Author Archives: joe bielawa

60 Years!

I celebrated my 60th Birthday yesterday.

It was the first birthday where the numeric marker caused me to think: “Holy Crap!”

My 59th was an incredible year…success, set backs, personal growth and loss.

Three close friends passed away last year in the span of three months. I discovered the first friend deceased on the floor of his apartment. The second two, I was informed of their deaths by family members.

The amount of birthday greetings, phone calls, texts and in person wishes completely made the day.

What was most interesting was the amount of past coworkers, supervisors and managers I have worked with and/or for that called or texted to express birthday greetings.

I had birthday dinner with one friend, cake with other friends afterward.

It was without a doubt, one of the best birthdays of the 60!

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59th Trip around the Sun

Yesterday marked my 59th birthday, which means (gasps!) the start of my 60th year of life on the planet. With a lot of those years spent in careless disregard and others battling darkness, it is a miracle I am still alive.

Much has unfolded in the last year, and some things remain the same. With what has unfolded in the last year, I never could have imagined.  I know most of it I have set into motion; I just never imagined the current outcome.

A year ago I was employed part time as a dishwasher at a popular local restaurant, barely eeking out a living. I was gifted enrollment in “leadership seminar” that was touted to change my life.  And it did, by reaffirming the traits I have that I need to feel comfortable with and those traits that I have that need to be diminished or eradicated.

I quit the dishwashing job to take another job that only lasted two and a half days, to be rehired by the restaurant as the owner’s personal assistant.  What a roller coaster that month was!  The experience reaffirmed that the Universe has a greater plan than I could ever imagine! And all I need to work on is self-awareness, enlightenment and change.

I was diagnosed with a break through case of COVID-19 that wrecked havoc on my psyche: Will I survive? Is this it? Would I be dead in 40 days? I dealt with the stress and uncertainty by riding my bike. Logged 226 miles that week.

The love, abundance, generosity, and kindness that flow around me now is incredible! As the blessings of these gifts come to me, I am in turn able to share them with others. Keep the energy flowing.

As odd as it may sound, I am the most comfortable within my skin as I have ever been!  Life IS GOOD!

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Five Years a Californian

Today marks five years since I arrived in the Coachella Valley to start a new chapter of my life as a Californian. Maybe it’s age, but it seems longer and yet not that much of a time span.

Much has occurred in the five years. Solid friendships formed, other friendships lost, death, destruction, mayhem, enlightenment, fulfillment and accomplishment. I have made some unwise investments of my time, energy and money; yet have reaped some return with the last two.

I am about to embark on a new career path, one that I never really considered before, but will utilize my multifaceted skill set, talents and abilities. I have been hired by a local theatre group as a stage manager, overseeing productions on the five stages that make up the complex. There will be much to learn, new skills to hone, but most importantly, stepping into a management/leadership role I have desired for quite some time.

The interview process was fast and furious, yet it seemed to flow seamlessly. Meeting with various directors of the Board, and then all of them at once, I just rolled through the process. It was somewhat trippy to hear the praise and accolades based on my resume and my presence during the interviews.

I am very excited with this opportunity and confidant as I walk into the unknown. 

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30 Years

August 27th, 2020 marked 30 years since a helicopter crash in East Troy WI claimed the life of blues guitarist, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Stevie was one of the first musicians I photographed in the mid 1980’s. Without a question, I became obsessed with the energy of his music. In those early years, I would have dreams of meeting him. The following is an introduction I wrote for a photo book project that gained steam 20 years ago, but then stalled out. So I will use this platform now.

I first heard Stevie Ray Vaughan in  June of 1985. I was in Chicago visiting family and a childhood friend invited me along to the Chicago Blues Festival at Grant Park in downtown Chicago. As we drove into the city, were discussing who was playing that night and my friend mentioned Stevie.  I commented that I was unfamiliar with his music, to which  my friend replied “He’s awesome! He’s got this one song….Voodoo something….it’s INCREDIBLE.”

We arrived at Grant Park and wandered through the 100,000 or so who had gathered there. After a couple of groups had performed, Stevie Ray Vaughan took the stage and I was immediately captivated by his music, listening with “wide-eared” wonder as he played his set. With the amount of people who had gathered in front of the band shell, I was unable to see the stage but it didn’t matter.  I was goose-bumped just listening to the music that filled the air.

After a few songs, my friends had wandered off and I was standing next to a hot-dog stand drinking beer when IT happened!

Something I thought I would never hear played live in my life: the first wah sounds of Jimi  Hendrix’s  “Voodoo Chile.”   What?!  I thought… this  guy gonna?  Sure enough, Stevie played on and I was entranced.  The crowd around me was cheering, hootin’ an hollerin’.  Some had climbed up on top of the hot dog stand, I  looked up and a guy  offered  his hand to pull me up.  I accepted and was pulled up onto the stand. Looking across the sea of people towards the Bandshell, I saw this little guy,  just  ripping up a weathered looking Stratocaster, playing Hendrix note for note and then some! I WAS HOOKED!

It was also during this same summer that I achieved my first media accreditation which provided clearance to concerts in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area.

I captured my first images of Stevie Ray Vaughan on July 11, 1986 at Riverfest on Harriet Island in St. Paul.  I managed to get close to stage right. There was Stevie, his jeans worn and a little dirty, his boots scuffed, jammin’, letting it flow less than 20 feet in front of me!

I was excited, nervous, and a little buzzed; all this showed in the proofs,  they were slightly out of focus.  Not wanting to miss another opportunity with clarity as I had that night, I began avoiding the intoxicants before any shows.

And the shows became a regular occurrence: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant with Robbie Blunt,  B.B.King,  Eric Clapton, Robert Cray,  Robin Trower,  Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck, Michael Hedges and, of course, Stevie  RayVaughan – all my musical influences at the time.

Of all the musicians I have photographed, Stevie was the most emotional musician I have watched perform. It was as though he was pulling some of the  notes right up out of his toes;  the music flowed out from deep within. It was an incredible sight to watch him play.

For some reason, SRV & Double Trouble played Minneapolis often and I grooved on it. I was at every show, up close, wowed by it all and capturing it all on film.

The  day tickets went on sale for SRV and Double Trouble’s show at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis in December 1986, I was waiting in line at the Orpheum box office with  a number of people ahead of me. As the excited, smiling people who had purchased their tickets walked  past me, I would inquire “What row did you get?” The responses were: First row, third row, fourth row. The show was selling fast through this box office and the Ticketmaster outlets. By the time I was one person away from the box office, the row being sold was nineteen. When I got up to the window, I was told they would be closing temporarily. I anxiously waited for the window to re-open, wondering what row would be available.

Fifteen minutes passed and the window re-opened and I asked  ‘What row is available?”

“Well” replied the box office attendant, “The show is selling fast. We have added three more rows in the orchestra pit. I have row AA, two seats to stage left.”

“Where is that in regards to the stage?” I asked.

“It’s the first row in front of the stage.”

Stunned, I proclaimed: “I’ll take them!”

The night of the show, my photo access was denied, but I had my camera with me anyway.  Security was strict and I was reprimanded for taking photos. First I was asked  by security for my camera batteries. I gave the guy my batteries for my power winder, thus no auto film advance, but  my camera still had power. The second time, I was asked for the film, so I rewound the film, took the canister out of the camera and handed it to the security guy.   I immediately realized I just handed him images I had captured, I yelled  “wait” and took the canister back and pried it open, pulled out the  film,  exposing it to light and destroying the images. I  handed him the exposed film and canister.

As the security guy left, I turned back to the stage. Tommy Shannon was looking at me and smiling, he had seen the exchange between the security guy and I.

Stevie was in some lead riffs, with his eyes closed, Tommy  walked over to Stevie, leaned into him and said something into his ear.  Stevie opened his eyes and looked over in my direction as Tommy continued to talk, moving his head forward towards my direction.  Tommy stepped back from Stevie and Stevie moved forward to the mike, sang some more verse, then moved back from the mike, then forward around the front of the monitor, right in front of me. He finished the song, looked at me and tossed his pick in my direction. I reached for it, as did a couple of other people around me, I came up holding the pick Stevie used for the  first part of the show.  I was elated and didn’t pursue anymore photo endeavors.

When I got home that night and looked closely at the pick, I could tell by the etchings on the one side how Stevie held his pick when he played.

I was at Met Center in Bloomington, MN for the Soul to Soul Tour ’87.  I bought two tickets in the third row, center stage so I could move around alittle with my camera.  Stevie wore a shirt that said “HUGS, NOT DRUGS”, I thought that was cool; I was in a sober period myself and liked the phrase.

That night I saw something I had never seen during any show before. Stevie broke a string during a song and his technician came on stage and restrung the guitar while Stevie continued to play and sing.

I was awed by it all: the music, the presence of the men on stage, their energy and charisma, the crowd around me; and the flow of energy from the stage out into the crowd and back again.

Met Center – Bloomington MN – 1987

I was intrigued by the message on Stevie’s shirt, and decided to look into his story a little deeper. One of the things I learned was that he had  gone through rehab after  collapsing on stage after a show in London, U.K. in October of 1986.

I met Stevie for the first time at Riverfest, in St. Paul, MN in June of 1989. I was standing backstage before the concert began, when Chris Layton walked by.  “Hey Chris” I said .He stopped and said  “Hello”.

