Episode 94: John Wing
The Canadian standup (Tonight Show w/Jay Leno, Just For Laughs) and author (So Recently Ancient, and Ventriloquism for Dummies: Life as a Comedian) opens up to Paul about his lifelong struggle to win his father’s approval and the resulting anger that has cost him friendships.
PG: I'm here with my friend John Wing, who I've known for - God It's gotta be 60, 70 years?
JW: I think it's around 26 or 7 years. '85, '86. Like that, I think.
PG: No, actually, I didn't meet Carla until '87. I met you through Carla, so it would've been like '89.
JW: Oh, ok then. I will stand corrected.
PG: Yeah, John was an established headlining comedian from Canada, you're from just outside the Toronto area. Sarnia - home of the Sarnia Sting.
JW: Yes. That's true. Owned by the fabled Dino Ciccarelli.
PG: And team of NHL superstar Stephen Stamkos.
JW: Did he play for the Sting?
PG: I believe he played for the Sarnia Sting.
PG: We have already lost 3/4 of our listeners. 3/4? Nine tenths of our listeners.
PG: But John and I used to spend a lot of time together when I lived in Chicago. You would come through and you'd do standup and that's when we were both into golfing. So we'd hit the links and we'd play guitar.
JW: Yes. You took me to Olympia fields. You took me to Olympia Fields. The greatest golf course I have ever played.
PG: It was, a guy from my neighborhood belonged to it. Joey Rillio. Super nice guy. Super nice family. But we digress. John and I have talked about living with depression. You and I have always enjoyed just cracking jokes about the darker sides of ourselves and life, and human personality...
PG: So when you shot me an email and said 'Hey, if you're looking for guests, I'd be willing to come talk on the podcast,' I was like, John would be somebody who would be comfortable talking about his demons, I just don't know if there's enough disc space. [laughing]
JW: Well, I've gotten so compulsive about it I've actually named my demons.
PG: Just to give you a picture of the John that I know: John is a very complex guy. You are one of the best audience members for a fellow comedian, telling a joke ... your laugh is one of my favorite laughs.
JW: My real laugh can stop the show. My fake laugh can just make everybody look. My real laugh stops the show.
PG: Well, sadly I don't know the difference. Maybe I've never heard your real laugh. OR your fake laugh.
JW: You probably just heard my real laugh.
PG: By the same turn, you can be so infurating, because your temper - and I don't know if you still struggle with your temper - but your temper, especially when you would be golfing, for instance, we would be guests on a friend of mine's golf course, and you would hit a bad shot and you would throw your club, and curse, and be inconsolable. Eventually I had to say, "John, you know, this is unacceptable. You're acting like a fucking baby. You're embarrasing me." And you would apologize. The other time I remember was when we were skiing, the four of us, you and your lovely wife Dawn, and Carla & I went to ...
JW: Steamboat Springs.
PG: Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
JW: February 1991.
PG: Yeah. And you weren't skiing as well as you'd hoped you'd ski or something. And you were getting frustrated with yourself. And we were all just saying, "John, we're all just here to relax, we're just having fun! Don't take it so hard!" And you were so mad, and you managed to piss all three of us off. And were were like "fuck you, we're going skiing by ourselves. We'll see you in the condo at dinner time." And I think as soon as we walked in the door you apologized.
JW: And I managed to get over that in a couple of days. But I want you to know. It occurred to me the other day, we never went on vacation with you guys again. And I don't know why that was...
JW: But 21 years later. No that's not quite right. 19 years later, Dawn & I went on another vacation. And in between we had not gone on anything that was a true vacation. Cause we travel for a living it's difficult to vacation. We went on another vacation and again we were with other people. These were family members. And again, the first 2 days were not good days for those who wanted to hang around me. Cause it was Paris, I was jet lagged. If I don't have a show, what the hell am I doing in this city? Let's be fair. And I got over it, and the second part of the vacation, the rural France thing we did was wonderful. But the first couple days, my sister's husband who had never gone away with me, he was ... wow, you know.
PG: He was in for a treat.
JW: Yeah. "Is he going to be like this every day?"
PG: Yeah, he's gonna be like this every day.
JW: So, I'm a little better at controlling my snaps. My temper was always real quick, real loud, and it usually blew over - for me - it usually blew over pretty quick too. But it cost me a lot of people.
PG: And the hurt, and the discomfort doesn't easily go away for the person who's standing there witnessing it. Because the vibe is killed in the room. YOU may be able to move on, but ...
JW: Exactly. Exactly.
PG: ... for those in the room, it's like you can't just pretend like that never happened. Especially for someone that doesn't know you. If it was you and Carla and myself in the room and you snapped about something, the three of us could move on in a minute, cause we know you. But for somebody else - they don't know. Is there a bigger explosion around the corner?
PG: So all of a sudden that person's on eggshells.
