I Appeared on TV and Here’s What Happened

Check out the full interview here: http://www.fox32chicago.com/mornings/416737976-video

This month has seen me spending a significant portion of my time driving back and forth to Chicago while streaming podcasts and Prince playlists and drinking Arnold Palmers. And when I say “significant portion,” I mean 28 hours of driving, to be exact.

This is could be tedious, but it’s not. Driving alone is fun for me. I’m a mom and quiet time in a car is not a punishment, but cause for celebration.

But, half of those hours of driving were also unintentional and here’s why: I showed up in Chicago a week early for my Fox 32 television interview. For real! I misread the producer’s email. Seriously, Laura?

I could have gotten down on myself. How could I make such a dumb mistake?

Instead, I laughed it off. Because it’s July. And I promised myself to keep it light. To keep that attitude of play first, be serious later. Way later — like next year later. I’ve got all of 2020 to be as serious as I want. But right now I need to channel a spontaneous, shape-shifting artist who was light on his feet and lived to disrupt the status quo. I needed to trust that for reasons unknown to me, July 7 (and not June 30) would be the ideal date to be on the air.

I had the great good fortune to be able to play in one of the greatest cities on the planet for two weekends in a row in the most gorgeous weather of the year. Not exactly tragic, even if a bit of an unplanned budgetary blip.

Chicago was fun. I had playful lunches with a family friend two weekends in a row. That never happens now that we live in Minnesota! She’s 91 and when she asks for something that doesn’t happen to be on the menu (and she does this with some frequency), waiters fall over themselves to deliver it to her. If it were me requesting the dishes, I guarantee you that it wouldn’t happen. (No kidding – at Carmine’s, the table next to us tried to order the salmon over sauteed spinach dish the chef made for Marge, and the waiter bluntly said: No. Just, no.).

Then, I reconnected with my friend and former hairstylist Lori, who works for Sassoon. Lori understood when I told her that I wanted to channel Sheena Easton. This is something hair stylists might balk at or look crossways at, but not Lori. Lori is cool. Lori gets music. Lori is from Detroit and used to model with former Prince girlfriend Annalisa. (If anyone knows Annalisa, let me know. I would love to talk with her as I believe that we have Annalisa to thank for “Anna Stesia,” on the Lovesexy album). Lori did the hairstyle beautifully the first weekend I was in Chicago, before I realized my mistake, but the second time? She killed it! And, Lori reached out to another client of hers who worked with Prince for eight years, and we wound up going out for dinner. Lori intended to come but couldn’t and wondered if it might be awkward. Her Prince-related client and I talked for four hours. With a shared interest, it’s never awkward.

And finally, I wound up on television on July 7, which turned out to be the same day that the Chicago Tribune published Heidi Stevens’ story on me in the print edition.

Going with the flow, keeping it light, and trusting all will be well. July, you’ve been good to me so far.

In July, it’s Time to Get Serious about Play

One of Prince’s favorite ways to relax was to bike around Chanhassen and its parks.

I hereby declare July the month of play.

Prince took play seriously, and as evidence, I refer you to one of my all-time favorite videos, “Gangster Glam,” which dates from 1991. It chronicles a single day and evening out in MPLS with Prince, Leisl AuVante and members of the New Power Generation enjoying the city’s “brief but beautiful summertime,” in AuVante’s own words.

There’s a rare sighting of Prince barefoot, and even rarer, video footage of Prince rocking a mankini while doing pushups poolside and hanging out in front of Paisley Park on the hood of his canary yellow BMW. Did I mention that Prince rollerskates here? I kid you not. Just a typical day at Paisley Park circa 1991, folks. Move along: There’s nothing to see here.

In sultry July, the temperature rises, the days are long and sun-filled, and life beckons us to slow down and savor a cool drink, or a bicycle ride around the lake. This month, I’m gonna make like Prince in the glorious MPLS summertime. I’ll bike around town; I’ll host a bonfire and get someone to play guitar; I will take up a new hobby — paddleboarding. However, I WILL NOT WEAR A MANKINI (June may be over, but I can still say no!). I will find ways to make each day more pleasurable. Taking time for play — or even time to stand on the edge of Lake Minnetonka and gaze out at the boats as the water laps at your feet — is our theme for July.

