Visiting Ghosts

By Katy Vernon


Editor’s Note: This is the third dispatch from Katy during her 2017 tour of the United Kingdom. Most of this was written on a train in Wales, where both of her parents were born and raised. The picture above is Katy at her mother’s favorite beach, in the precise spot where, according to relatives, her family had many picnics when she was a child. If you haven’t already, please make sure to also read her first post, The H.A.LT. Tour, and second post, Not Today.


I think I've gotten so used to feeling disconnected that I lost track of the connections I have.

After I lost my parents in my teens, I decided to make my own family, married very young, and became a homebody creating a safe little nest. I realized somewhere along the way that I wasn't a risk taker. Although I had left my home in the United Kingdom and travelled halfway around the world to live in the United States, I was a very anxious and unadventurous person in many ways. I had anxiety about getting on the wrong bus, saying the wrong thing, failing. It became easier to just stay on track and try to do all of the right things.

I tried to control everything and everyone in my life.

That doesn't work. Not for me anyway.

Once I finally admitted to myself that I was struggling, I started to learn the process of letting go.

A year ago, I would have agonized about playing a concert overseas. The sheer amount of things that might go wrong would have overwhelmed me.

The idea of taking time away from home would have also trapped me. Not due to any lack of backing from those I love, though. It was all self-inflicted.

So this year -- in a healthier place personally, and with the encouragement of friends and family -- I dove in.

Six weeks of travel and shows. All over the UK. Almost every few days, I have taken trains, buses, and tubes to all areas of Britain.

The kindness and generosity of strangers has been overwhelming. People literally opening their homes and hearts to me.

I have also walked the routes of my past and visited my ghosts.

The home I grew up in, the  schools I attended, the park where I walked my dogs. So much has changed, and yet most of it is the same. I was scared about how that might make me feel.

I recently stood outside my childhood house, and for the first time in years it just looked like a building. Windows, a door, a little garden. Most of it the same as it was, but just a house, not my home.

As part of this tour, I also was invited to play at the hospice where my mum spent her final days. My last memory of her is there. I rode my bike to see her that day, on my own after school. She had asked me to bring strawberries, and I sat in her bed and ate them. She had just had her 47th birthday, and there were cards in her room. I was so nervous making my way there alone, but I'm so grateful today. I didn't know at the time that it would be the last visit, but my Dad didn’t want me to see her once she went into a coma.

It felt so huge to even think about going back. I knew that meant I had to do it. I went back with my ukulele to sing for people there. I didn't say what my connection was to the place. My reason for being there was to use my voice to bring some beauty and happiness to people's day. I have finally learned that I have that to give. Yes, I have experienced tremendous grief. But it helps me to help others, and I can now see that, as much sadness as I carry in my heart, I have equal, if not more, joy to give.

With that deeply meaningful performance at the hospice behind me, I boarded the train to Wales -- making my way, in less than 24 hours -- from the place where my mum passed away to the house where she grew up. My cousin wrote me a family tree (something I have never had) for the occasion, showed me around the old place and and shared her memories of my mum. As it turns out, my mum was her favorite aunt. And to hear her talk about how much she loved my mum was amazingly touching.

This house, too, was just a building, with windows and a door, and a little garden. It was a perfect full-circle moment.

I don't need to visit ghosts because they already live on inside of me, my cousin and my daughters.


Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.


Not Today

By Katy Vernon

Editor’s Note: This is the second dispatch from Katy during her 2017 tour of the United Kingdom. This one is from Brighton, England, where, in addition to performing, she was busy writing songs like Look to the Sea. Make sure to also read her first post - The H.A.LT. Tour.


BRIGHTON, ENGLAND -- I'm now two weeks into my seven-week UK tour. It's my first time traveling back to play music in the country where I was born and raised, the first time I have toured alone anywhere, and perhaps most importantly, my first extended time alone, period.

I am also undertaking all of this excitement, anxiety and adventure without the crutch of alcohol.

Almost a year ago, I sat and listened to a woman discuss how she took a business trip to France. She was alone in a hotel room thousands of miles away from her family. Wine was served with every meal, and there was a fully stocked mini bar in her room. She didn't drink. She was proud of herself, and as I watched others congratulate her on her recovery, I couldn't imagine “that” ever being me.

Of course, at the time, I didn't fully believe I had an addiction. But—in what should have been a sign—I also couldn't imagine having the freedom to drink without witnesses or judgment, and not doing it.

