Feb 282011

This is John Wise in the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River in November 2010

My best friend is Happiness. Unbounded, wild, romantic, and adventurous Happiness. I am hopelessly in love with the idea, the reality, the possibilities offered from my relationship with Happy. It has taken many a year and much struggle before allowing myself to warm up to Happy. From those early days when I was first introduced to Happy’s cousin, Kinda Happy, I have matured and grown fond of the Happy family to the point where we married and are now Mr. and Mrs. Perfectly Happy.

Prior to finding Happiness, I, like many others, swirled around the drain of despair. My acquaintances were a seedy lot: Jack Loneliness, Buddy Fear, Kathy Uncertainty, and Stan Inferiority. This group of idiots had personalities so strong that mine took the back seat. I tried to stand up to their coercive badgering but it wouldn’t be until I properly learned to abuse alcohol followed by enrolling in the College of Drug Abuse that my sordid friends became family.

Then, like in all good stories that are just starting to find real drama, when on the verge of moral darkness another Greek tragedy is about to play out and our lead character appears ready to stumble into the abyss, in a flash he is run over by the truck of enlightenment. Like kryptonite working on Superman, my hero – me, wearing the cape of emotional dissolution, wilts under the power of knowledge.

My nemesis appears as a saboteur of the mind posing as an Iranian book seller who thrusts Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil into my hands. Argh, I’m being taken over by the light side. Clouds begin to part, smiles emerge, I can see the faint glimmer of Happiness on the distant horizon but still far enough away to not appear threatening. I return to the TV to lay witness to depravity, murder, rape, carjackings, home invasions, child abduction, terrorism, plane crashes, plunder, Washington lobbyists, and various other guards that protect us from premature Happiness.

Yet sadly, the hooks of conformity were being weakened by my exposure to the very idea of thinking. The more I learned of our potential the less drugs and alcohol were able to help maintain the friendships that were slipping away. Sometimes I think I still miss Buddy and Stan in some small way but I have made new friends. As these bonds were disintegrating I saw that qualities like self loathing were giving way to tingly feelings of emergent amazement.

It was dawning on me that the only thing standing between me and my long walk into the horizon where Happiness stood was the twenty-five years of baggage I had voluntarily agreed to lug around. In a rush of deliberate action I tossed that load off my shoulders, got in the car and ran that crap over – squashing it dead.

Now if life were truly easy and perfect, I would have driven off into the sunset, picked up Happiness and never looked back. But life is often like the movies, something evil was left behind. Must have been a toiletry bag from my youth, hidden in my neck underneath that ponytail I wore at the time because every once in a while some invisible force has unzipped the bag, letting out a cadre of uncertainties. Over time, though, that old bag has become well worn and its contents are being lost and are now mostly gone.

As for Happiness, we know how to hang out, resolve our problems, and put on the party hats. Our relationship is heading into its twenty-third anniversary and is growing stronger. Along the way I met my other wife who has been able to exponentiate my relationship to Happiness. Together the three of us have flirted with Ecstasy, we have danced in the vaulted heights of Delirium, and we work hard to maintain the distance between the old black hole of what was and the event horizon that is a constant source of optimistic potential.

Dec 302010


Are we being conditioned with beeps, bleeps, clicks, rings, jingles, engines, and buzzes of an artificial soundscape that is acting to destroy our relationship to the sounds of the natural world further alienating us from the nature of earth?

The espresso machine hisses, the GPS speaks its directions, the cell phone plays a little song telling you someone must talk to you. The French fry cooker bleats incessantly, the keyboard clicks, the fasten your seat belt alarm beeps to annoyance. We park our car to music played in the lot, music blares at us while shopping, TV’s in restaurants remind us of things we are missing in our attempt to have a moment for ourselves. The microwave sounds the alarm that the meal within its innards is ready to be consumed, the electronic box next to your pillow rattles you awake, your computer starts up with a bleeping symphony.