PG: Or thinking, how the fuck do I get out of this situation? By the way, I want to - speaking of vacations and arguments - it occurred to me the other day that there is something so ... somebody said that there are two ways you can really get to know somebody. Go into business with them, or live with them. And I would add a third. Vacation with them. There is something about vacations that pushes peoples buttons. And some of the worst arguments I've ever had with Carla have been while we're on vacation. I just think there's something so inherently ridiculous about yelling while you're wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
JW: [laughing] or shorts.
PG: Yeah. Or giving somebody the silent treatment while you're wearing ski goggles. It's just so ridiculous. So I've created a survey on the website - and the website's mentalpod.com - and there's a survey there for 'memorable vacation arguments'. So if you have one you'd like to share ...
JW: Yeah. The amazing thing about my wife and I, 23 years along, is our fights - I could count our actual fights on one hand. And I still have enough fingers left to jerk off with.
JW: Cause once a voice is raised - and take a wild guess as to whose voice is generally raised first - the fight's over. She isn't going to deal with a raised voice. If she raises her voice, which happens maybe once a year, I'm also free to leave the premises. The children scatter, cause they're scared when she gets mad cause it rarely happens. But my head could explode and blood could flow across the room and the children wouldn't even look up from the tv cause they've seen it so much.
PG: Well I would agree that that's good that there's not a lot of voice raising, but that still leaves room for that sick kind of passive agressive, something getting swept under the rug, and that resentment building...
JW: That part, when you don't talk about it, it builds up, it can only grow uncontrollably in your imagination. So the fact that she never did get you a kleenex that one time becomes 'you're the worst sort of partner a person could ever have' in two weeks. That sort of thing. But I've gotten better at that, too. I find it fascinating, it always fascinated me, that whatever thing she does that irritates you the most or is the most hurtful to you or you think is the most inconsiderate of hers - she thinks you the exact same thing. So whatever - I find it also works in politics - whatever one side thinks the other sides greatest crime is, the thinker is guilty of the same crime.
PG: Is that why Hitler and Stalin didn't get along?
JW: [laughing] They were just ... badly matched. I think they met on match [German accent] dot com. But you discover that your - whatever makes me mad about her, I'm doing the same thing.
JW: Eventually you just have to relax, and say, okay is this what I'm gonna get? Is it enough? Well, yeah! Of course it is! Expectations ...
PG: There's a dynamic in relationships that I think is really important to not ignore. It's that usually one person in the partnership is more comfortable disagreeing, or brings more energy to the disagreement. The person who isn't willing to argue as long becomes the person that capitulates more, and holds that smoldering resentment more. So, they wind up not speaking their mind, and just allowing things to build. Because they know, if I bring this up, that other person is going to be defensive, and will be willing to defend their position and not hear me for a half hour, and it's just going to escalate, and I don't want to deal with that. They wind up not saying anything, but it takes just a chunk away of that intimacy with that person. So the question becomes, how do you communicate with that other person so that both of you don't become on the defensive. For me the key has been expressing myself in a way that doesn't put that person on the defensive. By saying, I'm just feeling really angry right and I don't know why. Or, my feelings were hurt, when you said that it hurt my feelings, instead of saying 'you're always so pushy when it comes to that,' because that immediately puts that other person on the defensive. That has been a life changer in our relationship. The number of times we've raised our voices since we've learned how to do that has been few and far between. And it is amazing the things that you can say; I can be an incredibly inconsiderate person, and she has found a way to let me know that I am being inconsiderate in a way that is very loving. And I can accept it, because it doesn't ... there is a message inside that delivery that I still love you. Because the way that she delivers it is with love and a smile, and with calmness. And that to me is the key to keeping a relationship healthy, is how you let the person know your feelings have been hurt. But it's easier said than done.
JW: Sure. I've found myself on the opposite ... I find that I'm more willing to bring energy to a disagreement. But she wins all the arguments, because at a certain point ... you know at the beginning of a relationship, of any relationship, it's a power struggle. And if you don't get away from that eventually, if you don't come to your own established places - and you know about this - I'm a travelling person, so if my wife needed me all the time, and was depressed while I was away and I phoned up from Tahiti or wherever, she says I wish you were here blah blah blah. That would be an awful way to live. And I don't live that way. She doesn't need me, so I'm able to live the life I wanted to live. Occasionally it would be nice to be needed, but it's a tradeoff. All the power stuff is a tradeoff. I don't have to deal with a lot of things because she wants to deal with them, and she would rather I didn't get involved. So I won't. And the stuff you won't say ... yes, you have a choice to make. You can not say something and not let it build up within you. You can not say something and forget it. That's a big one. That's what I had to learn. Or you can not say something and every time you think back on it - grr I wanted to say something grrrr I could really say something to you right now.
PG: Tell the people your joke, 'my wife says I'm too intense...'
JW: She said I was too intense. You know, so I stared at her until she cried.
PG: [giggling] That's maybe one of the greatest jokes ever.
JW: I was at Detroit airport, an airport I'm sure you've been in, with my younger daughter, seven years. My father had been sick, we flew to Detroit to see him. We got back to the airport. And it's like Dallas, there's some long walks. O'Hare, Dallas, Detroit - there are some long walks in those airports. We get our gate, we go through security, the gate is a long way. A looong way. We walk all the way to our gate, and they've changed it to where we started.