Mid-Year Check In

Living Like Prince … it’s a QUEST.
“Don Quixote and Sancho Panza,” 19th century, Honore Daumier.

With June coming to a close, my year of Living Like Prince is halfway done, a realization that causes a pang in my stomach. In a word (or six): I don’t want this to end.

Despite the fact that I have loved and admired Prince and followed his music for some 40 (!) years, on January 1, 2019, it was far from guaranteed that living like him was within my grasp. My lifestyle is nothing like Prince’s. I’m a suburban mom after all, and he was a global superstar. And from what I do know about him from my research and interviewing people who knew him, my personality couldn’t be more different from Prince’s personality — with the possible exception of a shared dry sense of humor.

As it turns out, the simple act of trying to replicate Prince’s behaviors and decisions — even when flat-out failing (ahem, the fasting days where I caved in to the hunger and ate) or floundering around feeling ridiculous (the photo shoot when I attempted to channel my alter ego) — has elevated my game. I’m no global superstar, but even in my small world, I’m surprised at where I find myself only six months. Even when I’ve failed, such as after those first wobbly efforts at fasting, I’ve gone back and revisited it. This month, I went back to fasting, this doing intermittent fasting with the support of a couple of friends. And after that terrifying first photo shoot, I even did a second one, this one for the Chicago Tribune. Was I ever happy I had a little experience under my belt!

This is a quest, and no quest worth taking is free from obstacles. Or, as Prince put it in his speech at the 1985 American Music Awards: “Life is death without adventure, and adventure only comes to those who are willing to be daring and to take chances.” (Way to throw down the gauntlet, Prince).

Here’s my assessment of the year to date, and my hopes for the second half of the journey:

SCARIEST MOMENT: I’ve spent six months experiencing discomfort in all forms, from hunger to stage fright in front of a camera. (Have I mentioned how hard it is to be in front of the camera?) The same goes for the videos I did for Facebook, and the media interviews, from my on-camera interview with Prince’s Friend to “Why this self-described suburban mom is living like Prince for a year” by Heidi Stevens of the Chicago Tribune. All required me to step up and be seen. And despite Prince’s distaste for the media, my experience has been the opposite: It’s been a gift to have my story reflected back by talented members of the media.

MOST EXHILARATING: Is it any wonder that EVERY SINGLE ONE of the scariest moments turned out to be most exhilarating as well?

BIGGEST SURPRISE: I experienced a phenomenon that I dub the “exhilaration hangover.” When I received the proofs from the photo shoot, I found it painful — literally! — to look at the resulting photos, and even after selecting the ones I liked best, I had to force myself to share them online. My brain was drunk on a shame and fear cocktail, as recriminations like “who do you think you are?” And “you look ridiculous doing a photo shoot all dressed up (fill in blank: at this age, at this weight, with these wrinkles, when you’re a mom ).” The inner backlash is real. Conclusion: All you can do is ignore it and keep moving.

BIGGEST LAUGH: The day I launched a “Prince Name Generator” on social media and Facebook friends played along. Prince was famous for changing the names of his proteges from your basic every day name to something over-the-top that could land you in a James Bond movie. New Power Generation keyboardist Thomas Elm became “Tommy Barbarella. Tara Fitzpatrick became “Carmen Electra.” I doled out some 35 Prince names that day! Exhibit A: Jacqueline Gonzalez became Jackie Splendid. Exhibit B: Liz Malmquist became Alessandra de Alba. And I, plain “Laura,” became “Aurora.” It’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

BIGGEST INSIGHT INTO PRINCE: Prince did not become “Prince” overnight. In his early photo shoots, he looks a little awkward (I feel you, Prince). He wasn’t perfectly groomed. He had a toothy grin, like any twenty-year-old in front of a camera. Becoming Prince of the sly, knowing smile took practice. In the interest of science, I’m compacting lessons Prince had a lifetime to perfect into 12 months. Honestly, though, I should really repeat the months again next year, if my family wouldn’t disown me.

BIGGEST INSIGHT INTO MYSELF: The biggest realization I’ve had is that I was hiding behind what I’ve come to call “suburban camouflage.” I was living a perfectly pleasant life, but I was playing it safe and trying to blend in rather than stand out. I needed to step up and share my gifts.