I introduced myself and mentioned that I enjoyed the music the band played and that I had photographed the  band a few times, but could never get any good shots of Reese Wynans or of him because of where they were positioned on stage.

He asked “What do you need?”

“Well,” I said nervously then boldly:  “I need to be onstage”

“Let me see what I can do”  and he walked away and went into a trailer nearby.

A few minutes later, he emerged with a gray-haired gentleman he introduced as Stevie’s stage manager. Chris bid me an “Enjoy the show”  and headed off.  The stage manager simply stated that for the first three songs I would be on stage left.  I followed the stage manager onto the dark outdoor stage.  He brought me to a spot, told me to “Wait here” then walked away.  There were a couple of shadows milling around centerstage, then UP went the lights! The band tore into “House is a­ Rockin.”   I was stunned as the wave of  music and energy swept over me and out into the audience. I just stood there giggling like a goofus, when I realized  I had better start capturing some images.  Reese was off to my left, and Chris was forward and to the right.  The three songs seemed to fly by,  but I had achieved my goal.

I was escorted off stage by the stage manager and made my way to the “pit” area between stage and first row. I milled around in the walk way between the first and second seating sections,then back to the pit. I kept my camera to my eye, except for walking time or an occasional break to just groove on the music.

Riverfest – St. Paul MN – 1989

When the concert was over, I made my way backstage, and when I saw  Chris Layton again, he asked “How’d you enjoy the show?  Did  you get some good shots?”

“I enjoyed it VERY MUCH! Thanks you. And yes, I did get some good shots”

“That’sgood”he said  “Anything else I can help you with?”

“Well….could you introduce me to Stevie?”  I sheepishly asked

Chris explained that Stevie usually ate dinner after a show, but if I wanted, I could have  a drink, and he’d see what he could do.  I grabbed a soda and sat down with a handful of people scattered around some picnic tables.  About an hour later, Stevie emerged with Reese Wynans from a trailer next to the picnic tables. After Stevie had a few introductions with some people, Chris went up to him, then brought him over to where I was sitting.  I stood up as Chris introduced Stevie to me.  I was in shock and unable to say anything as I shook Stevie’s hand.  Chris repeated to Stevie what I had told him earlier: that I had been photographing them for a couple of years and really enjoyed their music. Stevie was just grinning at me  (the dumb-founded look on my face all too obvious) “Would you like an autograph?” he asked.

I mumbled a barely audible  “Un-huh”

Stevie laughed and signed a piece of paper I had with me:  “Thanks for Caring! Stevie Ray Vaughan ’89”,  handed me one of his guitar picks, then moved along to meet the  other people who were there. Reese and Chris also signed the piece of paper.

In October of 1989, SRV and Double Trouble opened their North American “FIRE MEETS THE FURY” Tour with Jeff Beck at Northrop Auditorium in Minneapolis.  Jeff Beck opened the show. During the course of Beck’s set, I was in the pit with two other photographers. The guy on my left was bent down, checking his camera. I took out my small redlight flashlight and shined the red light down on to the  photographers work’  area,  illuminating the area just enough to see without blinding white light.  He finished what he was doing, stood up and said  “Thanks”.

During the intermission, he struck up a conversation with me, asking who I worked for. I told him I was freelancing and had been shooting SRV for a couple of years. He asked if I had any of my work, I showed him a few images of SRV I had tucked in my camera bag. As he looked through my photographs, I asked him who he worked for and he told me he was Jeff Beck’s photographer. The lights went down and Stevie took the stage.

Northrup Auditorium – Minneapolis MN – 1989

After the show, the photographer told me to grab my stuff and follow him. We went through a security blocked door, and into a hallway  to the left of the stage. There were a number of people standing around. The photographer introduced me to SRV’s business manager, Alex Hodges of Strike Force.  I gave him a few images of Stevie I had with me just as someone with a band badge around his neck, put his hand on my shoulder, gently pushing me towards an another door, as he shouted ”This way for photos with the band.” The door opened and I was one of ten or so people lead into the  room.

There was SRV and Double Trouble. I said hello to Chris Layton, and waited until Stevie had a free moment, then walked up to him and said: “I don’t know if  you remember me or not….”

Stevie smiled,  gently hit my shoulder and said  “HEY MAN! You can talk!”

I nervously laughed. ” I really enjoy your music”  I continued, “It brings me a lot of joy. The messages in “Tightrope”  and “Wall of  Dental”  are so strong. They really mean a lot. Keep doing what you’re doing,  people like me really need stuff  like that.”

“Well, thanks. I appreciate that”  Stevie replied.

I showed him some of the photographs I had taken of him and Double Trouble over the last four years. He complimented me on my work and asked for my phone number stating “ I want to talk with you about this after this tour is over.”  I scrawled my name and number on the envelope the photos were in.

I asked him to sign my CD insert for In Step.  As I handed him the insert, a photographer from the Des Moines Register captured an image of Stevie and I.  Stevie wrote: “To Joe  Take Care Friend! Stevie Ray Vaughan ’89”

In August of 1990 I was living in California, working at a photo lab. The boss always had  the radio on while he worked in the darkroom. I heard Stevie tunes coming from the back of the lab,  a few minutes later my boss came to the front part of the lab  and said  to my coworkers and I: “Did you hear about Stevie Ray Vaughan?”

“No, what?” I responded

“He was killed in a helicopter crash last night in Wisconsin”  I fell against the wall.

In Oct.of 1995, I was attending a study group for a 12 step program. The facilitator played a tape of “Stevie’s Speaker Meeting”, in which Stevie told his story through alcohol and drugs to sobriety.  I was mesmerized to hear him speak of his own experience. As is the nature of recovery,  the story is the same, but people and the downfalls are different. I could relate to Stevie’s addictive behavior because it was the same as mine.

Stevie Ray Vaughan was a strong influence and inspiration to me; photographically, musically and in my sobriety. I was fortunate to be able to experience his energy first hand while capturing it on film and be able to have had those brief encounters and words with him.

2020 Addendum: These images are just a sample. The images I captured onstage at Riverfest 1989, as well as the purple guitar pick and the autograph sheet are part of a collage that is in storage, along with several hundred images of SRV on 35mm film.

One of the images from that  Riverfest ’89 show is part of the Stevie Ray Vaughan display at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, AZ.

I had a collection of some of these images on my Flickr page, but so many people were pirating them, that I made them private. I am still popping off DMCA takedown notices like bubble gum.

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Lyrical Theraphy VIII


“So Much Trouble In The World”

So much trouble in the world
So much trouble in the world

Bless my eyes this morning
Jah sun is on the rise once again
The way earthly thin’s are goin’
Anything can happen.

You see men sailing on their ego trip,
Blast off on their spaceship,
Million miles from reality:
No care for you, no care for me.

So much trouble in the world;
So much trouble in the world.
All you got to do: give a little (give a little),
Give a little (give a little), give a little (give a little)!
One more time, ye-ah! (give a little) Ye-ah! (give a little)
Ye-ah! (give a little) Yeah!

So you think you’ve found the solution,
But it’s just another illusion!
(So before you check out this tide),
Don’t leave another cornerstone
Standing there behind, eh-eh-eh-eh!
We’ve got to face the day;
(Ooh) Ooh-wee, come what may:
We the street people talkin’,
Yeah, we the people strugglin’.

Now they sitting on a time bomb; (Bomb-bomb-bomb! Bomb-bomb-bomb!)
Now I know the time has come: (Bomb-bomb-bomb! Bomb-bomb-bomb!)
What goes on up is coming on down, (Bomb-bomb-bomb! Bomb-bomb-bomb!)
Goes around and comes around. (Bomb-bomb-bomb! Bomb-bomb-bomb!)

So much trouble in the world;
So much trouble in the world;
So much trouble in the world.
There is so much trouble (so much trouble in the world);
There is so much trouble;
There is so much trouble (so much in the world);
There is so much trouble;
There is so much trouble in the world (so much trouble in the world);
There is (so much in the world);
(So much trouble in the world)

 – Bob Marley And The Wailers
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Death of a Friend

Today in Brainerd, Minnesota is the private burial of a very dear friend, Chris Johnson.

I met Chris in late 1982 and we became fast friends. I was working as a Personal Care Attendant for the disabled and Chris was a friend with one of my clients.

Over the course of couple of years, our friendship grew. He offered me the position to work for him, which I accepted and for the next six years we shared life as client and attendant, boss and employee…but in reality, we became soul-brothers.

Chris was the epitome of “wavy gravy” with this mellow “hippie type” vibe, he was the most gentle of spirits. Oh, without question, he and I would be tooth and nail with some of  our “discussions” usually regarding our political views, back in a time when opposing political discussion could be had, when the only bombs that were sent were verbal, but by the end of the conversation, folks could still break bread, share laughter, a drink together and remain friends.

Chris suffered a spinal cord injury during gymnastics practice when he was 16. There are pictures that he had of him on the rings in a iron cross prior to his accident that showed this incredibly buff mofo little teenager.

Chris and I shared similar traits: nature boys, always a need to be outside, sun babies, always outside catching rays and in those early days: a fondness for the ganja and alcohol. As we aged, we both sobered up, to the shock of many, but with the same mutual understanding between us as to why.

