Updated in 2007.
After a bit of preamble, you can read two short newspaper colums for which I have a particular fondness.
Jeananne Crowley, the actress, and I had been "talking" on the world's first internet chatline for some time, starting in the early 1990s. That was before chatlines were invaded by sexual weirdos. At first, of course, I'd no idea who she was - chatlines are anonymous - and only after several months did she take me into her confidence. I found out I'd been talking to someone whose performances I'd enjoyed in the movies and on TV. I'd seen her in everything from "Educating Rita" to "Tenko" to "Dr. Who". (Who could forget Princess Vena Renis?)
Time progressed, and we became fast long-distance friends, talking by telephone, as well as chatting every morning online; she even had me do a call-in on the RTÉ Sunday Show , which, at the time, she was presenting, to discuss the pleasures and pitfalls of internet life and relationships. She'd actually met someone from Dublin, face-to-face, after meeting him on the chatline. There was no instant chemistry, but he wasn't an axe murderer, either. For my part, I'd first come across JC online when I was recovering from a divorce from someone I'd originally met on the same chatline ten years earlier, so I had a few interesting (perhaps twisted is a better description) tales to tell, and, perhaps, even axes to grind, names changed, of course, to protect the guilty.
At the time, JC was acting, writing, doing radio and appearing on TV, all four and mostly all at once, while I was running a successful laser light show business. Like any type of showbiz, "The Show Must Go On", and toward that end, I was putting in over 800 hours per year of IFR flying, getting my operators and equipment to gigs across the USA, Canada and Mexico in the company plane. My biggest personal satisfaction was that I was set to retire out of over 25 years in the laser show business with a perfect record, not having ever missed a single performance "at fault". (If the band forgot to bring the electricity, I don't count that.) That's more seirous than it sounds, folks. I once left Colorado for a gig in Louisiana and had my airplane pack up and die under me. I rode it down, parked the sonofabitch firmly in a West-Texas cow pasture, hitched a ride to Amarillo, caught a commercial flight to Lafayette and made the gig on time that night. Through perseverance like that, I gained a reputation for reliable performance, scheduling, logistics and usually having a viable fall-back plan for when everything turned to shite. It also got to the point that chatting with friends on my laptop over coffee every morning was all that kept me sane while I was on the road. I was feeling ready for retirement.
In late July of 1995, Jeananne disappeared off the net. I didn't see her for days, which was unusual, and my calls to her home in Dublin were answered only by her machine. A friend from Dublin finally found me on the chatline and told me she'd been in a terrible auto accident.
About a week later, she got out of the hospital and called me late one night. The woman was in a state, and who could blame her? What I managed to decipher on my side of the pond was something along the lines of, "I can't walk, I can't see, I can't read, I can't drive and I can't cope. I have a schedule to perform for RTÉ all over the country and I can talk if I can get there. Ashleigh, would you mind terribly just coming over and organising my life?"
Now, gentle reader, stop and ask yourself what you would do if an actress you'd always admired (ok, admit it, adored) but never dreamed you'd ever meet in person hit you with that line, smacko, out of the blue.
I never considered how I was going to cover about 6,000 miles real quickly or the fact that I'd never driven on the lefthand side of the road. Nevermind that I was still an emotional wreck from my divorce or that JC was probably both physicially and emotionally crippled after having attacked a rock wall in Wicklow. Nevermind that we'd never met and that, for all I knew, Jeananne could be an axe murderer.
Remember, gentle reader, that there really are "magic" moments! Times when a decision you make changes your whole life.
Take all the time necessary to consider the consequences......
Right, so. It took me about a millisecond to say "Yes. Next plane out".
I figured "the blind shall lead the blind", dropped tools in Colorado and invoked my 3D Management Method (Decide, Delegate and Disappear). I jumped a plane to somewhere I'd never been before to meet someone I'd never met before.