Whether the person you most admire is Prince or John F. Kennedy or Mark Twain, my greatest insight so far is this: Don’t just admire someone. Take a walk in their shoes, because we’re all capable of so much more than we think.

“No” Brings the Lifestyle Difference Between This Suburban Mom and Rock Star Prince into Sharp Focus

I may be holding the steering wheel, but am I really in the driver’s seat of my life?

June is my month of “no” and if ever I needed a wake-up call about how different my lifestyle is from that of a rock star like Prince, this is it. “Duh,” you might say, and rightfully so. Yet, while this isn’t headline news, I never expected that a month of saying no would throw me into an existential crisis, either.

My initial giddy enthusiasm over imagining how happy I would be refusing projects and turning down invitations has not materialized — far from it! I expected to be tossing out “no’s” like candy in a Fourth of July parade. Instead, it’s brought all of my people-pleaser tendencies to the surface and made me face just how much of my life I allow to be dictated by others. It’s like an episode of “Scared Straight,” only without the juvenile delinquents.

I do not label myself a people pleaser with pride. No! (There’s that word again). I don’t think being a people pleaser is a good trait, but I also think a lot of us are this way. This month has thrown into stark relief how much I allow my agenda to be dictated by other’s needs.

Let’s break down my day yesterday as a random sample of my life. I’m going to rate each event of my day on a scale of one to ten, with ten being a staunch, well-played, saying “no” event, and zero being a total people-pleaser move.

5:45 a.m. Wake Up

I woke up not because I chose to wake up. I woke up because the dog started whining, which was imminently going to turn into barking, which would have woken up the entire household. Essentially my day started being dictated by a canine. Way to set the tone!

Saying “no” rating: ZERO (I should give myself negative points but I’m afraid that I will never dig out of that hole if I do).

7:45 a.m. Get Two Boys Up and Go to Dentist

Here’s the thing: I need to see the dentist too, but I canceled my own appointment so my son could get to his ACT test prep class by 10 a.m. While my mothering score might be satisfactory, my self-preservation/dental hygiene score is a big zero.

Saying “no” rating: ZERO again. At least I’m consistent!

10:00 a.m. Work for 3.5 Hours

Rationale: I’m torn on this one, but I’m going to give myself a few points here. I wrote a blog post, but the blog post I wrote was not for my own blog but rather, for a paying client. I desperately needed to write for my own blog because I’m woefully behind in keeping up the pace, but I also need to make sure I’m putting in sufficient hours on my paying work, for which I have a contract. Still, among the things I did during this work time was talk to my media coach who’s helping me get publicity for “Living Like Prince,” so that moved the ball down the field.

Saying “no” rating: FIVE POINTS.

1:30 p.m. Take Dog to Park

Here I go again, doing something for someone else, in this case, a canine family member. Still, the walk was good for me too. I needed to get up from my laptop and move. Plus, the boys were playing soccer in the nearby fields and it was fun watching them.

Saying “no” rating: FIVE POINTS.

2:00 p.m. Dear Friend texts me with a request to write a story on someone from the Prince community.

True confession: Before my brain could intervene with a “no,” my fingers typed “Sure!” WTF? Do I have no presence of mind?

Saying “no” rating: ZERO POINTS

3:00 p.m. Take son to the orthodontist

No further commentary needed. This is mom life at its finest!

Saying “no” rating: ZERO POINTS.

5:00 p.m. Spend the evening with visiting family, make dinner, sit on the back porch and enjoy wine and conversation.

Saying “no” rating: TEN POINTS

The day ended on a huge up note, for which I am rewarding myself the full 10 points.

DAILY “SAYING NO” RATING: 20 points of a possible 70.

Twenty points out of seventy sounds pretty lame, but let’s consider the upside. I may not be scoring perfect 10’s, but I am taking baby steps outside my comfort zone and into a new way of life where I instinctively protect my energy and my time. And that, for a suburban mom like me, is a huge stride forward.

Invent a Personal Assistant

Responding to requests in the third person — as if you are your own personal assistant — makes it easier to say NO.

