5 Secrets for a Happy Life

There seems to be a lot of interest in happiness these days. Back when I was growing up no one seemed to worry about such trivial things. We were all concerned with was “how to get rich”, “how to get power” and “how to be successful” so I’m glad to see people focusing on happiness. As a generally happy person who deals with major depression and seasonal affective disorder I spend a great deal of time thinking about how to be happy. Here are a few secrets I have uncovered:


Secret #1: There is no such thing as a happy life. There are happy moments, happy occasions, happy feelings, but taken as a whole, life is not exactly happy. If you are paying attention at all you may have noticed that life kind of sucks. Ignorance may be bliss but I’m afraid I can’t teach you that. If you want to have a life you are just going to have to accept that it’s not always going to be happy. Life is full of ups and downs so learn to deal with it or quit.

Secret #2: Oh good, I’m glad you didn’t decide to quit just yet because this next secret is really important. If you’re not happy it’s your own damn fault. Whatever you are doing is not working. You are fucking up. I’ve seen you do it. I’ve seen you do it over and over again. You keep doing the same stupid shit thinking that it is going to make you happy and it’s never going to work. Stop doing it!

Secret #3: Wow, I really thought that I would have lost you by now. You must be a glutton for punishment. Well, let me let you in on a little secret. You deserve better. You deserve to be happy. You have gotten a raw deal and it’s not fair. You have every reason to bitch and complain. Throw yourself a pity party. Send me an invitation. I will show up with bells on. Just know that like any party, eventually it has to come to an end, and you’re probably going to have a mess to clean up.

Secret #4: The pity party is not going to make you happy. In fact, nothing is going to make much difference. No matter what you do or what happens in your life you will probably always be the same miserable or happy-go-lucky person that you have always been. Sure, if you win a cruise or fall in love you may be happier for a little while but before long the thrill will be gone and you will be back to your old self. Likewise, if you lose your job or get in a car accident you may have some pretty shitty days but you will adjust and carry on pretty much unfazed. Some people are just naturally happier than others and there is not much you can do about it.

Secret #5: Are you still reading this? That takes a lot of tenacity. After all that bad news you are still seeking happiness. We let me tell you, you already have everything you need to be happy. Whoever you are, whatever you are dealing with you can turn that into a strength. Whatever life hands you, it is part of life, view it as a gift. If you are dissatisfied with life, use that to drive you for something better. If you find yourself comparing yourself to others and it makes you miserable, find different people to compare yourself to. There are plenty of people doing worse. The point is, whatever you are doing has got you this far. It is working and with a few minor changes, it can only get better. You already know what makes you happy – do more of that. You know what makes you unhappy – do less of that. And while you’re at it, do what you can to make the people around you happier. I do believe that there is something to the theory that happy people surround themselves with happy people. We may not be able to control who is in our life but we can make choices about how we treat them. Treat them in ways that build happiness. It may not create a “happy life” but it will create more happy moments, happy occasions and happy feelings.


IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are in crisis, seek help. If you are experiencing prolonged depression or sporadic mood changes that put your life or the health of others at risk, seek medical attention. My advice is meant to be along the lines of, “dude, do you really need that third bacon cheeseburger?” If you are having a heart attack, call 911! We’ll deal with your diet later.

Fabulous friend weekend

I just got back to Minneapolis from my weekend trip to Chicago for my friend’s wedding. I have an hour to kill before picking up my daughter so I’ve stopped at Caribou Coffee to use their wi-fi and see if I can whip out a blog post. I have no illusion that I will be able to do justice to the absolute amazingness of my weekend but hopefully I can share with you a little bit of how fabulous my friends are and how much they mean to me.

I’ve known about this wedding for almost a year. I knew from the first mention of it that would be making the trip to Chicago for the occasion. I have been friends with the bride for over a decade. Despite living in separate cities the entire time we have maintain and very close and meaningful friendship. We would visit each other regularly and spent many, many hours on the phone discussing everything under the sun with heavy doses of politics, philosophy and relationships. When it came to relationships, we had endless material to draw upon having both been through our share of dissatisfying and toxic relationships.

