymous, or, since that’s logistically unlikely (at least on local scales), to seek “background” fame, meaning, a recognizable name, but not necessarily face.

Most of all, I need to learn to accept God’s Call of being satisfied with who I am already, and know that that’s enough. If filmmaking brings me further in that path, great; and if not, if I stay just plain ol’ Jeremy, that’s great, too.

Episode 15: Miley (as Hannah) discovers Jake (the superstar from episode 14) actually does have a normal side hidden beneath his public star personality, and this discovery changes her feelings toward him.

My lesson is a humbling reminder that first impressions are often wrong, or at best, incomplete. How many relationships have I missed out on because my perception was skin-deep?

Lord, help me not to obsess over the things man looks at. Give me your eyes to see past outward appearance and into the heart. (based again off of 1 Samuel 16:7)

Episode 19: Miley's Dad lets Jackson (Miley's brother) win their basketball games, not really out of pity, rather because he likes seeing his happy face when he succeeds. Sometimes it’s not about us.

Not everything needs to be a competition; we’re all given our special talents and gifts.

Season 2

My notes kind of trailed off here, guess I stopped learning. Er... Or stopped writing down what I'd learned.

Episode 3: I personally believe it is okay to aspire to be a better person, but what I learned from this episode is that you ought not aspire to be a different person.

“A Song Sung Badly”: It’s not about how pretty your voice is or isn’t, it’s about the emotion behind it. I apply that to worship and all other areas of life.

“The Other Side of Me”: I maintain an image, I let people see what I want them to see of my life. On the inside there’s so much else going on that very few, if anyone, ever gets to see. Don't we all long to be our complete, honest selves, though?

I enjoyed the whole series, apparently I stopped taking notes mid-way through, though. Oh well. Plenty of lessons here to keep me busy for a while.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Things my kids will never know

In the past several years I’ve occasionally made note of worldly things my some-day children will never experience or know about outside of history class. Most of my observations end up focused on technology, but there are some other gems in there, too. Here’s the list I’ve constructed so far:
  • A world pre-Internet (and pre-Wifi), pre-cell phone, and pre-GPS
  • CRT computer monitors or televisions
  • CDs or DVDs (in the same way my generation doesn’t really know about vinyl, but we sort of do; I played Fraggle Rock record over and over when I was younger)
  • Carbon copy (even ask some adults today, they can’t tell you what “CC” means in an email)
  • Non-optical mouses, and trackballs
  • Car antennas
  • Land line phones
  • the Y2K panic
  • Postage stamps that had to be licked
  • Cassette tapes, and rewinding
  • VHS tapes, and along with this, VHS subscription services, where you’d get one video each month with two episodes of a TV series for $20, and you’d do that every month until you got the whole series, because DVDs didn’t exist, and you couldn’t just download the entire series on iTunes. I bought the entire series of Lost in Space this way from Columbia House when I was younger.

And here’s my “I’m an optimist” list:
  • Gasoline
  • Cars that aren’t auto-driving
  • checkbooks (and balancing a checkbook)
  • hard drives with moving parts

There are other lists, too. This one looked good. Looking forward to the future. Feeling a little nostalgic, too.

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Faults

Blast from the past: this post should have been written and published about a year ago.

To my benefit (I think), I'm acutely self-aware - I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I'm a pretty good judge of my own capabilities. So sometimes, if I want to check my motives for a particular choice I chose, I do a little lay-person self-psycho-analysis. (admitting my conclusions to anyone else is an entirely different matter :)

As I see it, this is a complete, comprehensive list of my faults.

Absolutely kidding. But it is a list of what I consider 'areas for improvement' in my life. If you're a friend, I'd ask and encourage you to help keep me in check.

When I start on a project, a friendship, a relationship, a hobby, I have a tendency to go overboard. When I bought my first guitar effects pedal, I didn't stop there, I ended up with an expensive pedal board and enough shiny toys to fill it. When I discovered mixed drinks I ended up buying a rather large supply of alcohol to stock a home bar. And this inability to say "no" is probably why I own three acoustic guitars and a bunch of other instruments. Knowing when to stop is difficult for me.

Probably the reason I did well in high school Debate, I almost enjoy arguing. Or rather, I enjoy proving that I'm right and you're wrong. This likely speaks to a deeper issue of self-confidence. Oddly, I'd much rather avoid conflict, but once I'm in the conflict, I have a hard time backing down. Especially because I'm always right. It's a difficult burden to bear.

I know my own expertise, and I expect everyone else to excel in exactly the same areas in which I excel. When they don't, it's obviously because I’m a better person. Nevermind that the other person excels at different skills, skills for which, very likely, I have no clue or abilities. That's totally irrelevant.

Relatedly, being a religion major, I have a propensity to assume I know more about theology than I actually do. This does not always lead to arrogance, but certainly has more than a handful of times.

Having authority, even if imagined, plays to my ego, and my ego enjoys that. Also, I have issues with authorities over me - rather than "obey" an order, my gut reaction is to question it. Sometimes that's appropriate, but usually it's not.


I'm working hard on listening more than talking, but let's face it, I enjoy attention, and sometimes find myself being an attention hog. My friend Ben has called me on this at least once. Usually this only happens if I'm very comfortable around the people I'm with.

I've been an overachiever most of my life. Not 2nd or 3rd grade, I remember being an academically "bad" student then, but shortly thereafter I changed, and most definitely by 9th grade perfectionism had taken over. This is because I know my best, I know what I'm capable of accomplishing, and so I set my standards for myself ridiculously high.

