I meant to do that

I’ve mentioned a few times that I had an ulterior motive when I started this blog but I’ve been pretty coy about stating exactly what that motive was. By keeping my intentions secret I have preserved the ability to reframe my goals at anytime and turn what could have been seen as a failure into a success. Like Pee-wee Herman I could announce at anytime that, “I meant to do that!”

When I started I had no idea how things would turn out. I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know whether I was documenting my success or my failure. At this point I can unequivocally state that I have failed at meeting my goals, BUT there have been many unintended successes for which I am more than happy to take credit. It’s time to take credit for the failure as well.

It began with a dream… a dream of shedding most of my worldly possessions, including my house, and living a nomadic life.  I wanted and needed a simpler life which focused on what is really important to me and that is connecting with people. After taking inventory of my skills and assets I devised a plan to travel around the country, by bicycle, sharing my gifts and avoiding the harsh Minnesota winters. It seemed like a crazy plan but I’ve managed to pull off some pretty crazy things in my life and as I started talking to more people about it, people who knew me, the less crazy it seemed. I just knew I couldn’t do it alone. I was going to need more people along for the ride. A blog, if successful, would allow me to connect with people all over the country and provide a vehicle to share my adventure for survival giving it meaning and purpose.

In fact, creating a blog had been on my to-do list for years but now it no longer felt like an option. Now it was a priority. Now it was a means to an end. Now I had a plan, a vision; but I still had no idea how to achieve it or even if I could. I just knew that I had to start regardless. All I could do was take the next step and see what happened. That process is pretty well documented in this blog.

What I discovered was that writing a successful blog takes a lot of work. I guess that wasn’t really a discovery. I knew it would be a lot of work. I actually had a pretty clear idea of what it would take but I had plenty of time on my hands and figured I would muddle through it until I got it right. I figured a year was enough time to make something happen.

It probably would have been if I was focused and dedicated. I have achieved a lot in my life but it has come either through some level of deep obsession or a great deal of time. The older I get the harder it is for me to get that obsessed about anything but it has also given me more perspective when it comes to the concept of time. There are just too many things in the world which I find meaningful and purposeful that it may take a lifetime to achieve even my top five. I just can’t do everything; at least not right now, but to be honest, the distractions I’ve had over the past year or so have been well worth it.

Well… most of them.

As much as I hate to admit it, dealing with multiple chronic illnesses on a daily basis has also been a factor in my failure to meet my goals. This is not the life I had envisioned for myself but it is my reality. Denial doesn’t change anything. I refuse to use my so-called disabilities as an excuse for not achieving greatness but I may need to re-examine my definition of greatness. We’ve all been inspired by the achievements of successful people with disabilities. There is no reason why I can’t be my own inspiration.

So my blog didn’t turn out as planned. I have gotten rid of nearly nothing. I still own my home and I’m not leaving this state until my daughter graduates from high school.  For some reason none of that really feels like a failure. I still have a blog. I still have more stuff than I need. I have a home and I have a daughter that loves and needs me. Maybe failure isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s only failure if it feels like failure.

The only thing that has happened in the past year that makes me feel like a failure is the loss of my best friend. She was my one true obsession and in the end it was that obsession which killed the friendship.

But through death there comes rebirth.

In my effort to come to terms with how I could lose a friend who I honestly believed was forever I discovered this blog post by Kenneth Justice, The Culture Monk. I began reading his blog every day and quickly discovered that we had started our blogs at the same time and were writing about the same issues albeit in from different perspectives and in very different styles. In my opinion, he’s a much better writer than I am. There is a structure and flow to his writing that I may never achieve; even if I wanted to. We probably started with the same level of effort and dedication but with different skills. That, and he is far more consistent than I am. Consistency has never been my strong suit.

What I found really ironic was when he started writing about fame and celebrity. He was taking issue with our cultural obsession with fame and celebrity which I totally understand. I just found it ironic because he had achieved the level of notoriety that I was seeking in order to make my dreams come true. Let’s face it, celebrity and popularity are necessary evils in the entertainment business. Seeking celebrity seems a bit crazy to me but so is the entertainment business.

What didn’t surprise me was that after a year of writing his blog, Kenneth Justice decided to set out on a worldwide tour to connect with his readers. Basically, he was achieving my goal albeit in from a different perspective and in a very different style. He is living my dream. When he came to Minneapolis last month I was able to meet him, drive him around, show him my city and give him a place to stay. I was able to see my dream come true, even if it was being carried out by another person. I could be bitter but instead I have a new friend. I hope that you will read his blog and I hope that you will take the opportunity to meet him if he comes to your town.