PG: I've been there. This is which airport?
JW: Detroit. DTW? Anyway, Detroit. We get there and I say, oh they've changed it. What did they change it to? And we go to the board - oh, it's back where we were. And we start walking back and she looks at me and she says, "Why aren't you mad?"
JW: And I say, because it's really dangerous to get mad in an airport. At home I'm really comfortable that I won't get arrested if I get mad. Here I'll get arrested if I get mad. So you gotta smooth it out. I had my support group too, I learned very much if I can't control this, I can't worry about it. Because it is such a waste of time, and a stress builder, and stress is my killer. So, avoid stress, avoid stress, avoid stress. You've gotta go through customs and make a connection. Er, yeah. You've gotta get off one plane, go through customs, get your bags, put them on one again, go through security again, and make a plane and you've got what, 55 minutes? Am I gonna make it? I don't know. If I don't ... I'll figure it out then. It's never the big deal it used to be.
PG: Yes. Getting upset about things you have no control over is not only insane, it's arrogant.
JW: Yeah. And no one's accused me of being arrogant for like, the last hour or two... let's say two. But yeah. It is.
PG: And I'm not accusing you of being arrogant because I'm ...
JW: No, no, no. What I'm saying is I AM arrogant ...
PG: ... yes ...
JW: ... but not as arrogant as YOU. My God! [laughs]
JW: I'm not, you know, CRAZY. Crazy arrogant. Ha ha. Yeah, I'm arrogant. But you're right, it is arrogant.
PG: Webster's was torn as to whether to put me under ...
PG: 'Pompous', or 'Ass' ...
JW: So they created a new word [laughing] ... see 'Paul'. No, no. But you're right, it's arrogant. But more than ... arrogant is one thing. But counterproductive to your mental ability, mental health, to your general health.
PG: And to your life!
JW: Absolutely. You can't - especially the way, when I'm working cruise ships, they don't understand, the travel bookers don't necessarily have a great understanding sometimes of the time you need. Like if you get 2 hours on a customs connection, you're just giggling.
PG: You're fucked.
JW: No, you're giggling. Cause 2 hours is WAY too much time. They usually give you an hour, hour and a half. But two hours is a laugh. I'm having fun that day. And even on the short ones. I'd like to make it, I'll hurry if they tell me to. But it's going to unfold like it's going to unfold. I'm not in control of this. My act, I'm in control of. Being there on time, I am so totally in control of that. Cause what we do for a living, there are really only a couple of rules. Be on time and do your time are the two most basic rules. And if you never break those rules, you're gonna be ok. So, control what you can control and the rest is up to someone else. And the group I go to - I haven't actually been in a bit, but I get back to it now and again - I go on the ship sometimes - but the group I'm in, that's a huge thing with them and it helped me so much. It helped me so much.
PG: You have a line in your act that I've actually quoted before.
JW: Is it an especially dark line, Paul? [laughs]
PG: It is. Alcoholism doesn't run in my family, it gallops.
JW: Suicide wasn't considered a problem at my house, it was more of a holiday tradition. That's the capper.
PG: So let's talk about the childhood in Sarnia.
JW: Well ... uh ...
PG: How many kids? In your family?
JW: There were five.
PG: You were where?
JW: Second. First son. It was girl, boy boy boy, girl.
PG: From what I remember your dad was not ... effusive. Compliments were few and far between?
JW: He is now. It's weird.
PG: Now he's effusive?
JW: Now that I'm not as ... well now that ... it's hard to say that his compliments don't mean as much to me - they mean a lot to me, but now that I'm not slavering at his foot for him, to put it one way ... now that I'm not desperate to receive them, they come quite easily.
PG: That's interesting. I wonder if there was a part of him that didn't respect you because you were so desperate for his approval.
JW: I think he would disagree, but it may have been something inside that he didn't realize, maybe.
PG: Also, I think that men, after they get over 60, their hormones change and they have more of the female hormones ...
JW: Oh yeah?
PG: Yes, and they cry more easily, and I think they become gentler. Some do.
JW: Well, I got sober and I stopped worrying about what my dad thought of my writing or my career. I was happy if he was happy, and that's about all it was.
PG: It was almost like he was your god in some ways.
JW: Oh, sure. But also at that period of time I began to notice things about my father that were fascinating. In that this incredibly strong seeming fellow was not the strength in our family. Our mother was the strength. And he's not a strong person. In so many ways.
PG: But you thought he was for years?
JW: Oh, yeah, because he was big and loud and tough. And honest.
PG: Give me some snapshots from childhood that were kind of seminal.
JW: Oh, wow. "You haven't got the brains that god gave geese."
PG: Your dad would say that?
JW: A lot. I remember it well. "You're too dumb to live." Heard that a couple of times.
PG: That's so abusive.
JW: You can say that. When you're involved in it it's impossible to believe. Especially if you've heard it a lot.