How long before your shirt warns you that your deodorant is failing, or your glasses alert you with a snappy ad from your optometrist that your vision has deteriorated since your last check up 14 months ago? Will chirping skin sensors let us know to step in the sun to replenish our vitamin D, dddrrrinng, dddrrrinng….oh excuse me, my bladder is texting me that I need to drink more water.

Dec 132010

The night sky from Badger Springs exit off the Black Canyon highway in Arizona

Shooting stars streak overhead, more wishes to be made. A crescent moon dips below the horizon turning off the brightness of night allowing darkness to take over the sky. With the heavens now blackened the milky way with its ribbon of far-off suns has become the stage, tempting us with the unknown. While the day is the domain of finding familiarity with geography, plants, and animals, it is during the wee hours that the stars, pulling our gaze upwards, have intrigued the imaginations of peoples across time. How many nights over how many years did our ancestors keep vigil with a dedicated eye on the position of these points in the sky? Were they divorced from the day as they scouted patterns, paths, and a return of a meteor or comet that might portend new mysteries?

The night sky from Badger Springs exit off the Black Canyon highway in Arizona looking towards Phoenix

In the dryness of the desert our view of the scintillating magic is only obscured by some fast moving thin clouds and the city light pollution in the distance. High above we look at the red flicker, the blinking speck, and the pulsing distant suns while bright silvery stars hold steady. And although it is winter and we are approaching one o’clock in the morning, the cold found out here is a reasonable chill kept at bay with a good bundling of layers and the snuggle of warm arms and a soft cheek. All around us, stars drop from above, some glide sideways, others aim for the horizon. A celestial rain is outpacing our ability to find wishes needed to be made when so many have already been granted.

The night sky from Badger Springs exit off the Black Canyon highway in Arizona

There is a sadness in stars. Their audience has left them, exchanging unknown mysteries of the universe for certainty in finding a winner watching a favorite team in competition or tuning in to witness the drama of a human tragedy that is sure to grip the viewer and explain any loose ends within the hour. On occasion there are moments when the stars will find the random fan who has ventured into one of the few remaining dark corners of earth to make communion. Maybe they spot a couple out at sea on a moonless night taking in the brilliance of a calm and glassy ocean reflecting starlight that traveled many a year to be there. And maybe it is the invisible stardust that is the glue where after sharing unspeakable beauty the love of two people is further cemented and the stars are still able to celebrate their magic.

Nov 112010

In the Redwoods National Park

We are not trees and should stop living like them. A tree stands in one place, its roots holding fast, it will not move. During the day it does its job, photosynthesis being the tree’s career. Every day as the sun rises it gets to work. Maybe the routine varies slightly depending upon weather conditions, but for the most part each work day is much like the other. When the time comes the tree provides protective shelter to its sapling still short in stature growing far below its parents branches. This part of its life cycle will be performed until the little shrub finishes growing up to be a tree standing branch to branch with it’s elder. During the dark of night the tree has little to do and stands watching over the evening looking for a car to drive by, hoping the campers put out their fire, observing the owl in it’s branches on a hunt for food.

A man takes his place in his community. His mortgage ties him to a home, it is unlikely he will move anytime soon. During the day he goes to work, an office job being his career. Every day as the sun rises it’s time to visit the drive-thru coffee shop before sitting down at his desk. A storm prevented a colleague from coming to work and so you’ll have to help cover the work load, for the most part this day at work is much like the others. Soon he and his companion will begin rearing children. This time of their life cycle will require their full attention until the child finishes growing up completing formal education and beginning their own career. During the dark of night the family has little to do and will watch TV, look to the internet for something exciting to be found, hope for a worthy adversary in playing an online video game, or observe the back of their eyelids on a hunt for dreams.

But man is not a tree. Our legs can take us places. Our hands can grasp things to build and create incredible works. Our minds can understand literature, sciences, and music. And yet so many of us will find contentedness in living like a tree. Well not me. I’m finding myself wandering the land, the space around me, and my mind. Just as one will never know much of what the universe holds, this knowledge that there is a vast unknown should be applied to ourselves so we might find understanding that we too are great unknowns needing intense exploration.

