On Friday of this week we begin our Big Adventure: The Griswold's Ling's European Vacation Tour.
My amazing management company, Grady Poe Inc. (motto: "All Grady Poe, all the time") has arranged a schedule of shows in the Heart of England and the East Midlands - Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Leicestershire. There are ten shows in villages and towns and cities through the middle of the country.
This is my second tour of England. The first was such a wonderful experience I couldn't wait to get back. The shows are in small village halls - intimate, informal settings - and are almost always packed. What I do seems to go over reasonably well in Britain - years of listening to my Grandmother helped me leap the cultural and language barriers, although there was a bit of a learning curve.
(English audiences, for example, were a bit bemused by a story in which we go to the beach and spread out "a blanket". In Britain, they would spread out "a rug". "Spreading out a blanket" is like saying "Yeah, we went to the beach, spread out the duvet, and ..."
They were also baffled when I used "Lawrence Welk" as a standard for "not cool". When I first did that scene, you could hear crickets chirping, where normally it gets a good laugh. Since I know every beat of the show, and know when my performance sucks, and know how to read an audence, I figured it was a cultural thing. And sure enough, later on my hosts told me "We have no idea who that is." So I asked for the British equivalent (after describing the music). "Ahh," they said. "You'll be wanting "Des O'Connor." Next night, came to the place in the show, threw in "Des O'Connor" ... HUGE laugh.)
What I love most about these shows is that afterwards, as likely as not, someone will get to the stage and say "Right, then, people ... let's all go to the Boar and Trollop for some Bangers and Mash!" And off the whole audience will traipse, across the road to one of the ubiquitous local pubs, and over sausages and mashed potatoes and far too many Guinness or single malts, you get a chance to meet real people who live in a society that is so similar and yet so different from ours.
Because the shows are relatively low-tech, there's no need to be at the theatre until a couple hours beforehand, leaving the morning and afternoon open for day-trips to places I've only read about, or for golfing, or for just relaxing in an English garden - which, by the way, is an experience in itself.
The last time I toured over there, my wife came along. We had an amazing time. This time, we're taking both girls. They're 23 and 20, and I figure this will be our last big adventure before they start thinking about having kids of their own. If nothing else, the Sunday morning breakfast chatter has been worth the price of the trip.
We're tacking some time onto the trip to go to Paris and spend some time in Glasgow. (We'll see London, we'll see France ... blahblahblahblah underpants, oh, grow up ...) We plan to catch a big show in London, I can't wait to shop on Oxford Street (again ... swear to God, I walk onto that street and it's like the Mother Ship calling me home), we'll see the Louvre, eat some fine French cuisine, the kids will get to experience Stonehenge and Bath, I'm golfing at the Belfry and .... ah, it's just too frigging exciting for words. Not that I haven't used enough.
So, if you happen to be in the centre of England in the middle of the merry Month of May, here's the touring schedule ...
May 10: Witham-on the-Hill Parish Hall, Lincs.
May 11: Great Carlton Village Hall, Great Carlton,
May 12: Long Sutton (The Market
House), Lincs. Box Office 01406 424428
May 13: Bishop Norton Village Hall, Market Rasen, Lincs. 01673
May 14: Ropsley Village Hall, Sleaford, Lincs.
May 17: Everton Village Hall, Doncaster, Notts, (Box Office 01777 817275)
May 18: Ranskill Church Room, Torworth, Retford,
May 19: Caunton, Dean Hole Community Centre,
Newark, Notts, (Box Office 01636 636523)
May 20: Sir John Moore Foundation, Appleby
Magna, Derbys, Leics,
May 21: Swannington Village Hall,
If you're looking for tickets to my show at Wembley Stadium (U2 are opening for me) ... it's been sold out for months. But there are probably tickets available for the shows above ...
Kathryn would have been 22 years old this weekend.
She was born April 23rd, 1983. Our second daughter, after Erin. We were so excited to be having kids so close together - only 14 months apart. We were sure they'd grow up to be the closest friends imaginable - almost twins. My sister and I, born 13 months apart, have that bond. My wife and her sister have about the same age spread, and the same closeness.
Kathryn was born on a Saturday, after a hellishly long and complicated labour. My wife had been plagued by nightmares in the weeks before, dreams where her baby was born but didn't cry. When Kathryn was born, she didn't cry. She was put in an incubator and whisked in one direction - to a pediatric hospital. My wife and I were taken to a room down the hall - she on a stretcher, me numbly sleepwalking beside.
What seemed like hours later - it was really only (!) 45 minutes. - a doctor we didn't know came into the room. He cleared his throat, gathering his strength, and looked us in the eyes. "There's no easy way to tell you this ..."
She had been born with severe A/V malformation, a one-in-a-million medical condition where her arteries and veins were ... I don't know, really. Too elastic? That sounds about right. Essentially, things were pretty messed up in her circulatory system, and it had led to her heart being greatly oversized. In fact, it took up most of the room in her chest cavity, leaving no room for her lungs. No wonder the poor lil mite didn't cry. She couldn't draw breath.