We did some traveling together and it was on one of these trips to So CA, that I discovered Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley.

It was on our first trip to the Coachella Valley, being the knuckle-heads we were…that we thought the Joshua Tree National Monument was a monument of a Joshua Tree like what was the cover of U2’s The Joshua Tree. So of course, we drove up into the high desert in April to “find the monument.” Once there, we of course realized our silliness that there was not just ONE Joshua Tree in the monument, but THOUSANDS as the Park Ranger explained the progression of a wilderness area to monument to national park. DOH!

Once n the park we drove for a while and I felt the need to climb and kept saying so. Chris insisted that I pick a spot pull over and go climb. So I did.

This is how he and I lived so recklessly at times, not thinking…in the middle of what is known as one of the most unforgiving places on earth, the quadriplegic tells his mobility: “Pull over. Get out of the car. Leave me here and go climb.”  And me to think it was an AWESOME idea! and comply.

As I approached the car some 30 minutes later after scampering around some large rock formations, I snapped picture of him in the car throwing me daggers as a look as he proclaimed: “Its hot as hell out here!!”

In the mid 1980s, when I was an unaccredited press photographer, Chris and some of his friends used to assist me in the smuggling of my camera gear into concerts.  I’d buy handicapped seating along with two somewhere in the first three rows on the main floor and the wheelchair folks would roll the gear in under their chairs to their seats, I pulled the gear together and then headed down to the main floor seating to shoot.

After my accreditation was secured, the camera smuggling was no longer needed; still Chris and I hit shows often. In June of 1989, at Riverfest in St. Paul, my accreditation presented the opportunity to meet Stevie Ray Vaughan after the show, although I was told it might take a couple of hours. I met Chris at his seat and took him back to his van telling him the story of what unfolded in the two hours since I had seen him last. He made it VERY clear: I was to get him in his van and return to the back stage area to meet my musical hero. I was dumb-founded, but wasted no time getting him situated in his van so I could scurry back stage.

When I returned a couple of hours later, I was worried that Chris would be pissed at how long I had left him. As I approached the van, Chris had a party going on in his van with all these people hanging, passing around all the flavors. I asked him what as going on. He said he just told people who asked him if he was ok, that he was; he was waiting for me to meet Stevie and these folks just kinda chilled with him. This was Chris, his ability to instantly connect with people with his easy carefree attitude.

Of all the things I was trusted with from Chris in his daily care and life, training his Bear Dog was the greatest honor. Bear was a Shepard-Husky-Wolf mix that was one of the most beautiful dogs I have ever seen.  That dog became a neurotic mix of the both of us! But that dog was a smart, loving, playful 125 pound beast who thought he was a lapdog whose over excitement with Chris at times would send Chris, wheel chair and dog ass over tea kettle with the dog on top of Chris licking face and Chris laughing with such joy. There are stories of how Bear naturally sprung to the action of defense to protect either Chris or a family member after I had moved to California.

Although we talked on the phone regularly and Facebook chatted frequently, I visited Chris at his home in Arizona in December of 2017. It had been a few years since we had been in each other’s presence, but it was as soul brothers are, and we picked up like we saw each other the day before.  I spent a few days there and it was really good to see him.

I spoke with him on Sept 13th, 2018, the “anniversary” of his accident, as I did each year since I worked for him. This year marked 40 years and I shared with him that I could never really “honor” that date, but without the events of that date, I never would have met him or been able to share friendship. He agreed whole-heartedly and thanked me for remembering and for our friendship.

When the call came through with the news of his death, I was as I am now…overcome with such intense emotion. I realize now how much I really loved Chris Johnson and what a dear close friend he is/was.  I know we discussed the importance of our friendship to one another and how we felt, so it’s not a guilt thing.

No, this emotion is true mourning and grief over the passing of a soul-brother whose, energy, smile and vibe I will truly miss.

I know these photographs are 30 some years old, but I cherish them for two reasons:

The slight smile on his face as he reaches for Bear as a pup.


And the way you can see in the shot taken seconds later as he coos to Bear as he pets him and the way Bear is leaning back into Chris touch.



I see Chris now, with Bear at his side in these sceanrios: He’s outside running thru the forest, back-flippin’ off logs, grabbing over hanging tree branches, pulling off these incredible gymnastics moves. He’s walking down a beach, blue-green waves crashing on the sand at his feet. He’s on a tennis court, just blistering his opponent. He’s in the gym, ruling every conceivable gymnastic apparatus.

I know I don’t have to Chris, but I will toast you with a double Jack Daniels on the rocks cuz I still don’t know why you wasted all that great tasting Tennessee sippin’ whiskey with CocaCola!

Peace to you, my soul-brother. I know our paths will cross again in another dimension.

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3/19/2018 – The Double Fives


This date again! The day of my birth and my new year’s day.

My 54th year was very full. A mix of emotions, energies and insight sparked by accomplishment, set backs, failure, depression, anxiety, national and international travel, partnerships forged and then dissolved, final ending of a decades old toxic relationship, new friendships established and growing, death, loss and letting go…which all has just strengthened and expanded my spirit.

The people who die (non suicidal) on their birthday have always intrigued me. I have always thought it the sign a certain soul…to leave the planet the day you arrived, years later.

For whatever reason, this really geeked me out this year. It hit me hard: What if Double Fives is it?

As the day approached I was getting agitated, nervous, restless. I was trying not to focus on anything and was beginning to somewhat lose my shit. With all the energy that was now swirling me, I decided to put my self in the area where I feel the safest: the desert wilderness.

As I have done in the past, the experience began with time spent at Integratron, bathing in the soothing sounds of a sound bath as it nourished and balanced my chakras, centering me. The greatest attribute of my time there is when I get to spend time with members of my soul family, the stewards of this this place.

One in particular, a Divine Goddess, engulfed me with an embrace as we recalled the last time I was there with my nephew in October. I told her of Mom suffering a brain hemorrhage around the time we were getting a sound bath and then her dying ten days later. The peace, love and connectedness I felt from this woman is over-whelming and as she held me, I whimpered a couple of times at the radiance of her love. She introduced me to her sister and again I was engulfed with a hug that just eased all my pain. As we chatted, the little group around us radiated such love, peace and tranquility, that I basked in the energy of pure love.

I parked a quarter mile way and walked towards the Rock. The silence and stillness of this place always amazes me. It grounds me immediately and the energy that surrounds it is obvious. I have witnessed more paranormal activity here than any other place I have traveled.

I walked around the rock to the west and placed both hands on the rock and began to both give and receive an immediate energy. I closed my eyes and stood there with my hands on the rock, slowly pulling my hands down, visualizing all the negatives in my life. It felt as if they had coagulated together in one mass and I felt as if they were amassing to be pulled out when my hands came off the rock as I moved them over an unseen curve of the rock.

I continued to walk around the rock, hands crossed behind me at the small of my back, past the filled-in opening that once was the entrance to the living space Frank Critzer dug out and built underneath and when I came to the point where the granite was exposed by the split in early 2000, I placed my hands on the white stone mass, centered and grounded.

I moved over to the piece of rock that fell away, found a point I could reach at arms length, moved alittle higher up, reached up and grabbed the rock and sort of stretched/ hung there for awhile. I let go, dropped to the ground, then moved around the fallen piece and continued grounding.

I walked back to my vehicle, dropped the tailgate, sat and looked out into the desert expanse. I felt at complete peace. The urge to spend the night grew so strong, but I had given a travel itinerary to a friend so someone knows the general vicinity of where I am traveling solo in the desert wilderness. This has only become a new habit for me.

I hesitated again with sticking to the itinerary, as I felt solidly connected here, but my conscience said firmly “The real truth lies Joshua Tree” so as I looked out across the open expanse, I spoke aloud my affirmations to this place, what I felt, what I saw, the beauty of it all, the spirit, the energy, I acknowledged it all. I felt an incredible sense gratitude, humility and complete peace. I stood, bowed Namaste and got in the car and made my way into Joshua Tree, CA and the western entrance to JTNP.

When I arrived at the park entrance, there was a electronic sign stating a wait time at the gate and suggested the eastern entrance at 29 Palms, I wrapped a uey and drove to the eastern gate and was in the park with no wait, aside from the 34 miles to drive there.

Immediately I was struck by the amount of traffic moving out of the park, more cars coming out of the park than I have ever seen IN THE park! Granted, it was late afternoon on a Sunday.

I drove to ‘the spot’ I have visited in the past for night photography, parked the car and walked into the spot to survey the scene for the night’s work. Clouds were beginning to form and I had a feeling the whole plan for midnight astrophotography would be scrapped.

I walked back to my car to gather up some gear and a truck had backed in next to me. As I walked up to my driver’s door, I said hello to the couple in the truck. We struck up conversation and I felt an immediate energy from these two. They got out of their vehicle and we struck up conversation. Within a matter of minutes of talking, we were all sharing laughter, truth and honesty; I felt an immediate connectedness to these two and it was such an incredible force, that it just drew me in more.