Aug 252010

Sidney Clay originally from New Orleans now living in Phoenix, Arizona - survivor of hurricane Katrina

Meet Sidney Clay, born in the month of March, 1942, he’s 68 years old and lived in New Orleans, Louisiana, for the better part of his life. Five years ago, early in the morning, Sidney was asleep in his apartment on St. Charles Avenue west of the French Quarter, surrounded by the floods brought on by hurricane Katrina when he awoke to the sound of helicopters. Stepping outside he thought fresh drinking water was being delivered, but he was wrong. That helicopter crew “rescued” Sidney. Carrying not much more than the clothes on his back he found himself airborne for the first time in his life. Next stop, New Orleans airport where he found out they were evacuating him to Corpus Christi, Texas. Once in Corpus Christi it was discovered that Sidney had family in Phoenix, Arizona and off he was whisked to the middle of the desert.

He left with nothing, arrived with nothing. But this would turn out to less than nothing. This man left school in Lafayette, Louisiana during the 7th grade, left home at age 17 and went right to work for Pendleton Security as a security guard in New Orleans. For nearly 40 years Sidney held this one job. He kept to himself for the most part and lived quietly.

Sidney is not a drinking man, never was. He’s been to the hospital twice, once for high blood pressure and the last time for food poisoning caused by pork, he hasn’t eaten pork since. Jail has never been offered the opportunity to host Sidney, matter of fact he has only had one traffic ticket and will likely never have another seeing he hasn’t driven a car in more than 25 years. Sidney is not a well traveled man, early in his life he made two bus trips to Atlanta and one to California. He reminisced that seeing Underground Atlanta was one of the most amazing events in his life.

Besides missing his home, he longs for a return to Pat O’Briens for one more dinner, his favorite. What he misses the most though is the music of New Orleans. Here in Phoenix we have no buskers, also known as street musicians, and where music is performed it is done so for money, of which Sidney has very little.

You see, on that day Sidney was uprooted and left with nothing, through a glitch of the bureaucratic system Sidney social security payments were interrupted. It has taken him five years to resolve the issues that stopped the checks. It is supposed to be next month when the money begins to flow again. In between almost exactly five years ago and today, Sidney tried staying with his daughter but a life alone and a house full of grandchildren left Sidney uncomfortable and one day he walked out.

Turns out that while Sidney was staying with his daughter and walking up and down Bell Road here in Phoenix he ran into a homeless man with the name Floyd. I have seen Floyd many a time over the years, even have a photo of him here on my blog taken in May 2004. Floyd helped Sidney understand living on the street which eased his transition from self sufficiency in New Orleans, to dependency with his daughter, to ultimately being homeless himself. For the next three years Sidney lived outdoors.

But Sidney is not your average homeless guy. At roughly 4:00 am he signs up at a Temporary Labor office to get a high spot on the list of people looking for any type of manual labor on offer. He normally knows by 6:00 if he’ll have work but he might have to hang out until 11:00 am, too. From the efforts of his labor he earns about $35 for the day. On good weeks he might get three to five days of work.

On the days he can scrounge the money he has found someone with a small apartment who lets him have a room for $10 a night, no money, no bed. Last time Sidney slept street side was about three months ago. His typical day when not waiting on work or working, he walks Bell Road from about Cave Creek Road to 40th Street and rarely wanders from this path. Along the way he picks up aluminum cans and from the generosity of some folks picks up a few dollars that if not required for a room, he’ll spend either at Denny’s or Whataburger.

If and when the social security mess is finally cleared up he’ll take an apartment and try to return to a simple and quiet life. What is remarkable about this man who was first homeless at age 64 is his gracious and friendly manner and his positive and grateful outlook. When I asked him if he has anything to be happy about he told me the best thing in life was God waking him up every morning. I then asked him what was the most important event, date, person, or historical occurrence he had seen since he was born, his answer, “The greatest thing I have come to see and know is that America is the greatest place on earth”. Sure is wonderful running into someone who is just happy being alive.