5 Big Secrets to Limiting Your SmartPhone Use

There’s no shortage of real-life accounts of people giving up their phones. Some give them up for Lent, some mimic intermittent fasting and give them up for a prescribed number of hours per day. I’ve been taking a more Princely approach, which is to avoid doing what the crowd does. When they scroll through their feeds, I’m laying some cards on the dining room table and re-learning solitaire. Here are 5 secrets I’ve learned about limiting your smartphone use:

  1. Don’t worry about limiting your accessibility. Limiting my smartphone use means I’ve been less available on an “anytime, anywhere” basis. While removing myself from constant accessibility caused some angst at first, as days pass, I’ve been surprised to discover that no one requires it of me. What a relief! For years, I’d put pressure on myself to reply promptly to texts and emails, imagining that’s what was expected. Plus, being less accessible gives you that aura of aloofness that is so very Princely. Now, it’s common for me to reply to a Facebook or text message hours after it was sent. Not once has anyone complained. The need to be available 24/7 was all in my head. Freeing!
  2. Connect your text messages to your laptop. I have an iPhone and MacBook Air, and the ability to see my texts on my laptop has been life-changing. Now, I check texts when I sit down to work, and not when I’m standing in the kitchen with pasta simmering on the stove. Only once has this strategy backfired, and it resulted in my decision to invoke the “I’m not a rock star” clause. I messed up a time zone difference on my calendar, and as a result, missed a work meeting. My colleague texted me but I didn’t see it, as I wasn’t on my laptop (I’m a contractor and work a few hours each day). It was only when I logged on an hour later that I saw my colleague’s text and realized my mistake. Now, on the weekdays, if I’m not at my laptop for a long stretch of time, quickly scan my phone for urgent texts.
  3. Put your phone to bed early. Think of your smartphone as a particularly demanding and grouchy toddler: It needs to go to bed early. The *one* thing I was doing right even before this month started was charging my phone in the kitchen each evening. Normally, I’ve got it plugged in on the kitchen counter by 7 p.m. and I don’t check it unless I hear the “bing” of a notification. Along the way, I missed some DMs and group conversations, but honestly, that never bothered me. I go to bed early, and my sleep is sacrosanct!
  4. Investigate alternative methods for listening to music and podcasts. Not streaming music or podcasts using my phone and beloved Bose speaker has been the thing I’ve missed most — by far! The ability to carry my music anywhere, in the car, my office, out on the back porch — I MISS IT. I miss The Purple Current. I miss Gretchen Rubin’s “Happier” podcast. Heck, I even miss The Dave Ramsey Show, a finance-oriented podcast I got temporarily hooked on, which generally features Dave yelling at people about how stupid they are to have credit cards. I miss you, Dave! While we have a stereo in our family room, and I’ve used it to play CDs, it’s not the same. (I keep forgetting to load up my car with CDs, which is highly annoying). When I move down to my office, I can’t hear the stereo. If I was going to commit to this long-term, I’d definitely investigate other ways to stream music and podcasts. (Are speakers for laptops still a thing?).
  5. Keep your brain engaged in other ways. There are lots of ways to relax and pass the time that aren’t phone-driven. (Really! There are! Remember the 70s? 80s? 90s? Aughties?). This month, I’ve relaxed with a coloring book. I’ve walked the dog. I’ve taken baths. I’ve read a book (printed on paper, no less!). I’ve started a puzzle on the dining room table (will I finish? That is the question!). And I’ve played solitaire with real, printed cards. Each and every one of them has been satisfying. Not a single one of them gave me Instagram-envy of someone else’s house or clothing. And that my friends, is the real victory of being untethered from your smartphone. You get to focus on being utterly YOU, unencumbered by comparisons and concerns about what others think of you, or what others are wearing or achieving. It’s a Princely victory, indeed.

I Waited, Phoneless, in the DMV and Here’s What I Observed

Despite the fact that I’m going phone-free this month, I’m not advocating that we adopt a position of technophobia. (And honestly, given Prince’s penchant for finding new musicians on YouTube and firing off emails, I don’t think he was technophobic, either). Technology is a powerful tool, and my phone is a tool that I fully intend to use when September 1st rolls around. Although I’m doing without it this month, I appreciate my phone’s ability to get me a car when I’m on the streets of New York; to map out a route to drive to Sioux Falls, all while helping me avoid construction or traffic delays; and to message anyone I’ve ever met.

Still, in an effort to be more present — a quality that helped define Prince — it’s been helpful to remove the phone altogether. It hasn’t been without its trials, though. My resolve to do life sans smartphone was put to the ultimate test this week: The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) waiting room.