June 1st saw me clapping my hands with glee at the prospect of a month of “no.” I imagined myself turning down anything I didn’t feel like doing. No, no, NO!

But in practice, oy vey! Old habits, which have become ingrained over 16 years of motherhood are hard to break. I swear, since becoming a mom, I’ve started assuming it’s up to me to undertake any request — or worse, to offer to take on things that the person involved didn’t even request but that I think would be helpful to them.

My friend and media coach, Mary O’Donohue, recently shared that she was able to reach out to a literary agent on Twitter to request an interview for her students with no fear at all. If she had been asking for herself, she said, it would have been much more difficult to find the courage to do that on her own behalf. That got me thinking that I could create an imaginary personal assistant who would handle incoming requests. Being the gatekeeper for someone else is much easier than being the gatekeeper for yourself!

Thank God for Aurora, the alter ego I created last month. She would surely have no problem saying no to anything that even slightly rubs her the wrong way. And she certainly wouldn’t be volunteering to be her family’s full-time servant or to take on a task that no one had even requested of her.

Because I spent the month of May cultivating an alter ego, the experience of creating a distance between myself and the self I strive to be is fresh in my mind. As I struggled to say no at all, much less with glee, the thought occurred that I could refer to myself in the third person. Granted, referring to yourself in the third person can feel grandiose, making it hard to keep a straight face. But, given that a lot of my communications come via text, I found that I could hide behind an imaginary personal assistant who was acting as gatekeeper of my schedule and to-do list.

In 2017, the Today Show did a story about the power of talking to yourself in the third person as a tool for quelling anxiety. Mark Reinecke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine told the Today Show, “When we put something in first person there’s a heavier [emotional] load that makes it more difficult to reason about a problem clearly,” Reinecke said. “If you put the problem into the third person, it allows you to keep perspective on it and have a calmer response.”

I Dare You to Text Me

When our boys were toddlers, like all toddlers, they loved the word “no.” Looking back, I’m sure it’s the sense of power that “no” conveys upon the naysayer, especially when the naysayer is a small human who feels powerless in a world of grown-ups issuing orders. Somewhere along the path to adulthood, “no” goes from a thrilling power play that is guaranteed to get a rise from adults to a surefire way to provoke conflict. Conflict, for many of us, is something to be avoided.

A skill of adulthood is learning to use “no” with the same amount of joy that you feel when you say “yes.” One of the crappy parts of the writing life is hearing “no” a lot, from agents and publishers and readers who review you on Amazon. In the past, I’ve let those “no’s” shut me down. It’s only years later that I realize how far I could have gone if I had said, in the immortal words of Ariana Grande, “Thank you, next!” I think that being someone who hates saying “no” made me take the “no’s” I received far too seriously. I should have lightheartedly let those rejections roll off of me and continue on my merry way, writing the next thing that came to me. But a lot of the time, I let the no’s paralyze and silence me. To that, I now say NO.

When friend Clara texted me to ask if I would buy her a plane ticket to Italy, you can read my initial avoidance of “no” in an effort to make sure Clara doesn’t get upset with me. Instead, I tried to make a joke out of her question by saying “OMG not again!!.” Only when Clara prods me do I manage to spit out a “no.” And even though I knew I was supposed to say no, I still felt bad doing it!

Prince’s Most Infamous “No”

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As one of the most critically acclaimed musicians of the 1980s, Prince was at the top of the list of musicians that producer Quincy Jones wanted for the recording of “We Are the World,” a single recorded on Jan. 28, 1985, the night of the American Music Awards, for a charitable relief effort called USA for Africa.

Jones would not get his wish. He would, however, get more than 40 other voices, including Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Diana Ross and Jones’ co-writer on the song, Michael Jackson.

“I was with Prince one day at his home studio, just the two of us,” says Susan Rogers, an audio engineer who recorded many of Prince’s early albums, “and he got a call from Quincy Jones asking him to come be part of ‘We Are the World.’ I only hear Prince’s side of the conversation—I was in the control room waiting—but he declined it. It was a long conversation, and Prince said, ‘Can I play guitar on it?’ And they said no, and he ultimately said, ‘Okay, well, can I send Sheila?’ And he sent Sheila. Then he said, ‘If there’s going to be an album, can I do a song for the album?’ And evidently, they said yes.”

