7 Things to Share about Living Like Prince

Prince performs at his birthday party at First Avenue on June 7, 1984 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Wire Image)

The Year of Living Like Prince is coming to a close. I can’t believe it. This has been one of the very best and certainly one of the most memorable years of my life. My greatest hope is that you might feel inspired to step outside your comfort zone in 2020. Pick one small thing each month that’s new or different or doesn’t feel like typical you, and see where it takes you! (It doesn’t have to fit a theme … just reach out for something new đź’ś). With my year of Living Like Prince nearing a close, here are 7 things I want to tell you.

I decided to spend the past 12 months living like Prince because of what I learned about how he lived when I co-wrote a biography about him.

Living Like Prince might seem like an unusual choice for a suburban mom like me. But I’m not only a suburban mom. I’m the co-author, along with Alex Hahn, of The Rise of Prince: 1958-1988, and in researching that book I realized Prince had left more than a musical legacy. He’d left a roadmap about how to live an extraordinary life. That intrigued me and I wanted to take that journey in 2019. I had no idea where it would lead!

Living like Prince changed me.

Living like Prince has taken me from having an enjoyable life to having an exhilarating life. It did that by pushing me outside my comfort zone. When you intentionally place yourself in a position where you’re outside your comfort zone — for example, by changing your name to a symbol, as I did in April — then you have to get creative. Why did I put this symbol on a nametag and introduce myself this way at the party? I had to answer, and in doing so, I began to create a new experience of living.

The year was NOT what I expected.

I thought that Living Like Prince was going to be about success, and how to achieve success because Prince was obviously successful. But it turned out to be about creative living. I learned that instead of striving for happiness, we should choose to strive for an exhilarating life. Exhilarating leaves happy in the dust: It’s next-level happy. There’s a quote in Prince’s memoir where he talks about how he wanted to tell people to create. Start by creating your day, and then create your life, he said. Day by day, I created my days with intention, whether the month called on me to be a spiritual seeker, form a band or dress up daily, and I wound up creating a more exhilarating life.

I wanted to quit.

People ask, did I ever want to quit? The answer is an unqualified “oh my gosh, yes!!” I thought about quitting on more than one occasion because there were times when this felt bigger than I anticipated. I even wanted to quit right away in the first month, when I tried fasting (Prince, in a 2014 interview, talked about fasting and its positive effects on him). I never want to replicate that month! But people were cheering me on, and that’s the great thing about community. Sometimes, the thought of Prince was enough to spur me on. Living here in Chanhassen as I do, I couldn’t help but think about how Prince had worked down the road at Paisley Park, 20 hours a day, day after day, for decades. If he was able to do that, just a couple of miles from where I sat, what excuse did I have not to follow suit, even in my own small way?

There were things about this journey that made me scared.

I felt exposed and vulnerable many times this year, notably when I did a photoshoot while posing as my alter ego Aurora in downtown Minneapolis. I was quaking in my four-inch heels! Then, doing media interviews was incredibly scary, but when I succeeded in not keeling over on live television I enjoyed a sense of accomplishment.

My favorite month was changing my name to a symbol.

My favorite month was April when I changed my name to a symbol because it was really interesting learning about what Prince’s symbol stood for, and even to explore the nature of symbols and how they communicate more about us than a name with letters might. What did I stand for? And how could I share that in a symbol that identified me? That was fascinating. Also, I won’t lie: It felt rebellious and fun to mess with people’s heads by insisting on being identified by an unpronounceable symbol.

My hardest month was saying “no.”

The hardest month was June when I said no to things that weren’t right for me. Like many of us, I’m a people pleaser and although I’d imagined that I’d be gleefully tossing out “no’s” like candy in a parade, it was really hard. But Prince said no to things that weren’t right for him, regardless of the reaction, so I had to follow suit. Doing so was hard, but ultimately liberating.

I’m ending the year by honoring Prince’s legacy of giving and the way he anonymously and quietly gave away millions of dollars during his lifetime. I’ve chosen Urban Ventures, a nonprofit based in an under-resourced neighborhood in South Minneapolis, with a music program and recording studio. Kids who would never be able to learn an instrument or learn how a recording studio works are able to get that exposure thanks to this amazing organization, in a community that Prince loved. My goal is to raise $10,000 and we’re not there yet. I know there are a lot of great causes out there, and I greatly appreciate you considering Urban Ventures for your charitable giving. To learn more or make a donation, visit www.urbanventures.org/prince.

Even Multi-Talented Prince Didn’t Do It Alone

Prince performs at his birthday party at First Avenue on June 7, 1984 in Minneapolis.
(Photo by Paul Natkin/Wire Image)

Prince was renowned for being a one-man-band who wrote, produced, played and performed at an exceptionally high level. But the truth is, he didn’t do it alone.

When recording, he had a studio engineer. When performing, he had a band. He had managers, publicists, web designers, costume designers, drivers, chefs and who knows who all else, at various times in his career.

Most importantly, he had an audience. At the January 21, 2016 Paisley Park gala event for “A Piano & A Microphone” — Prince’s first-ever solo performance — Prince mentioned that he had a habit of playing piano late at night.

“This is what I usually do

around this time of night.

aah … It’s better with you all present

Thank you.”

Yes. It’s always better with others present. Just as writers write to be read, musicians play to be heard.

November’s theme of “Form a Band” is coming to a close and in that spirit, I’m so grateful for the people whose enthusiasm and kindness have made “Crazy Amazing: The Year of Living Like Prince” more than a wacky project by a lone writer. Because of you, we are now a band of strong, smart, funny and caring people. I’m grateful when you cut me a break when I make my many mistakes. I feel gratitude for every single one of you for being patient, funny, loving and wittier than I can ever dream of being. When stuff gets tough, it helps to know we have a band!

