Molly Priesmeyer is the co-owner of Good Work Group, a creative and storytelling consultancy dedicated to helping mission-driven businesses and organizations succeed. Her stories on everything from arts to culture to the environment have appeared in the Star Tribune; Pioneer Press; City Pages; Rolling Stone; Mpls. St. Paul Magazine; MinnPost; and more. She has been working on her best-selling novel "Why Me? A Martyr's Guide to Life" since fourth grade.

Why we need a little more 'hygge' this holiday season

Posted by: Molly Priesmeyer Updated: December 8, 2014 - 1:40 PM

One really isn't the loneliest number after all. People who live with others or frequently spend time with others are reporting feeling increasingly lonely, according to recent research. And being distracted and "busy" might be the main culprits. In other words, Americans are feeling increasingly lonely because we're all emptied out.

Last week I witnessed a strange but beautiful anomaly. A group of older people, many decked out in knitted Christmas sweaters, coming together on a neon-lit stage to get an entire crowd at Mancini's to singalong to a karaoke rendition of "Sweet Caroline." Karaoke regulars? Couples on dates? Neighbors? 

It turns out they were all once high-school classmates, graduating together more than half a century ago. They reconnected at their 50th high school reunion and have been joining together in song at Mancini's the first Tuesday of every month for the past four years. Sometimes, one of the women told me, 20 former classmates show up. 

Friendships reignited after decades, or lasting for 40 years, is a modern-day holiday miracle. And despite our fairly newish ability to stay connected through social media, it's the younger generations--X, Y, Millennials--that might be the least likely to experience that type of friendship longevity. 

While many of us are getting ready for holiday parties and gatherings, an increasing number of Americans are feeling socially isolated and alone. According to recent studies, about 25 percent of Americans report being "frequently lonely."  And when it comes to "Worst Cities for Strong Social Ties," Minneapolis takes the No. 7 spot.

To be sure, deep loneliness can be present even when we are around other people. And social-networking sites may provide people with a false sense of connection that ulitmately increases loneliness. From Newsweek: 

Loneliness can be relative: it has been defined as an aversive emotional response to a perceived discrepancy between a person's desired levels of social interaction and the contact they're actually receiving. People tend to measure themselves against others, feeling particularly alone in communities where social connection is the norm.

Loneliness, researchers contend, is a natural adaptive response designed to make us protect and care for one another. 

Yet "busyness" increasingly gets in the way of creating deep, authentic connections. For some of us, given the amount of energy we spend hoping that social plans get cancelled, it would be easy to assume it's the one thing that keeps our bodies breathing. In some ways, connecting becomes another job to do. 

The Danes, who experience even longer and darker winters than ours, have one age-old solution for isolation and loneliness: Hygge. And like loneliness itself, it's more about a feeling than about real-world intentions. 

Hygge, originally a Norwegian word for "well-being," first appeared in Danish near the end of the 18th century, according to Denmark's tourism bureau. It has evolved into a big part of Danish life since then, absorbing connotations over time like a semantic snowball. The dark winters of Denmark helped turn hygge from a mere word into a kind of cultural panacea, manifested in various ways to buffer Danes against cold, solitude and stress.

"In other languages the word for hygge or coziness is more a physical thing, and hygge is more a mental thing," explains Lotte Hansen, a library science student from Aalborg, Denmark, who's interning at the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa. "It's like a feeling, and it's big at Christmastime. The candles, the food, being with your family."

"My feeling is that American life is so rushed that we often forget about doing things and creating these events of hygge," says Michele McNabb, librarian for the Museum of Danish America. "Americans vary so much in their family connections and friend networks, but you have to slow down for it. Hygge is not something you can do in a rush."

And if slowing down  doesn't work, there's always the idea of communal love. In a recent essay on "Why We Marry the Wrong People" on the Philosopher's Mail, the writer suggests a new form of "free love" could help shift our concept of contentedness.  "When company is only properly available in couples, people will pair up just to spare themselves loneliness. It’s time to liberate ‘companionship’ from the shackles of coupledom, and make it as widely and as easily available as sexual liberators wanted sex to be."