I think JC and I must share a guardian angel because we only thought we'd never met before. When I landed in Dublin, we both expected to meet someone new. When we first came face-to-face, we almost walked right past each other, with a cursory nod and smile to an old friend, looking for someone new. We did an almost-theatrical double-take, hugged (gently, she was in tatters) and settled into a conversation we must have left off in some previous life. (Cue Twilight Zone theme.) It left a few onlookers startled. But not half so startled as it left us.
And that's how I met a wonderful lady who has become my dearest friend, as well as the best ticket into the stratospheric reaches of Irish society any ignorant muck-savage like me could ever have.
She couldn't drive when we met, but, jaysus, she navigated with a wicked sense of humour! I could easily script a comedy film:
"Driving Miss Crowley".
But.... Thirteen Years Later......
Dash the Princess Vena fantasies, we did not not fall madly in love and live happily ever after. But we did live happily ever after. We're both "Type A" personalities. Put us under the same roof on a long-term basis and we'll reach critical mass and drive one another around the bend. We enjoy each other's intensity in moderate doses and, sometimes, as Mae West said, too much of a good thing can be wonderful.
We're actively pursuing the "happily ever after" part through mutual non-Machiavellian plans. Guess you could say we've bonded our ambitions in a synergistic manner. I did retire from travelling laser shows; sold the bigger airplane and moved to Ireland. Interesting projects involving lasers, astronomy, music and moving around a lot ensued for me as you can see, elsewhere on this website. JC's been rennovating the old Church of Ireland Rectory in Cleggan into a gorgeous pony palace; a place to chill out from life in Dublin's fast lane and rehabilitate Connemara Ponies. And write. And that barely scratches the surface. We could write a book. And, in actual fact, JC threatens to do just that, whenever she can slow down to a gallop and sift through more than a decade's worth of email (hers and mine).
But back to the beginnings. Here are two columns from The Irish Independent, for which Jeananne was, at the time, writing a weekly column called "Tuesday's Child".
BY JEANANNE CROWLEY
DUBLINERS SECTION, IRISH INDEPENDENT
FRIDAY, 25 AUGUST, 1995
THE LITTLE RED HEN AND LESSONS IN KINDNESS...
By nature, I'm a bit like the Little Red Hen who, according to the story, kept asking other critters round the barnyard for help. Firstly to pick and thresh the grain, then to make and knead dough in order to bake her bread.
Each time she asked, help was refused and the constant refrain of the tale was, "Well then I'll do it myself, said the Little Red Hen".
My Maiden Aunt, an old-fashioned and rather grand title but one that suited her well even then, used to read it to me and laugh with outright glee when the other critters finally gathered around drooling as the bread came warm from the oven.
She always delivered the last line, "Well, then, I'll eat it myself, said the Little Red Hen", with tremendous gusto and that's probably where I picked up the notion of how useful a DIY mentality can be.
Don't depend on others to do things for you because, more than likely, they'll let you down.
And then, as in all the best stories, something happens to you in Real Life that forces you to ask for help, even though you've trained yourself not to and, funnily enough, you find out to your surprise that people are an awful lot kinder and nicer than they sometimes appear.
Indeed, Brethren, if Tuesday's Child was a religious sort of column, I'd be having to sermonise from the paper pulpit here on the nature of kindness and, even though it isn't, I'm going to.
It takes being really ill or having an accident yourself to discover how enormously healing kindness can be and how many different forms it takes if you are able to say "yes" and take with pleasure what people offer out of goodness of heart.
If nothing happens without a reason, then it stands to reason that you can learn from every human experience, good, bad or as randomly significant as an accident that reduces, for a while, the pace at which you normally live.
I know this theory stinks if you happen to be living somewhere like Bosnia at the moment, but I'm a Dubliner (with weekend options beyond the Pale) who has just found out how ridiculously easy it is to live on autopilot, rarely pausing long enough to discover anything new about people you presume to know like the back of your hand.
