Do You Need to Leave Town to “Make It”?

My husband and kids pose in front of a poster of our new state shortly after our move to Minnesota in 2016.

As a young person, did you believe you had to move away from your hometown in order to achieve your ambitions?

I sure did, and young Prince thought so, too.

Back in the dark ages of the 1970s, when Prince was a senior in high school, he gave an interview to his school newspaper, the Central High Pioneer. Seventeen-year-old Prince spent a significant percentage of the brief interview bemoaning the fact that he had been born in Minneapolis. Here’s what reporter Lisa Crawford wrote in the Feb. 13, 1976 issue:

“Prince was born in Minneapolis. When asked, he said, `I was born here, unfortunately.’ Why? `I think it is very hard for a band to make it in this state, even if they’re good. Mainly because there aren’t any big record companies or studios in this state. I really feel that if we would have lived in Los Angeles or New York or some other big city, we would have gotten over by now.'” 

From a 1976 perspective, it’s hard to argue with Prince’s logic (and in case you’re still under the illusion of overnight success being a real thing, remember that the already-frustrated and impatient Prince of 1976 was still eight years, and six albums, from “Purple Rain”). It was indeed hard to get the attention of the record industry when you lived in Minnesota, in an era in which communication was done by letter (we were still a decade away from widespread access to fax machines and FedEx) or expensive long-distance phone calls. Back in the 1970s, the Twin Cities had a population of two million, and as a small city, there were no outposts of major record labels. After graduating from high school, Prince took his own advice and departed the Minneapple for the Big Apple, where he stayed with his half-sister Sharon and tried to get meetings with record companies. He found no greater luck there. Then came a call that a manager in Minneapolis, Owen Husney, wanted to take him on. Prince flew home, and the rest is history.

More than a decade later, in the late 80s, I found myself at a similar age and similarly frustrated as young Prince had been. No, I wasn’t a musician trying to make it, but I was a reporter working in a small town in south-central Wisconsin, with a population of fewer than 10,000 people. No offense to Prince and his frustration at being born in the Minneapple, but if population was a measure of your chances of making it, I was worse off than Prince by several zeros. Like Prince, I knew I had to make a jump — a big one — to get out of my small town and achieve my ambitions. Encouraged by a community member who owned a small public relations firm (public relations was then such an unknown industry that during our first conversation when he told me he owned a PR firm, my response was, “PR? What’s PR?”).

I went to our local library, and in the big Jack O’Dwyers reference books that listed advertising agencies, looked up the addresses and names of PR firms in Chicago and New York. I typed up a compelling letter that would persuade people working in big glass towers in huge cities to take a chance on a small-town reporter, assembled a resume, and mailed them off on a wing and a prayer. Shockingly, I got a response from a PR firm in New York. They took a chance on me, I took a chance on them, and off I went to Manhattan with two suitcases and a 3-week internship that turned into seven years.

That was 1989. Fast forward to 2018, when in my research to get this blog rolling, I came across an Internet-famous photographer and digital marketing coach named Jenna Kutcher. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Jenna became famous (I don’t know if Instagram followers are a reliable indication of fame, but she has 846,000 followers) when she was living approximately two blocks from where I lived when I was a reporter. Yes, Jenna Kutcher lived in that same small town that I had to leave to “make it.”

The Internet, for all the things it’s done that can be construed as negative, has done some great things. One of them, I believe, is that it’s enabled people with ambitions to stay in their hometowns AND make it in the great big world.

Go Local in September

There’s nothing prettier than a Minneapolis neighborhood in autumn.

In late August, I pulled into the parking lot of Lakewinds Food Co-op in Chanhassen, a place that Prince shopped on occasion. (My brain is nothing if not a treasure trove of Prince-the-real-guy trivia). Once inside, the Lakewinds produce department was replete with Midwestern zucchini (always abundant if not overly abundant in peak summer), delicate lettuces and bunches of fuschia-colored dahlias, all labeled with “locally grown” tags.

One of the things that struck me most when we first moved to Minnesota was the locals’ love for this state. Having lived in Illinois for 19 years, I can vouch for the fact that people in Illinois are not anywhere near as enamored by their home state. Maybe that’s because a vast majority of Illinois governors seem to wind up in prison, certainly a demoralizing statistic. In Minnesota, however, there is a deep and abiding love for the land of 10,000 lakes. Maybe that’s because winter weather is unifying in an “it’s-us-against-this-blizzard” kind of way. From Duluth Backpacks to Faribault Wool blankets to Milkweed Books to Surly Brewing’s Furious IPA and the world-famous Electric Fetus “wrecka stow” (record store for the “Under the Cherry Moon” uninitiated), Minnesotans are dedicated to anything made in their state. When it comes to choosing music, for Minnesotans, listening to Prince is essentially buying local. It was music made nice and fresh just around the corner at Paisley Park.