Is there any place more stultifying than the waiting area of the DMV? You sit in that particular circle of Dante’s Inferno and clutch your little paper number, wishing that number was instead securing your spot in line at a New York deli where there would be a Reuben sandwich as a reward for your suffering. But, no. At the DMV, your only hope is that you’ll have the correct documents to obtain a Real ID and the ability to fly using it after October 2020. You will wait for an unspecified amount of time (the fact that it’s unspecified is a huge contributor to the stress level of this particular circle) while you attempt to be patient by reciting mantras you learned in yoga (“I am the universe and the universe is me.” Om). Occasionally, a computerized voice calls numbers on a far-too-irregular basis.

I went to that place this week to get an updated driver’s license. I didn’t expect it to be as busy as it was, during the late morning on a summer Wednesday. But busy it was.

I was unprepared for a long wait. I had no book or magazine or even notebook and pen. And while I had my smartphone in my handbag, I was refraining from using it for anything except emergency calls from kids. I parked myself within sight of an overhead television that offered a hopeful “welcome to Chanhassen” message, a list of the numbers being served, and a commercial for a local marketing firm. Imagine my dismay to find that that same ad played in a neverending loop. It occurred to me that this marketing firm was likely in charge of getting advertisers and, having failed to round up any clients, had instead made a commercial for themselves.

The television was not going to be a source of entertainment. There was nothing for me to do but stare into space, observe my fellow humans, and be bored.

After about five minutes (I couldn’t tell exactly, as I’d forgotten to wear a watch and like its neighbor down the road, Paisley Park, the DMW appeared to have a policy against clocks), I learned that my brain no longer does boredom well. I decided to use my time wisely by doing an unscientific survey of my fellow wait-ees. How many were on a cell phone? I fully expected a solid 90 percent to be staring at their screens. After all, if people weren’t face down in their screens at the DMV, then where? I was surprised when, of the 15 or so people waiting, the split hovered around 50-50 between people on phones or doing something else. Every once in a while, the split would shift: A woman who’d been on her phone set it down and picked up her knitting. Score one for Team Phone Free. A little girl who was getting restless took her mom’s phone from her handbag. The balance shifted back to Team Phone. Two women who were friends and had been chatting pulled out a phone to look at photos of grandchildren. A two-pointer for Team Phone. A lady sitting a seat away to my right put her phone away and commented to me that the wait was much worse than she’d expected, and why were there two people taking passport applications and only one for driver’s licenses? We struck up a conversation and Team No Phone tied the game.

After an hour or more ticked by, I started to squirm. My brain had managed to work up several compelling reasons why I needed to get back to people who’d emailed me, and how I needed to keep up when out of office in the middle of the workday. It was an unnerving feeling, this guilt over being away in the middle of the day and rudely not replying to other people who were more responsible than I. Anxiety welled up.

I caved. I allowed myself to feel so uncomfortable at the thought that I was inconveniencing others by taking too long to respond that I pulled out my phone, went to my email, and fired off three replies in quick succession. I put the phone away and felt a sense of satisfaction and relief. I had kept the ball in play.

The brain is a wily creature. It tricked me.

Finally, after about an hour and twenty minutes into my wait, I got my turn.

Instead of feeling bad about caving, in retrospect, I consider that hour-plus wait, with only a few minutes on the phone to send a few emails, a victory. I didn’t get sucked into my phone. I connected with people, I had a conversation, I let myself feel bored, I made up a game. As they say in Weight Watchers: Progress, not perfection.

Don’t Let Your Cell Phone Boss You Around

Dear Cell Phone: You’re no longer the boss of me!

Given that freedom-loving Prince advocated for partying when facing the very-real-in-the-1980s threat of nuclear war, it might seem counterintuitive to assert that Living Like Prince is about restraint. After all, the title track to 1982’s “1999” has Prince hedonistically declaring that if he’s going to be vaporized via nuclear annihilation, his top priority is to “listen to my body tonight.”

But yet — practicing restraint is exactly how I’ve spent a good portion of these first seven-plus months. Living Like Prince is about what I don’t do as much as what I do: Not eating every other day during January; not wearing sweats on a Target run in February; not using my given name in April; not acquiescing to things that deep down, I know aren’t right for me, in June.

August is no exception. Saying no to my cell phone is a “no” to the constant distraction (“bing!”) of notifications. By practicing restraint, I’m making room for something else to take the place of those minutes (hours?) of mindless scrolling.