Here I am, though. Two weeks into a tour of Great Britain, where there are pubs on every corner and it’s legal to drink on the streets, and where single-serve wine is sold in convenience stores. Every day I walk by literally dozens of places where I could sit and have one quiet, secret glass.

Not today.

I am keeping promises to myself on this trip – promises that have come to mean a lot to me.

I used to feel naked out in public, meeting new people. Only alcohol put me at ease. But I’m finding a more natural ease now. Every time I walk into a new venue, I have the choice to either take someone up on the offer of a drink or to introduce “sober me.” As soon as I let the words “I don't drink” come out of my mouth, I feel like I am holding myself accountable. Promise kept. I also feel thankful for how understanding people always seem to be. And how much easier it is to be me, when that’s all I have to be.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but instead of feeling left out at these venues and on this tour, I feel much more fully engaged than ever. I pay more attention than I ever used to. I soak in so much more.

It’s been 20 years since I lived in the UK. And, back then, I never traveled much. So, it has been mildly terrifying to navigate my way around. But all of the steps I have taken this past year have strangely prepared me for it. I have learned how to be more open to life. I have grown more comfortable with planning what I can and accepting whatever outcomes result. With train tickets to book, and shows to play, I can't completely live in the moment. But during my “in between” times, I can comfortably wander the streets, sit and write, and take time to watch people and listen. All by myself.

It's a luxury that I know I might not have again. While I’m able to cover expenses with shows—and could make another tour work in that way—I doubt I’ll ever have this amount of time again to travel. My family in Minnesota has been amazingly understanding and generous, and in fact encouraged me to take the opportunity to do this tour in the first place. Perhaps they knew I was ready. Or what I needed. Either way, I am grateful.

Instead of being lonely, I am learning how to be alone.

Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.

The H.A.L.T. Tour

By Katy Vernon

Editor’s Note: Katy started this a day before departing Minnesota for an exciting and emotional trip to her hometown of London. Check back for updates during her six-week tour of the United Kingdom.


(April 30, 2017) -- A year ago today, I woke up with my last hangover. As usual, I replayed the previous night in my mind, feeling foolish about some of my conversations and a bit frightened by the parts I couldn’t remember.

All the years of minimizing and joking about whether I needed to cut back and control my drinking were suddenly inadequate. I needed to wake the hell up and get in control of my life.

Knowing how obsessive I can be, I didn't want to become a crazed bore about getting sober. But I didn’t want to deal with drinking anymore either. I think it’s probably true that you need to seek recovery in order to find it, and I was ready to look.

Early on in my journey (and trust me, I know I'm still early on), I was introduced to the acronym H.A.L.T. - Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. These are feelings that can trigger unhealthy coping strategies like substance use. I realized that as a busy working parent -- with a history of mental health issues, grief and unbridled ambition -- I was experiencing those feelings every day! Clearly I needed to change.

I needed to stop making excuses and find new ways to be in the world. Reaching out to people whom I knew had walked this path was key. Thankfully, I learned about Dissonance. I also told my family I was going to make healthier choices, and several months in, sought additional group support.

With that as my foundation, I have managed to build a routine of recognizing and checking in with people whenever I feel “H,” “A,” “L” or “T.”

“H” is pretty easy to control -- snacks, family meals and little chocolate treats to replace my evening wine.

“A” has, for the most part, subsided, thanks to a lot of reading, talking and most importantly, listening to others. I realize now that my anger usually springs from resentments, which are tough to crack. But for me, moving beyond resentment starts with finding gratitude for what I have, every day. Some days, I am grateful to simply hug my dog! Other days, there is so much more, and I try to recognize it.

“L” was mostly self-inflicted. When you are ashamed of your behavior, you keep secrets. I didn't know I was shutting people out until I started to let them in again.

“T” is the reason I have embraced the weekend nap!

A year ago, I wanted desperately to change my life. Today, thanks to the love and support of others -- and practical tools like H.A.L.T. -- I can see the progress.

Tomorrow, I fly to the U.K. (my birthplace) for my first-ever solo tour. I'm going all-in with more than a dozen gigs, including two large ukulele festivals.

I would have been too scared to do this in the past, and even now it's daunting. It means a lot to me that I have mustered the moxie to embrace this opportunity to meet new people and play music in new places.

I have thought ahead and planned for the support I will need when traveling, and almost joked that it should be called The HALT Tour! I see challenges and potential triggers ahead, but knowledge is power.

I'm not the first person to follow this path, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity.

Adventure awaits!


Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.