Every time I meet a fabulous new girl boss who lives in Nashville or watch someone I’ve known for years kick ass and change the course of our city, that’s a good day in my book. I’m interested in putting a spotlight on women in Nashville because I never had a female mentor during my 28-year career. Women just didn’t build up other women, and I often wondered if it was because the great job opportunities for women simply weren’t there. The good news is that, finally, I see an amazing trend taking shape: Women mentoring women. In fact, female mentors are actively seeking out mentees to take under their wing. Now that I have both female mentees and mentors, I’ve noticed certain themes that are hot topics. Let’s take a look.
The art of reinvention
I’ve chosen to feature three women from different ages and stages of life. One sang in a pop band and toured the world entertaining millions of screaming fans, and now she tries to balance three beautiful children all under the age of eight. The second is a fashionista with 17 years of experience in the LA fashion industry who, once she’d moved back to her hometown of Nashville, took a chance establishing the first short-term rental business downtown (back when it was a ghost town). The third is considered the “grand dame of Nashville”—elegance fills a room whenever she enters. What you don’t know about her is that positive thinking is her strength.
First, meet Maile Misajon, Nashville transplant, the mother of three-year-old twin boys, a seven-year-old daughter, a 16-year-old stepson and the wife of hit producer Jeremy Stover. She’s juggling diapers, play dates, snotty noses, and lack of sleep while contemplating her next reinvention. Rewind to 2000, when Maile was in the girl band Eden’s Crush and on a world tour with ’N Sync. Having been cast in the first reality show on the now-defunct WB network, “Pop Stars,” by legendary producer David Foster, Maile was living her dream. It was the #1 show on the network, the band had a Top 10 single on the charts and paparazzi were chasing them around the globe.
“One month I’m waitressing at a restaurant in West Hollywood, serving food to the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Shaquille O’Neal,” she recalls, “and the next month I’m sitting at David Foster and Linda Thompson’s home in Malibu listening to songs they’ve written for the band. We catapulted to stardom overnight. It was all so overwhelming.” So much so that two of the bandmates dropped out before recording a second album. In the midst of great disappointment, Maile was forced to make some tough decisions. Instead of giving up on music, she reached out to a friend. Pop artist and hit songwriter Richard Marx was gearing up for his next tour. Maile called him and asked if he needed a background singer. Richard became her mentor for the next phase of her career. “Thank God for unanswered prayers,” she says with a laugh. “At the end of the tour, Richard urged me to move to Nashville to pursue songwriting. He said it was the most creative city in the world. Without failure and a willingness to change, I wouldn’t have made it to Nashville, to my husband and my kids.”
Having children was the most pivotal point of her life, yet it inevitably raised the question: “Now what?” Maile reflects, “As much fun as it was to tour the world and play to 100,000 people a night, after becoming a mother I knew I didn’t want that life. You have to sacrifice everything. The second Kona Blue came out of my body, I knew I was going to be with her.”
As the kids grew, the urgency of Maile’s internal question of “now what?” grew as well. Enter reinvention #2. Having reinvented myself several times, I know firsthand that that period of uncertainty is so uncomfortable. When Maile committed to songwriting on her terms, the world shifted. “I’d been busy with making lunches and changing diapers and realized I needed to take care of me and do the things that turn me on,” she recounts. “Enter Whitney Daane, my publisher. She got my first cut by Ronnie Dunn and I knew I was in the right place.”
I call these moments “God winks”—when we travel down the road we’re meant to be on, windows will open. They may be big or small, we just need to be looking for the signs. “I’ve had a recent surge of clarity of who I want to be and how I want to be in the world,” Maile says, summing things up. “For me, it’s doing all the things that bring me so much joy and, at the same time, scare the shit out of me.”
On that note, let me share my next story.
I’ve watched Melody’s career zig, zag and grow for years. She left Nashville for LA’s fashion scene straight out of high school. When she returned home 17 years later, she noticed there was not one high-end clothing store for men. Then she saw a “for rent” sign at the old gas station on 12South back in 2006 and boom—she knew what she wanted to do for the next phase of her career.
When her store, Bloke, opened, it became a new alternative for men in Nashville and quickly developed an impressive clientele: Kings of Leon, Jake Owen and the guys in Little Big Town, just to name a few. She gave it her all, but it turned out that she was ahead of the curve. 12South was still a sweet and sleepy area back in the day, so she decided to close the store.