JW: He grew up being abused. Verbally. He couldn't stand up to his own mother.
PG: Do you know what she would say or do to him?
JW: Similar. He has virtually no self worth. Virtually none. And he is never far from that woman, who is supposed to love him, telling him he is worthless. He is never far from that. At 82. And she's been dead for 30 years.
PG: His mom or his wife?
JW: His mom.
PG: Yeah. How does your ...
JW: Well, my mother's mad at him now, but that's because she's taking care of him and he won't do anything to help himself.
PG: Did he marry a version of his mother?
JW: No. Opposite. He married an intensely strong non-addict. An absolutely wonderful, gene-pooling person.
PG: Complimentary? To him? Or ...
JW: They were for a while. They were for a long while.
PG: I mean, would she bestow praise on him, would she be affectionate & warm towards him?
JW: Affectionate & warm, yes. Praise ... yes. She is very much like that.
PG: She didn't have the critical ... kind of, everything gets ...
JW: No. But now, and because he will not engage, like I bring him books and he reads without his - he has thick glasses like me but he'll take the glasses off and hold the book up way, way close. And I got him a book about his rock and roll era, a biography about Tommy Dorsey, and I left it. And I'm back visiting a month, two months later. And I say, "What did you think of the Dorsey book?" And he said "Oh, I liked it very much." And she's sitting there and she says, "You didn't read it all. You only read a quarter of it and you put it away." And I thought ...
PG: That's so unneccesary.
JW: Yeah. But.
PG: That's like a way of hurting you both at the same time.
JW: Indeed. But she doesn't see it that way.
PG: That's just efficient.
JW: Yeah. It was. And neither of us spoke about it.
PG: That's like passive-agressive Parkour.
PG: That's where the guys jump over the walls. And you try to get from point A to point B in the most efficient, stylistic way possible.
JW: Okay. And she resents it a lot. That they have ended up in this, where he can not be her partner, he is her patient. She resents that greatly. And the kids resent it too. We resent that his problems could've been avoided with a minimal amount of work on his part that he utterly refused to do.
PG: He sounds kind of childlike.
JW: Yeah, he is, actually.
PG: That must be incredibly weird, seeing your dad go from a god to a child.
JW: Exactly. Exactly. It is. But he's much more complimentary in the child phase.
PG: Much less wrathful.
JW: I don't know if you've had the same experience. But you make a choice with your father, if you're a son - I don't know what it is for a daughter - but it's probably very similar. Daughter, mother. Son, father. You make a choice. Am I going to have a relationship with this person, or am I going to bitch at them for the way they're living their life? You know what I mean? All right. I'll tell you something. He got sick. Until he got sick about 4-5 years ago, he'd gone 8 days without smoking, that was the longest he'd ever gone without smoking, was 8 days. And he said on the 8th day, he had 9 meals [laughs] and he decided, enough. He got ill, he got gangrene in his foot, they had to amputate his foot - he didn't smoke for the first 31 days in the hospital. When he finally had a cigarette, I brought it. I was coming to visit, cause he was in the hospital, and I said, "Is there anything you need?" And he said, "You know what I need, just bring what I need." So I brought smokes ...
PG: Is he diabetic?
JW: Yeah. We went out on a cold February night, and I bundled him up. And I'm checking the hallways - he was in a wheelchair - and I'm checking the hallways, and he was like, "What're you doin'?" I said I just want to make sure the nurse isn't around. "She can't stop us." [laughs] And then, I take him and we get out to the - y'know hospitals have an automatic door and there's an area with a second automatic door. So we're in the area going to the outdoor. And I take my baseball hat off and I put it on his head. And he says "What're you doin'?" I said you lose 80% of your heat through the top of your head. "Bullshit." [laughs] But he leaves the hat on.
PG: He's like a movie character.
JW: Sometimes. And it was funny, we were sitting out there, and he: "Will you join me?" it was his first cigarette in 31 days, and yeah, I'll join you dad, I had a smoke too. And I looked over and - the night I was born, he walked my mother in the same door where we were sitting - and he had to stop and wait, because she had a contraction as they came to the curb. And she sat down on the curb to wait that contraction out, and he was standing there feeling totally helpless - and I thought, yeah, just like I'm standing here tonight, feeling totally fucking helpless. Cause there's nothing I can do, cause I want to have a relationship. And my brothers and sisters were mad at me, my mother was mad at me for doing it, but my dad asked me to do something and I did it.
PG: And it's his life.
JW: Exactly. It's his life.
PG: You know, the person that cares for him would say, yes, but it complicates my life because the sicker he gets, the things he chooses to do that degrade his health affect me because I'm his caretaker. So in some ways they have a point.
JW: Oh, sure. My mother says now, "Oh, the Wings live forever." She's just short of saying, if he died my life would be better - and it would be better. But ... I don't know. You try to have moments with your parents separately now if I can. Take mom out while I'm there, cause she doesn't get out much. She's still totally there.