The relationship conversations have died out over the past several years as she has been seeing her now husband. It was clear to me that she had finally found someone who could appreciate her beauty and passion while fulfilling and complimenting her. I couldn’t be happier for her and I look forward to continuing our friendship and she embarks on this chapter of her life. 

Still, all the joy and anticipation that this occasion brought me would not be enough to get me to plan ahead. Even my RSVP required a reminder message from the bride. As the date approached the option to book one of the hotel rooms reserved for wedding guests faded, as did the option for an affordable plane or even bus ticket. I was left with no option but to drive and no idea where I was going to stay once I got to Chicago.

Out of desperation, yet with a heavy dose of hubris, I sent following message to all the people I knew living in the Chicago area.

Dear Chicago area friends,

I’m going to be in Chicago this weekend for a wedding (Sunday afternoon). I’ll be pulling in Friday or Saturday and leaving sometime Monday. Please let me know your availability and if you have a couch I can crash on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This may seem last minute for something that I have known about for six months but that’s how I roll. I’m amazing, you are amazing, I know we can make this work!

Much Love, LeFreak

I received one response from one person who was going to be busy but would spread the word. I may be amazing but it was becoming clear that I am not so amazing that anyone is going to stop their amazing life just because I am coming to town; perhaps not even long enough to read a facebook message. That’s just reality folks.

I also sent a message to a friend I made while playing a show in Winona, MN a little over a year ago. We’ve only hung out a couple times since then but we relate so naturally that I feel like we became instant best friends. If there was any chance I could see her it would be worth a detour through Winona.

As it turned out she was available although she was no longer living in Winona. She was living on her parent’s farm about 40 minutes from Winona.  That sounded perfect to me. This city boy could certainly use a little time on the farm. I got that and so much more.

The next morning I made us breakfast and headed on my way to Chicago. I still had no idea where I was going to stay and my confidence that it would all work out was wavering. I pulled off the road in Madison to make phone calls to see if I could figure something out. I was starting to think that I would have to find a cheap motel somewhere in Wisconsin to spend the night.

After a few unsuccessful calls I did find someone who would be thrilled to have a visit from me. It actually turned out to be the best of all possible options. To my delight I learned that she was living with another dear friend of mine whom I hadn’t seen in far too long. As an added bonus, they live about 20 minutes from the wedding location and even closer to another musician friend of mine. I had brunch with him Sunday morning.

I could have arranged other transportation to the wedding but I chose to drive. I’m sure that if I had been able to drink more I would have found plenty of fun trouble to get into but that was not what I wanted. All I wanted was to see my friend get married and then get back to my friends who had so kindly given me safe harbor.

My plan was to drive back to Minnesota on Memorial Day for a barbeque at my parent’s house, but I wasn’t done seeing out of town friends. I realized that if I drove due west from Chicago on Highway 30 I would run into Ames, IA and the home of one of my oldest and dearest friends. How could I resist? 

I think Felix da Minivan thought it was a good idea too. My van had been giving me some brake problems over the weekend but nothing that day. Also the power drivers-side window, which stopped working just as I entered the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, was working perfectly again. Furthermore, I got the best gas mileage I’ve ever recorded.

Now back in Minneapolis I still want to see friends. Even before going home I stopped by a friends house for a visit. I had meant to see her last week but the week vanished before I got a chance.

At every turn this weekend I was met with open arms and hospitality. I was given food, shelter, love and acceptance. I received gifts as well. I returned home with two new hats, a pair of shoes, two t-shirts, a velvet jumpsuit, “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann, four bottles of hard cider and a purple stuffed monkey.

What have I done to deserve this kindness and generosity? I have nothing to offer except me but perhaps there is value in that. Perhaps me, just being me, is something worth being.

That is my hope. That is my dream. My goal is to get to a point where I can spend all my days just being me, traveling the country, seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I want nothing more than to share all that I have to give and receive all that the world has to offer.