I began last year with a plan; I failed but I found success. As I look back now I realize that I’m still here, I’m still me and I’m not alone. Ultimately, that is all I have ever wanted to achieve.

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When the best isn’t good enough

It was my goal when I started this blog to write everyday. I wanted to document all the ups and downs of my life and I have them everyday. I wanted to develop the habit of writing. My hope was that by developing this habit that I would become a better writer and that it would become easier.

To some extent, that has been the case. To some extent it has not. Like much of my life, it is a mixed bag. Blogging has helped me. It has facilitated a better life than the one I was leading before I started but still hasn’t met my expectations.

So is that failure or is that success?

If I had no expectations I would never feel disappointment. Keeping my expectations to a minimum has been key to my happiness. Still, without the expectation that writing a blog was something worth doing, I never would have done it at all. This is hard, it’s scary and it’s really fucking time consuming!

It’s like a trap. The expectations are essential to me even being willing to try and create positive change. Yet, because of these expectations, nothing will ever be good enough. Is there any question why people are frustrated, angry and unsatisfied?

Buddhism actually has an answer to this. Perhaps other religions do as well but it is what I have learned from Buddhism that resonates with me the best. Buddhism teaches us to let go of expectations. In essence to let go of our attachment to any particular outcome. We are asked to live in the moment, a moment where everything is exactly as it is meant to be and it is good enough.

Well… with all due respect, in this moment all I can think of to say is, “Fuck that!”

Maybe I’m just not satisfied with good enough. Maybe good enough is not good enough for me. Maybe I want my passion and my drive to make things better. Maybe I want to be the best me I can be. I’ve heard is said and I know what it means that, “The best is the enemy of the good”, but I don’t care. I can accept that things may never be good enough, but I cannot accept not trying my best.

So every day I try my best. Perhaps that is just what I do. Perhaps that is my habit. It’s just that my physical and mental state can vary greatly from day to day. Some days my best is amazing. Some days my best is downright shitty. Some days my best can’t even manage to write a blog post. Some days writing a blog post is the best I can do. Some days I am capable of so much more and writing a blog post just seems like a waste of my time.

So I don’t know if it is trying my best which has led to these inconsistencies or that my life is inconsistent and that has led me to always try my best. I truly believe that is possible to have a consistently “good enough” life but I guess I’ve decided that my way is better… at least for me.

Marilyn Monroe Quotes - My best

You are only as good as everything you are

An old friend of mine, someone I haven’t hung out with in far too long, someone that has been on my mind a lot lately, was fond of saying, “You’re only as good as your last record.” It’s an expression used in the music business but their are similar ones for athletes, actors, writers and I guess, just about anybody.

I’ve been aware of this sentiment for a long time. The line was used in the Bachman – Turner Overdrive song, “Rock Is My Life, and This Is My Song” off the first album I ever bought with my own money, Not Fragile.

bachmanturneroverdrive-notfragile-cover

This was not their last record but it was by far their best. To me, Bachman – Turner Overdrive will always be as good as this. Unfortunately, Randy Bachman and crew did not see it this way and by the time I actually saved up enough money to buy, Not Fragile, the band was all but done. I don’t know if it was the industry’s belief that you are only as good as your last record or that the band had bought into that bullshit.

And yes, I do consider it bullshit! When we judge people based on their last action, their most recent failure; we are not seeing the whole person as a whole person and we are fucking up.

We all fuck up so don’t freak out. But if we can’t recognize when we fuck up we can’t get better. And you know what? Getting better doesn’t happen without fucking up. I know that there are people who aren’t interested in getting better. That’s fine, I don’t always feel like getting better either. Change is scary, but change is inevitable. Getting better means admitting that we aren’t the best, and for some of us, that sucks.

Well, let me go on record as saying that you are the best YOU (at this moment, in this time) that you can be. You are a product of your successes and your failures and you are worth every one of them. You were born, you are alive, and you have the same right to be here as everyone else. YOU ARE WORTH IT.

But you are more than that; you have the capacity for change. You are also the victim of change. If you aren’t pushing for getting better, you will get worse. But even if you try to get better you might fail. If you try to get worse you actually have a better chance at success.

But, that is your choice.

There is no staying the same.

I hope that you will try to be better even if it means failure. I still have the words of Yoda ringing in my head, “Do or do not. There is no try!” I’ve been busy just doing what I do but maybe that is bullshit as well. Maybe it’s time for me to do something new. Maybe it’s time for me to boldly go where I have never gone before.