Shoot, I had to break my chain of words starting with A.

Either by nature or cultural influence, I rarely feel guilt. I can feign it, but feeling it, for whatever reason (privileged American mentality?) is difficult.

In summary, I'm human, and I have faults. For clarity's sake: I've published this list not because I have a low-self-esteem, but the exact opposite. I know my self-worth, my esteem is quite high, and at the same time I know there are areas in my life that need work. So this list exists in the *hopes* that my friends can continue pushing me forward.

PS: and I slouch a lot.

Blasts from the past

On my computer I have a folder called "blogs to write", which has accumulated for years. I'm determined to empty it out, so over the next few weeks I'll be posting some "blasts from the past", stuff that I should have written a long time ago, but never got around to it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I'm proud of my Mom

Mom just started the school year at a new [to her] preschool as their lead teacher. After over 20 years as lead teacher and director at her former school, the one where I went to preschool as a 3-year-old and had Mommy as Teacher, the church decided to close that program. There were lots of stupid politics involved, I guess no church is immune to those. And in the midst of that loss of her livelihood, Mom went out and applied to other jobs, picking up part time work at the assisted living place where my Grandpa lived, and also at a teacher supply store in... shoot, I should know this... Edina? Somewhere over there. Point being, Mom worked three jobs last year, and on top of that had several interviews for teaching jobs this year.

And by "had several interviews", I mean once she put the word out that she was looking for a teacher job, people were practically knocking the door down trying to get her to come to their programs. Not even joking. I guess that's a huge perk of building relationships with so many other directors over the last 20+ years, many of them knew her and knew how awesome she is, so it ended up that finding a job wasn't the problem, it was choosing which of several offers to take!

I'm very proud of my Mom. I don't tell her that often enough, so it's a good thing she reads my blog :)


I love lists. I love making todo lists, and I love crossing things off.

My quest for a viable todo list manager has lasted years, now I finally claim success! Enter: Wunderlist, a free app that syncs between iOS devices (my iPhone and iPad) and my desktop, and if needed, even has a useable webpage front-end. You can create separate lists for work and home, and I've also added lists for several upcoming movie productions.

What's special about this? Previously I had a bunch of text documents floating around with various todos, but what inevitably happened was stuff got buried, and thus, forgotten. With Wunderlist, I can assign due dates to every task, then completely forget about it until that day. When I wake up I see my list of tasks for today, as well as any overdue tasks, and can focus on finishing those without stressing out seeing the hundreds of other upcoming things.

Anyway, I love it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Should'a seen that coming

When I was little I built an action-figure-sized Jabba-the-Hutt's barge out of construction paper, then wanted to have a George Lucas action figure to run the paper camera while my other action figures acted. That should have been a clue.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life's too short

Last Monday I set out on an expedition to visit as many friends as I could between here and Chicago.

After months of being overworked and overstressed at my job, this week was my chance to escape, to do something actually worthwhile: spend time with the people I love. I even went so far as completely deactivating my work email account on my computer so I wasn't ever tempted to read those messages during the week.

All told I visited 12 friends in person and had phone dates while I was driving with 3 more. The drives were long, but worth every minute. During this week, my various friends and I:
  • ate many meals together
  • played guitar
  • went on walks
  • picked vegetables
  • attended Greek class at Seminary
  • went to a concert by The Giving Tree Band
  • drank wine* and watched a bunch of episodes of Robin Hood (2006)
  • had wonderful conversations
Given my lack of real planning in advance, I'm amazed all these schedules coordinated so well. I think it was a God-thing (some of you reading will nod your heads, others I know will shake them; that's fine). Literally, though, everything just fell into place for me. Everyone was free at exactly the right times and it "just worked". Beautiful.

I've pondered how to say what I want to say here, and nothing good is coming to me. I've been thinking a lot about death and dying lately, and so going into this trip I treated it with this mindset: "if I only had months to live, how would I want to spend them?"

My last week was a perfect answer.

* I'm kind of ridiculously happy that my wine-loving friends enjoyed the wine I brought (my new favorite), even going so far as to say, and I quote, "This wine was soooooo good."


I feel that today's Dilbert strip really hits home for me. I'll leave the interpretation of that statement up to you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 Years

10 years ago I couldn't imagine a new morning not consumed with thoughts of that one Day.

10 years later I rarely think of it. "We will never forget", I used to say. And I suppose I haven't. But my life, thousands of miles away, is no longer overwhelmed with empathy. I'll cry this Sunday morning, I'm sure. At the same time, we've reached a new normal. Thoughts of planes and buildings stopped consuming my waking hours.

What does one even say after 10 years? The world has changed: iPhones and apps, Google, wars, political infighting, the Harry Potter movies, cell phone ubiquitousness, wireless internet. And I have changed: theology, dreams, health, family, friends - my friends from 2001, less than a handful are still in my life today.

I think change is good. It's scary, it's among my great fears, but it's Good. Finding peace with a new world, and a new version of "normal", is good.

I also wanted to find some perspective here. 3000 people died 10 years ago this day. But in the US more than that die in car crashes every single month. In the US that many people die from cancer every two days. Worldwide that many people die from hunger every two hours.

My intent is not to belittle September 11. That day is permanently scarred in my memory. We will never forget. I will never forget. But the past will not hold me captive.