This life is for the birds

It’s five-thirty in the morning. The birds are are beginning to chirp. These are the same birds that earlier this week kept me awake as I was trying to get to sleep. Now my sleep schedule has completely turned around and I am trying to wake up. Still, I am unable to move. Words form in my head and I wonder if I will be able to deliver them safely to their home on the page before they are lost forever to the nether regions of my brain.

I have been struggling to write this post all week. It’s amazing how much can change in a matter of days. It’s amazing how many contradictory thoughts I can hold in my head at the same time. The challenges I faced at the beginning of the week seem completely contrary to the challenges I face today, yet for some reason they remain lodged in my perception.

Two versions of my reality stare each other down, each vying for control of my life yet locked in stalemate. One version is fueled by self-confidence, the hard won knowledge that I am doing the best that I can and that it is working. The other, fueled by depression, tells me that this is too hard, that I should give up, that there is no point to continuing, that everything I have tried so hard to build is built on sand and will fall to pieces under the slightest breeze.

The confidence is new to me, the depression is not although it has been some time since I have felt its presents so profoundly. Still, I recognize its signature traits. I know it is chemistry. For years I have fought back with chemicals; now I fight back with knowledge. Over time the chemicals have lost their potency but knowledge continues to gain strength. The knowledge most vital is that time is the only weapon that will defeat this adversary. It is this knowledge that keeps me hanging on in spite of everything which tells me to give up.

But knowledge is not enough. Of all the issues I face, depression is the most debilitating, challenging to overcome and the most deadly. Knowledge is enough to let me know that I can survive this. Knowledge is the reason why I have to survive this. Knowledge is the reason I keep doing the right thing even though my impulse is to completely lose it and tear everything apart.

It doesn’t seem fair. Why do I have to take responsibility for my demons when nobody else seems to? Why do I need to rise above it and be the better person? Why do I have to hold onto my pain?  Why can’t I just lash out at the world? Why can’t I fight back when I am under attack? Why do I get held to a higher standard? Why do I hold myself to a higher standard than I hold anyone else? Why do I have to be so understanding?

Oh yeah, because I know…

Life sucks… so what!

It’s all we’ve got so I might as well do what I can to make it suck a little bit less. No gain will be made by putting more pain into the world.

So here I go again… Off to do what I can to make the world a better place.

Still waiting

I got three out of four major things done today but we will still have to wait for my next blog post. I hope it’s good.  I think it will have something to do with sex.

Call For Artists

Venus DeMars (performance artist, painter, founder of All The Pretty Horses) and hi/r wife Lynette Reini-Grandell (poet, professor, host of Write On Radio on KFAI) are being raked over the coals by the MN Dept of Revenue. Read the story by Jim Walsh on MinnPost: http://www.minnpost.com/minnpost-asks/2013/04/talking-taxman-about-poetry-and-deductions.
Despite living as professional artists for the past thirty years, Venus and Lynette are now being told that their life work is not work, it is a hobby.
This is not a new occurrence. Artists have drawn the ire of the tax man for years but it usually it ends in a settlement with little fanfare. This time they picked a fight with the wrong people; people with nothing to hide, people with nothing to lose, people with everything to lose, people with no choice but to fight.
But this is not their fight alone. This affects all independent and original artists. We are taking this to the streets and putting on a benefit concert to raise the $6,000 needed for Venus and Lynette’s legal representation, and develop an Independent Artist’s Legal Defence Fund to support other artists who find themselves defending their way of life in court. Our hope is that this will put an end to artist persecution, but if not, our hope is that this will be an annual event.
We are currently working with Sonja at First Avenue to secure a date. Current dates available include July 19th, 20th and 26th; August 9th and 10th.
Since this affects all of us we want to involve as many people as possible. We also want it to be a successful night for our beloved First Avenue. We want to put on a star-studded event with three or four short (20-30 minute) bands sets (using a back-line) interspersed with 1-3 song solo/duo acoustic or DJ sets, poets and spoken word performances. We will also have a silent auction and art show.
Please let me know if you or the people you represent want to be part of this important event. We need names. The level of interest will determine what kind of night we get at First Avenue. If you are interested and available we will find a way for you to be involved. This will be as big of an event as we as a community can pull off. If the TEA Party can attract national attention from their run-in with the IRS, we as independent artist should be able to draw statewide attention from this event.
Please contact me at: jevanmusic@gmail.com
~J Evan LeFreak (bass player for All The Pretty Horses)