We are made of love

It’s been the better part of a week since I last posted so there is plenty that I could write about my life. Despite that, I want to write about something more important than me. I want to write about Cloud Cult.

Photo by Cody York

Photo by Cody York

I first saw Cloud Cult at their CD release show for Aurora Borealis at 7th Street Entry in 2004. I went because my wife’s cousin was friends with the drummer at the time, Dan Greenwood. The Entry only holds about 200 people but I don’t even think the show sold out. Still, it was a full on rock-n-roll show and I was blown away. I’ve been a fan ever since. In fact I think that they are one of the greatest bands ever in existence  I get a lot of grief for loving this band. They are too hippy-dippy for my more hardcore friends and too serious for my hippy friends but I don’t give a shit. In my book, this band rocks! They have meaning and purpose and to me, that is what life is about.

Sunday night I went to the second of their sold out shows at First Avenue‘s main room. It still kind of shocks me that this little band with the big show, that I have been going to see for nearly 10 years, is now selling out the number one live music venue in Minneapolis.  It shocks me to the point that I didn’t even bother to buy a ticket beforehand. Actually, my life is too chaotic right now to plan ahead for much. Luckily, First Avenue holds back a few tickets to sell at the door for sold out shows. This is mostly to prevent scalping but it’s also to be nice to people in the know like me. I was lucky enough to get one of those tickets.

So how does a band go from barely filling the tiny 7th Street Entry to packing the mainroom? A Cloud Cult fan at the show said, “They are so successful because they have stayed true to their values.” It’s true, Craig Menowa, founder/songwriter for Cloud Cult, has blazed this trail doing it his own way. He has been offered record contracts but has turned them down in favor of keeping creative control over his art. I respect that and I think that Cloud Cult is very successful. They are successful to me because they have had a tremendous impact in my life. Rarely have I been to a Cloud Cult show that hasn’t moved me to tears. It happened Sunday night. I’m an emotional guy and I cry pretty freely but not usually at a rock show. I find that impressive, but is that really success? Tears don’t pay the bills. I responded to this guy saying, “You realize they still have day jobs.” I don’t know if that is true of everyone in the band but I know that this band is not financially successful enough to support 8 people. Actually, there are more than 8 people involved in this operation. Besides the people on stage, there are probably some road crew or techs. I met the sound guy who works for the band. I also met the merch person who told me that he refuses to take any money for his work. I respect that too. Art is about more than money.

But wouldn’t one think that a successful band would be financially successful as well? Very few local independent artists are as successful as Cloud Cult. I am racking my brain to figure out how many local bands that haven’t been signed to a major label have sold out the First Avenue mainroom. Trampled By Turtles has done it. Policia did it last Wednesday. I’m pretty sure that Mark Mallman has done it a few times. Maybe Har Mar Superstar. Obviously Atmosphere, P.O.S and Doomtree have done it. The short lived supergroup Gayngs has done it. The band I play for, All The Pretty Horses, has never done it. Before I was in the band, we opened for Peaches at First Avenue. I would like to think that show sold out but I’m not even sure. We are playing the David Bowie tribute Rebel Rebel – Rock for Pussy, a fundraiser for Feline Rescue on May 17th. It would be awesome if that sold out! Still, I won’t get a cent out of that show. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most amazing things that I do every year. There are things more important than money. I think cats are awesome!

But let’s do some math. First Avenue holds 1,500 people. At $20 a head that is 30 grand. That is some pretty sizable change. Especially if you do that two nights in a row. But the club gets a cut of that. Also, it needs to be spread out over the dozen or so people that put on the show. There was an opening act as well. There are promotion expenses, travel expenses, equipment expenses, lighting and recording expenses. These shows are not cheap to put on. Do I even need to mention that it took almost 20 years of really hard work for Cloud Cult to get to this point? I probably do. I told a guy at the show that I had every Cloud Cult album and he responded saying, “Yeah, I have both of them too.” They actually have 11 albums and I don’t really have all of them because I don’t own the first album, The Shade Project from 1994 or the re-release of Lost Songs from the Lost Years from 2009. Still, I have given this band hundreds of dollars over the years in album sales and concert tickets. So have thousands of other people but does that add up to financial security? Not really. Is a person who has been making music for twenty years without really making any money a success or just stupid?