PG: Was your family, growing up, it strikes me as the kind of a family where you had to hide what your emotional needs were, because you were either - they were either shot down or you were considered soft for saying I want this or I need this or you were afraid they weren't going to get met? Cause when you said your brother was passive-agressive, it reminds me of how much passive-aggressiveness I learned to have because if you showed vulnerability by saying, I want this, I need this emotional thing, you left yourself open to be criticized. Or to be invaded.
JW: Well, I used to describe our dinner table as like a dog fight. As soon as one dog breaks its leg the others are on top of him. Nobody waits. Once you make a grammatical error: ba-boom! Everybody's jumping down your throat. Which was perfect for me, sent into comedy - cause that's what comedian's are like.
PG: Find what's wrong in a situation.
JW: I never felt uncomfortable among comedians cause that's what my dinner table was like. You were gonna get insulted if you screwed up verbally. Passive-aggressive ...
PG: That has to be so anxiety filled.
JW: Yes, it is. It is. What's always fascinated me is where the anger came from. I said to my father, my younger daughter is so much a Wing and he said, "How?" and I said, she looks at a situation and decides, what is the absolute worst that could happen? THAT's what's going to happen, and I'm going to be depressed about that possibility for the next 2 hours, excuse me. [laughs] And he totally agreed with me. "Yep, that's Wing."
PG: That is a coping mechanism, I think, in a hostile environment. Then you're protected.
JW: OK. But I would suggest that she's also angry. But maybe not as much as I was angry, but I don't think she grew up in an environment that was as hostile as the one I might have. And I used to think I knew what made me so angry, but I don't anymore. Because she didn't ... there were other factors that I thought were HUGE in my anger development, and she didn't have any of them. And she's got it. Again, not as bad as ...
PG: But does it have to be a bonfire for somebody to get - to feel ...
JW: But what I'm saying is, it's more genetic ...
JW: ... than it is 'nurture', I've noticed in looking at my own children, the traits that I thought ... I mean, I thought that because I had a brother born very quickly after I was born, that that was huge in my life. But I'm not so sure anymore. I don't know what made me angry. I was ... it probably had more to do with lack of self esteem.
PG: You know what I think can make people angry? I don't think there has to be rampant dysfunction and drama. I think there just has to be lack of joy. I think that's gonna make us angry.
JW: That's interesting.
PG: I think there's a genetic need in human beings to experience joy, and when we don't I think something in us starts to back up or break down or ... yeah. I know when I don't experience joy in my week, I start to go to the negative place. And I start to extrapolate and blow things up out of proportion...
JW: That's on Balboa, right? The negative place? I've driven by it a couple of times...
PG: [giggling] 'All things out of proportion.'
JW: I've driven by it, I know the place you're talking about.
PG: They have 16-foot lamps.
JW: Yeah, and the tea is really bitter. [laughing] Oh, man.
PG: But everything becomes a crisis. You know, I check the numbers on the podcast and the downloads weren't what they were the week before, and all of a sudden I'm a failure, this is never gonna lead to anything, I will never going to be able to support myself, I'm going to be back out on the road doing stand-up, being ignored, being laughed at instead of laughed with. You know, on and on and on and on.
JW: I feel badly that a number can send you to that place. I don't know that I have those feelings of failure, I worry sometimes. I'm in a place where my act needs to molt again. I need to - at 40, I had to do it, now I'm gonna be 53 at the end of the month, and I'm gonna have to do it again. I'm going to have to really overhaul everything and in the next year, write a new hour, hour and a half. And I'm not looking forward to it but it's got to be done. But if I don't do it, I'm not a failure, I'm just lazy. I've also noticed I had a 'fuck you' gene. When my father told me I couldn't do something? That was a very smart thing for him to tell me. 'Fuck you. I can do that.' And neither of my kids have it.
PG: I always got the sense that that was where your anger came from. Cause when you would fail by hitting a bad golf shot or not being able to ski as well, it was almost as if your dad was going, 'see? I told you so.'
JW: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yes, you're never far away from that. I remember very much a meeting I went to once, a group meeting, at the beginning of the meeting thinking 'wow.' Within the first 20 minutes. Wow. All these people, all these disparate walks of life, and we're all together, too.
JW: But at the end of the meeting, by the end of it I was looking at someone and going, 'well I wasn't like THIS guy...' [laughing] Well I wasn't doing THAT. I like the fact that in a group situation you can occasionally - in an hour - go from one extreme to the other.
PG: It's like our sickness is a private eye that's always 10 minutes behind us. You find yourself in someplace good and you're like 'this is beautiful,' and 10 minutes later you're like 'well that guy's kind of a dick.'
JW: Yeah, what is that about?
PG: I'm better than this.
JW: But that's a coping mechanism too. 'I'm better than this.'
PG: I find that if I'm ever saying I'm better than somebody else or I'm worse than somebody else, that's the darkness talking to me.
JW: Absolutely. But I didn't say somebody else, I said THIS. I'm better than THIS. I'm better than the person I'm being. My wife says to me sometimes - and the fact that she stayed with me, and I didn't realize this - she lost friends that we'd put together in our neighborhood, or in our community let's say - because she just got tired of them telling her to leave me.