Prince prioritized music-making. And as such, he had to show restraint in other areas. No device was going to rob him of his creative time or suck the life out of his creativity with its constant, mindless distractions.

As a recovering people pleaser and over-accommodator, I respect the way Prince stood firm on not having a phone, even if (especially if?) it inconvenienced others. (People are resourceful! If they need to reach you, I can assure you, they’ll find a way. They’ll figure out who’s with you and call that person). My first thought, which was that Prince was paranoid about his privacy, might be partially true, but it’s not the whole story. Prince was a rebel and his rebel nature expressed itself by being fiercely protective of his creativity and his dedication to making music in the face of any societal expectations. Could Prince’s lack of a phone at least partially account for his continued creativity and work ethic up to the very end? That might be stretching it a bit far, but it’s hard to deny that when you’re in “consuming content” mode — and consuming is exactly what mindlessly scrolling Instagram or binge-watching YouTube is — you’re not creating.

In a 2013 interview with V Magazine, writer Vanessa Grigoriadis says of interviewing Prince, “I ask how tech-averse he really is; does he have an iPhone? `Are you serious?’ he says. `Hell, no.’ He mimics a high-voiced woman. `Where is my phone? Can you call my phone? Oh, I can’t find it.’”

No, Prince wasn’t going to let some device run his life. Prince was notorious for denying his audiences their cell phones as well. You pull out a cell phone at a Prince concert, and you risk being unceremoniously removed from the show, end of story. But hey — he wasn’t asking anything of others that he wasn’t asking of himself. Grigoriadis describes a tense moment when entering the theater for the Prince and 3rdEyeGirl concert she attended in California:

“Both shows stretch to a delicious two hours, as the crowd, in blowouts and Vegas-style cocktail dresses (it’s worth dressing up for Prince, even in California), screams and sings along with glee. The only tense moment comes when we file into the theater and a security guard says, `No cameras, no cellphones—don’t even take them out of your pocket. Tonight, we’re not asking, we’re just escorting.’ I ask her what that means. `If we see you with your phone out, we’re not going to ask what you’re doing—you’re just gone.'”

I really need to implement this with my kids.

Grigoriadis goes on to share a moment at the end of the concert that’s especially poignant.

“At the end of the show he says, `Thank each and every one of you for leaving your cell phones in your pocket. I can’t see your face when you’ve got technology in front of it.'”

That, my friends, is the rationale for this month in a Princely nutshell. With a phone in front of your face, I can’t see you. I can’t connect with you. Disconnection, I believe, is at the heart of what ails our society. (Relatedly, if you have a child who’s even vaguely interested in medicine, point her/him toward orthopedics as there will be a heck of a lot of people with neck problems as the first crop of “digital natives” begins to age).

Will you let an electronic device boss you around?

Some 13 days into the month of August, and I already know my answer. In Prince’s immortal words: Hell no.

Phone-less or Phone-free?

I choose to view my no-phone state as “Phone-Free!”

August 1st found me phone-less. A week later, August 8th finds me phone-free.

Yes, I’m without a phone. But how I see it is up to me to decide.

My life changed within minutes when I stopped using my phone for everything from grocery lists to telling time to streaming podcasts. For one, I dug my watches out of my jewelry box and started wearing them again. For another, I quickly found that without my beloved weather app, having no clue what the day would bring (weather is a huge topic of conversation all day, every day, in Minnesota) was driving me batty. Behold, my “new” weather app:

Check out my “new” weather app!

But aside from these small inconveniences, the first real challenge reared up on August 3, when I had a solo road trip planned to visit a friend who lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a four-hour drive away. Immediately, two people close to me who shall remain unnamed (one of their names starts with “m” and ends with “m” and has an “o” in between) told me in no uncertain terms that not having a phone for this trip was stupid.

That was when I realized that my original “I’m breaking up with my cell phone” declaration might have sounded more all-encompassing than I intended. The point of this month is not to be unsafe, but rather, to remove the constant distraction that a phone brings. In considering the road trip, I planned to bring my phone in case of emergency. (Case in point: When you see a car stopped at the side of the highway, do you pull over to help? No, you don’t, because you assume they have a cell phone and if they need help, they’ll call for it).

While Prince had no phone, he had people. He never traveled without a bodyguard, who undoubtedly had a phone. I have no people, and the people I do have (my children) are often looking to me to be the one in charge. I informed the two very kind and concerned parties that I planned to have the phone in my suitcase. One of them proceeded to tell me this was also stupid, because what if I was in a head-on collision and couldn’t reach my phone?

