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!

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.”