I hate suspense. Just tear off the bandaid, already. "So ... what's the bottom line ...?"
"She's going to die. It might be today, certainly before the weekend is out. There are no miracles to be had. Your baby is going to die. I'm very sorry." And he was. The poor man was radiating sympathy and felt as helpless in his way as we did in ours.
You don't have to work too hard to imagine how we felt. Devastated. Shocked. Utterly destroyed. Our happy life in shambles and shards around us.
Through that, my wife reached out and took the doctor's hand. "I'm sorry you had to tell us this," she said. "This must be the very worst part of your job." My God. The generosity ...? Just wow. Still, all these years later ... wow.
The next few months were pretty tough. God love 'em, people tried to say all the right things, but really ... there's not much you can say. People tried to find silver linings ... that's pretty much a no-fly zone. People talked in vague terms about God's Great Plan. Not so much buying a "Great Plan" that includes random suffering of innocent babies, thankyouverymuch. It just ... sucked in ways that only people who have gone through it can begin to understand.
We dealt. My wife stumbled through the first few weeks at home before announcing that she couldn't be around the house and deal with the empty arms, so she was going back to work. If I wanted to, I could walk away from the job I thoroughly hated and do that writing thing I'd talked about doing ... focus on it full time while taking care of our other daughter.
A year later, on April 23rd, we were back in the pit. The memories flooded over us, and it was as if it were happening all over again. Except ... my wife was pregnant. We grieved - again. But ... there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Allison was born on September 2, 1984. It was excruciatingly stressful, waiting for the "all clear". Because of that freak condition, we were now classified as a "high risk pregnancy". But she was born, and cried lustily moments later, and the world was a little better. The next morning, as I bounced into the room, I found my wife holding our new baby, weeping disconsolately, and my heart was gripped by terror. "What? What is it?" She couldn't talk. "Tell me!"
She unrolled the blanket to show me Allison's feet. Two of her toes on each foot were joined together, webbed. "She's not perfect!" my wife said, and burst into great sobs. I laughed and cried at the same time. "She's fine. Not perfect, but just fine."
And she was.
Skip forward four years. April 28th, 1988. We were sitting at the dinner table, when my wife looked up at me, stricken. "What?"
"We forgot ..."
"I didn't forget. But ... life goes on."
And it does.
The other day, the four of us sat around the dining room table. Sunday breakfast - cooked by Dad - is an important tradition in our house, one of the few times we can get together as a family and just yak about everything that's going on in our lives.
Allison and Erin are so close now it makes me misty. Didn't always feel like they would be - three years is a big gap when they become teenagers and the hormones kick in and PMS feels like it stands for Perpetual Menstrual Syndrome and for God's sake, can you women not all get on the same damn schedule? and all they can do is fight about who borrowed what t-shirt and got a stain on it and IhateyouIhateyouIhateyou and you'renotthebossofme and on and on.
(One time, when we had company for dinner, the girls were sent off to do the dishes. I could hear an argument brewing, and was getting set to go out and pre-emptively end it when - as always happens - the conversation lagged at the same moment the music went quiet and all the appliances clicked off and in that enormous, gaping silence, all you could hear were two teenaged girls' voices:
"Girls, can I see you in the TV room for a moment?")
But now? Now they think and act as one - revelling in each others' happiness and supporting one another when life sucks and just ... being everything you'd want sisters to be.
Allison has become this wonderful, funny, kind, thoughtful, talented, generous young woman. She volunteers at the Humane Society, plays fiddle and violin at peoples' weddings, has her own CD, is a remarkably good writer and is excelling in the English Honours program at UPEI. Her teachers have adored her since she was in Kindergarten and they adore her still. The world is a better place for having her in it.
My wife and I had decided, long ago, that we were only going to have two children. That was it. Two.
We had Erin, and we had Kathryn. And Kathryn died. So we had Allison. And the world is a better place for her being in it.
Draw whatever conclusions you want about silver linings or Great Plans. I'd have never made that trade.
Blogging is such a personal thing. Everybody has his or her own style, tone, areas of interest, strengths, eccentricities, foibles and weaknesses. That's kinda the joy of it all, no?
Some bloggers write so well it makes me sick with envy - for example, I tend to babble on for too long on any topic, and I know it - so I deeply admire someone like Sars , who writes with an elegant, admirable economy of language and yet still conveys the most vivid images imaginable. Her work is the embodiment of William Strunk's most pithy tenet: "Omit needless words." . And yet it invariably moves me - most often to snorts of laughter, but the range of emotion she is able to pique is stunning - indignation, pathos, anger, and lump-in-the-throat, something-in-my-eye mistiness. Plus: Best advice column. Ever. Seriously, how she has not long since been swallowed up by a newspaper syndication is a mystery. And there I go again, babbling on about a topic. (Nice - we call that "circular writing", kids. It's a legitimate technique.)