I had to agree that if I was going to have the phone in the car, it might as well be within reach, so I put it in the console, along with a stack of CDs. (Thank goodness my car has a CD player! I’ve heard that the latest models have eliminated them altogether).

As I drove, I reflected on a 1997 trip I took to Alaska and the Yukon with a group of journalists who were covering a dogsled race. In February. With no phone. We drove thousands of miles on treacherous roads with no service (meaning, no gas stations) in temps that reached 30 degrees below zero in the daytime. On Valentine’s Day, as a special treat, the race organization arranged for satellite phones to be available in Dawson City, Yukon, so people could phone their sweethearts. I called my parents. That was the extent of my communication with the outside world for two weeks.

Now, here I was, some 22 years later, planning a trip in broad daylight, in fine weather, four hours away, with plenty of towns and gas stations along the way, and it had become unthinkable that I would travel without a phone. Ultimately, I decided, this was a good thing when it came to safety. But was it a good thing when it came to feeling self-reliant and confident — and free?

My reverie was broken by a striking realization: I was listening to a CD from start to finish, for the first time in years.

Good-bye, sweet podcasts and hello, CDs!

When I stream music these days, I’m usually doing it from playlists of jumbled songs. The idea that it used to feel rebellious when I hit the “forward” button” to skip my less-favored tracks on a CD seemed quaint. These days, I only ever listen to my favorite tracks. But as I listened to an entire CD, even making my way through less-loved songs, made me feel like a better listener. I tried to glean the bigger storyline — the arc — of an album. I even tackled Prince’s 1996 album “Emancipation” — a three-CD set that saw Prince celebrating being free of his Warner Bros. contract as well as his recent marriage to Mayte Garcia — from beginning to end, in sequence, with no skipping over songs. It took hours! I realized the songs were chapters, the CDs were parts, and the album was a book that told the story of someone who struggled with darkness and light, freedom and bondage, commitment-free sex and the commitment of marriage, and had come out on the other side. “Emancipation” is a damn fine album.

At the same time that I was going on a sonic journey with Prince’s “Emancipation,” I had navigation to contend with, as I’d never been to Sioux Falls before. While maps were my fallback position, my car does offer navigation. I haven’t used it in ages because my car’s navigation isn’t “live” and thus doesn’t warn me of traffic jams or road closures. So, normally I prefer to use Google maps on my phone. Yes, it’s gotten to the point that even my car’s navigation isn’t good enough — I require constant connectivity.

No live connectivity it was. And fortunately, my friend provided detailed instructions on how to reach her house, because the normal exit was closed for construction. With my car navigation and a scribbled Post-It note of directions on the console, I found my way there and I found my way back home. I’d made my first phone-free road trip in years and was on my way to greater freedom.

My Cell Phone and I Are Breaking Up in August

Good-bye, sweet phone. See you in September. *Sob!*

Good-bye, sweet cell phone.

This month’s theme has me quaking (and not “Housequake”-ing), in my boots (or sandals, since it’s high summer). In August, I’m giving up my cell phone.

Dammit, Prince. Why couldn’t you have carried a cell phone like the rest of us?

Yes, it’s true, Prince had no cell phone, a fact that he discussed with Arsenio Hall in an interview on the Arsenio Hall Show in 2014. I debated whether or not the lack of a cell phone was part of Prince’s success, or simply a quirk of his personality or even paranoia about privacy. There’s an argument to be made either way. Certainly, security must have been part of the reason, as celebrity phones do get hacked with some frequency. I don’t have the same public pressures on me, and security and privacy are not of the same level of concern. I shouldn’t have to give up my cell phone, right?

On the other side is a simple truth: One of Prince’s defining qualities was his ability to be in the moment. And, he famously (notoriously) refused to allow phones at his parties at Paisley Park. He wanted people to be fully present for the event, not viewing it through a phone. What better way is there to stay in the moment than to keep the phone screen at bay?

I have to do it. The fact that it scares me definitely means I have to do it — this much I’ve learned from seven months of living like Prince.

Should this month end badly, thankfully, there is a villain to blame. Dear friend and fellow Prince fan Christine Trejo suggested this month’s idea after the experience she had when her son needed a cell phone and she needed to go away for a weekend. She left it behind with her son.

“I felt a bit lost without it at first but then it felt really freeing,” she told me.

Her story made me think of Prince’s 2014 interview with Arsenio Hall. Arsenio asked Prince how he managed without a cell phone, and Prince said simply, “Everyone around me has one.”

My friend Christine experienced the exact same phenomenon.