I’ve always believed that one of the most seminal decisions in a career of unorthodox decisions was Prince’s commitment to staying in Minnesota after the success of “Purple Rain.” This belief was confirmed when I spent time over cocktails at the Hewing Hotel with Carmen Hoover, an academic who attended the University of Minnesota in the early 80s, worked at as the first female doorperson at First Avenue (and wound up in front of the stage the first time “Purple Rain” was played, on Aug. 3, 1983) and traveled with the Purple Rain tour. From her front-row seat to Prince’s rise to fame, she recalled that everyone in her circle who had watched Prince’s career progress from local hero to global superstar was surprised when he decided to stay in Minnesota post-1984 and “Purple Rain.” The obvious choice would have been to decamp to Los Angeles or New York or any other of the world’s cultural capital. But instead, Prince doubled down and built Paisley Park in suburban Chanhassen.

Most would not make a similar choice, and sometimes, the locals that supported that artist or athlete or product are left embittered by the experience. The downfall of the great Brett Favre, former Green Bay Packers quarterback (a person who is not Prince-like in any way but hear me out) is one such tale. Certainly, Green Bay made Brett Favre. Favre was the starting quarterback for every Packers game from 1992 to 2008 and bonded with the fans in a very special and unique way. When he waffled on whether to retire, the Packers traded him to the New York Jets. Bitterness ensued. Loyal Packers fans wondered why Favre couldn’t have gracefully retired when he was at the top of the game and held in reverence by Packers fans. Instead, it became complicated and Favre’s reputation among Packers fans is tarnished to this day.

Then yesterday, the New Yorker published an article by Dan Piepenbring, the writer who had been contracted to write Prince’s memoir only a month before his death in April 2016. In it, Piepenbring shared Prince’s thoughts on why he stayed in Minneapolis. Piepenbring quoted Prince as saying, “I stayed in Minneapolis because Minneapolis made me. You have to give back. My dad came to Minneapolis from Cotton Valley, Louisiana. He learned in the harshest conditions what it means to control wealth.”

Prince stayed in Minneapolis because Minneapolis made him. I love this.

This month, I’m going to follow Prince’s lead. I’m going to buy local products, listen to local musicians, cheer on local sports teams, eat locally grown foods and drink local wine (wish me luck with that one!). In September, let’s honor the place that makes us — the place where we live right now.

How I Come Up with the Theme for Each Month

Oh look! The theme for next month has arrived.

Today is August 24, which means there are seven days until September 1. It’s around this time each month that I start to feel a flutter of anticipation. What will next month bring?

The truth is, I rarely know. This is not like me: My comfort zone is the land where people are organized and make lists. But living like Prince means living outside your comfort zone, and Prince was an expert at deploying the element of surprise. I have a hard time imagining Prince methodically working down a to-do list each day, although I don’t have any hard evidence that proves he didn’t. What is certain is that he understood the fickle nature of inspiration. When an idea for a song struck, he worked as hard as he could until he had the song completed. That was why he had every inch of Paisley Park wired for sound. He ensured that he could capture every idea that struck like lightning in a bottle — whether he was in the kitchen making popcorn or in a conference room discussing business or in a bathroom … taking a bath?

At the outset of the project, I made an effort to map out the year. While I’m not a great planner, I am organized, and the thought of having the year laid out appealed to me. As it turned out, I didn’t manage to plan the entire year, but I had a pretty good idea of where I was going with the first four or six months.

But then, in the middle of the snowiest February in Minnesota history, when I was taking my wardrobe cues from Prince and dressing up every day — even for my Target runs — I got rerouted. Put in a different way: Inspiration struck, and the idea wasn’t what I’d planned for March. I struggled with dropping my planned theme for March, but my excitement and curiosity about exploring the phenomenon of synesthesia — the way Prince saw color when he heard sounds — won me over, and I dropped my original plan like a hot potato. March turned out great! And it was meant to be because when I was in a watercolor class exploring synesthesia, I wound up drawing the symbol that I adopted as my name in April.

As the year has progressed, inspiration has come in many ways. It’s come in the form of a friend saying, “Hey, you should change your name to a symbol” or “I took a weekend trip without my cell phone and it was amazing; you should try it.” Or it’s popped into my mind. Either way, I don’t force an idea from the left side of my brain. I wait for something to come to me and when it does, I trust the flutter in my stomach that tells me: a) I’m both terrified and excited at the prospect; and b) the idea wasn’t generated by my brain.

I’ve learned to trust. And I’ve never been left without an idea when a new month rolls around. Usually, the idea comes to me with such urgency and clarity that it feels less like, “oh that’s an interesting thought” and more like, “here’s the idea that’s going to make next month AMAZING.” There’s a flutter in my stomach and tears flood my eyes, and I know exactly what I’m doing with my life in the next month.

Once the idea is set, I allow my planning brain to step in. I research the idea — because yes, there is science behind Prince — and often, I buy a book on the topic, whether that’s “Well Played” by play expert Meredith Sinclair, “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair or “The Alter Ego Effect” by Todd Herman that becomes my reference guide for the month. From there, I generate a list of ideas for blog posts, and off I go!

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!