PG: What's that like?
JW: Well I don't know, I only just found out about it and it was about 10 years ago. But, my god.
PG: Were you getting help for yourself before then?
JW: I've gotten help in various ways over the years.
PG: But was it in earnest?
JW: Yea, but ...
PG: Were you taking what they had to say in? And doing the things they suggested?
JW: My help people? A lot of my problems at that time manifested themselves in a sexual way. The biggest problems we had were the discovery of these 'marital crimes' let's call them. I don't know if there's a better word for them. I was cheating. She stayed with me, and I don't know why to this day. But she will say things like, 'you have your parents in you, and when you explode, it's your father. And when you are strong, and good' - not that my father isn't good, but you know what I mean - 'I see your mother in you, and I love that part of you.' People have weird ways of telling you that they love you. And if you're not really acutely perceptive, you will miss them. I have a very good friend who has been my friend for 32 years and who has never said hello to me. Or talked about me when we were together. But I love him, and I know he loves me. He shows me in really weird ways but I am attuned to them. But my own wife - who shows me in not obvious I-love-you-verbally ways - I have a hard time seeing those sometimes. When I do see them I am ashamed of my own behavior in the interim, saying to myself when I am alone at night on the road, that she doesn't love me. Instead of saying she loves me absolutely as much as she is able to love anyone. If that's not enough for me, who's the asshole? Right?
JW: Like for instance, my friend. I came into a green room - for uninitiated people that is a room where people hang out before a show. And it is a huge green room and it is a big show and I am not on the show, so I'm hanging out. I'm having a good time, lots of colleagues and show business people are filling this room. I come to the door of the room and my friend is at the absolute far corner of the room, alone in a chair with his medicine bag which he always carries. I see him - and I'm seeing other people - but as soon as he sees me at the door, a good 40 or 50 feet away, he waves and he motions that I should come over. I'm walking over sort of nodding - pardon me, my presence has been requested by the Grand Poobah blah blah blah - and I get over to where he is, he's sitting. I bend down to say hello to him, because I always say hello to him. And he says, before I say anything he says, "watch my bag while I go to the can," and he disappears. Yet with him, I totally understand, this is his way of showing ...
PG: I trust you.
JW: Absolutely. I trust no one else in this room. Finally, after three hundred people came in this room, finally somebody came in that I trust, and I can go to the bathroom now. [laughing] But in my intimate life, in my home life, sometimes I miss. Like, sometimes - she came out, I was having a cigar, she came out in a dressing gown - the kids were gone - both kids were out of the house. She had just come out of the shower so I knew she was naked under the dressing gown. But I'm having a cigar, it's my cigar time [giggles]. I don't know what she's doing there - the stones are cold here on the patio, I tell her that, she's in bare feet. She sits there for a while, she goes back in. A couple days later she says to me, "why didn't you ... uh-rrr-rrr-rrr..." I said, "Oh, that's what that was." "Well Yeah!" I said, okay. In future, don't ever tell me again that I've missed one of those. I'm not going to ask you to be more obvious about something like that, just don't ever tell me that I've missed it again. Cause I don't want to think about that.
JW: But the big point is, the person loves you as much as they are able to love. Look at what they have given me. Look at the fact that we're still together. If that isn't enough for you, then you're a dick. Really. There are moments - you know - there are moments when it's not enough for you. There are moments when you need more. There are moments when you ask for more. But, you know ... we went to a concert at the House of Blues - The Tragically Hip. And I was all excited. I love these guys.
PG: And they're Canadian.
JW: And they're Canadian. And we're 3/4 of the way through the concert, and she admits to me that she hasn't been able to understand a single word the lead singer has sung. So she's been listening to music, but she hasn't been able to decipher ANY of the lyrics. And we left. And I had no problem leaving. Cause I - and it's about me of course - but I can't have a good time if I know that's going on with her. If I know that her experience is that cut in half. Right?
PG: Do you think that she can see that that's your way of expressing love?
JW: I don't know.
PG: Cause it sounds to me from what I know about you, that sounds like, on the upper end of the John Wing expressing love spectrum.
JW: I didn't see it that way. I didn't see that I was making a comparison. I hope so. Look, if we're out somewhere and you're really not having a good time, then I'm not having a good time.
PG: But the fact that it's one of your favorite bands, and it's this big night out for you. That's a pretty loving thing to do, that's very considerate.
JW: Well, but I'm also coping. I'm not going to enjoy any of the rest of the concert, you know what I mean?
PG: Yeah. And not holding that over her.
JW: No! Pffff.
PG: Not saying, you made me leave, you know, the band that nobody's heard of.
JW: No! Well, but she'd never listen to them, there's ...
PG: I'm gonna get angry letters now from Canadians.
PG: "People have heard of The Tragically Hip!"
JW: Do you have downloaders in that part of Ontario?
PG: We do. There are ... we have quite a few listeners in Canada. Canada and Australia.
