The nature of my job as a tour manager necessarily means that establishing any kind of consistency in daily life is nearly impossible. It is the simultaneous blessing and curse of freelance – what is deemed exciting and ever-changing can also be perceived as inconsistent and manic. You can be absurdly busy for weeks and months on end and when you get home everything stops – with as much grace as a brick wall. A dialogue I often engage in with other touring musicians and crew is about our individual progress on the quest for stability, complete with any and all advice on how to achieve this elusive goal, all the while knowing that we have chosen a profession that is intrinsically unstable. It is comical how we set ourselves up this way. