Find Your Band Members

Prince on 12/5/81 in Chicago with band members Andre Cymone (left) and Dez Dickerson (right). (Photo by Paul Natkin/Image Direct)

This weekend, I attended Wordsmith 2019, a writing conference hosted by the Loft Literary Center at the University of Minnesota. My agenda had less to do with exploring the craft of writing and more to do with this: Find potential band members who can work as a de facto team to help me turn “Crazy Amazing: The Year of Living Like Prince” from a blog and a prayer, into a book.

Intentionality was key. When Prince auditioned band members, he listened not only for skill but for an innate, funky style. I would follow his lead: While keeping an eye out for people with valuable skill sets, they also needed to demonstrate a sensibility that matches that of this admittedly quirky, funk-filled project. It was a tall order!

With that in mind, I headed to a “speed dating” session for writers. The session’s goal was to enable you to connect with other writers who could support you in your work. Some participants were looking for a writers’ group; others were looking for a match in terms of their genre — say, someone writing historical fiction with a fantasy element set in medieval times (writers can be a wee bit specific about genres). Shockingly, no one I spoke with was seeking anyone writing a memoir of a year that they could describe as “like`Julie & Julia,’ only with less food and more funk.” (Wouldn’t that have been something!) But no matter. Rather, inspired by the way Prince sought out talented people who could do what he couldn’t — play horns or design websites or make costumes — I was looking for potential bandmates with skills I didn’t have and who were great at what they did.

As we rotated around the room in a musical-chairs arrangement, I spoke with seven people for four minutes each. Not surprisingly, opening a conversation with, “I’m a suburban mom living like Prince” tends to pique people’s interest. Still, one writer stared in puzzlement; another gave a bemused “sorry, not for me” look. Two others took an open-minded approach. While Prince wasn’t their cup of tea, they essentially replied, “I might not be your ideal reader but I can appreciate your idea; tell me more.” Three times, the eyes of the writer sitting across from me lit up. “How are you doing that?” they asked.

Ultimately, however, the person I honed in on as a good prospect for my “band” was in the open-minded bunch who weren’t ga-ga over Prince but didn’t dismiss the “living like Prince” spiel as a sign that they were sitting across from a madwoman, either. This gentleman described himself as a tech entrepreneur who’d sold a couple of companies and who had retired and was looking to write. As a writer, I could be helpful to him; he’s an entrepreneur, and that’s invaluable because being an author is an entrepreneurial venture that requires a product, branding, marketing, and distribution. Those things are notoriously difficult to do for oneself. But when I approached him the next day to say I’d chosen him, it turned out that he hadn’t chosen me. This could have spelled disastrous rejection, but au contraire: He seemed pleased to hear that having his input would be valuable and gave me his business card so we could be in touch. One potential band member connection made!

Then, at lunch, I joined a table of nonfiction and memoir writers and chatted with a woman who was younger than the typical demographic for anything Prince-related, but who she exclaimed enthusiastically over the idea of “living like Prince.” She impressed me with her self-awareness as she shared how she’d moved from a place with a high cost of living to a less expensive smaller city so that she could write as a profession and still manage her life. She showed a lot of dedication to her craft and a high level of maturity to boot and she happens to do freelance editing. She could be an ideal editor to help develop a book manuscript. We exchanged emails. Potential band number two, found.

When you’re going the traditional publishing route, the two other band members you need are an agent and an editor at the publishing house that’s publishing your work. The agent comes first and is your ally and guide in the publishing industry. The agent, in fact, is the one who connects you with editors at publishing houses. Once the publishing house signs you to a book deal, then you, the agent and the editor become a trio with the mission of bringing your book to life. I didn’t expect to land an agent at the conference; far from it! But I was encouraged by the positive, warm connections I made. Band members three and four remain at large, but that’s nothing concerning at this stage in the process. Prince bumped into his musical comrade-in-arms Andre Cymone as a junior high school student standing in a line in the gymnasium. Bandmates three and four will step forward when the time is right. Meanwhile, it’s time to start rehearsing with my new bandmates.

Form a Band in November

Prince on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, flanked by two of his bandmates from The Revolution, guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboardist Lisa Coleman.

As November begins, I can hardly recall the bright and shiny version of me who jumped headlong into Living Like Prince back in January. Rather, I feel like a marathon runner who’s hit the wall at the 20-mile mark of a 26.2-mile race. Though I’ve still got that gleam in my eye, though I’ve still got determination and passion and desire, I’m emotionally exhausted and physically tired. I can see the finish line — it’s right there, in my sights. But even though I can see it, I find it hard to visualize myself finishing.

How do marathoners get through those final miles? Do they grit their teeth and do it all alone? I guess that’s possible, but it’s hard. When you have others who will spur you on, it makes you feel more able to dig into your reserves of strength. It’s hugely helpful to have others — whether you call them partners, teammates, friends or comrades — who will practically push (shove) you over the finish line.

Recently, I was thinking of Prince (as one does when they are living like Prince) and his first album, 1978’s “For You.” Young Prince wrote all the music and the lyrics and played every instrument and sang lead vocals and backup vocals and then produced the whole dang thing.

Prince was literally a one-man band.

While the album was a huge accomplishment, Prince couldn’t succeed in the music business without performing live. What was he going to do, run around the stage trying to play every instrument simultaneously? Even Prince, with all his abilities, couldn’t manage to pull off that superhuman feat. No, there was no way to perform without a drummer and a bass player and a guitarist and a keyboard player or two, so Prince had auditions and assembled his band.

Prince needed a band, I thought. That’s what I need, too.

Not a literal rock band, mind you. What I need is more akin to a “band of brothers” variety of band. A tribe. A council. A trusted group that’s got my back and will help me do whatever it takes to get across that finish line.

No one can thrive in isolation. Not Prince. Not me. And not you, either. This month, I’m going to seek to connect with other writers, professionals with complementary skills and maybe even a mentor. With the support of others, we can cross the finish line, depleted but happy.

Your Spiritual Journey Is a “Grand Progression”

Digital painting of Prince in the “Graffiti Bridge” era by NYAO.

An early theme of “Graffiti Bridge,” Prince’s spiritually-oriented 1990 movie, was the search for what Prince called “the grand progression.” When a progression of 17 guitar chords was played, it would cause the mystical Graffiti Bridge to appear. While there was a literal Graffiti Bridge in nearby Eden Prairie that had been used by Vietnam War protestors to share messages of peace, in the movie “Graffiti Bridge,” the bridge was a physical manifestation of a spiritual state of mind.

The unreleased ballad, “The Grand Progression,” was written for the movie but ultimately eschewed in favor of “Still Would Stand All Time” (you can hear “The Grand Progression” by searching YouTube for it). The song is filled with a yearning for union, of both the sexual and spiritual kind. In the concept of a grand progression, Prince expresses the mystical aspect of the musical harmonies that had been mathematized as far back as 500 b.c. by Greek philosopher Pythagoras. Like Pythagoras, Prince was exploring the mathematical aspect of music in the concept of a grand progression, but Prince added another dimension: He was also expressing music’s effect on the human spirit.

As I pilgrimaged through October, Prince’s idea of a grand progression took on new meaning. I began to see every step of my spiritual journey as a chord in “The Grand Progression.” Each step moves us forward in a journey to get closer to our higher self. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned the grand progression as mystical musical staircase that leads us into a higher level of consciousness, and at the end of our lives, back into the arms of God.

What I’ve learned this month is that spiritual journeys are built on trust. You must be willing to let go of the comfort of one step to move to the next level. You must trust that there will always be another step on which your foot will land safely. And like an improvising musician, you must trust that in releasing one chord, the next will come.

If you see life as The Police did when they sang, “We are spirits in the material world,” then it follows that life by definition is a spiritual journey, one travelled by your spirit, carried within your body for the purpose of having an earthly experience. And if we listen to one of Prince’s spiritual teachers, author Betty Eadie, what we are here on Earth to do is to grow our spirits through serving God — “Love God” — and serving each other — “Love4OneAnother.” We’ve all heard the old saying, “You can’t take it with you.” Well, there’s one thing we do take with us, according to Eadie: When we leave our bodies, our spiritual growth during this lifetime is what we take back to heaven.

Tomorrow, we turn a page on the calendar to a new month and a fresh start. Tune in for the announcement of November’s theme!

A Prince-Curated Playlist of His Spiritual Songs

The NPG Music Club inside Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn. on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016. (Evan Frost/MPR)

In the early 2000s, Prince began experimenting with delivering music direct to fans via his NPG (New Power Generation) Music Club. For $100 a year (what a deal!), members could get preferred seating at concerts and access to soundchecks before shows (in Princeworld, a soundcheck is not a brief check of sound, but rather, a full, improvised show before the concert that could last 2+ hours). And, members had access to new music that flowed as freely as nearby Riley Creek, going direct from Paisley Park to fans.

Contrary to popular belief, Prince was not Internet averse (that inaccurate impression is largely based on one quote from 2010 in which Prince stated that the Internet was “over.”). In reality, Prince was an Internet pioneer who had some truly prescient ideas about how an artist could use the Internet to deliver music direct to fans, effectively owning the distribution channel. The NPG Music Club, which also was the name of the physical space inside of Paisley Park pictured above, was one of Prince’s very best inventions in an inventive career. According to webmaster Sam Jennings, who worked with Prince to launch the NPG Music Club, the club started on Valentine’s Day 2001 with monthly “editions” that delivered multiple new song downloads per month, plus a downloaded radio show curated by Prince and the NPG that featured new music, commentary and comedic skits.

On Sept. 18, 2001, NPG Ahdio Show #8 was released. In those awful days following 9/11, many people were looking to celebrities to make statements. As far as I can tell, this was Prince’s musical statement. Featuring some of his most spiritual songs, the show seems intended to address the gaping wound, pain and sadness created by the tragedy.

In an article for the Washington Post on April 27, 2016, webmaster Jennings wrote, “Prince’s goals for his own online business were simple. As the creator of the music, he wanted to control the distribution chain himself with as little dilution as possible. `Let the baker bake the bread,’ he would often say.”

What Prince shared in September 2001 is bread for anyone seeking spiritual solace.

Thanks to the encyclopedic resource, Prince Vault, we have the tracklisting of NPG Ahdio Show #8. From this, I made my own playlist, minus the tracks from Lovesexy, because that album is essentially created as one single song, and thus the songs are not separate tracks. I’ll be singing along to these songs all weekend long.

Eye No – Prince (intro only)
The Plan – The Artist
Anna Stesia – Prince
Elephants & Flowers – Prince
I Wish U Heaven – Prince
Love… Thy Will Be Done (Prince Mix) – Martika (intro only)
Pearls B4 The Swine – Prince
7 (Acoustic Version) – Prince and the New Power Generation
Space (Universal Love Remix) – Prince
Still Would Stand All Time – Prince
Into The Light – The Artist
I Will – The Artist
The Holy River – The Artist
Outro (including New Power Generation (Pt. II) and Positivity) – Prince

http://www.princevault.com/index.php?title=NPG_Ahdio_Show_8

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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.

Where the Shadow Self Lives

The imposing James M. Castle home in Stillwater, MN, built in 1872. See more: https://www.oldhousedreams.com/2019/05/23/1872-stillwater-mn/

This is the house where I imagine that my alter ego Aurora lives. Isn’t it sheer Gothic Revival perfection?

You could come over and Aurora would serve you an absinthe cocktail on the front porch.

Knowing Aurora, she might even slide down the banister on her way to greet you.

Come into my parlor. You look so handsome in that sweater; is it cashmere? Since there’s a spring chill in the air, when twilight descends, you can make a fire, and I’ll light the candles on the candelabra.

At first glance, I felt a kind of revulsion at this house (the fact that there are more deer heads and a bearskin rug complete with the bear’s head had something to do with that). Like the Addams Family house, there’s an atmosphere that feels slightly imposing and yes, even sinister. The architecture is in stark contrast to the light airiness of the house where my family currently lives, which features a 1980s design of soaring ceilings and two-story windows. This home feels equal parts strange and beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at the photos.

In 1872, the year the house was built, Mark Twain was writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (the book would be published in 1876). The horrific and bloody Civil War had come to a close in 1865. The city of Chicago had been destroyed by fire a year earlier, in 1871. It seems that the owner, James Castle, was ballsy enough to want to build a gigantic wooden house despite the threat of fire. I think Aurora and James Castle would have gotten along swimmingly.

If you were born in 1872, your life expectancy was 38 years. Life was short, and full of sorrow. Some one-third to one-half of infants didn’t live to age five. If you managed to survive to see age 10, your life expectancy rose to 48 years — that’s how perilous infancy and young childhood was.

Overcrowding, harsh climate, extreme poverty and diseases from measles to whooping cough all took their toll. The design of this house acknowledges that this was a hard world. I love that it embraces the shadow side of life, because the shadow side will be heard.

I’m fascinated by the portraits with heavy frames and the ornate, carved Victorian furniture. It’s as if this owner decided to zig when everyone else is zagging. This house could serve as an antidote to the “open concept” home layout that every single person looking for a house on HGTV seems to request without fail. By inhabiting a house that expresses the shadow side so eloquently, I can imagine that it would be easier to be light ourselves. We’ve lost something important when we surround ourselves exclusively with the light and bright. In our age, positivity is praised and darkness is banished. “Don’t be so negative!” is something I myself have said on too many occasions. But if you shoo negativity away, it doesn’t disappear. It simply moves to a dark corner.

I think I’ll clean out some of the dark corners this weekend by watching a Stephen King movie … or two, for good measure.