“I was surprised when my friend’s phone rang with my mom on the phone,” Christine told me. “She called my cell and was given my friend’s number. This happened several times over the weekend. It made me realize people are resourceful if they really need to get a hold of you.”

Despite my fear and trepidation at the prospect, I know that Christine is right: It’s Princely to be cell-phone-free. And, it’s a way to make Prince’s ability to stay in the moment concrete and practicable, something I’ve been struggling to figure out how to implement. Thanks for solving my dilemma, Christine. I’ll text you in September!

Fun for the Sake of Fun Wraps Up a Playful July

You sure are pretty, Apollonia-ized friends!

In the pursuit of living like Prince, I knew that I couldn’t end July’s month of play without hosting a gathering. Prince was an inveterate party-thrower who loved to bring people together, whether that was at the open-to-the-public parties he threw at Paisley Park or the celebs-only bashes he’d host at his rented home in Los Angeles. While I thoroughly enjoy getting together with friends over a glass of wine and talking jobs and kids, I wanted to come up with a party idea that was unexpected, a little bit silly and guaranteed to take us all outside our comfort zones. Simply put, I wanted to have fun for the sake of having fun.

When I was reading Meredith Sinclair’s excellent book Well Played, which is chock-full of practical ideas for bringing playfulness into your life, I hit upon the idea of hosting a movie night and showing “Purple Rain,” which had the built-in benefit of not only giving everyone something fun to do together, but would also provide a playful theme. But, I knew I had to take it one step further if I wanted to make the evening something outside the ordinary. To amp up the frivolity, I enlisted the services of a friend who’s also a talented hairstylist and makeup artist to transform any guest who was willing into Apollonia, Prince’s stunning co-star.

As part of stepping out of a comfort zone, I didn’t want to invite a group of people who all knew each other. While I made sure that everyone had at least one connection, I wanted to give my guests the fun of meeting new people and making new connections. Guestlist made, I finished the Evite and hit “send.” To be honest, I was anxious about how the guests I’d invited would respond. Movie night is one thing, but once you’re out of college, an invitation to come over and get your hair and makeup done like an 80s movie star is quite another! Much to my relief, when the rsvp’s came in, eight people responded “yes.” The party was on!

That day, I dusted off my cocktail shaker and whipped up a batch of Purpletinis (blue Curacao + red cranberry juice + sour mix + vodka + 7-Up = purple deliciousness). Then, I popped up a bunch of Orville Redenbacher’s finest and scattered some Milk Duds over the top, a combo that was reportedly Prince’s favorite movie snack. (Consider yourself warned: when they hit the warm popcorn, the Milk Duds get melty and gooey and combined with the salty, crunchy popcorn, and you will be HOOKED!). I scattered purple candles around the room, bought a giant bunch of purple gladiolas and decorated with whimsical Prince artifacts like my Prince Funko Pop dolls.

The eight guests arrived, all flying the purple flag by wearing their purple best. They looked amazing! As it turned out, the date I’d picked for movie night turned out to be the 35th anniversary of the opening night of “Purple Rain,” a happy coincidence that bonded us right off the bat. Once everyone had gathered, I asked each person to introduce herself and tell how she was connected to me, or to Prince. We thoroughly enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories!

A few guests brought playful additions to the party. One offered artist-made, Prince-inspired loungewear which guests could purchase, a second the Prince-inspired bracelets she makes and a third contributed her talents by offering up acupuncture ear seeds and placing them on each guest for whatever ailed us. The seeds were blinged out with crystals and looked cute on everyone’s ears.

We settled in to watch the movie while everyone took turns getting glammed up. My guests were great sports and everyone happily jumped in and got their hair and makeup done. It was great that everybody got into the spirit! Whenever someone’s transformation into fabulous Apollonia circa 1984 was complete, the others would cheer their approval. And naturally, we were enthralled by the real Apollonia’s performance of “Sex Shooter.”

Embed from Getty Images

I’m happy to report that the proverbial good time was had by all. Today, in the warm violet afterglow of last night’s party, I’m reminded that it’s always a good thing to bring people together for laughs, a dash of glam and a Purpletini.

Dear Prince, You Sure Knew How to Play. As July Ends, I’m Exhausted — and Happy.

Princely caption contest: “1000 x’s and o’s”
or “like a bunch of blind people playing tic tac toe …” You decide!

Prince was a guy who knew how to let loose and play. And I don’t mean “play” as in play an instrument or a song or a show. That kind of playing was his work, however enjoyable, and a concert venue was his workplace. While Prince never came out directly and declared “I am playful,” even a casual observer could see: The man knew when a good, old-fashioned spin on a bike was in order. Here are a few of the ways Prince would play:

He loved to ride his bike.