Some of the blogs I regularly read are listed to the right, although not all - I stumble across new blogs virtually every day, and my bookmark list grows longer by the week. I don't think that's exceptional - I bet it's the same for you. And when I find myself reading a blog I haven't visited before, and enjoying it so much that I add it to my bookmarks, I like to click on the "Comments" section and let the author know that what they've done has touched me in some way.
Sometimes I respond to a story they've told, either with appreciation or with a matching story of my own. I'm not trying to out-do or outshine or out-funny them; it's more in the form of a natural conversation - if we were at a cocktail party and they told that story, how would I respond? I love the conversation, I do.
Which brings me to my point: I'm growing less and less enamoured of blogs that don't allow comments. I don't think, as a rule, that they are as interesting as blogs that are open forums.
I think comments almost always enrich a topic. They occasionally call a writer or his or her bullshit. They can correct or expand upon points that have been made. They can amuse, anger, tweak noses, slap asses, and make me laugh so hard I spit Diet Coke (with Lime!) all over my monitor.
I don't comment on everything I read - but I like to spend my time in places where I could, if I felt so moved. To arbitrarily deny me that little bit of joy is, I think, to not-so-subtly say "My thoughts are the only thoughts that matter. But hey, thanks for playing." To which I find it hard not to reply "Well, fuck you, too."
And I know it's not that cut and dried. Sometimes a blogger will disable comments because of uncontrollable comment spam, or comment stalkers, or chronic headaches with those trolls out there in the ether who can't resist injecting venom into any discussion. I get that, I really do - I wouldn't want my comment section being used as a venue for a slap-fight between two geeks in their parents' basements.
And some bloggers are unapologetic in their refusal to allow comments. Jodi is one. I continue to be enchanted by her writing, and by her attitude. She really does think her opinion is the only one that matters. Not many people could pull that off, but for me, she does. So, she's the exception that every rule needs.
A while back, I started reading Dooce . The writing is crisp and funny and there's a reason she gets like 40,000 hits a day, kids. It's good. But what also amused the hell out of me was her Comments section. On any given day, she might have 400 ... 500 ... 900 (!) Comments about a photo on her site or a piece she'd written.
Not that the Comments stayed on topic. In fact, that was part of the charm - fueled by repeated contributions by regular readers, the comments would spin wildly off into a million different topics, many of them bawdy, some serious, most just back-chatter and inconsequential. But it created a little sense of community in that little corner of the internet, and I found it charming. I could stay or leave as I wished.
And sometimes I would leave, as some venomous soul would spit some poison into the mix and cause a ruckus of namecalling and pissypants behaviour. Which is, I suspect, why Dooce shut down her comments. She may re-open them soon - she doesn't comment on the issue of comments - and in fact they may be open later this morning. But as of this writing (3:30 AM), they're closed.
The thing is ... it's now not as interesting a site when it's just her. Not to me, anyway. I was amused by the give-and-take. Not quite so amused by just the give.
If you have something to say on this matter, by all means, go ahead. Your comments are welcome. Always.
... and home, sweet home. This tour had wayyyy too much driving in it. I love doing shows in small towns, and as my buddy Ron James says, there's not much difference between doing a show for 400 people in Manitouwadge and doing one for 400 people in Toronto ... but the driving does get tedious.
I've always loved long distance driving all by myself - just me, my music, and the road. I can zone out, nothing else to do, no deadlines except reaching the next theatre in time to set up the stage and give the tech people the information they need to let people hear and see me. It's the time when I do my best writing, as opposed to the hours I spend in front of my computer, essentially transposing the ideas that came to me on the stretch of highway between Albany and Syracuse or Wawa and Sioux Ste. Marie.
And in truth, it's still a quiet, peaceful time. The problem with this tour was too many eight-to- ten hour drives - those kinds of drives just wear you down, physically. Hard to focus your thoughts on the next play or the book or the next column when all you have in your mind is "God, why is someone stabbing me in the back with a hot knitting needle? I hate when that happens!"
The next tour comes up in May - a three week tour in England. I'm taking the whole family for that one, so there will be exactly no quiet driving time. My girls are 23 and 20, grown women really. And the 23 year old is bringing her guy along. Between the girls and my wife, the car will have as much sound as it needs. This will be good training for the boy ...
This morning, over the big weekly breakfast that has been a tradition in our house for - well, forever, nobody could talk about anything else. As the girls yapped excitedly about what they wanted to do, and what they had to do, and what was less interesting to them, I sat back with a big grin on my face.
My list is pretty short. All I want is one last big adventure with my girls before they go out and start the biggest adventure of all ...
On an entirely unrelated note, my dear friend Laura alerted me to this amazing resource. This site has a database that includes millions of school pictures from elementary, high school, and middle schools around the world. And access is free! Go find your school picture here ...