I am convinced that the only way to get rich off of art is to create something that someone else can get even richer off of. But then your art is not art, it’s a commodity, it is a product. There is no way in this world to be a financially successful artist. We all need money to survive but can we admit that it is not about money, it is about survival. Define success anyway you want but to me, Cloud Cult is a successful band for one reason and one reason only. They are successful because 20 years later they are still doing what they do. They are surviving. And they have love. Perhaps love is the definition of success. Love is the title of their latest album and while I hope it makes a lot of money, love is more important than money.

Pull back the curtian

This writing shit is really hard, a hell of a lot harder than I thought it would be. So is maintaining a habit but I knew that would be a struggle, especially knowing how inconsistant my health is from day to day. I knew I might fail but I felt if I stuck with it, it would get easier.

Actually, it’s been a fucking roller-coaster and at the moment I’m at one at one of those low points. The first two weeks were pretty exciting but it didn’t take long for the newness to wear off. Then it just became tedious. I wanted to quit and chalk it up as another thing I couldn’t fit in my life. That was never really an option though. In fact failure was part of the plan; to push myself to the point where I wanted to quit and push through.

Unlike the physical challenges I create for myself, writing is easy. Coming up with things to write about is easy for me. The challange is reducing the thoughts in my head or the experiences I’ve had into coherent sentances that anyone whould care to read. The challange is keeping going when all I can think about is how much my writing sucks. It winds up taking a lot of time. I wind up taking a lot of breaks. I wind up drinking a lot of wine.

Then I write something that actually makes me proud. Maybe I can do this. Maybe purservierance does pay off. Maybe it does, but that’s not how it played out for me. Writing something that I felt good about only raised the bar and put more pressure on me. I’m stuggling even harder now.

Then I took two days off. I guess that was bound to happen. Structure is not my friend. My life is simply too inconsistant. When it works, I run with it. When it doesn’t, I accept it and keep hobbling along the best I can leaving my failures in the past. That is the only way I can hope to get to a place where life works again.

I’m probably the last person who should be publishing everything he writes. I’m probably the last person who should be publishing everything that goes on in his life or  every thought in his head. I’ll be the first to admit that I need an editor.

Believe me, I know this is a bad idea but that’s why I’m doing it. I know that for every good idea there are dozens if not thousands of bad ideas that came before it. We just rarely get to see all the failures that happen before one finds success. I want to pull back the curtian and expose the truth. The truth is, there is a long and winding road before you reach the Emerald City.

El Dorado

After 11 hours cramped in a sedan I was feeling like the car should be called Apollo 13 and not  the T.A.R.D.I.S. although with any luck we will make it to our final destination. So far, so good. We pulled into our first stop in El Dorado, KS last night around 10:30 pm. Achy and soar I tumbled out of the capsule where I had been riding shot-gun.

My ass, having sustained injury a couple nights before, expressed great relief to be out of the car, not just from the pain from 11 hours of sitting on a bruised tailbone but also relief from the gas that had been building up inside my colon; held back to avoid poisoning my traveling companions. There is something about road trips, cramped up in a car, eating shitty gas station food that brews up the most toxic concoction. Through much of Iowa you can sneak one out here and there without anyone really noticing against the backdrop of pig farms but I must have been held back gallons because I have been farting all morning.

My legs felt like I had walked the 621 miles to reach our current destination; that kind of pain you feel the next day after a strenuous workout. Still, I was grateful to have arrived, grateful to be out of the car and eagerly awaiting the incredible hospitality always bestowed upon us at the horse ranch of Pete and Liz. Once inside and the car unloaded, Liz prepared the dining room table with soup, cheese, veggies, bread an a variety of beers to choose from. It would have been nice to have socialized more. It would been nice to have written down my thoughts before going to bed but my ability to form sentences had left me. I couldn’t manage to get words from brain to my mouth, let alone my fingers.

It had been a long day. Unable to get any packing done the day before, I arose yesterday at 5:30 am to prepare for the trip. This is usually the way it goes and after many tours over the years it almost seems like second nature.   The only difference this time was that we weren’t taking the van so I needed to be much more concerned to pack as lightly as possible. No matter what, I always feel like I must have forgotten something. So far I haven’t discovered anything nor can I imagine fitting one more thing in my bag. Having left the blustery cold of Minnesota and needing to shed layers of clothes I’m already feeling over-packed.

You would think that traveling across country with a rock band would be one non-stop party; sitting in the back of a tour bus, doing shots of tequila and lines of coke of the bellies of strippers. This has never been my experience. We spend most of our time discussing our failures and strategizing how to keep going in hopes of making it to the next level. This time we couldn’t even do that. This time the discussions took on an even more somber tone. This time there was no talk of the future. This time we were wondering whether the band will even be able to continue.

