On Making Believers Out of Skeptics

Minneapolis Social Media BreakfastThis story begins with two simple statements:

I am exhausted, and

He was a bit of an eccentric.

During the month of September, I will have been in Minneapolis, Boulder, Boston, Brattleboro, Mystic, Boston, Boulder, New York City, Boulder, and Santa Clara. But this is a story about Minneapolis, and in spite of being exhausted, finding myself in the presence of meat-and-cheese-wrapped pickles and a man who — for a moment and yet still — makes all of this exhausting travel, meeting, and greeting worthwhile.

On September 13, I walked into the room in Minneapolis for a book-related speaking event on cloud nine. Not only was I finally getting the chance to meet two people with whom I’ve had amazing digital relationships (Mykl Roventine and Amber Carter), but I was walking into a room filled with people.

People are an odd thing, aren’t they? They can turn out to be assholes or the greatest treasure, but I’m a fucking glutton for the journey. Regardless of how exhausted I might be, they’re the treasure — every conversation, nuance, diverted glance because they’re too uncomfortable to look you in the eye, and weird-ass conversation that starts with talking about someone’s schnauzer and ends up drunk at a stoplight in Nowhereville, Maine when someone’s 22 (and inevitably, there’s a moose involved).

And there he was — Steve. He walked in and shone like a lamp post tasked with keeping everything in the room illuminated, towering well over six feet tall with a black hat (which I imagined to be protecting the lamp’s “bulb”). He wore his name tag for the event tucked into his hatband all evening, making me think that at any moment, he’d be thrusting a pad and pencil in my face accompanied by a magnesium-powered flash — asking me where I’d been on the night of the 27th. He offered to give me a tour of the men’s room (no fucking way was I passing this up, even if it turned out to be a euphemism for something) and shared a story on “faith-based loans” email spam which still has me laughing. For a picture of a urinal that makes me wish I had a penis, click here.

I’ll admit it — I thought he was an odd duck.

Psycho Suzi's MinneapolisWhen the evening event ended, my hosts brought me over to Psycho Suzi’s, a Minneapolis mainstay in the late evening culinary and cocktail scene (with its own contribution to Exceptional Bathrooms in Minneapolis). A handful of people joined us for dinner, drinks served in tiki glasses, and food that a cardiologist would approve, if only out of selfish interest in his own career stability. In walked Steve — and he sat across from me.

We got to talking, and I’d already found out he was a life-long musician (a sax player). He’d even given me a CD to have a go at (and I will — it’s already in my stack of things to take to NYC next week). It’s funny — I’m sure quite a few people in this world think I’m a fucking nut job and maybe they change their opinion of that for the better when they meet me. But here I was, sitting in front of Steve — the guy I’d thought was a delightful bit of oddball — and having the time of my life. We talked about jazz, SXSW, drummer jokes, and Kevin Costner.

And Kevin’s where it got interesting.

Steve’s wife was a raging Kevin Costner fan, and Costner had come through Minneapolis on tour with his band. Having been a fixture in the Minneapolis music scene, Steve pulled some strings and got his wife, Shirlee, one of only twenty slots in an exclusive meet-and-greet with Kevin. As a red-blooded woman, I’ll just interject here and say KEVIN FUCKING COSTNER (right?).

It was a surprise.

On the day of the concert, Steve’s phone rang. “I can’t breathe,” said Shirlee on the other end of the line.

“You know what to do,” he replied. “You call 911, you get in the ambulance, and I’ll meet you at the hospital.” Shirlee had a heart condition — they knew this routine like the notes of a song they’d danced to their entire marriage. Upon arriving at the hospital, one thing became clear to Steve: Shirlee wasn’t going to make the meet-and-greet that evening…and now, he couldn’t even tell her what he’d arranged because she’d simply be heartbroken. So once Shirlee stabilized, Steve got in the car and headed down to the meet-and-greet himself. Dammit if he wasn’t going to be Shirlee for an evening. He had a plan.