For love or money

I miss you, blog. Sometimes it feels like you are my only friend. Obviously you are not, but you are always there when I need you – can’t say that about anybody else in my life. Of course all of my other friends are real people with real lives and you have no life other than the one I give you. Perhaps one day you will grow up and have a life of your own, but for now, you are all mine and I need to write.

My pedicab gig got cut short today as a result of the weather. Around four o’clock today it started down pouring,  a tornado watch was issued and more thunderstorms with forty mile an hour winds were expected. I thought that I could wait it out but the company was concerned about my safety and the safety of the cab.

I didn’t feel like I was in any position to argue, plus I remembered the tornado that tore through my neighborhood on this weekend two years ago. As it turned out there were no tornadoes and the winds that would have sent a pedicab sailing down the road all by itself never materialized. Still, it was a good call to come pick me up – you never know with Minnesota weather.

Back at the station I was talking to Colin, the 22 year old owner of the Pedicab company. The conversation started with me informing him that I would be in Chicago next weekend for a wedding and not working. He elated that this was one of the benefits of the job – you get to work when you want to. That is totally one of the things that makes this job work for me. There are very few jobs that I can actually do and I am very pleased to discover that pedicab is one of them.

I think the people who run the company are really pleased with me. I think that they appreciate that I am not just in if for the money but that I really enjoy what I do. Of course they also want me to make money and routinely remind me that I could make a lot of money doing this. In our conversation, Colin informed me that if I worked consistently, I could be making $1,000 a week.

Okay, even if you could do that every week of the year, which you can’t in Minneapolis, that would amount to $52,000 a year which I don’t consider a lot of money. After expenses and taxes it would be much less – probably $20,000 less. That still might seem like a lot of money to a 22 year old but to someone with a house and a family, it’s really not that much money.

When I was 30 I was making $80,000 a year and it didn’t seem like a lot. I think it has more to do with lifestyle than money. If you love what you do, then money doesn’t matter; if you hate what you do, money is all that matters. One caveat to that statement is that it doesn’t apply if you don’t have enough money to survive. Personally, I don’t understand how that can happen in a country as rich as ours but it does. Discussion of that will have to wait for another day.

I think Colin was curious as to why I would leave a job making 80K with full benefits to become a pedicab driver. His assumption, which was a good assumption, was that I didn’t want to do that kind of work. There may be some truth to that, but the way I see it: I loved my job, it just wasn’t the job for me. I believe that I wound up with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia because I was not being true to myself. I don’t want other people with disabilities to feel that they are to blame for their situation but in my case, getting to take personal responsibility, is what allows me to move forward.

I could see the gears turning in his head. I know it must be confusing how someone who doesn’t have the strength to handle a desk job can haul 400 pounds of beer filled art and music lovers around Northeast Minneapolis for 13 hours. It’s confusing to everyone; it’s confusing to me but it is the reality.

It was a long road to get here and I can do a lot more than I used to but I still can’t do a desk job. I can do amazing things if I am driven by love and passion but very little if I am driven by money. I’m not going to make $52,ooo a year driving pedicab;  I’m still hoping to make about $6,000. But thanks to social security (money paid by you and me) and the value that I have found in kindness, I can make that work.

One hundred hours a day

I picked up my daughter from school yesterday only to learn that it was Spring Presentation Day, the day when all the kids display or present one of their school projects from the semester. My daughter displayed a very creative multi-media piece called “Chaos”.  I’m not encouraging her to be an artist but if that is what she winds up being, she is going to be a very good one.