Prince’s “no” took an unfortunate turn when, after the AMAs, he decided to take a limousine to the restaurant and nightclub Carlos & Charlie’s on Sunset Boulevard with Jill Jones and several bodyguards.

“As Prince and his entourage exited the restaurant at about 2 a.m., several paparazzi descended on him, and one audacious photographer jumped into his limousine,” writes Alex Hahn in The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988. Prince and his friends were frightened and outraged and bodyguards Lawrence Gibson and Wally Safford seized the photographer’s camera and ejected him from the limo. The police were called and Gibson was arrested for battery and Safford for robbery.

“Predictably, the confluence of these back-to-back events — Prince’s no-show at a high-profile charitable event, and a violent incident involving his security staff — brought down a hail of negative publicity,” Hahn writes. “Any nuances in either story were blurred, and Prince came off as self-centered, security-obsessed, and, most damningly, unwilling to drop his rock star pretenses for a charitable cause.”

The public relations debacle was compounded by the fact that Prince wasn’t speaking to the media at the time; it would be months before he would break his silence in the September 1985 interview with Neal Karlen for Rolling Stone. Prince recorded his side of the story in the song “Hello,” the B-side to “Pop Life,” and “4 The Tears In Your Eyes” was released as the sixth track on the compilation album We Are The World. But the public relations damage was done.

In his 2014 biography Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, author Alan Light spoke with Wendy Melvoin, guitarist for The Revolution.

“I wasn’t allowed to say the real reason” Prince didn’t show up, Melvoin says. “Because he thinks he’s a badass and he wanted to look cool, and he felt like the song for ‘We Are the World’ was horrible and he didn’t want to be around ‘all those muthafuckas.’”

No.

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Was there ever a bigger “no” than the “no” Prince relayed to Warner Bros. by writing “SLAVE” across his cheek?

I’m giddy with delight over June’s theme. Unlike the rather challenging months — January’s month of fasting and April’s changing my name to a symbol come to mind — this one feels like a piece of cake. For an entire month, I am saying yes to “no.” What could be easier than uttering a tiny, two-letter word? In the month of June, I am vowing to say “no” to anything that I don’t want to do. My goal is that June will see me saying “no” to all sorts of requests, and in the process, I will make sure that the things that I eventually say “yes” to the right things for the right reasons.

As I contemplated the tremendous excitement of a month of finally doing only what I wanted (and wondering if some sort of mommy police will come and apprehend me if I don’t adhere to the millions of unwritten rules about what moms can and can’t do), I couldn’t help but reflect on Shonda Rimes’ fabulous book, “Year of Yes.” Unlike me, Rimes doesn’t seem to have much problem saying no. Maybe that’s the difference between having an entire night of network television devoted to your shows, and … well, being an average person like me. Rimes, an introvert, spent a year forcing herself to say yes to speaking at graduations and attending glamorous parties. (I, on the other hand, would have been dressed up and out the door as fast as you can say “Little Red Corvette.”).

I am Laura, and I have a “yes” problem. I can’t not say yes. How’s that for a double negative? Worse, I have a dreadful habit of turning myself into a veritable pretzel in an effort to accommodate everyone in my vicinity, and then inwardly seething in knotted-up, pretzel-like anger. The fact that I am an introvert means that my proclivity for people-pleasing and yes-saying burns me out. I need down time and quiet to hang out alone in my mind, which is my happy place. But yet, I can’t seem to stop myself from accepting invitations — even if they mess up my schedule — and taking on unnecessary amounts of responsibility and work — even if it messes with my own ability to achieve my goals.

The picture I paint of myself is not a flattering one, I fear, but it’s June, it’s month six of living like Prince, and you all have seen so much of me that I figure, if you haven’t run away screaming yet, this true confession won’t scare you off, either.

The prospect of saying “no” to something had me giddy with delight on June 1. And on June 2. Then, June 3 rolled around and I actually had to say “no” to something, and I very nearly blew the entire month with one three-letter word beginning with “y-e” and ending with “s.”