I took them to the spot where I had planned to work for the night, knowing by now the cloud cover would make it impossible. They asked if the could set up camp, I had no claim to the site, so I offered it up. We discussed what this meant and such; dude and I shared the correlation using terms like “aiding and abetting” “conspiracy against the government” “felonies” and a host of other wonderful termonlogies. In complete agreement with one another, dude and I high fived to seal the deal. The girlfriend looked at us with a surprised, nervousness and said “Wow! You two are so…” and dude and I looked at her and said simultaneously “What?!” and the three of us fell into a fit of giggles.

The dude, Aaron wandered off and the girlfriend, Michelle and I sat at the campfire talking. Michelle shared how a month ago, on Aaron’s birthday, he dropped her off at LAX for her trip to Mexico, then drove out to Joshua Tree National Park. Once there, he met a couple, who when they found out it was his birthday, honored him and showered him with their love, invited him into their camp and just made his birthday a celebration of him. She went on about how cool she thought that was that complete strangers would honor another complete stranger in such a way.

She was sitting in a heap by the fire as we chatted, in a mellow mood sort of way when she asked me “What brings you into Joshua Tree tonight?”

“Oh, I came here for the solitude and the peace.” I said, then continued “tomorrow is my birthday…” and that’s as far as I got. It was if a bolt of energy struck Michele and she jumped up, gave me a big hug and told me she’d be right back.

She returned from the truck with a large container in each hand and began a full production of preparing food. I tried to tell her not to go to any trouble and she wouldn’t have any of. Aaron returned back into camp and seeing the activity of Michele asked: ”Hey babe. What’s goin’ on?”

Michele smiled and said: “Dude!’ then pointing at me ‘ It’s his birthday tomorrow!!

Aaron’s body made a motion as if being struck by lightening and being grounded at the same time as he put his open hands in front of him, palms down like a stopping motion and let out this huge “WHOOOAAAA!”

The camp became electric! Red wine was passed around and flowed most of the night; rasta spliffs the size of small baseball bats were shared. As the various courses of food came off the fire, it was insisted that I begin the “breaking of the bread.”

When I travel into the wilderness I am fasting some, it’s part of the experience for me. I have plenty of water but usually eat very light, just for sustenance: nuts, dates, rice cakes, granola, maybe some jerky.

The food Michelle prepared was vegetarian and all oh, so good! And just enough was prepared for the three of us that there was neither waste, nor a gluttonous feeling of over eating. It was incredible birthday meal.

Even with the cloud cover that moved in completely scrapping “my plan” for night photography, it didn’t matter. I was receiving more from the universe from these two newly realized members of my soul family than capturing imagery of the night sky could provide.

When the time came, I bid my adieu and thanked them for the love they showered upon me. There was light talk of them joining me in the morning for the sunrise at Keys View, we said our good nights and I went to my Element for slumber and basked in the feelings of connectedness, love and harmony. I felt whole, complete, part of all…one. I was showered with more love by the actions of “complete strangers” in this five-hour window than members of my birth family have shown me on this date in decades.

I drifted off into a peaceful slumber, only to be awakened numerous times by the “biting cold” of the 40° high desert night temps! I didn’t get any solid sleep until I put on my wool hat on. My body clock woke me as usual about an hour before first light. I got out of the car to water some plants. Then checked in on Aaron and Michelle’s camp, which was still quiet. Although I wanted to feel more of their vibe, I didn’t want to wake them.

I sat for a bit by the now extinguished fire pit and went into meditation. When it ended, I sat in reflection and was stuck by amazement that as I celebrated my first birthday with out my mom on the planet, these two were what made my 55th so special. A rise of emotion welled and I felt my mom’s spirit. A warm energy came over me in the cool predawn. I sat there in silence until I began to again feel the coolness of the air, I stood and bowed Namaste, acknowledging the sanctity of the camp, the occupants asleep in the tent and thirdly to the over all oneness of all.

When I arrived at Keys View, a fiery sunrise had started to the east and a long stretch of cloud extended from the east out, across the Coachella Valley, creating a shadow that fell across the San Jacinto Mountains. The effect I was after was lost by this cloud cover, so my second planned shoot was now scrapped for anther time as well.

I made my way back to Park Blvd and headed west. I was amazed by the traffic in the park at such early morning hours. It was, without a doubt, morning rush hour traffic.

I pulled over to capture some imagery, got out of the vehicle and had walked a few feet away from the road when I heard a truck idling down behind me, turned around to look and there was Aaron and Michelle smiling and waving.

I approached their truck and they greeted me with HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! I again acknowledged how spending time with them made my birthday. They got out of the truck, pulled out the camp chairs and made me a cup of hot coffee right there in a turnout on Park Blvd. We sat there for about an hour or so, then they packed things up as they were headed into LA. They gave me a bracelet as a birthday gift, then each gave me a tight, long hug and I thanked them yet again. Once in their truck, they both waved again and I watched as they drove off down Park Blvd. I grabbed my camera and continued to capture more imagery before I moved further west into the park.


The gift from Aaron and Michelle hangs from the mirror in my Element.

I traveled west along Park Blvd. until I felt a vibe that urged me to pull over and I pulled into the next turn out I came to. I grabbed some gear and headed out onto a trail into the desert. I captured some marco imagery of desert plant life and some wide angled imagery of JTNP with a snow capped Mt. San Gorgonio 55 miles in the distance.


The snow capped Mt. San Gorgonio



I made my way around a wall of rock and hiked for a short time when I found a little canyon that seemed to draw me in. As I first walked into the space, I felt a hesitation, like I disturbed something or shouldn’t be there. I paused for a moment and asked aloud “May I enter here? Am I welcome?” A lite breeze blew in from behind, bringing into the canyon a gust of warm air that quietly whistled as it passed my ears.

I climbed up into the canyon around the massive boulders and rocks. When I climbed up to the top of the canyon I was under a massive boulder. I wanted to sit here, but my first thought was if that rock moves, I’d be squished like a bug. This rock hat has been lodged here for thousands of years just might fall at this precise moment!

The massive rock was having an effect on me and I felt an urge to move away from it, so I decided to leave the canyon and began my descent out. Halfway down, I came to another rock that angled up between a narrow of the canyon wall to the right and another massive boulder to the left. To make my way down, I had to sit on this angled rock to shimmy down onto another rock and when I sat on this rock it was as if my entire being down shifted into a lower gear, orbit, plane…whatever. So significant was this shift, that I knew this was the spot to sit and it’s why I felt the strong urge from the road.

I removed all metal and electronics from my person, placed them in the camera bag and tossed bag down out in front of me. I removed my boots and positioned myself with the top of the rock at my root chakra, each foot slightly out and achieved a three-point ground. I calmed as I grounded into the rock. I went through my various mantras and movements and in no time went into meditation.

As I came out of meditation, I leaned my head back, outstretched my hands to the skies and just basked in the glory of the moment. As I brought my hands down, each one came to rest on the rock on each side and I was able to have each hand out at my sides. After a little positioning I achieved a five-point ground. I visualized again the coagulated mass of negativity I felt after grounding at Giant Rock the day before.

Like working out a stress knot during massage, I took three deep breaths in, then out. As I drew in the fourth deep breathe, I positioned my self so on the exhale, I turned my torso, applied pressure at all five points of ground and as I exhaled pushed out the negative mass I felt inside of me. I took another quick inhale, applying more pressure at the ground points as I exhaled deeper. I did this a third time hard, applying pressure against the rock as I pushed up against the mass inside. The sounds that came out of me each time as I exhaled and applied pressure into the rock were like a dry vomit, not a dry heave, but of something being rejected by the body in a vomiting like sound. What came out was a dark energy. After the third exhale, I fell against the rock wall to my right, gasping for air. It took six deep inhales, and quick exhales before my breathing started a calmer rhythm.

I sat there for a while looking out into the desert. I felt lighter in body and spirit. The energy of the canyon intensified basking me in a feeling of safety, comfort and belonging. I felt a history here, these rocks withstanding centuries. I felt an over-whelming sense that what just happened was monumental for me, but nothing that these rocks could not withstand. I felt a wave of humility engulf me as I realized I had connected to the universal source of power greater than oneself. Emotion swelled and I began to cry as I felt an energy radiate from the rocks, through me and expand out into the open space before me. I felt complete peace and contentment, yet at the same time felt insignificant, very small, like a grain of sand; still though, and strongly, part of a whole.

I sat here a while longer with all of this. A breeze blew down in from the back of the canyon and with it the energy shifted back to what I felt when I first arrived, cool and ominous, just not as foreboding. And with this, I knew it was time to go.

I bowed Namaste as I sat there, then put my boots, turned to face the massive rock to the back of the canyon and bowed and acknowledged it solid greatest, it’s place, and for all it accepted from me. Another breeze blew in from the back, a little warmer than the first, but it chilled me and gave me goose-bumps.

I climbed down out of the canyon and when I got to the spot where I entered, I tuned, faced it again and bowed, speaking out loud my gratitude for what just occurred, to the rock, to this place. Emotion built inside me and released. After walking a few hundred yards away from the canyon, I sat down and went through what just occurred. I was exhausted. I was thirsty. My nose was clogged from crying. Yet I felt lighter, at peace, happy, joyful. I felt as if there was…new space inside and it was bright.

I took out the camera and captured some imagery of desert life, then made my way back to the car for water. Sitting there on the tailgate, swilling bottled water filled from the aquifer at Integratron, I was struck by absolute awe as I recalled the last 30 hours.