To misquote Blanche Du Bois, sometimes you just have to depend upon the kindness of strangers and everyone else as well. When someone who normally does everything in a mad rush is suddenly forced to walk, talk and even think more slowly, it sure adds strange new dimensions to what Yanks call your personal inter-action with other folk.
I've now noticed that people stand physically closer to someone who is unwell, they look more carefully, listen more gently and, almost without exception, are far more sensitive to how you are feeling than you sometimes are yourself.
Where does this come from? Is it intuitive or learned behaviour? I think we should be told! Strangest of all is that one of my Internet friends has flown over from Colorado to literally mind me! Twinning a visit to Ireland, which he always wanted to make anyway, with looking after someone he only met in person for the first time two weeks ago.
"You're taking a bit of a risk", said someone, when I announced his impending arrival, but the aul' Guardian Angel knows what she's doing because he's turned out to be one of the kindest people I've ever met who is now treating me like a precious piece of Waterford glass, fragile and easily-shattered.
Well, I was; we all are, underneath, only most of us are damned if we'll admit it.
And he even bakes bread!
Tuesday's Child, Dubliners Section
The Irish Independent
For Release Tuesday, 9 January, 1996
Filed via email, Sunday, 7 January, 1996
This year, the first wave of postwar babies starts hitting fifty and the New York Times, always a great paper for statistics, has calculated that between now and 2002, a Baby Boomer (for as such they are known) will turn fifty every seven and a half seconds. Bill Clinton hits it this year; so does Cher; in fact the whole seventy six million or so who were at school when Kennedy was shot and held hands to the Beatles are finally being forced to admit they're not the Young Ones anymore, even though they did manage to push Middle Age back ten years or so. And whereas the NYT is worried sick about their Health care and Insurance Policies, People magazine only cares about how they look. This week it features forlorn, early photos of celebs, Hitting the Big Five-O, all of whom seem to look a lot better now than they did in their early days. But, of course, in l946 when Dolly Parton and Donald Trump were born, Truman was President, radio the medium and liposuction had yet to be thought of.
Yes, as you can gather, I'm still AWOL in the States, sponging happily off my friends and learning to love American Football. In fact, I'm scribbling this in Aspen, a ridiculously-picturesque former mining town in Colorado which, when it ran out of silver, discovered pure gold by transforming itself into a ritzy skiing village that pretends to be Swiss and almost gets away with it.
It took six hours in a snow-storm to get here and, as it's the height of the skiing season, the little town is full of easy-going Americans who don't seem to view the sport as a social ritual for the rich and famous, but merely as a fun thing to do. They flash down the slopes on snowboards and wherever you meet, in restaurants or on the street, they are, without exception, disarmingly friendly and hugely polite, the way I used to be before Life got to me. And from a jaded European perspective, let me add that it's fairly disconcerting to look into the bright eyes of a Nation so blithely confident of itself. Woody Allen's urban angst, the kind of thing I used to think truly American, is light years away from what they really are; and what they really are is Young with a capital Y.
Whatever their chronological age, they are, in their souls, an awful lot younger than me and I'm at a loss to understand how this can be. Anyhow, the complaints department is well and truly shut, as I'm having a lovely time with my friend Ashleigh, whom I first met on the Internet. Now there's modern life for you, making friends electronically and only meeting afterwards. There is a town in Colorado called Troublesome, but Ashleigh lives in Boulder where there are still old Volkswagon vans driven by aging baby boomers who didn't quite make the leap from rolling spliffs and dropping acid to the world the rest of us inhabit, and who turn up to eat at Dot's Diner wearing ponytails and tie-dye and smelling of patchouli oil, as if for all the world time had stood still.
And then there was the retired Methodist Minister in the Boulder Bar who wanted to talk and was decidedly put out when I failed to reveal my entire life history in the first five minutes of conversation. Ashleigh says it's because Americans are always in a hurry and can't wait to cut to the chase; and I said, well, maybe that's what we're here to teach them. Hold your hour and have another. Experience doesn't happen in a hurry; it takes time to connect.
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