JW: Please don't tell my parents anything I said. Thank you. They're not on the internet, please don't tell them.
PG: Do you feel like doing some fear offs and that kind of stuff?
JW: Sure. Yeah, yeah.
PG: Any other seminal moments from your life that strike you?
JW: Ohh ... seminal moments ... Well, where you start to notice cracks in the facades of people you've admired. Those are big things, when you finally notice why things ...
PG: Family members, or ...
JW: Yeah, absolutely family. My father was one where you start to notice - you figure things out. It takes you a while and years later the conversation comes back and you zero in and [snaps] whoah! There it was! He was actually sayting this and this was a lie. My father told me a lie!
PG: Do you remember what the lie was? What was it?
JW: Yeah, absolutely. He hated his profession.
PG: What did he do? He was a lawyer?
JW: Lawyer. His mother forced him into it. It was a family thing. A family legend sort of thing. I said to him one night at a barbecue talk, he would barbecue Saturday nights and I would sit out with him and we would smoke and we would chat. I said, if you don't like it so much, why'd you become a lawyer? What was the impetus to make you a lawyer? He said, oh, I went to law school and my plan was that I would go for the first year half of the year and I would go back home at Christmas and tell the old man I didn't like it, and that would be that. We had two big exams before I left for home at Christmas, and I failed one of them. I couldn't go home having failed an exam. So I didn't say anything at Christmas and I retook the exam in January. I said, did you pass it? He said, pass it? I got a B on it. It was just a story he told me. Many years later I was going over it, and I was thinking. Wait a minute, why couldn't you quit after that? A. and B. tell the old man you didn't like it? You weren't afraid of your old man. He wasn't the one you had to tell... and that's when I realized. You know.
PG: That what?
JW: It was the mom.
PG: He was afraid to tell his mom.
JW: Or he couldn't stand ... he couldn't tell her no in that situation. So his destiny as a profession was set because he couldn't stand up and say he wanted to do something else.
JW: Yeah. Wow. Exactly. That's exactly right. But. As a result, his children were all allowed. One thing he changed, his children were told: do something you love to do.
PG: That's great.
JW: And I don't care what it is. Just that you are passionate about it. You love it, and you can make a living at it. Just go. Go do. That was great. Cause that's the biggest thing, is the rollover minutes of dysfunction into the next generation. You have to start changing it.
PG: Minimize. Yeah. You can lessen them.
PG: Take a chunk out of that.
JW: There's genetic impact but you can so ... lessen the nurture impact. You can.
PG: I was struck with the thought as you were describing that how your view of your dad changed as you began to see him as this ... less of this omnipotent person. And to me, when we're kids and, you know, younger people, there are people that we look to - usually our parents, sometimes it's somebody in the position of authority - who ... our very happiness rises or falls on their opinion. The older we get - especially if we get into therapy and support groups - we begin to find these people whose opinions we used to value so much, these people who usually tend to be very critical. We begin to realize, they're just afraid.
PG: And that is one of the most freeing things in life. Realizing that hyper-critical people, at their core, are really just afraid. That we can stop trying to please them. And it's like being let out of prison. It's like being let out of fucking prison.
JW: Heh. It's like in that movie: "Why's he yelling so much?" "He's scared of you." Like a dog, when you come to the door.
PG: Absolutely. I just thought the same thing when you said that. All right, let's do some fears.
JW: Ohh, I feel like I'm in 'Repo Man.' Let's do some fears.
PG: I'm going to be reading fears from Kate, this is a continuation of her list.
PG: I am afraid of home invasions.
JW: I fear losing things. Going on a trip, forgetting something essential. I was robbed in Paris 2 years ago, lost all my ID, pickpocketed. Since then, crowds, subway stations, especially crowds, where you're locked. You can't really move, you're following the flow of a group of people. Man that intimidates me now.
PG: You might have been robbed by an urchin from a musical
JW: [pause] [laugh] A friend of mine actually said to me, "Were they Albanians?" I didn't see anyone, okay? I didn't even know if there was more than one of them! Were they Albanians. What am I supposed to do, yell "Have Albanians just robbed me!?" Idiotic.
PG: Kate says I am afraid of whites in America one day being systematically killed by former minorities.
JW: OK. I'm afraid of the death of my children.
PG: I'm afraid of screaming for help and no one hearing me, or worse, someone hearing but no one caring. Wow, that's deep.
JW: I'm afraid I'll get too relaxed in conversation with people ... I'll get so relaxed that I'll say something stupid enough for all of them to think I'm a fool. Or I'll say something exuberantly insulting and I'll lose a friend.
PG: Kate says I'm afraid of having surgery and somehow still being unaware but paralyzed throughout the whole operation. Ooh, that's intense.
JW: I happened to be sitting next to an anesthesiologist who was drunk one night and he said to me - a guy from my old neighborhood - and I said, how's it going Joe? And he said, oh, you know, it's pretty good. I knock 'em out. I wake 'em up. [laughing] And when they're out, people don't know this, they're in a coma. Did you know that? No, I didn't know that Joe. I knock 'em out. I wake 'em up.