As the old proverb goes, too much rigidity and stress in the daily grind can make Jack a dull boy. Never-dull Prince, an avid biker, knew the mood-lifting magic of hopping on two wheels and breezing down the bike paths of Chanhassen. Longtime New Power Generation keyboardist Morris Hayes told GQ Magazine:

“I took him to the bike store and I bought him a bike because he said he wanted a bicycle. I got him all sized up for it, and then I told him, “Okay, Prince, I’m only buying this bike if you get a helmet.” And he said, “I don’t want a helmet.” I said, “Well, I’m not buying this bike, sir, if you don’t get a helmet—you have to ride with a helmet or else I can’t be responsible for you being on this bike.” He says, “Well, I don’t want a helmet.” I said, “I’ll get you a cool one—and I’ll get one, too.” So we got the helmets, but I found out later that he was riding the bike and he didn’t wear it.”

Prince biking toward Paisley Park, April 2016.
From Instagram, Prince Live the Best.

He hosted bonfires at his house.

Once, I spoke with a woman whose property borders Prince’s. She recounted how, back in the early 2000s, she was sitting on her back deck one evening when bassist Larry Graham (who lived near her, on Prince’s property) walked over and invited her to a bonfire. Warmed by his neighborly gesture, she agreed, and walked over with her glass of wine. She was enjoying the bonfire when Prince, his second wife Manuela Testolini and others arrived. Prince, who she says was wearing a plaid shirt (!) and jeans (!), offered the woman bug spray (chivalry at its finest!) and then proceeded to play guitar with his back facing the fire. It was her impression that he kept his back to everyone because he was shy.

He went joyriding in his sportscar.

Prince sped around town in his purple Prowler, and according to this story from the local Chanhassen newspaper, even thrilled fans at stoplights.

“I used to chase the purple prowler around town,” former Chaska resident Reid Harmen wrote. “And one time — just once — he pulled up next to us at a stoplight on Powers Boulevard and Highway 5. Me being me, went crazy and started screaming at him. He slowly rolled down his tinted window, gave us a wink with the most mysterious smile, and sped off — through the red light.”

He played softball with his band.

A Chanhassen resident told the local paper that he was at “a little league practice at Lake Ann Park across Highway 5 from Paisley Park … all of a sudden, all the moms of the 10- to 11-year-old players disappeared over the hill — it seems Prince came to the park to play softball on the other diamond — and that was a bigger deal than their kid’s practice!”

He challenged other celebs to basketball games … and served them pancakes after he beat them.

Who can forget the late Charlie Murphy’s hilarious tale of he and his friends playing Prince and The Revolution in basketball, and Prince serving them pancakes in the end? “Game, blouses.”

It’s been quite a month trying to keep up the pace of someone as playful as Prince! But I think I achieved Prince playful nirvana. As the month began, we rented electric bikes and rode 24 miles through the gorgeous (and hilly) Iowa countryside.

Then, I went to Chanhassen’s July 4 carnival – just like Prince had in 2015.

That weekend, I appeared on Fox32 in Chicago! And I met a fab new friend Sharay, who’s a gifted hair and makeup artist.

I borrowed my dad’s car for a quick joyride. (Now I want a red sports car of my own).

I borrowed my friend Stacy’s paddleboard for a quick joyride around Lake Ann! (Now I want a paddleboard of my own!).

Because Prince opened Paisley Park for parties, I threw a small party for our new neighbors (of which I have no photographic evidence, so you’ll have to take my word for it!). Later, I stopped to smell the roses at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. I especially liked this one, because the name reminded me of the symbols on the gate of Prince’s Lake Riley house.

Prince’s gate at his former Lake Riley home. Photo courtesy of TheCurrent.org.

And finally, this weekend I attended a “Caddyshack” themed party at my parents’ country club. I think my dad should have won the “most authentic costume” award for still fitting into his plaid pants, circa 1978.

July has been an exhilarating, exhausting ride with tons of fun around every corner. But I’ve still got one more episode of big fun in store before the month wraps. More on that to come!

The Science Behind Prince

I joke about being “the purple guinea pig” but like a lot of jokes, it’s got more than a nugget of truth at its core. Living like Prince for a year often has me feeling like a mad scientist in a lab with purple concoctions bubbling in test tubes — and as I imbibe the content of each month’s allocated test tube, there’s a moment of breath-holding, then the month takes off and I’m zooming ahead in some crazy transformation of my own making.