In other words, it's time to learn to love your neighbor. Or at least feel like you do. 

 

Ferguson: Where we can go next

Posted by: Molly Priesmeyer Updated: December 1, 2014 - 12:39 PM

There are some things we rarely talked about growing up in St. Louis: 1. Why the one neighbor cleaned their lawn with Palmolive soap. 2. That one mafia family down the road. 3. Segregation, racism, and white privilege. 

When people ask me where I grew up, I usually say St. Louis, Missouri, because it's easier to say than St. Louis County and have to explain to outsiders what that means, and how the city (like most cities) is deeply divided by race and class and why. 

Now, with the crisis and Ferguson, most people can point to the jigsawed St. Louis County on a map and talk about how it suffers from deeply rooted issues of racism and injustice. They can point out Ferguson, once a flyover suburb, as a tiny, resolute emblem in the heart of America that highlights what makes the rest of the country so diseased and divided. 

Missouri might be the Show Me State, but like most people, Missourians don't like to look at their problems under someone else's lens. People, myself included, hold their hometown like an appendage. When someone uses their own appendage to point at and criticize yours, calling it deformed and ugly and broken, your immediate response is to protect it and hold it close. 

Which is why with the deep issues in Ferguson, some of the first responses, mostly of white people, have been to pull away and hold tight to ideologies. 

The conversations about the killing of Michael Brown reveal a deep divide nationwide: Those who believe Darren Wilson believed his life was in danger and therefore the shooting and killing of Brown was justified. And those who believe that another murder of an unarmed black man by a police officer is a reflection of a deeper system of injustice that has been going on for more than a century.

In other words, there's a thick, boldface dividing line between those who believe someone else believed their life was in danger, and those who believe millions of people of color believe their lives—and their livelihoods—are in danger every day. 

If you were a kid in St. Louis in the 1980s, and it's still true today, you grew up with a schizophrenic view of reality. Racism, segregation, and privilege were the 8,000-lb. gorilla-elephant hybrid in the room that no one talked about. And this was never more prevalent than in our schools. That's because In the '80s, in order to attempt to address the serious segregation issues caused by decades of racist policies and inner-city decay, school "bussing," or school desegregation, was introduced.

Under the program, participating suburban school districts were required to reach a student population that was at least 25 percent black. City kids who lived in North St. Louis, for example—a part of the city that, in the 1980s, was known nationally for its crime and blight—were suddenly thrown into a science class alongside suburban kids who lived in "Bob Costas' neighborhood," a tony area of town sandwiched between a Saks Fifth Avenue and private schools that cost $23,000 a year. At the time, St. Louis city had some of the highest rates of poverty for black Americans in the country. Today, 38 percent of black Americans in St. Louis still live in poverty.

This is an important distinction to make because though we shared lives every single day, we didn't share lives at all. And it's still true decades later, even as neighborhoods become more diverse. The experiences of white people, with people in grocery stores, parks, police departments, is vastly different that that of the majority of people of color. 

St. Louis isn't alone in its struggles. Minneapolis is home to some of the deepest racial disparities in the country. In 2011, the unemployment rate for African Americans in Minneapolis was three times that of whites. And more than half of U.S.-born African-American children in Minneapolis live in poverty. 

It's no doubt that Thanksgiving dinner tables across the country this past week were little microcosms of a larger racial discrepancy revealed in the Ferguson crisis. It is easier for some people to talk about how one man, a white man, allegedly feared for his life that day than it is to talk about how black men, who are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts, might live in fear every day due to those startling statistics. The conversations, if had at all, reveal deep, dark racially charged dividing lines cutting through tables and cities across the country. 

What happened that day—and the resulting no-indictment grand jury decision and every shred of evidence—will  likely be dissected for weeks, months, and maybe years to come. Police departments across the country will likely have to address serious bias and accountability issues, another process that could take months or even years, that is only if public pressure continues. Racially loaded conversations, about who was "right" or "wrong" that day, will still likely be at the forefront of most ongoing discussions about Ferguson.