He arrived at the meet-and-greet and finessed his way into Shirlee’s spot (in spite of clearly being a Steve) and there he was, in line to meet Kevin Fucking Costner*.

* Note: This is not actually his middle name.

Steve’s plan? He had Shirlee’s hospital room on speed dial and he simply wanted to ask Kevin if he’d speak to Shirlee for a moment.

He inched up in line and finally, his turn came. “Mr. Costner, my wife is a huge fan, but she couldn’t be here tonight because she’s in the hospital. Could I ask if you’d just speak to her for a moment and say hello?”

Now, at this point, a douchebag blowhard tour manager comes in, expressing how this is a meet-and-greet and Kevin doesn’t have time to start dialing phones and whatnot. Yet in the middle of Mr. Blowhard’s ranting, a hand comes up. It’s Kevin’s. “Hand me the phone,” he says. Steve hits send — he’s connected to Shirlee’s room.

“Shirlee, girl — it’s Kevin. I thought we had a date tonight!” says Costner.

And they talked for a good five minutes.

Now, that alone was enough to make me smile and keep me smiling until now and writing this blog post. But let’s wrap the evening at Psycho Suzi’s up, shall we?

I was running on fumes, having been up since 4:30am that day. 11pm and I was ready to hang it up. Checks were being delivered, people start paying up, and Steve stands up to leave.

“I’m sorry I missed meeting Shirlee, Steve. Will you tell her I said hello and I’m sorry she couldn’t join us?” I said.

He paused. A soft smile crept over his face. What seemed like an eternity later, he turned to me and said, “I’m sorry she couldn’t join us, too. We lost her in April.”

My gut. Breathless…and all I could find the power to say was, “I’m sorry, Steve.” Because I know how this feels. And I felt completely fucking stupid for not knowing.

“I’m sorry — I guess I still talk about her a lot,” he said.

He was apologizing. For talking about his wife. For telling stories that made me feel as if she were sitting right there next to him. Apologizing.

And the only thing I could think to say was, “As well you should.” Not “should” as in apologize, but “should” as in talk about her.

Steve left, we left. But the story stays — and always will.

On Making Believers Out of Skeptics

There are some days where I wonder if I’m full of shit with this message about unpopular that I’m peddling. I believe it, I hear others who say they believe it. And on an evening where I had the opportunity to stand in a room and speak to around seventy people about the inherent power of unpopular, there’s one man who made a believer out of this sometimes skeptic.

The only reason we ever want to live an unpopular life or build an unpopular brand is so that we can become the Steve and Shirlee. So we can enjoy a lifetime of living on our own terms and living a life designed to honor the people who will love us for who we are and all we’re not…a life so vibrant that we will always stay alive in their eyes and hearts long after we’re gone. We can’t do that if we’re living for everyone but ourselves, can we? Being the crier that I am, I’ve thought about Steve and Shirlee countless times since Thursday, September 13 and how in a lifetime together, he never asked her to stop eating bacon and she never asked him to stop being a vegetarian.

And mind you — I have absolutely no permission to tell the story of Steve and Shirlee and can only hope that I got the details mostly right. But today, I ask you: is the life you’re living and the brand you’re building more Steve and Shirlee or is it something you don’t quite recognize? Something you’ll struggle to share one day because it’s not a part of your heart and soul and a two-dimensional thing that requires buzzwords and assorted and sundry other bullshit to describe.

I doubt that most of us will have the gift of the Kevin (fucking) Costner treatment, but what we can have is the simple understanding of the power of living an unpopular life. We waste our time — and everyone else’s — by building for universal acceptance. The win that lasts beyond one’s lifetime can only come from building a life that’s honest and unapologetic. Those are the only lives that can reach across the table over a Goliath plate of tater tots and leave you with the knowledge that you believe when you might have once been skeptical.