Each month’s purple test tube liquid has different results. I might wind up looking like a mock Sheena Easton (during May’s month of adopting an alter ego) or a Medusa-like creature with snakes coming out of my head (okay, maybe not literally, but I certainly felt like a crazed, Medusa-like creature more than once during January’s month of fasting). The common denominator in each of the seven months has been the way that each of Prince’s habits and decisions I’ve replicated has turned out to have scientific research supporting them — and this month’s theme of play is no exception.

There’s science behind Prince. Yes, even the fasting! Just this week, golfer Phil Mickelson made headlines when he fasted for six days before the British Open.

“Extensive research shows that fasting lets your body heal itself,” Mickelson told USA Today. He explained that he felt pretty lousy for the first day or so, but by day five, he wasn’t craving food and had mental clarity and energy.

Prince spoke about fasting to Rolling Stone in 2014, saying, “After four days, you don’t want food anymore. … It’s like this thing that says, ‘Feed me, feed me.’ When it realizes it’s not going to get fed, it goes away. ”

February’s month of dressing up the way that Prince dressed up for everything he did led me to learn about enclothed cognition, or the systematic influence that clothing has on a wearer’s psychological processes. March’s month of exploring color helped me unpack the phenomenon known as synesthesia, a condition some believe Prince had, in which someone sees color when hearing sound. When I changed my name to a symbol in April, I began to research how much your name matters to the outcome of your life, and the effects of name-signalling — in other words, what names say about ethnicity, religion, social sphere, and socioeconomic background — and whether in the future, we might all adopt symbols rather than names.

In May, I adopted an alter ego (I named her”Aurora,” and found out later that my alter ego’s name had cracked the top five most popular girls’ names in 2019, so I was right on trend). Prince famously adopted multiple alter egos in the form of Camille and Alexander Nevermind and Christopher Tracy, and expressed other aspects of his personality via side acts like The Time, The Family and Vanity 6. I was surprised to learn that athletes, corporate executives and global pop stars from Lady Gaga to Beyonce have all used the science behind alter egos to activate their heroic selves and step into high-level performance. Side note: Lady Gaga talked about her alter ego — she calls it a superhero — in this recent Instagram post.

On to June, when the month of saying “no” to things I didn’t want to do helped me learn how uttering one little word can be an act of self-preservation. Turns out, even the New York Times has written about Why You Should Say No More Often, so I learned to set aside my people-pleasing tendencies. “No” can keep us focused on our goals and we know Prince was goal-oriented.

Which brings me to July and the serious topic of play, which offers benefits from improving focus to relieving stress and even helping avoid depression. I can attest that playing works, partly because it keeps you on the move. No time to sit home and ruminate when there’s playing to be done! I’ve paddle boarded and joy ridden and hosted new neighbors for a small party and explored the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and visited Chicago three times and New York once! Whew. Imaginative play — like travel — increases the ability to envision other perspectives, and we all could use a bit more of envisioning other perspectives in today’s world.

You Have Carte Blanche to Act a Fool in July

Thank goodness for the fools. They lower the bar for us all.

What is play if not carte blanche to act a fool? In July, I’m taking full advantage of my month of play to embrace every possible opportunity for frivolity and foolishness.

Is it any wonder this is shaping up to be our best summer in years?

Here are a few of the ways I’ve played this week:

Went paddleboarding. On Lake Ann. Attempted to wave at Prince’s property across the water without falling off said paddleboard. Mostly succeeded by tipping but not falling in. Verdict: Love! Very soothing to glide along as the sun glints across the water on its way to another glorious summer sunset. Loons were crying in the distance (I did indeed mean “loons” and not “doves”; this is not a typo!). Loons are Minnesota’s state bird so I was feeling very apropos. Thanks to dear friend Stacy for letting me test-drive her new paddleboard. Would do again in a hot minute and tempted to get one of my own. Must figure out how petite me could manage to heft a paddleboard on top of my vehicle. Might require a winter’s worth of weight training.

Threw a welcome gathering for new neighbors. Thrilled to discover that our new neighbors have teenage sons in the same age range as our sons. Because it is my month of play, I sprang into action! As I laid out my world-famous Trader Joe’s cheese tray in preparation for their arrival, I realized it was miraculous, actually, that someone with teenage boys would move in, as most people moving into a suburban neighborhood tend to have small kids. New neighbors hail from London (love) and had hilarious tales of attempting to acclimate to their new lake-y environs by buying a boat and then nearly capsizing and having to be saved by boat police. The mom, as it turns out, is a Prince fan. Verdict: Our boys were happy, having introduced the new neighbor boys to root beer and basketball. I was happy to meet a Prince fan from across the pond. And Andy has someone to drink beer with. Everyone wins.