But after the media circus leaves town, especially now that they can't lead with the "looting and burning" that makes for big news, what will be different in St. Louis and the rest of the country? What will be different in the Twin Cities? That elephant-gorilla hybrid is something we can all talk about right now. Because it's there, in every city and town. And it's not going away anytime soon.

Below are are just a few of the articles/videos that stuck with me as a thoughtful analysis on race and privilege, in Ferguson and the rest of the country, and where we can go next. 

1. Quartz: 12 things white people can do now because Ferguson.

2. MSNBC: What it means to say "Black Lives Matter." 

3. New York Times: Where do we go after Ferguson?

4. Christian Science Monitor: Can Ferguson spark a new civil rights movement? How times have changed. 

How can Minnesota businesses be a force for good?

Posted by: Molly Priesmeyer Updated: November 19, 2014 - 12:12 PM

How can Minnesota be a leader in social innovation? How can its businesses better serve people and the planet? 

Those questions were the inspiration for Minnesota's newest corporate model, a public-benefit corporation. 

In January, Minnesota will join 26 other states in enacting public benefit corporation legislation. In Minnesota, public-benefit corporations (PBCs) will be businesses that, among other things, produce a "positive impact on society, the environment, and the well-being of present and future generations." In order to receive the designation, a public-benefit corporation would be required to report to the Secretary of State's Office its positive net impact, which would be available to the public.

While making a positive impact on society sounds like giant work shoes to fill, as public demand for accountability and transparency grows, businesses across the globe are reshaping how they view success. 

One doesn't have to know much about economics or the history of corporations to know that "stakeholders" has long meant someone looking to maximize their profit share in a company. Thanks to decades of deregulation and the new corporate personhood, it's easy to conjure a stakeholder as Rich Uncle Pennybags, aka Mr. Monopoly, the cash-bag-grabbing cigar-puffer whose image was said to be inspired by a J.P Morgan financier. 

Today, the term "stakeholder" is evolving, as business leaders and entrepreneurs are including the community, the environment, employees, and customers in their stakeholder model. Now an increasing number of change-makers and entrepreneurs are asking: How can busineses—and our communties—benefit when a stakeholder is...all of us? 

Jeff Ochs, a social entrepreneur and board member of the Social Enterprise Alliance Twin Cities Chapter, helped draft Minnesota's public benefit legislation. Ochs says the goal was not to put structure and restraint on social benefit models, but to see what they could become. 

"I think it's really important to recognize that there a million things to do that you can call social impact," he says. "The goal of this is to let thousands of blooms happen."

So how can "impact" be measured? Ochs says it's about reshaping what business models look like. "It's about taking what traditionally has been an externality in the business world, and making it an internality."

In other words, it's making profit as important as people, the community, and the environment. 

Ochs cites Sunrise Banks, a local community bank whose mission it is to empower the underserved to achieve, as an example of the changing local business environment. Sunrise Banks is also a Certified B Corp, which means it must complete a third-party audit of social and environmental performance to meet the B Corp certification process. In January, Sunrise will also pursue Minnesota's Public Benefit Corporation status.

If reporting to the Secretary of State seems too much to muster, there's another way Minnesota businesses and social enterereneurs can collaborate and be a force for good. Just last week a new networking and co-working space opened in downtown Minneapolis. Called the Minnesota Social Impact Center, it promises to be a space for "accelerating social impact by building an ecosystem for innovators." According to its website, the “'Impact Garage,' is designed as an interactive and inspiring hub that accelerates our collective efforts to co-create social impact."

For Ochs, these new models are the beginning of an ongoing dialogue that will serve to shape new Minnesota businesses and communities. "No one can say what this will look like in 10 years," he says. "But for consumers to understand who you are, they are going to look for standards and meaning. This is one way to start that process. When you take on this form, you are starting the conversation."

 

Pointergate: Q&A with retired MPD officer Michael Quinn

Posted by: Molly Priesmeyer Updated: November 9, 2014 - 5:21 PM

KSTP is taking heat for a story accusing Mayor Betsy Hodges of flashing "gang" signs in a photo. I talk to retired Minneapolis police officer Mike Quinn, who appeared in KSTP's original story and who has been a source for my stories in the past, to try to understand where the story began and why. 