So Steve — thanks for trusting me with your Shirlee — and for reminding me that there’s a reason I adore being, living, and spreading the beauty that is the unpopular life. And perhaps most importantly, thanks for reminding me that no matter how exhausted I might be, that the people I have the gift of meeting and who share their stories with me are the greatest gift I’ll ever have in this journey of getting to live what I love every goddamn day.

30 comments
Josette1913
Josette1913

Loved your blog Erika, got tears in my eyes.

Listen to this: I met the "Steve", still as adorable, courteous, old fashion and Talented as ever...

Was having a lunch,for the first ime, with steve just yesterday...

His heart still as big as it gets...(fucking big...)

This coming Monday April 14 will be exactly the one year mark anniversary of Shirley's passing.

He is doing a concert in her honor tomorrow Friday evening and I happened to be one of the guest singer.

Steve is still surprising us with his tender, romantic, "old fashion" as he calls it, kind hearted persona.


ClareTaylorTroutman
ClareTaylorTroutman

Went back in time for something empowering - something worth reading - something invigorating.  You always provide.

Robert McConnel
Robert McConnel

Steve and I have been close friends since about 1993. You have told me nothing I did not know about him already. He said that your blog caught him by surprise and he did not see it coming. I told him that while perfection is not required for for a heroic life, and a heroic life is not common, where it IS found it seems quite normal to the one living it. That is why he was surprized and I was not. Thank you for shining light on one of the heroes of my life. Short story: i met Steve when my employer asked me to call and lie to a consulting company and pretend to be a customer to find out what ever i could about our competitor. I called and Steve answered and i told him that i would like to meet and talk because i would not do as i was asked. We met and walked laps around the parking lot. On the second lap i was convinced he was dying of some respiratory disease because between his words were quick gasps of breath...SHoooooP and he would continue. On the third lap i stopped and blurted "OH MY GOD, you are a horn player!!!!" Yes he said how did you know? "God, i thought your dying"........you see, a horn player breathes from the side of his mouth taking breath in very rapid deep gasps. We laughed and have been laughing and crying together since. Robert McConnel

Anna Long
Anna Long

Thanks for this great post. Makes me really step back and think.

Teala Miller
Teala Miller

I'm usually a lurker, but I thought I'd stop by and say hi. I also wanted to thank you. This made me cry and gave me goosebumps. My life used to be more Steve and Shirlee, but in the last few years, parts of it have been something I don't recognize - and I know I've been "building for universal acceptance," as you so nicely put it. I have great job with great people. And? I don't enjoy the job itself anymore. I've been doing it for the last (almost) five years. It takes PARAGRAPHS to explain what exactly I do. It's not what I want to be when I grow up. What I *really* want to be is a librarian. That's what I just started school for. I'm already loving it, and when people ask me what I'm studying, I get to say, "To be a librarian." And they know EXACTLY what I mean (more or less, ya know, without the "specifics"). So, here's to changing things around, living an unpopular life like I always have before, getting back to my ME-ness, and loving the people I meet along the way. Thank you, and cheers!

Joe Mayberry
Joe Mayberry

Oh yeah, I'm a big tough guy all right. I know that, because this story brought a honest to Jesus tear to my eye. I understand what it is like to love someone one so much that you are always telling stories about them, but I am not sure that I would be as strong as Steve if I lost her.

Jen
Jen

Thank you for this post. I feel recently that I need to continually remind myself to be true to myself and to stop apologizing for who I am. I live outside of Minneapolis and I'm so disappointed that I didn't make a point of meeting you. You're a very cool lady with an important message.

Kathy Moore
Kathy Moore

Great story! Always inspiring to hear about that kind of bond. (And BTW, I once rode down 2 floors in an elevator while standing next to Kevin F. Costner. Envy me.)

Elyse
Elyse

Erika, Steve has been a friend of mine for forty years, in that way of friends who are far apart and never see each other and rarely chat. I hadn't heard from him in a year or so. Both busy. You know, life. Today I got a brief email from Steve with this link. So I think I can tell you that Steve, well, Steve appreciated what you wrote. And it gave him a truly beautiful way to let folks know what happened. Because I know from experience how difficult it is to say aloud that you've lost someone. Thanks for giving my old pal Steve this post. I know he will treasure it and you for your thoughtfulness.