Played with YouLookFab‘s random outfit generator. Dear friend Angie Cox has the most fabulous fashion blog around, and one of its features is a random outfit generator that works just as you would imagine. It takes items posted by either you, Angie or others who are members on the site and randomly combines them into unexpected outfits. Sometimes they are hilarious; sometimes they aren’t half bad. In my month of play, I’m going to challenge myself to wear one of the outfits it generates. So far, here are the two leading options: First, a winning summertime combination of a long sweater, leather and tweed jacket, white pants, FitFlops, and saddlebag. At least the bottom half is practical for our current 90-degree heat! Second is an avant-garde outfit featuring a leopard-print jacket, fleece slippers and a long flowy skirt topped by a long purple sweater (at least random outfit generator got the purple part right!). Hmmmm. This is gonna be a tough call between two statement-making outfits! Thoughts?

Turns out, there’s science behind playing around — whether that’s wearing “statement-making” outfits or pushing off from shore on a borrowed paddleboard. In her excellently playful book, “Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family’s Playful Spirit” (Wm. Morrow; 2016), author and regular Today Show contributor Meredith Sinclair writes, “Philosophers from Plato to Jean Piaget to Friedrich Schiller have all acknowledged that play is the catalyst for all art, invention, new connections, and innovation. Play ignites our minds in ways only it can.” (I highly recommend following Meredith and buying her excellent book!). She goes on to talk about play guru Dr. Stuart Brown and his book “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.” Meredith shares Dr. Brown’s findings about play in her own words, writing that “the opposite of play is not in fact work, as you might suspect, but rather depression. DEPRESSION, people! In his work, Dr. Brown has found that when denied play for long periods of time, our emotional well-being is “compromised.”

It’s scientifically proven! Playfulness is key to making us happier. I’m going to keep on paddleboarding, making new friends and wearing randomly generated outfits until the cows come home (this is the Midwest, after all). Thank goodness for the fools, I say! They lower the bar, help us get over ourselves and our foolish pride, and let our inner selves come out to play.

Why You Need to Go Joyriding (Even If You Have a Ton of Responsibility)

Hey Dad, thanks for letting me borrow the car!

July’s month of play is dragging on, and it’s complete drudgery. This weekend, I forced myself to go joyriding in my dad’s Firebird. As you can see from my expression, I was miserable.

I have it on good authority that Prince was a master of joyriding. My scientific evidence is a casual chat I had with a woman in a store here, who told me that her husband was a police officer who had once pulled over Prince for speeding. He walked up to Prince’s purple prowler and said, “Can I see some identification?”

“My music is my i-den-ti-fi-cation,” Prince replied, stretching out each syllable.

God love him. He was always on-brand.

People think of Prince as a nimble, shape-shifting creative genius, and while certainly, that is half the picture, Prince also was someone who bore quite a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. Photographer Steve Parke, at an Edina book signing for his “Picturing Prince” (Cassell; 2017), shared that during the video shoot for “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold,” Prince opened up to him. Prince told Parke that before a video shoot, he wouldn’t eat for a few days so that he would have enough energy to perform at his best on camera. (Thus, the theme for my first month of living like Prince — fasting). As Prince looked around the room at all the individuals working on the shoot, he told Parke about the pressure he felt knowing that he was paying those people’s bills.

When you have a lot riding on you, it’s easy to become anxious and worried. It’s easy to find yourself trapped in the grown-up drudgery of jobs and mortgages and everyone else’s needs. You might have a job where expectations are high. Or a new baby (the worry about that and resulting inability to sleep nearly did me in, lo these many years ago). Heck, even this blog, a place that is a writing playground, can stress me out if I let my perfectionistic tendencies take over.

Prince knew how to light himself up and connect with his playful side. He’d hop in his purple Prowler and squeal out of Paisley Park. Sometimes he would cruise westward for a couple of miles, until he arrived at the sylvan paradise that is the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where, according to Arboretum folks, he would cruise the back roads.

Joyriders don’t need a destination. Joyriding, my friends, has no purpose other than joy. There’s no agenda and no to-do list. Pull over at a Dairy Queen (this is Minnesota, after all, home base of that venerable soft-serve institution, and there seems to be either a Target or Dairy Queen on every corner). Stop at a farmers’ market or a secondhand store. Why not!