PG: That's fantastic. Your turn.
JW: The longer I go without taking drugs I get more afraid of taking them again. You'd think it would be the opposite. But more afraid that my resistance to the disease I have with that will be lower the next time it happens, it's offered to me, et cetera
PG: I gotcha. Your big drug of choice was marijuana.
JW: It was.
PG: Kate says I'm afraid I will always shove my problems under a sugar addiction and excessive gaming.
JW: I don't see any problem with that. I'm afraid I was never a very good lover. I'm aware I'm really shitty at it now but lately I'm afraid that it stretches back to the beginning.
PG: I'm afraid of being revealed as weak.
JW: Yeah. I'm afraid of hurting someone close to me. Since I've already done it more than once, I'm afraid to do it again.
PG: I'm afraid of reporting a rape and finding out the law enforcement is so corrupt they won't do anything about it.
JW: Wow. That's - wow, ok. I'm afraid I'll hear about the death of one of my parents or siblings while I'm on the road. I'm also afraid that I'll die on the road. On a ship, in a hotel room, and I won't have deleted all the porn from my computer.
PG: That one is so common.
PG: Not necessarily being on a ship, but people have fear of their relatives coming and finding their porn when they die. That's why I find it important, if you purchase porn, immediately let all your family members know what you've purchased. So there's no surprises.
JW: [laughing] I just told my wife - I showed her a file on the computer - an icon in a particular place, you had to go 3 or 4 places to get to. I said when I die, just go to the computer and delete this file.
PG: The one called "hot & saucy pizza girls." Which, by the way ...
JW: [laughing] How did you know that? Did she call you?
PG: I saw that one time years ago when they used to have the bin at the movie store, I saw a label for one that said "hot & saucy pizza girls." So that's always my go-to for a porn title.
JW: Okay, I like that.
PG: Whose turn?
JW: I'll go. I fear being lost, being late.
PG: Kate says I am desperately afraid of disappointing and letting down even a single person.
JW: I fear blindness and memory loss above most things.
PG: I'm afraid my fiance doesn't get me like I need him to.
JW: Okay, this one ... I'm afraid I'm not good enough, not smart enough, and doggone it, nobody likes me.
PG: [laughing] that's awesome.
JW: But I am afraid of not good enough and not smart enough. I am afraid of those two things.
PG: I'm afraid to walk past other students on campus because they know I'll never fit in with any of them.
JW: I'm afraid of change in routine and in route.
PG: I'm afraid of crowded cafeterias because I ate alone most days in high school.
JW: Wow. I think I'm out.
PG: Let's do some loves, you got your love list?
JW: I got my loves!
PG: Why don't you start?
JW: Okay. I love performing. On a stage. Doing my job. I'm never more alive and in charge of my space than when I'm on a stage.
PG: That's awesome. Robin McDonald - I'm gonna be doing my listeners loves - Robin McDonald says I love that my dog's tail wags faster when she hears my voice in the morning.
JW: I love listening to really sad music. Irish music. Melancholy times 60. I find that kind of sadness to be delicious and inspiring.
PG: I love that one. Ronnie Schiller Johnson writes I love that creatures in nature live in the moment and don't suffer anxiety or emotional issues. They just live.
JW: Beautiful. I love the baseball park.
PG: Allison Manoi says I love self-checkouts.
JW: I love reading poetry, writing poetry, editing poetry, collecting my poetry, re-writing it, and writing song lyrics.
PG: Jeremy Claybaugh says I love reading all these loves and getting my mind off my problems.
JW: Lovely! I love falling asleep on an airplane, waking up and realizing you're almost there.
PG: That's a great one. Martin McKenzie says I love when the opportunity to perform a random act of anonymous kindness crosses my path. Imagining the feeling of satisfaction in that person when they do the same for another and so on. That's a beautiful one.
JW: Yeah. I love taking a nap on a cool afternoon and having the most vivid dreams.
PG: Claire Laffar says I love cherry Coke made with proper cherry syrup and maraschino cherries.
JW: [laughing] I love having a cigar on my porch in the evening and doing a crossword puzzle.
PG: Oh, that's good. Christina Walsh says I love pull-through parking spaces. I just can't resist them.
JW: Oh, I like those too. Where you go in one way and go out the other ... I like that. I love watching my daughters performing their respective elements.
PG: Robin McDonald says I love that for some cosmic reason when I put off listening the podcast until later in the week there always seems to be one remark or observation that relates directly to what I'm struggling with.
JW: Yeah. I've had that too. I like that. This is my favorite of mine. I love when my wife comes home from a day of teaching, gets a glass of wine and tells me about her day. I love being the dumping ground for what she doesn't feel comfortable saying at work.
PG: That's love, man. That is love. That's beautiful.
JW: I'm done with my loves.
PG: That's a perfect note to end on. So I want thank you for being on the podcast, and being my friend. And just being so honest. Just being you, man. One of the best audience members ever. I love your laugh.
JW: I really enjoyed it. Thanks.