What really interested me was the presentation by the robotics club. I find that stuff fascinating. Sensing my interest, the advisor for the club suggested that I get involved. My response was that I wake up every morning with one hundred hours worth of creative ideas to fill my day. There is no way I can take on anything more but that I am really grateful that there are people out there doing all the wonderful things that I don’t have time for.

My focus in life is trying to figure out how to do less. This weekend I am playing the David Bowie Tribute; Rebel, Rebel – Rock for Pussy at First Avenue then driving pedicab for Art-a-Whirl. It’s going to be an amazing and fun filled weekend. What I will not be doing is writing anything for this blog. Unless I get laid, arrested or hospitalized you probably won’t hear anything about it. You will just have to take it on faith that it was awesome.

An honest mistake – part two

Before heading to the concert to celebrate the signing of the Freedom to Marry Act, my son and I stopped by my parents for a quick chat. This was the first time my son had seen his grandparents since he was home for spring break.

My mother asked me what I was going to do now that the fight for marriage equality appears to be over. As I mentioned before, I plan to focus on ending marijuana prohibition. My mother was surprised with this response but I have actually been thinking about it for quite some time. She thought that I would focus my efforts on economic and labor issues.

I’m actually very concerned about economic issues. I think our current system is fucked and certainly economic and labor issues will not be ignored by me. I’m not going to ignore environmental issues, agricultural issues, infrastructure issues or immigration issues either. They are just really complicated and are going to move pretty slowly. Also, they don’t sound as much fun as legalizing pot. If you want me to join your revolution, you gotta throw a pretty good party. Granted, no one does a better job than the gays but I’m willing to give the pot heads a shot.

I’m also not taking for granted that the fight for civil rights is over. The rights of women continue to be under attack. That really bothers me. Fucked up voter suppression shit is going on these days which try to disenfranchise minority groups. I’m sure that a segment of the population will continue to try and erode the gains made by the gay rights movement. I also care greatly about ending violence and promoting the rights and dignity of people who deal with mental illness and disability. I’m not abandoning any of these causes.

The prohibition of pot just needs to end and I think it can happen. I think that society is ready. The supporters of legalization just needs to learn from the gay rights movement and COME OUT!

I think even my dad realizes that there is no good argument for marijuana prohibition because his attempt to argue with me went straight to a red herring.

“What about cocaine?” he asked.

“Yeah, I’m not talking about cocaine, dad. I’m talking about pot. I don’t think that society is ready to take on legalizing cocaine.”

But I would probably support the legalization and regulation of all drugs. I think we have way too many laws in this country as it is. We are all responsible to obey all the laws but it is impossible for us to even know all of the laws. That is not a recipe for a functional society.

In my house, I made one rule for my kids… always tell the truth. I don’t even  think that they knew it was a rule. It was just the expectation that they were raised with. They didn’t have to memorize it, they just knew it. Actually, it wasn’t until I made it clear that it was my one rule that it even got violated.

Now would this work for a society? Could we have one law; always tell the truth? I don’t know. It’s not like people follow the laws as they are but lack of interest in honesty is probably the number one cause of crime. People are dishonest and think they can get away with doing shit they shouldn’t do through deception. Sure, some people break the law through of ignorance, accident or necessity, but dishonesty is the key component.

People who do drugs lie because doing drugs is illegal but drugs are illegal because people who do them lie. Take a lesson from the gay rights movement. When people stopped lying about being gay and came out of the closet, people were forced to face reality. Soon marriage equality will be the law of the land.

We all fuck up, we all make mistakes – as individuals and as a society. The first step to improvement is honesty.

An honest mistake – part one

I have fucked up a lot in my life. I have made many mistakes,  usually not the same mistake twice, but there are some mistakes that I seem to make over and over again. I figure that I will continue to make them as long as I need to in order to learn what they have to teach me.