Kate-Madonna Hindes
Kate-Madonna Hindes

Steve is an incredible man and good friend. I have been lucky to know and love him for a few years. Seeing both his strength and incredible transparency through Shirlee's passing has been a blessing. I always tell him, "I hope everyone is loved as much as Shirlee." We were gifted some of her things at my baby shower. What an incredible story. Have you heard the one about the white box? It's a tear-jerker: http://www.girlmeetsgeek.com/2012/04/17/without-words-loss-and-the-things-we-leave-behind/

Lynn Sullivan
Lynn Sullivan

Fabulous post Erika! Thank you for reminding us all to stay true to who we are, even if we look and feel like a nerd. I'm pretty good at standing my ground of who I am, but I tell ya, sometimes it's not easy. Thanks for the reminder through such a beautiful story, it came during a week when I really needed it!

MichelleGillies
MichelleGillies

Erika, It took awhile for me to stop bawling my eyes out but I wanted to thank you for sharing the story of Steve and Shirley with us. I can only aspire to become a "Steve and Shirley". On another note, Kevin Costner seems to be a very class act. I have read several things about what a decent guy he is and how he behaves in these situations. I half expected you to tell me he visited Shirley in the hospital. Thanks again, M

Anni
Anni

Thank you for this. What an achingly beautiful story.

Ash Ambirge
Ash Ambirge

So, I read this in my email, which means I had to actually click over here to post a comment. Which I rarely do anywhere, because I'm clearly busy drinking wine. But with this post, there was no question. Because this is the stuff that WE LIVE FOR. For others to recognize and love us that much, that they'd go stand in line for Kevin Fucking Costner on our behalf. I want the man and friends who'll stand in line for me. And I want to be a woman and friend who'll stand in line for them. Thanks for this, gorgeous.

Filio
Filio

Thank you, Erika. A beautiful story.

Rick Copper
Rick Copper

One of your better ones, destined to be a classic. Save it as such.

Tjartsy
Tjartsy

Can't believe you were in Minnesota and I missed it. Damn! I would've been there. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for always giving it to us straight!

Nikki Groom
Nikki Groom

A weepy one . . . loved it, thanks for sharing. And WOW -- puts things right back into perspective, doesn't it?

Bill Dorman
Bill Dorman

Thanks for sharing; great story. I'm living the life I want to live..........that.is.all.

Marie Rotter
Marie Rotter

That's just beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I've found the weird ones are the ones that make us see things the way they should be.

Jaime
Jaime

I'm not going to lie. I just cried a little bit.

Thomas Rector
Thomas Rector

U R pretty fucking awesome, Erika. This post is not only wonderful on every level, it's truly wond erfully written. I love you and I hate you. I love what you do, and I hate that I can't do it as well as you. Keep giving, and we will keep taking.

Melissa Winter Herbert
Melissa Winter Herbert

You've made a believer out of me. Thanks redhead (and, I was one of the 70 people in Minneapolis, by the way)!

Robert
Robert

Erika - thanks for sharing Steve and Shirley's story. Your brilliant commentary at the end of your post was particularly poignant to me, someone who used to try to achieve universal acceptance (and failed of course).

Jim Brochowski
Jim Brochowski

I have to admit, I was pretty pissed after the last bitch slap because I thought: WTF is wrong with kumbayah? Who the hell promotes controversy? Between a long standing board member stepping down because he thought we needed a new voice, me realizing that we needed a new voice, to promote change, (which sometimes causes controversy), and this post I think I understand more where you were going with that, and with your entire message. I don't always agree with you, but I love you, (not like that, I'm not a fucking stalker. ;-) because you are who you are and that's that. This is a great story. You have a great message. Thank you for sharing both.

fndtn357
fndtn357

This is an awesome redheaded bitch-slap, thank you for touching me with this today.

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