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    Finding Your Joy

    I should disclose at the outset that this is not a "How To" piece. If I knew how to find my joy, I'd surely have located it by now. But I've been thinking about happiness since Ross "What Women Want" Douthat declared why women are unhappy in his New York Times column last week.

    I'm sure the people who worked on that study went to a lot of time and effort to come to their conclusion that women today are not as happy as their 1960s counterparts. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's at least in part because it's not as easy to get valium. But I also wonder if it's really true that women today are less content.

    For example, I don't think my mom was particularly happy in the 60s. She spent the entire decade in the company of the world's biggest jackass. (That's not hyperbole.) As for the rest of her life, I think, like most of us, she had ups and downs. The ups probably feel so good because you're thanking your lucky stars that you're not in a down. 

    There is a point to this post. Be patient. I'm getting there.

    I love watching two-year olds because when they find their joy, it's easy to recognize. Unable to contain it, unable to express it, their little bodies just vibrate with it. Watching them, for a fleeting moment, I can find joy alongside them. I suppose that's called empathy. But I digress.

    Two weeks ago, I went to see a Motown band at a local bar. It's not my favorite music, but I was invited and wanted to be with my friends. So, we walk in and get situated, and I look up at the stage. And there, right in front of me, was pure, unadulterated joy--in the form of one Billy "Stix" Nicks.

    Billy is in his mid-70s and he has been playing the drums professionally for over 50 years. He's performed with many of the Motown greats (the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, the Temptations, and the Supremes, among others), and he's performed with his own bands. He spent the latter part of his childhood in Northern Indiana and at some point returned here to live. Now, he also teaches in addition to headlining a couple Motown groups.

    After 50 years of playing the same songs, you'd think it might be rote to him; that he'd get up on stage, sit down at his drum kit, and turn on the auto pilot. 

    But as he played, I could not take my eyes off of this man. He plays the drums like he has just discovered the thing that he loves best in this world. He sings along, a gigantic grin in place of a microphone. And like a two-year old, Billy's body simply vibrates with joy on stage. 

    At intermission, he came into the audience and everybody wanted to talk to him and to shake his hand. I heard a couple people remark that he was a legend. I'm sure that's part of it. But more than that, I think they were hoping that if they could lay their hands on him, maybe they'd get in on the secret--maybe some of his joy would rub off.

    I'm not a Pollyanna most of the time, and I'd guess that some nights during the past fifty plus years, Billy wasn't so joyful on stage. He probably had fights with his wife and worries about the mundane crap we all deal with. But after more than five decades, Billy can still find his joy, on an ordinary Friday night, in an ordinary bar, playing ordinary songs. For one night at least, I got to watch. I hope maybe some of it will rub off on me too.



    Studies have shown that it's easier for men to find their joy than it is for women. It's particularly difficult for men to find women's joy, so women often have to help guide the men to the joy. By contrast, women have no difficulting finding men's joy, though they sometimes don't know what to do with it once they've found it. Some men have greater joy than other men, which can cause men without much joy to feel inferior. Nonetheless, even a little joy is better than no joy.

    PS Sorry, couldn't resist. In all seriousness, I appreciate the post. It's all too easy to forget how to find one's joy.


    I spent a lot of time thinking about how to write this post in a way that you boys would not mistake (on purpose) for a euphemism. In the end, I went with the original version...because it's exactly what I meant to convey.

    Mock if it brings you joy. Tongue out

    Like I said, this is a beautiful piece, and I really hope Genghis and Deadman don't come along and mock it, the way they usually do, the unfeeling clods.

    Now I feel a little guilty, as I really did like the piece. And quinn, don't even think of calling me a softy, you Canadian bastard.

    Great observation, Orlando. What unites two-year-old kids and 70-year-old musicians? The kids haven't yet learned to compromise their joy, and the 70-year-olds have finally learned to say fuck it.

    If a musician is still touring in his or her late 60s or 70s, it's for love of what they do. It keeps them alive, and they communicate that vitality to their audiences: Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen are as worth seeing now as at any time in their careers. (Cohen's new Live in London CD or DVD distills the best of 40 years of performing. Give it a listen.)

    Then there are lesser legends like Billy Nix, Ray Bonneville, Jesse Winchester, who soldier on in smaller venues to more intimate crowds -- which they manage to fill with the joy of their craft. It's not just musicians who can pull it off, simply that they are most noticeable since it's their job to impart feelings and emotions. It sure looks like something we'd all find worth trying for.

    Great blog, Orlando, thank you.  I saw Dave Brubeck at an outdoor concert nearly 30 years ago.  I was with friends a ways back from the stage and I just had to get as close to him as I could.  I would have been up on the stage if my friends hadn't grabbed me.  I had never seen anyone enjoying themselves as much as he was.  The sound was fabulous, no doubt, but Brubeck gave me a beautiful gift that day. I think of him so often when I am doing work I enjoy and try to remember to put that joy on my face even if no one is there to see me.  I hope you get to see Billy Nicks big grin in your minds eye as long as I have enjoyed Brubeck's.

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