Society also makes a lot of mistakes and some seem to be made over and over again. They say that if we don’t learn from history we are destined to repeat it. Well, I believe we are learning from history, but we are also repeating it. That is because society is not a monolithic hive mind. We all have different interpretations of history. We have a variety of values, experiences and blind spots. We don’t all evolve at the same rate, at the same time, or even in the same direction. We are evolving though. I believe that we are getting better. We are also finding brand new mistakes to make. That is also a sign of progress.

To put these thoughts in context, let me just relay soma couple stories from the past few days. I stopped by Club Jager for a happy hour beer and food before rehearsal on Monday. While chatting with one of the regulars I mentioned my ongoing struggles with abandonment. This reminded him of the fact that we are both adopted. While we both grew up knowing that we were adopted, we we born at a time when adoption was a very closed and secretive process.  While we grew up in relatively healthy and stable homes we grew up missing a very important aspect of our humanity. We grew up without a connection to our biological parents. We grew up feeling like something was missing, a feeling that we have never been able to overcome or resolve. This feeling is common among adoptees of the era but difficult for people who grew up with their biological parents to comprehend or relate to.

Fortunately, adoption has come out of the shadows in the years since my friend and I were adopted. Society has learned from the trauma caused by closed adoption and now adopted children are able to have a connection with their birth parents where possible. Society has learned that children are capable of comprehending adoption. Children understand that their parents are the people that are raising them but that the person who gave birth to them is someone different. As a society we now understand that a child doesn’t need be raised by their biological parent but they still need to have some sort of connection with their biological past for healthy human development.

Well great, but that still doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help my friend. It doesn’t help the countless number of adoptees who continue to struggle with feelings of loss emanating from the core of their being.

Nope, it doesn’t, but that is the reality of how societies work. When I fuck up, I can make amends and take immediate steps to prevent future harm. Societies are complex with many moving parts. When societies fuck up, change is slow and amends are inadequate if even possible.

If we truly are all in this together, how does society make amends to society anyway? Perhaps all we can do as a society is learn from our fuck ups and strive for a better future. As an individual in society we need to take personal responsibility for our role in causing the problem, take personal responsibility for fixing the problem and personal responsibility for healing the injured, even if the injured is ourself. I cannot expect society to heal my pain but I can take comfort in knowing that through my pain  society can be healed.

To be continued…

What next

For twenty years I have been fighting for LGBT equality. In 1993 I marched on Washington and worked with the “It’s Time Minnesota” campaign to include Sexual Orientation in the state’s human rights act. The human rights protection  passed but in 1997 Minnesota passed it’s own version of The Defence of Marriage Act. Since then the fight has been for marriage equality.

The decision for me to get married in 1999 was a difficult one. To take advantage of a right that was denied to so many of my friends just seemed wrong. It felt like joining a country club that barred jews. How could I do that?  Both my partner and I were out and active members of the LGBT community. In the end it came down to putting our family first. Marriage was the best way to protect the health and security of our family. As an act of protest we applied for our marriage license as one man and one woman with me as the bride and my female partner as the groom. On February 22nd, 1999 I became her wife and she my husband and we vowed to continue the fight for marriage equality.

Today, April 14th, 2013 that fight officially comes to an end in Minnesota. At 5pm Governor Dayton will sign the Freedom to Marry Act into law making Minnesota the twelfth state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. Granted, marriage among same-sex couples is still not recognized at the national level but it’s only a matter of time until it will. With cases currently being decided by the Supreme Court, it could be just a matter of months. Countries all around the world are embracing marriage equality. The tide has clearly turned. It has been a long and hard fought battle but the end is clearly in sight.

So what next? Obviously discrimination will continue. Not everyone is on board with acceptance of gay and lesbian people. To be honest, that doesn’t concern me. I support the freedom to hate as well. My concern is with laws that treat people unfairly and we still have lots of those. Personally, I think the next law that needs to be overturned in the prohibition on marijuana. I think it’s doable, I think it’s time and I think it will have great benefit for the nation as a whole.

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