Molly Priesmeyer: So let me understand: KSTP contacted you, and they said "we have this photo, what do you think of it?"

Mike Quinn: Yes, that's right.

Have you seen the YouTube video, or only the photo?

No, only the photo.

And someone from the MPD allegedly contacted KSTP, and then they contacted you?

Yes, I would assume someone from the MPD contacted them.

So you assume the MPD contacted them? 

Yes. 

So at that point, had you talked to anyone from the MPD about the photo? 

No. 

So you were just assuming they were angry about it?

Well, if they aren't they should be.

Because why? Tell me why.

Here's the problem. Whether or not the person involved in the picture with the mayor is involved in a gang or not, they are flashing gang signs. Legitimate gang signs. These are the kinds of signs that gang members use to identify each other or threaten each other. 

Let's just take some kid who sees this thing on YouTube or sees the picture online and says, "Look, even the mayor can flash gang signs." If he is in the wrong place at the wrong time and flashes gang signs, he is literally putting his life at risk. This is potentially going to kill some kid who does it as a joke, saying, "Well, the mayor does it, why can't I do it?" 

So here's the other part of it that bothers me. It lends legitimacy to the gangster culture and says this is okay to do this, when in fact it's not. 

Why would the mayor do something like that? It's naive on her part.

But why would the mayor of a major city knowingly flash a gang sign for a camera? What the majority of people say she is doing, as she has done in other photos, is she is smiling and pointing in a jokey way. Are you saying she knows she is flashing a gang sign? 

I don't know if she [knew it was] or not. I have no way of knowing that. She should've. She's the mayor of the city, she lives in the city. This is not an uncommon gang sign. This is one of the more common ones. 

So it's a common gang sign? A finger point?

It's a gang sign that is known to police officers, certainly. Let's put it that way. Let's say she didn't know it was a gang sign. The point is now there is a perception. Here she is with what could be a gang member, and they're flashing gang signs and there's a picture of it. It looks terrible.

This was a picture on Navell Gordon's [organizer with Neighorhoods Organizing for Change] Facebook page. If the MPD found it, and I still can't verify who at the department went to KSTP with the picture, then they went straight to the media with it. Some say this is retaliation for Hodges' response to the open letter, which calls for more police accountability, and for things like the body cameras, which are just being introduced. 

I don't buy that for a minute. The body camera thing, I have talked to a number of cops who are looking forward to the body cameras. That's not part of the issue at all. 

I think all she would have to do is say, "look this was a mistake. I didn't associate this man with a gang. This is not about supporting gangs." Come out with a strong statement against gang culture and the use of gang signs and this would go away.

And you heard Anthony Newby from Neighborhoods Organizing for Change [the organization Hodges was door-knocking with] on MPR this morning, who talked about there being serious problems with race in the city. 

I agree with a lot of what Anthony says. We do have an issue with racism in the city of Minneapolis. Certainly the idea that blacks are being incarcerated at a greater rate than whites are is evidence of racism individually and certainly of racist policies. That has been going on for a long time. You can go back to the African American Men's Project and see that at point in time 44 percent of the African American men in the city ages 18-30 had a criminal history. There is something really wrong with law enforcement policies and criminal justice polices that puts that many people at risk. But that's not a recent event.  

If this fiasco with the picture leads to more talks on race and the issue of race and how we are doing criminal justice within the city of Minneapolis, this will turn out to be a good thing.

But do you see how this story itself seems borne of racial policies? If this were a white man in the picture, do you think it would be an MPD issue? Would KSTP have contacted you? Would it ever be a story if it were her pointing at a white person?

No, it would still. This isn't about the race of the gang. We've got white gangs within the state of Minnesota that are every bit as vicious as any black gang on the street. You don't have to go very far looking up gangs to see that Minnesota has been the hotbed from some really racist, nasty gangs. It isn't about that. 

This is about the perception that this is gang culture communication. The mayor shouldn't be doing that. 

You said you haven't spoken to anyone at the MPD….Could this story be totally misconstrued? 

I should't say I haven't talked to anybody. I haven't talked to anyone that is willing to come forward and say anything. 