So, thanks to all of you. You remind me that no one — not even Prince — does it without a band.

Who’s in Your Band?

Prince and his band on April 11, 1983 in Chicago, Illinois, the last tour date of the “1999” Tour. (Paul Natkin/Image Direct)

As November opened, I intended to take the month’s theme of “form a band” literally. Well, nearly literally: Although I wasn’t auditioning drummers and bass players, I was extending myself in a concerted effort to connect with writers, editors, agents, bookstore owners, publicists — anyone with even a peripheral interest in this crazy business they call book publishing. Along the same lines as young Prince looking to get a record deal, I decided to see if I could make progress toward a goal of getting “Crazy Amazing: The Year of Living Like Prince” published as a book one day. (I was well aware that I would not fully accomplish this goal in a month’s time as Prince did with his own memoir deal: I’m not that crazy amazing!).

But by mid-month, my definition of “band” has broadened. The idea of a band grew to mean more than a team of people working together to get things done. A “band” also encompassed the idea of a group of like-minded individuals, like Robin Hood and his Merry Men on their quest to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Forming a band can be, as writer and psychologist Timothy Leary put it, an exhortation to go and “find the others.”

Whether seeking out a band to achieve a purpose or simply finding the others, Job One this month was to make a concerted effort to get connected with publishing peers. This isn’t as easy as it might seem. We writers don’t sit in an office from 9-5, surrounded by other helpful writers. So, I did what I’ve done every time I’ve been stuck this year: The Obvious. In this case, the obvious entailed attending a weekend writing conference hosted by Minneapolis’ Loft Literary Center. While there, a friendly agent mentioned a “MN Publishing” meetup to be held in a couple of weeks’ time. In the spirit of going where I’m invited, I happily showed up at Moon Palace Books on Saturday morning and wound up being introduced to a bunch of great people. The gathering was free writer’s therapy and within an hour, I was able to clear up a nagging question about what genre my book should be (a major nagging question, to be honest) that had kept me up at night and stymied me as to my next step. While I never saw myself as a memoirist, someone I’d met at the writing conference had made a compelling argument that “The Year of Living Like Prince” was a memoir. Which of course, it is — in part. I’d always envisioned my book as a work of prescriptive nonfiction. Also, “memoir” screams “undressing in public” in my mind (not that I haven’t done my share of that this year and not that I won’t continue to do it). So, I breathed a sigh of relief when a potential recipe of 30 percent memoir, 70 percent nonfiction was suggested. I marveled at how easy and angst-free it was to simply ask a question of others, rather than tormenting myself for nights on end. Why don’t I ask for help more often? Argh! (Bangs head against wall).

To explore the kinship aspect of finding a band, I picked up the book, “A Tribe Called Bliss: Break Through Superficial Friendships, Create Real Relationships, Reach Your Highest Potential,” by Lori Harder. And speaking of books, I sought out another aspect of publishing — the reader — by joining our neighborhood book club. As a writer, it’s eye-opening to hear how readers digest books. (Bonus: Wine with friends and neighborhood updates!).

In the midst of this frenzy of band-forming activity, I headed to New York for work because, like most writers, I have a day job. And there, perched high up in an office tower, a realization struck. For those pursuing a corporate career, there’s a clear path laid out for you. While of course there are twists and turns along the way, overall, there’s a sense of structure. It’s comforting to know what’s expected and I can see why many people prefer the corporate life to an entrepreneurial or artistic life. But when you’re a musician like Prince, the only ladder to climb is the one he sings of in 1986’s “Around the World in a Day” album, where he sings of the difficult steps that must be taken to achieve salvation. Unlike the climb from manager to director and vice president, Prince couldn’t replicate someone else’s journey. So while someone might give Prince advice about when to hire or fire a manager, when to tour or how quickly to produce albums, the truth is, no one can tell you, except you.

As a writer, everyone’s financial situation is different (perhaps you can afford to hire a web designer to build your author website). Everyone’s skills are varied (maybe you have web design skills of your own). But what isn’t different is our need for a band. After this month of meeting my fellow Midwestern writers, I’m struck by their collegiality and humbled by their generosity. And I’m more convinced than ever that every writer needs a band.

And now, I’d like to introduce you to three band members who have been instrumental in helping to grow Living Like Prince.

Here are my “Living Like Prince” band members

Mary O’Donohue is a dear friend from my years in Chicago. Her latest venture (after moving to Nashville) is as founder of Authors in Media. Mary has proven to be an invaluable team member and was instrumental in helping come up with the right words to describe this crazy project in its early days, and in getting me onto television (here too!) and into print.

Clara Tomaz is another Chicago friend (I sense a pattern forming here). Clara is an artist and filmmaker who owns a wonderful company that produces movies for companies and organizations and family histories. Clara lent her talents to my website, creating the header and the “about me” video, as well as using her artistic talents to create this stunning piece of artwork.

Painting by Clara Tomaz. You can follow her artwork here.

And here’s the final, and vital, member of my team. Sommer is a double doodle. (Yes, double doodles are a thing. You take a mini goldendoodle and put it together with a mini labradoodle, and voila: You’ve got yourself a double doodle).

Sommer (and chipmunk).

Sommer lies with her head on my lap while I write, or naps on the bed behind my desk, ever alert for a sighting of the neighbor’s cat, which likes to hunt in the little duck pond at the edge of our back yard.

In my future plans, I’ll have a photographer and a web designer and in due time, an agent and a freelance editor, along with an editor at my publishing house. All in due time.

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!