I had “planned” 4 days in the wilderness to get away from all, to be isolated in vast openness, to disconnect from the world and in the process I became more connected with members of my soul family, with myself, with the world and the universe.

As the steady sound of the traffic on Park Blvd. droned by, I considered traveling further north into the Mojave towards Death Valley. As I began mapping a route in my head, a calming energy settled over me and I felt/thought/heard: ‘this has been enough for now.’ So I decided to save that route for another trip and made my way back down into the Coachella Valley.

When I notified my contact I had returned, she insisted she take me out for dinner to celebrate the day. I am still “cashing in” on birthday meals from friends.

The Double 5’s on this magical, mystical tour is lifting off nicely!!

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Moments with Mom

There are just so many stories of my mom. Spending time recently with my two nephews, each the son of two siblings, it brought me peace as they shared stories of how they were and still are influenced by Gramma Rose.

“You’re the best…”

I can’t remember the exact year, but I know it started when we lived in a house on South Walcott Avenue in Chicago, between 1969 – 1973, so I would have been under 10 y.o., probably closer to 6 or 7 y.o.  My siblings and I all had various chores to do.  The first time I had to vacuum the stairs, when complete, Mom looked over my work and proclaimed; “WOW! You did SUCH A GOOD job! Much better than your brother or sister’s.”  As that young mind wrapped around the mere thought that I top ranked my older sibling’s, I tell you, I vacuumed those stairs with gusto and enthusiasm  every week. When I was 15, it hit me. Almost a decade. After I put the vacuum away,  I said to Mom: “Jig is up. I am NOT the best at vacuuming the stairs, you conned me.”  She slightly cocked her head, a slight smile came across her face and that sparkle erupted in her eyes and she said  “Oh son. It took you THIS long?”

And speaking of vacuums…when my sibling’s left home for either their own pursuits or college, Mom and I shared the house work.  Mom ran the old heavy upright on the flat surfaces, I carried it up the stairs for her.   On more than one occasion I  would walk out of a room not knowing she was approaching with this tank of a vacuum and we would collide: vacuum and my bare socked foot. The first time it happened, I pulled off my sock and the little toe as at a 45° angle. Months later it happened again, only this time the blow cracked the toe back into a somewhat normal position. After numerous vacuum to foot impacts, I learned to just stay in the room I was in until the vacuum was shut off. To this day, the little toe on my right foot can hing out to a 45° angle.

Mom dealt with medical emergencies with a clear head, but her stress of the event would be released as a giggle or all out laughter. This really helped me to see the humor in every situation but at times it was difficult through intense pain or if I  was bleeding all over the place. To be clear, her laughter at the situation wasn’t rude, mocking, insulting or premeditated, but off the cuff and to that particular moment.

I was an emergency room, stitches kinda kid. Once after I cut a three inch gash at the thumb along the palm on my left hand with a razor blade in the garage, as blood was flowing,  I went into the house to tell sister what occurred, she slapped a dishcloth on the gash and called Mom at work to inform of the situation. Mom told sister to make sure I didn’t get blood on the carpet.  Sister repeated this to me, then began to laugh and trade quips with mom. I said; ” I could be dying here, but sure. I’ll try not to bleed out on the carpet”. 14 stitches to close that one, left hand wrapped like a club.

A week later, Mom stuck her right hand into a glass washing it, the glass cracked and she cut her right hand. 8 stitches to close that. So for a week or so we each had opposite hands in the same style club shape ace bandage. Not wanting to make two trips to the doctor to have stitches removed, mine were delayed to coincide with her removal and we went to the doctor at the same time. When the doctor came into the exam room and saw us sitting next to each other, me on the left, left bandaged hand sticking up and Mom on the right, with her bandaged hand sticking up, he did a exaggerated double take and said “Now Rosemary, you know I can’t give you a two for one special.” Mom erupted into laughter as her face radiated joy.

Frugal, Not Cheap

Mom would balance her books to the penny nightly. How she raised for kids on what she earned those first few years after the divorce, I’ll never know. The day after my 18th Birthday, Mom requested we have a talk and she shared some of the honest details of leading up to and after the divorce. Court papers & documents, income tax returns for 1964, 1965 and 1966 and proof of non payment of child support.  I was stunned and my adoration for her just swelled.

I had to have surgery on my eye the summer I was 16. We had to make a trip into the Chicagoland area for a consolation with a specialist the surgeon doing the surgery required before he would proceed. During the course of the exam, the specialist who taught at the University of IL,  joked ” that it was such a simple surgery, if I had a movie of it, I’d show you.”  Mom’s interest peeked, she inquired: “So there isn’t any footage available for your students to see this type of surgery?”  I then watched as Mom and the Doctor negotiated a discounted rate if she  allowed my surgery to be filmed for his educational purposes, with the final say coming down to the Dr. doing the surgery, who agreed it was a fantastic idea.


If it was yours, you ruled for the day. You got to choose the menu for all three meals, with your choice of one her homemade cakes and frosting for desert. Daily chores were excused. Wrapped gifts were the days bounty, sometimes a gag gift always followed by the jewel. For the 12th year, I was given a large box full of cereal box toys collected by a Great Aunt who had a mentally disabled son. As I opened the box and peered inside at all this JUNK!  Mom says: “It’s been a rough year.”   I was trying to just let it roll, be a little man, tough it up; but right as the emotional boy was on the verge of bubbling over, she ruffled my hair and handed me a small wrapped box. I opened it up and it was my first wrist-watch. Little man!

Three days before my 16th birthday, I won a car in a raffle in a fundraising candy drive for the parochial high school I attended. I had just started with this mantra of positive affirmations, so instead of “IF I win the car…” I would say “WHEN I win the car.  I honestly didn’t have any experience with this sort of concept before, I was just doing it.  I wasn’t 100% confidant, I never researched insurance rates. I never used the affirmations around school during the drive, only at home.  I think the candy drive was a month or 45 days in length…at breakfast the morning of the raffle drawing, I said to Mom: “Well, I guess I call you when I get the car keys today.”  She just blew up! Just TORE INTO ME! I just shut down..tuned her out. Bits came through: “Things come from hard work… nothing is free…nothing is just handed over to you..this runaway ego of yours… this arrogance and this attitude…you’re in for a very rude awakening, young man!”

When my name was read after being pulled out of the drawing, I just about shit! I couldn’t believe it! With an enrollment of 502, each name entered into the drawing after selling the case of chocolate, the odds were 501-1. Honesty, things were kind of a blur. I was in the office after having a picture taken with principle of the school handing me the keys to the car. When a woman working in the office asked me if I had called Mom,  I replied that I hadn’t.  She handed me a receiver and asked for the number, I recited Mom’s work number (which just popped off in my brain as I write this). When she answered, I said: “Hi mom! I won the car!” and she started to go off again, I just handed the phone to the secretary and she put the phone to her ear,  A startled, shocked look came across her face, then this big smile and she just radiated happiness. She let out a little laugh and repeated a few times, quickly: “Mrs. Bielawa!” then said “This is so and so with yada-dadda high school.  Yes, Joseph DID WIN the car!”

When I was 35, Mom told me at moment that the secretary told her I won the car, she knew I had her father’s “shine” but she kept it quiet, primarily not to inflate the adolescent ego any further.  Leonard “Lucky Len” Cassidy was a man of many talents, as well as “professional” gambler who combined his mathematical genius with the “shine” and played the ponies.You always hear about the wins, but never the devastation caused by the losses.  Still, the car Leonard drove up to the time of his death he won on some bet.

Momma don’t take my Kodachrome away…

I can’t even recall what the infraction was, but I was again, grounded to my room. Knowing she was on another level of the house, I quickly smoked a couple pinch hits of marijauna out the window, then proceeded to let the high carry me as I set up lights around my drafting table and began shooting some still lifes.  Music was playing softly, but when I get lost in moments, I sing out loud terribly, but just let the moment flow.

Suddenly my door flew open, startling me and she proclaimed: “WHAT! are you doing?!?” I stammered that I was just shooting some film, being creative.

She scoffed: “This isn’t suppose to be “fun“.  Give me the film that’s in the camera and your little stash”

Quite high and now freaking out at what i heard, I meekly said  “my.. .stash?”

“Yes.” she continued  “your stash of film. I know you have more than the one roll in the camera. Give me all your film.”

Bullet dodged, I rewound the film, took the canister out of the camera and dropped it in my spare camera bag with the other rolls of film yet to be exposed or yet to be developed and handed her the bag.

Years later, we reminisced about this incident and she just laughed! with that big smile, the way her cheeks would kinda “chipmunk up” and laughter that came from deep inside. Although she was a Paul Simon fan, and the song had major airplay at the time she took my film away, she claimed no connection to the two. Then she stood solid on her principle: “I had grounded you as a punishment and you turned that into fun & joy!

“Five Minutes!”