For the past several months, Venus has been embroiled in an audit from the IRS. This is not your typical audit where they go through all of your books with a fine tooth come looking for deductions that aren’t allowed and income that wasn’t reported. In this case, there would be nothing of that sort to be found.  Venus has been meticulous in running her business and has followed all the rules. In this case the IRS is trying to claim that it’s not a legitimate business because it is not profitable. But Venus’ business is her life, the life of an artist. In essence they are saying that the life of an artist is not legitimate. Unless, I guess, it is profitable but then my question is, if it is profitable, is it still art? I see art as a challenge to conventional wisdom and social expectation. Once art becomes accepted and mainstream it loses it’s ability to expand cultural horizons, it loses it’s ability to transform. The irony is that to be a successful artist is to see your art turned into a commodity.  It reminds me of this quote:

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”  – Leonardo da Vinci

The secret of success

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelangelo

I agree, and my aim is high, and I rarely hit my mark, but sometimes I need that feeling of success. Some days I just need obtainable goals. I have found that life is a lot easier when I don’t try so hard. I know that much of what makes my life hard is my own doing, my drive, my ambition, my need to be more, and I’m okay with that. I am not driven by a quest for success. I realize that success is not a destination. Success is a feeling, a moment, and it is fleeting.

So yesterday was a day of realistic goals. It wasn’t suppose to be. My plan was to enter the drunken alley-cat bike race known as Stupor Bowl, held each year in Minneapolis on the Saturday before Superbowl Sunday. This is typically one of the coldest, harshest weekends of the season, so it’s not for the faint of heart.  After that I was planning on going to The Crooked Pint where my friends Viva Knievel (not to be confused with the riot grrrl band from the 90’s) were performing and another friend was celebrating her birthday. We were going to make it a joint celebration given that my birthday is on Monday. That would have been a crazy day!

Instead, against my request, my band leader scheduled a studio performance at our rehearsal space/recording studio. Well, things being what they are and as much as I enjoy getting drunk and riding through the wintery streets of Minneapolis with a bunch of crazy bike messengers, I enjoy playing music more. On performance days, if at all possible, I don’t focus on anything but the show. I know that the key for me is to stay relaxed. There is usually a lot of work to do but no matter how prepared I am something unexpected will still go wrong and when it does probably no one will notice and even if they do, who cares? It’s rock-n-roll and it always works out in the end… or you die.

I spent the afternoon just getting ready, dying my hair, trimming my beard, painting my nails, doing my makeup, picking out my stage clothes and running through the set. I used to worry a lot about promotion. These studio parties are private invite-only events so I would spend all day txting my friends encouraging them to come out but it never seemed to pay off. It’s a different crowd that goes to these things. And I don’t care how many people are there. I’m going to do what I do no matter what. I’m there to put on a good show for anyone who wants to be part of it. I’m there to have fun with whoever shows up, not worry about who didn’t. Still, I had some time so I decided to take a minute and make a post on Facebook reminding my Minneapolis friends about the event.

Turns out it was a really good thing I did. Moments after posting I get a call from our drummer, Jazz. He asks, “What are you doing?” I say, “I’m about to head down to the studio.” Apparently he had no idea we were having a studio party because he asked if we were rehearsing.  Anyway, he says he’s going hop on the bus and meet me at the studio. I thought to myself, “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea!” I got off the phone feeling annoyed. I didn’t know whether I was more annoyed with Venus for not communicating better or with Jazz for being a dumb-ass.  It only took me a few minutes to realize that it didn’t matter. These things happen. My only question was what could I do to make it better. I called Jazz back and suggested that I pick him up on my way. I figured I could do more good helping Jazz get there than I could getting to the studio earlier. Plus I needed coffee and the co-op I go to is in his neighborhood.

On the way to get Jazz I stopped in at the Wedge co-op. I’m wearing high heal shoes, thin silver sparkly socks, tight black pants with slits up the side, a long lime green trench coat, a black glitter eye-patch and a black sequined cap. It’s 9 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s snowing. Yeah, kind of crazy but at least I wasn’t biking. A woman in line at the check-out asked if I was warm enough in what I was wearing. I said, “Hell no! This is a fashion before comfort situation!” To which the cashier chimed in relaying her story of getting caught under-dressed when the temperature  dropped 40 degrees recently. Yes, Minnesotans are a hearty stock but we love bitching about the weather while simultaneously bragging about how tough we are.

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