Robin, one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, asked me if I would like her to set up an interview with Ingrid Chavez so that I could write a story about Chavez for the PRN Alumni Foundation website as part of their series, “Stories from the Park.” Now, merely weeks ago, I had specifically asked to be connected with Chavez, as I would love to tell her story. But in the meantime, I had submitted two other stories for publication by PRN Alumni. Coupled with Living Like Prince, it was a lot, and I needed a short breather to focus on this project and my paying job and oh yes, my family, before taking on another story. I had overpromised.

I needed to say no.

My stomach felt tight and all sorts of unhealthy thoughts rushed through my mind, as I gripped my cell phone and formulated a response. I mentally berated myself for having suggested that I would like to do the interview and was now reneging. What kind of flaky person selfishly causes this kind of inconvenience? What if I hurt Robin’s feelings? I was stuffed in the middle of a shame and guilt sandwich, and what I wanted to do more than anything was stuff my face with giant handfuls of kettle corn from the Costco-sized bag I had purchased the day before (another bad decision, more shame, and guilt). Robin texted a perfectly kind and reasoned response of “I can assign it to someone else if you prefer,” and I texted her that I would appreciate that, and then felt enormous waves of FOMO coming over me. Now I wouldn’t get to interview Ingrid Chavez! What kind of fool am I!

Living in my head is not a walk in the park.

But then Robin texted something that brought the death spiral of thoughts in my brain to a screeching halt: “I understand! Thanks for sharing your talent with us.”

Relief washed over me like the proverbial purple rain. Robin had been gracious and kind, and I had managed my first “no.” I felt a joyful confidence! Like a stubborn two-year-old, I couldn’t wait to try my next “no”!

The Gift

Painting by Clara Tomaz

This past weekend, friends of ours visited from Chicago. We have been in Minnesota for three years now, and although we are separated by distance, the bonds of friendship have grown stronger with many of our Chicago friends. That’s been an unexpected blessing of this move.

My visiting friend Clara and I went exploring at Minnehaha Falls, a place of great natural beauty along the edge of the Mississippi River. In addition to being fun to say, Minnehaha Regional Park is gloriously beautiful. The grounds are shaded by a canopy of gorgeous towering trees and the park features a massive shelter with an eatery and ice cream shop. It’s like a miniature Niagara Falls in the middle of the city. Clara and I followed the long staircase alongside the falls down to the creek and followed it until we reached to a beach (flooded) at the point where Minnehaha Creek meets the mighty Mississippi.

As we walked, we talked. Clara, a filmmaker and painter, is one of few visual artist friends I have. Because I’ve never thought of myself as an artist, I struggle with the competing demands of making a living through paying work and my art. (See, it feels odd or even pretentious to write “my art”). Because while I am creative, I also like being paid. It’s important for your self-esteem to be paid for your work. I am proud that throughout my life, I have been able to make a living by writing, whether that was as a journalist or in public relations, or as a freelance writer and author. But I’ve always sought a balance between paying work and creative work, in some phases of my life more successfully than in others. I currently work as a consultant doing content for a financial services company and I love it. My colleagues are top-notch and it’s a really great place to work. I value that and am hugely grateful for the opportunity. Because I get grouchy and out of sorts if I don’t balance that paying work with work on my own writing, I always feel like I’m walking a tightrope to who knows where. I was sharing that ongoing inner balancing act with Clara. Doing this Prince project makes no sense, really. Any logical person would tell me to put all of my energy into my paying work. Don’t we want to pay off our cars and mortgage? Don’t we want to sock away more money for retirement? Well then, I should be putting all my energy into paying work while I can.

As I vocalized this in a rambling, stream-of-consciousness way to Clara, she stopped me.

“Art doesn’t make sense,” Clara said in a matter-of-fact way, adding, “that’s not its purpose.”

In a place of honor on our mantel

Art doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t. Art is a gift, like the encaustic painting that Clara gifted me this weekend. It means more to me than anything because it’s a recognition that she sees me. And she sees Living Like Prince as a worthy endeavor, simply because it is an expression of an idea of how humanity can live in a way that’s more expansive. The artist in Clara recognizes the artist in me. The artist in me recognizes the artist in Prince. And the chain goes on and on and on, creating more beauty and touching more souls as it grows.