When she did discover a bag of my marijauna for the first time, I knew the shit was coming down. She looked at me with an expressionless face and simply stated: “You have five minutes to have someone convince me not to call the police and have you arrested.” I was completely shocked!  Stunned!  I wasted time trying to think of a defense, how to get out of this, something to pacify her, which I knew was useless. She let out a little insulting, condescending laugh and said flatly: “You’ve just wasted two minutes staring at me in disbelief.  Your time is ticking. Under three minutes now”

I scrambled, and called a priest at the high school I went to, who I was being counseled by as I was trying to short through the feelings of adolescence.  He talked with Mom for awhile, she started to cry, then she handed the phone to me and I was told: “Flush it down the toilet or she calls the police.”  Ka-flush!

“…trying to perfect…”

When I lipped off, which occurred more often as I really started to find my voice, I’d be dealt a sharp slap to the face after some proclamation I would utter. The first time I caught her hand mid slap and prevented contact from happening, a strange look came across her face: fear, anger, disappointment and determination all wrapped into one.  That still didn’t really didn’t register, and my adolescent ego inflated!  I felt I had the upper hand!  In my mind I was a Jedi master!  I began to let my daily chores slip, then slide. What was she going to do?  Slap me?  HA!  I can block those with ease!

One morning after this incident, the female classmate who rode in the car pool that picked us up for school ten miles away, arrived and was sitting in the living room.  I was coming down the stairs into the living room, when Mom came out off the kitchen into the living room and said to me: ” I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t spend so much time in the morning trying to perfect your masturbatory habits and spend the time in a more productive manner getting something accomplished.  Like your chores! then this house wouldn’t be in such disarray” (which it NEVER was to begin with).  I was devastated, speechless, shocked, stunned.  My classmate let out a laugh, then quickly stifled it.  I couldn’t get past “trying to perfect your masturbatory habits”  and insinuating I wasn’t even capable of an effective wank.  After that, my chores were always completed in a thorough,  timely manner.

A South Paw?

One night during my mid-teens, I came home intoxicated, which was starting to become habitual, and I was again under interrogation and questioning. The two statements I had become quick to loathe were: “You look just like your father.”  and “What did I do to deserve this?”  Hearing them yet again, having them rile me yet again, that with an ego and belly bloated from too much beer, I decided to explain the reproduction process to her and began: “Well, I’m guessing in June or July of ’62 you and the old man must have had relations and…”  I was always on guard for the right handed slaps, but this was a quick blur from the left and then a direct punch to my gut. I doubled over as I tried to keep the churning contents of my stomach from rising, I looked over at her and she had her fists clenched in a defensive boxing stance, ready to strike! . I ran to the bathroom as I began to vomit. As I knelt over the toilet, she stood in the doorway of the bathroom and tore so righteously into me.  And she was absolutely correct in what she was saying. From that moment on, we would have our heated discussions, but I never disrespected her like that again. And not because she hit me, but because I knew she didn’t deserve it and that I had pushed her to that point.

“Right to my knees”

Although a part of me at times was an obnoxiousness, arrogant adolescent alcoholic, for the most part I wasn’t a delinquent. Whether it was my codependent behavior, my rainbow gene flaring or just my desire not to have an uproariously emotional mother in my face when she got home from work, I would prepare a dinner and have it on a candle lit table when she arrived home. This action would keep the volatile emotions of a menopausal woman at bay for a couple of hours.

If she would have friends over or if her sisters visited, there would be wine and hors d’oeuvres, usually cheese and crackers.  I would slice up the cheese, arrange the platter, serve and pour the wine, while wearing a white apron, folded down at the waist, dress shirt, top button buttoned, no tie.

Mom enjoyed white wine and although a rarity, her favorite cocktail was an Old Fashioned, but never once in my life did I ever see her drunk or over a limit.  A fall off a bike in her youth caused knee injuries and after a glass of wine, two at the most or one of  those rare cocktails, she would hang her tongue out of her mouth, bug her eyes alittle and make “her drunk face” and proclaim:  “Oh! That went right to my knees.  I have had enough!”

The Giggle-Snorts

On the occasions when the good friends or her sister’s would visit, they would get telling stories and laughing that on inhales to recover from the laughing exhale, snorts could be heard which, in turn, would result in even more laughter and even more snorts! and the occasional admittance of the wetting of pants, which brought on even more gales of laughter.  Moments like this would mortify my adolescent mind, but I couldn’t help but get caught up in the joyful energy filling the room and would laugh along nervously.

“Oh no kid, after you.”

Although I didn’t continue to practice the religious doctrine of my youth, it was the religious schooling Mom insisted I have that set me on my spiritual journey, more in   that I knew most of those teachings were for me, that I set out to find other truths.

When I would return home to visit, I would ask Mom if it was ok for me to go to church with her, I wouldn’t receive sacraments, but would be there with her. She always agreed.

On occasion, after I had not visited in a year or so,  as we walked up the stairs of the church and got to the landing, I rushed ahead to open and hold the door for her, she got that twinkle in her eye, smiled, radiated that joyful energy and said “Oh no, kid. After you!  If lightening strikes as you walk into a church, I want to be standing back here!” and she motioned with her hands for me to proceed into the church.  I did and when she came in, she was laughing and smiling, which made me erupt in laughter as well. When she came up to me, I offered her my arm and asked: “Everything OK? no rumblings, sparks or lightening?”  She put her arm in mine, that joyful expression on her face, eyes twinkling  and said “Everything is fine.” and we walked into her church and took a seat.

“No, I’m ahead. Time to stop.” 

Mom and my eldest sister would travel together lot and meet up with a cousin from Ireland and his wife. They would pick a destination, meet there, then tour the area. I was living in Palm Springs CA and some time between 1993 & 1994 they choose Las Vegas as the meet up and the American Southwest as their touring area. I drove up to Las Vegas the day before they arrived and pissed through  little cash I had in a matter of minutes hoping for a big win.  The next day I went the airport and when they all arrived, I drove them in their rental car back to the hotel.

After they settled into their rooms, we all went down to the casino, the Irishman went the cage to fetch $100 worth of $10 coins. The ladies and I had gathered by a change machine to get some coin. Mom put a dollar in and 8 quarters came out. Everyone kinda laughed and poked fun. Someone said: “try it again” and Mom put another dollar in and 8 quarters came out.  “Holy Crap Mom! you gotta get out on the floor!”  I yelped.  She was laughing, her energy radiated out as she said “No, I ‘m ahead. Time to stop.” then she stepped away from the change machine. I looked at the Irishman and I think he and I felt the same energy. I jumped right in and with a remaining dollar I had, fed the machine, 4 quarters came out.  My sister stepped in fed the machine, 4 quarters came out.

The energy around us was so active, the laughter, the humor, the good natured ribbing, the love. Mom was beaming, radiating this glowing energy.  The Irishman and I locked eyes and I KNEW he saw, felt and understood the energy that was coming from Mom. He went over to her and with his thick Irish accent gently sternly says: “Rose. We have to get you out on the floor now, c’mon”  Mom smiled let out a little laugh, stood a little taller and said: “I have doubled my money in Las Vegas. It is time to stop.”

“No one is just going to knock on your door…”

In 1995, as my life was just starting to begin it’s downward spiral from addiction, I was living in CA and renting a guesthouse and my landlord owned a bar. Someone came into the bar and asked the bartender, my landlord, if he knew any one looking for work as he was looking for temp day labor.  My landlord gave him his address and told him to go talk with me in the guest house. I still had some money to keep the cordless land line on, but was unemployed and not really looking for work.

Mom called and we were chatting and discussing my current state of unemployment. She  quizzed me on a plan and what was I doing,  then asked: “Are you EVEN LOOKING for work?”

I hemmed and hawed like a teenager and admitted no, I wasn’t.

She took the opportunity to school me and opened with: “No one is just going to knock on your door and offer you a job.”  I thought “oh god.  Here we go…”  when there was a loud knocking on my door. I told Mom to hang on a minute someone was at the door, with phone in one hand, I opened the door with my other and there was this dude standing there and he said:  “Are you Joey?  Your landlord, so’ n so at Yadda-dadda bar sent me over here.  Are you looking for work?  Because I need some day labor.”   and out of the phone comes my mother’s voice booming  “son of a BITCH!”   I laughed and so did the dude at the door. I told him I was on the phone with my Mom, he smirked and nodded, gave his business card and told me to call him tomorrow.

When I got back on the phone with Mom, we both were laughing.  She was still trying to school me, but would just start laughing, then said “Oh hell, what’s the point!?!   I can NOT believe your luck!! You would fall into a large pile of shit and come out smelling like a rose!” and we both laughed and giggled for a couple of minutes as she just cooed  “ohhh kid”

August 5th, 2008

For Mom’s 78th Birthday I took her to a Neil Diamond concert at the Verizon Center in  Washington DC. Neil was her favorite and during her sixties after retirement, followed him to a few cities.

When I first asked her if she would like to go, she said no and citied aging health issues as the reason, then added  “But I would love to see him.”  I called the box office and made a few inquiries as far as certain seating, and they provided the best of customer service. When I told Mom she was hesitant at first, but I reassured her that everything would be fine. Oh man. When we got to the venue and then our seats, I couldn’t believe it!  It was like a separate area, with maybe six or eight other folks and designated bathrooms within 10 feet. One of my most cherished memories of adulthood is rocking out with Mom, swaying arms in the air,  singing along with Neil and thousands of others during “Sweet Caroline”

I have told some of the above stories over the years, but for me, they are worth repeating. There really are so many stories and memories to list that I am sure I will revisit this subject in one form or another in the future.