But when KSTP contacted you for the story, it was the first you heard of it. 

Yes. 

It seems strange that if officers strongly believed this was a real issue--that the photo posed a real threat--that they're not coming forward to talk about it more. 

I can't speak for them. 

So what do you think of the reaction to the story? It's gone national. 

I think all the mayor would have to do is step up and say, "I shouldn't have done that. I do not support the gang culture," and she could just walk away from the whole thing. What bothers me is that she hasn't done that. 

But in her defense, she is pointing at someone. To take something that was maybe a goofy, innocent moment and apologize for it gives her a certain amount of culpability…. 

I am speaking as a citizen of Minneapolis. If she stepped up and said, "It wasn't meant that way. I don't support gang culture. Kids do not do this." I would take that as a sign of strength on her part. 

But the response has been that this is racist story, there are plenty of photos of politicians doing the same thing in photos. The story isn't about gangs, and more about inherent racism of the media and Minneapolis Police Department. Do you see how this story could be seen as racist? 

No, I don't think race has anything to do with [this story].

If this ends up being a good starting point to talk about the issue of race--and racism of the policies and people in the department, then that's a good thing. If a policy ends up in racial disparities, that's a problem. 

Maybe the good thing that will come out of this, we'll get more discussion out of it. 

----------------------------

 

 

9 (semi-inspired) last-minute Halloween costume ideas

Posted by: Molly Priesmeyer Updated: October 28, 2014 - 2:56 PM

Halloween is only a few days away. For the true procrastinators, here are some easy, topical costumes that only require scissors, inspiration, and lots of sexy ingenuity. 

1. Underwater Mortgage This costume, pulled straight from 2012 when about 20 percent of Twin Cities homeowners were underwater, still has legs (or fins?) two years later. About 10 percent of homeowners are still underwater, which means you'll still get plenty of nods and "I feel you" smiles from a handful of all-knowing party guests. 

2. Science Chop up an old suit into pieces. Go ahead. Cut it up real good. Next, piece it back together haphazardly. Like it can barely contain itself. Don the barely-there suit. When people start talking about things like climate change and infectious diseases, wave a sad, weakened hand from the corner of the room. Voila! You're like a poorly funded Santa that people still can't believe in no matter how many times they've seen you work in real life. 

3. Vikings stadium This is a great and easy one to do with the kids! Plus, you can trick-or-treat, too! Simply wear a sign around your neck that says "I'm a Billionaire." Then, go door-to-door asking people for money.

4. Minnesota mid-term election commercials This costume doesn't take much time to create. Just start walking around poking people. Ask them leading questions. Scoff at them. Respond with an eye roll and "Yeah, right," to everything they say. When someone spills a drink, blow it totally out of proportion. Basically, just be the worst person ever. 

5. Sexy refrigerator box This one only requires you to step into giant box, cut out some arm holes, and wrap a feather boa around your naked neck. Add lipstick for some real flair. If you feel really creative, use some scissors, glue, and staples and go out as a sexy toilet-paper roll. 

7. Minnesota's medical marijuana bill You might be too weak to even go out if you do this costume right. On second thought, just don't show up. 

8. Pumpkin spice sleeping bag Rumor has it this Halloween will be the coldest one in eight years. Make it a snug one by wrapping yourself in a cozy sleeping bag and sprinkling yourself with some warm pumpkin-pie spice. Tip: Add a fedora to turn it into a sexy pumpkin spice sleeping bag. 

9. Any iteration of Zygi Wilf and Mark Dayton Couples, this is for you. Inspired by this photo of the stadium groundbreaking from the Star Tribune late last year, Dayton and Wilf quickly became a meme, with folks on Twitter weighing in with their own photo captions and photoshopped ideas. Zygi as Wario from Super Nintendo? Zygi as Groucho Marx? The costume-within-costume ideas are yours for the making. 

Have your own easy ideas? Post them in the comments. 

(Photo above: All you need for your Underwater Mortgage costume is picture of your house. Some fish. Some monopoly money. And if you have it, a snorkel mask. You're welcome.) 

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