Now what? Enter Gary Bowie, downtown real estate mogul. He suggested that she join him in that business. “I didn’t have any experience in this industry but he said, ‘Just try it—you were in sales, the same skills are required,’” she recalls. Having reinvented myself several times already, I knew that the first few times were fear-based, but the last two I approached with excitement. I asked Melody about her emotions while creating the first short-term rental business downtown in 2007, to which she replied, almost philosophically, “Are we ever not fear-based when doing something new? That’s what drives me. But I also know that nothing is the rest of your life, it’s just the next chapter.”
2008 hit most of us like a brick wall, but Melody stayed the course and kept the faith. She now runs more than 15 short-term rentals internationally, is personally enjoying the fashion industry just for herself, and is able to work from anywhere in the world. What I love about her chic lofts in Printer’s Alley is the design. While it always takes a village to create anything, her special talent is taking someone’s “trash” and turning it into something spectacular—sometimes literally. I heard this story around the Alley: “One of the bar owners saw a Bentley parked next to a dumpster, and then all of a sudden Melody jumps out of it [the dumpster].” I asked her if that was true. “I love dumpster diving, it’s so fun!” she enthused. “Everything can be something. My favorite find was some box springs without the mattress, just the metal. We dragged it to my place, I painted it retro blue, added some classic photos from the 50s inside the circular springs, and it’s now a headboard in one of our lofts.” Be sure to check out Printer’s Alley Lofts—you’ll feel like you’re in Rome.
Speaking of Italy. After moving here in 1990, I quickly discovered my favorite home in Nashville. Little did I know that I would spend so much time in it in my future. The outside is stunning. It looks like it belongs in Europe. When you enter, the art in every corner takes your breath away. Every chandelier, piece of furniture, the bright red kitchen, and especially the vast art collection by pop artists of the ‘80s, exudes drama and class. After the initial swooning was over, a true friendship developed. You may have come across Hope and Howard Stringer at Congregation Micah, which they founded, or the Conservancy Gala that Hope established, or at just about every art-related event in Nashville. They always looked happy and madly in love, and they were.
After losing Howie two years ago, I watched Hope remain positive, never complaining. I asked Hope how she managed to always seem so joyous and content. “I know it had to do with my husband,” she told me. “We had this passionate love affair for 45 years. I would not have had a great attitude for life if it hadn’t been for him. He made our lives so perfect.” Of course, with one daughter and four stepchildren, life was not always easy. Hope and Howie got full custody of all of the children due to addiction issues with the children’s mother. “My father left all six of us when we were young, so I thought since they didn’t have a mother to count on, they will surely want me,” she recalls, “but they didn’t.” Hope doesn’t use the word “reinvent,” but instead she’ll use the word “transition” when she needs to. This was definitely a time when she had to adapt, not only mentally but also physically.
With Howie out of town working long hours, Hope had to do back-breaking chores like paving the driveway and fixing the small barn in the backyard, not to mention herding five children all under the age of 16. She thought she was being Super Mom, only to realize that that was impossible. She began to let go of that unrealistic goal.
“Growing up I was so insecure,” she admits. “Our mother was very religious and never wanted us to overstep who we were. All of my sisters were beautiful, but it didn’t matter because we were not supposed to think we looked good.” Having this family baggage along with her stepchildren rejecting her, Hope could have gone down a rabbit hole. But she didn’t. “When I realized that my husband truly loved me,” she says, “many of my insecurities went away.”
The event that removed all hesitation about living the life she wanted was when Howie fell down the stairs and suffered a stroke. The “step-mom guilt” evaporated and the freedom to focus only on her husband gave her much inner peace. She became Howie’s full-time caregiver. I knew she missed dancing and traveling with the love of her life, yet she never complained. “I must get it from my mother,” she reflects. “My mom never complained after she discovered that my father’s mistress was pregnant at the same time that she was [pregnant] with my little brother. She never stopped loving him, but had to divorce him. She cried every night after the divorce became final, crying into the potatoes she was peeling or the dishes she was cleaning.”
I asked Hope about “transitioning” amidst her great grief after Howie passed two years ago. “I miss him every day. I miss him all day, every day. I talk to him every night when I get into bed, thanking him for the beautiful bed he provided. It’s almost unreal when the person you love so much dies, but Howie prepared me for living without him. I know at my age it should be hard for a woman to be on her own, but I keep busy going out with friends every night of the week.”
Well, that’s something we have in common. During times of grief and/or transition, keep those you love close and let them in at all times.
Read the article in our digital issue here.