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The Death of the Matriarch

It took me a few days to write this.  I wanted to publish it before the New Year.

It’s Christmas Eve 2017 and I find myself now to be at a point where I can sit down, write this out and to share it.

On October 28th, my mother Rose Marie (Rosemary) died after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage ten days prior. When her injury occurred, it was the request of the second oldest sibling, whom my mother lived with, to the third oldest sibling  (I’m the youngest) that “the boys (myself and my two nephews) not be told until after Mom dies.”  Bully on the third oldest for bucking the request, she called her son, who then called me right as I was with my other nephew Robert at Keys View, the highest point in Joshua Tree National Park, one of the rare spots where cellphone service is accessible in JTNP.  It was still a 2.5 hour drive out of JTNP before I had service and was told the details in yet another phone call that was the beginning of a series awkward conversations with people I have not spoken with in years.

I have been estranged from my three older siblings for many years now, each one dropping off or shunning me, however you want to look at it.  I understand, it always takes two to tango.

Let me put it this way…my parents divorced when I was 18 months old. I never knew my father; Mom was the only parent I knew. My siblings at 7, 6, & 4 years older than I, all had the awareness of the father in the house and their lives. I recall as alittle guy (4, 5, 6 y. o.) they would form a ‘us vs. Mom’ mentality.  Some heist or mischief would occur, we would get snagged in mother dragnet and when the questioning would begin, if she asked me a question, I would honestly answer it, tell her the truth as to what was going on. I can see how my siblings probably didn’t groove on me always speaking the truth.  Oh yes, as I aged, there were times where I did not tell a whole truth, but I never lied to her.  I carried it into adulthood, I always spoke the truth with her. Which brings up another thing…l always spoke with Mom, never to her.

Let’s get cosmic.

My astrology shows I was born to be my mother’s strength. In the mid 1980’s at the request of some friends I met while I was hitch-hiking through Idaho, I met with an astrologer in Salt Lake City.  She refused any form of payment for the drawing up and reading of my chart.  She made a recording as she read my chart so I would have so I would have a tape of the session to listen to later.   It seemed excitingly odd, peculiar and reassuring that a complete stranger would have almost a complete insight into my life based on the exact time and coordinates of my birth and how that fit into the universal map at that time. Mom always said that my health issues at the time of my birth distracted her from the chaos of the divorce and gave her a focal point.

When my hitch-hiking brought me back to Mom’s house a few months after meeting with the astrologer, I asked Mom to listen to the tapes of the session with me. She was hesitant at first, but gave in, more to pacify, than with an interest, smiled and said “What sort of mumbo jumbo am I about to listen to?”  I pressed play, and the astrologer began with “Joseph, you were born to be your mother’s strength and the reason for that is…” and I watched as Mom’s face changed as she was drawn in to the words that were being spoken on the tape. The astrologer spoke of what my chart indicated; what it meant, not good, nor bad, just what; she spoke of family situations no one outside of family knew; she spoke of what this indicated in a certain aspect of universal flow and then she revealed the nature of my life’s mission. My mother and I were in a cascade of emotions, undoubtedly feeling the same, and were a blubbering mass of tears, and we decided we heard enough.  I have listened to these two tapes a couple of times since, always very emotional, always hearing something new.

My mother taught me many things that make me the man I am today, most are my character attributes, some, my defects; but these provide me self-examination, the opportunity to change and grow. She taught me how to shake a hand, she taught me about values and ethics, about principle, integrity, respect, she nurtured the confidence in me to speak truth. By example, she and her father laid the ground work for not just my political ideology, but my life’s philosophy.  She taught me to look at the other side of things and not to accept the first line I was fed.  She had a quick wit and a sharp tongue. Her laughter! and that smiling face!  Ohhh, but that stern, angry face. My actions at various stages of my childhood, my teen years and a couple in early adulthood had that face looking back at me often.

She once bitterly confessed to me as a teen: “You have the mannerisms of your father and the rhetoric of mine!” Oh boy. I knew I was kinda screwed. I didn’t know what I was doing…but I tried to mellow it out.

Our relationship did wane at times, usually when I was engaged in some sort fuckery or tom-foolery, yet she always forgave. With her forgiveness, I was more steadfast to change my behavior to not have to make this sort of amend again.

We spent hours in conversation and debate about philosophy, theology, politics, current events, life.  During my youth, she would take my siblings on I to theatre, to art museums, museums and cultural events usually on little to no money.  As the youngest, Mom and I did these things together as the older siblings let home. Even into adulthood, she and I would attend events when I visited, particularly when she moved to Virginia.  On one of our last trips into the District, I convinced her to just sit in a wheelchair so I could push her through the National Gallery of Art.

She would always quote lines from Shakespeare or famous speeches in history when driving home her lesson, often delivered with a sharp, biting tongue.

I always called so I talk with her, sometimes multiple times a week. Even during some of my darkest days of addiction, I would call and unload a burden that was probably too much for her to bear, but she weathered through it.  In early recovery, barely out of the trenches two or three months, we’re talking and she said me “You know, I was reading up on crystal meth addiction…” and I looked at her with a stunned, amazement as remorse welled up tears of emotion as I realized here she is at 68 years old educating herself on what my current struggle was.

It was in this exact moment that I vowed to self that I would amend my ways with her. Over the course of the next few years, as I gained more insight as I recovered from active addiction, I would recall to her certain ways in how I had harmed her with my words, deeds or actions and apologize whole heartedly; I began to recall moments of childhood where she had sacrificed so my siblings and I would have a better life, and I thanked her for that; I would recall moments when I observed her, in awe of her compassion, her love and her generous spirit and I would share how I observed what she did, how it effected the people she was interacting with, and how it made me feel. We were in engaged in one of these sessions, and I felt the energy waning, in the sense that I had made peace with her. We cried, we hugged and when we parted from our embrace, she looked my in the eyes and “You’ve made up for them all.  The other three have never said these things to me, Joseph”

The biggest divide between my mother and I was sexual orientation: nature vs. nurture. Her strong religious convictions would not allow her to fully accept who I am. She took the same stance as the head of her religion: We accept you, but you can’t get married, you must abstain from your sexual practices, and pray for forgiveness of this sin. You see however, because of what she taught me, I respected her for it.

I can’t remember the exact year, but I know it was before her memory issues really started 8-9 years ago. One of the greatest conversations I had with my mom was about death. Hers. From one youngest child to another.  She talked about how her siblings acted when her parents died and what a nightmare it was dealing with all the BS that older siblings pull. I mentioned her father’s wake where my aunt flung herself on top of Grandpa’s body in the casket, wailing, creating a TOTAL scene and I remember thinking “wow!”  She agreed. She spoke of other applicable family matters, her the youngest of four as well.. She gave me her blessing to not have to attend her funeral if a sibling, the one who did, pulled shit. I chuckled and sternly jokingly said “Mom!” and she repeated it again with a little more clarity.

Over the last few years, phone conversations with Mom became quick, short; almost rehearsed, scripted. When it got to a certain point, about 3- 5 minutes in, it would be the “I love you” and then goodbye. I knew the memory issues were there.

In early October, my nephew Robert, whom I have not spent much time with in his life, came for a visit as he traveled to the West Coast from the town I lived in as a teenager. We were planning a trip up into the high desert to spend time in the wilderness of the southern Mojave Desert, then into Joshua Tree National Park.  Oct. 16th, the day before we left, I told nephew: “Let’s call Gramma. Say hello. Tell her what’s going on, what we’re doing…you know,  just in case anything happens.” I called her, got her on the line said a quick hello then said ‘Hey! There is someone here that wants to talk with you.’ I handed the phone to the nephew who put the phone to his ear and said “Hello Gramma” and I watched as his face changed into that of a joyful smiling little boy as he spoke with Gramma Rose.

After a time the phone came back to me and I engaged in one of the most lucid conversations I have had with Mom in years. She was alert, engaging, questioning. She asked questions without interrogation, but with imagination, which caused me to pause, think and reconsider safety, logistics, survival…and she had never traveled into a desert wilderness with me. We shared conversation with each other for almost ten minutes.

“It’s good that Robert is with you right now. I’m happy about that.”  she said, startling me some, but as I thought about the last few weeks getting to know my nephew, I responded: “I’m happy about that too, Mom.”

We said our “I love you” she bid me safe travels and fun. Not realizing it then, but for the last time I began telling her how much I loved her, what she meant to me, all that she taught me and how grateful I was for her. This popped off a bubble of emotion and we both were quickly, crying and she chuckled a little and said: “oh, kid, you just don’t stop”

As the ten days unfolded before my mother’s death, it was requested that no one call or travel to second eldest’s home that she shared with my mom for the last 17 years and now, where my mom lay dying in hospice.. All messages were to be funneled though the third eldest sibling, in both directions.  We could request times to have a phone held to mom’s ear, but were told they would be confirmed or denied at the second oldest’s siblings discretion and must align with her schedule. I had never experienced such coldness and rigidity.

I began to unravel. I could barely handle dealing with being in conversations with these folks, let alone the conversations we were having.  I lost patience and found myself standing on ABSOLUTE principle; with this SHARP CUTTING tongue…I was acting like my mother as I addressed the ridiculousness of the two siblings

I had this vein of anger in me, that I could plug any issue into and stand on anger. I had a total sense of false pride about it. I knew it was consuming me, that some issues really trigger it and I knew I had to address it. I told myself I didn’t know how to let it go, when in actuality, I didn’t want to let it go.

The day that I sent the message that I would not be attending the funeral, I was out on a bike ride and I heard Mom’s voice speak to me for the first time since her death. I was so overcome with emotion that I had to stop riding because I could not see through my tears. The conversation was light hearted, joyful and she let me know she was with me as she commented on the beauty of the mountains and where I was riding. I know for certain she had never been to the Coachella Valley and in all honesty, I thought it was just my brain playing tricks on me to ease the anxiety.

When I got home from my bike ride, I received a message from the third oldest sibling stating that all the information I was previously given about my mother’s burial had now changed, and that they would not be burying her in the cemetery of her ancestry,  but in a  cemetery 38 miles to the north, in a town the family has had no connection to, ever.

That night I experienced the most anxious feelings of my entire life, and I mean that. I mean my ENTIRE life: all the physical and sexual assaults, the addiction, the arrests, the jail time, losing the business, the homelessness, the hopelessness, the uncertain of recovery, the anxiety and panic I was experiencing at this time was greater than the sum of ALL of it. I felt like I couldn’t go on, I couldn’t sit,  stand,  lay down, I couldn’t find comfort in anything,  it was the worst.  Six and a half hours of it. Thinking I was having some emotional response to announcing I wouldn’t attend her funeral, I said out loud “Oh god. What have I done?”  and I heard her voice again and she said: “Ohh, Joey. It’s not you” and I realized I was still tapped into her emotion and what I was feeling wasn’t part of me. A moment of clarity came to me, so I centered, focused and trying to sound as calm as I could be, I said out loud: “Mom. I love you very much. You have done a wonderful job as a parent, but there is no point in hanging around here anymore. Go to light. Just go to the light, Mom. You are in the hands of God. Do not fear. Just go. Leave. Please Mom. Your time on Earth is done, Go to the next plane. Go.”

I was wrecked by a greater emotion that I just asked my mom to leave this realm; I collapsed onto my bed and sobbed. I was exhausted, drained, the energy that had me “crackling” for the last 6.5 hours seemed gone. I rolled over to look at the clock. It was 4:30 am, I rolled back on the pillow and the next thing I knew I was waking up and it was 7:30am.

My friend Josh G. arrived from MN later that day, he swooped in and did what Mom used to do for families in mourning: brought a meal in, fed the mourning, cleaned the kitchen, just took care of everything, radiated them with love.

I am a very visual person and I look to the sky for solace in every sunrise, sunset and the moments in between. The ten days as Mom lay dying in hospice and the day of her death, it was desert skies as usual, clear, blue, no moisture, no clouds.

The next day Josh and I took a road-trip to the Salton Sea, we traveled along the eastern shore to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, west of Estelle, with stops in Mecca, Bombay Beach, Niland and at Salvation Mountain, Slab City, and East Jesus.

It was late in the day as we arrived at the wildlife refuge and we started a hike to an outcrop of land at the northwest corner of the refuge. There were some clouds moving in and the sun was just starting to wane in the western sky. The clouds were beginning to change shape and color and I began to capture the early stages of the sunset. Over the course of 54 minutes, I shot 105 photographs of the various stages of the setting sun as we walked back to the car. The next morning, I began to look through what I shot the previous day and I looked through the thumbnails of the sunset images. Some of the fiery ones at the end looked impressive, but one stood out from them all. It wasn’t too fiery, it had a nice feel to it. So I opened it up to get a better look at it:


I honesty could not believe what I saw. I went outside to Josh and Robert and asked one of them to go inside and describe what they saw in the photograph on my screen. Josh went in, looked at my computer screen for a few seconds and said loudly “D’aaawww! But it’s happy! ”  I wasn’t looking to assign it an emotion, I just wanted to know that another person could see what I was seeing there in the upper left third of the image: eight puffs of cloud that resemble a stick figure with two feet and hands out stretched.

The next day Josh, Robert and I went up to Joshua Tree National Park. Josh and Robert went off to scale some rocks and I wandered about taking some photographs. I was hiking between the range Robert and Josh were scaling to the north and smaller rock wall to the south. I walked further along to the last outcropping of the rock wall, which opened up to a boulder field, then across a valley filled with monoliths of rock, Joshua Trees, then to mountains in the background. I removed all electronics from my person, watch, phone, cameras, lenses and gear, car keys, I put it all in the camera bag, laid that on the ground and continued walking for a few yards… I don’t know there was just something about this spot. I looked around and there was a rock, about three feet tall, 40 in x 24 in or so, slightly taller to the back, out in front of two larger rocks to the back. I sat on the rock and with it’s angle was able to sit in perfect lotus naturally, so I began meditation.

With everything that occurred in the 15 days prior, it was amazing how quickly I was able to quiet and still my mind, center my being, allow myself to just: Feel one. Feel connected. Feel part of the absolute silence and vast openness. Feel comfort. Feel peace.

Then I heard my mother’s voice begin to speak as she delivered her final lesson to me. With each point she made, with every pause she took to allow me to grasp and comprehend what she was saying, a light wind would blow, caress my face, then lightly whistle in my ears. I sat in silence for a while longer, then I came out of my mediation opened my eyes and I knew immediate I was changed man. I wasn’t even sure what or how, but I knew and felt that something had shifted inside of me.

The view of my meditation spot in JTNP:


Josh and Robert had finished their climbing excursion and had come over to where I was just gathering up my camera bag, We hiked back to the car and continued our JTNP tour and headed back into the Coachella Valley.


On the day of the funeral, my nephew and I took the tram ride up to Mt. San Jacinto State Park to spend time looking up, looking out and feeling the glorious magnitude that is a mountain top. Robert went off following his bliss climbing and I followed mine with my camera. Hours later we met back at Mountain Station and took the tram down to the valley floor.

I haven’t heard Mom’s voice since the day up in JTNP, but I feel her presence, her spirit and it comes from a place of total bliss, complete joy and happiness, absolute love…truly: Peace, Love and Light. I somewhat chuckle, through tears as I write this, because I realize I am saying these three words more in the last 58 days than ever before in my life. During a meditation, she came to me, unspoken in such a blaze of bright white light, the colors of the spectrum erupting around her! It was so intense that I had to turn away and as I did I came right up out of the meditation, goose bumped, chilled, then warm, numb. I sat there, thinking: what did I just see?

The most significant internal shift and change within me is the vein of anger I once had, is gone. It’s as if it has been removed, just taken away from me, gone. I have noticed however, certain things can fed it, and cause it grow. I cannot afford to have any toxicity in my life, so I am careful to not engage in situations that may cause me to lose site of this.


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Lyrical Therapy VII


Oh, nobody’s fault but mine
Nobody’s fault but mine
Trying to save my soul tonight
Oh, it’s nobody’s fault but mine

The devil he told me to roll
The devil he told me to roll
How to roll the log tonight
Nobody’s fault but mine

Brother he showed me the gong?
Brother he showed me the ding dong ding dong
How to keep that gong alive
Oh, it’s nobody’s fault but mine

Got a monkey on my back
Got a mo, mo, mo, mo, monkey on my back, back, back, back
Gonna change my ways tonight
Nobody’s fault but mine

I will get down rollin’ tonight
No-no-no-no-no-no-nobody’s fault

Written by Robert Anthony Plant, James Patrick Page • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc


I was hooked the first time I heard Presence, actually the entire LZ catalog, although the over played Stairway has certainly lost it’s lustre.

But this. I love it because it means for me to take ownership of what ever negative may be occurring in my life.

Back int the late 1980’s, I threw a house party and some thieving magpie nicked a guitar from the spare room in the basement that I used as a practice space. In all honesty I was a guitar collector and not really a guitarist. Although I could do a fierce impression of Pagey’s violin bow solo. Anyway…I played this through my Kenwood at full 350 watts per channel and when the song ended the phone rang and I answered with: “That’s all I am playing. I just needed to hear that.” and a neighbor replied: “Ya. We all did”  The guitar was returned…but that’s another story.

The monkey on my back. Ya, I have had a monkey on my back since birth, the by product of the sperm and the egg. At times in my life the monkey has ruled. HAHAHAHA, in all actuality, the monkey always rules, whether I am clean and sober or back in active addiction.

I am just emerging from active addiction, which started with causal use at the end of last year.  From late April, after my return from Costa Rica until five days ago I was in the grips of full on self-destruction. Active use, promiscuousness, lack of sleep,not eating right…but most destructively, not possessing any self love and allowing parasites to drain me of my energy.

On Sunday, I made the conscience effort to make a change. Within 20 short hours, my life shifted. In the past, I always white knuckled my way through; craving out the minutes, hours and then days of clean time. After awhile, the spirituality would come in and things got easier.

This time the spirituality came to me through the grace of two women as vessels of the the Spirit, and my life transformed.

Addict is, addict was, addict will always be: I haven’t a clue how long this will last. If I am aware of the Spirit coming from those around me and as it rises up  within me, I haven’t a desire to use.

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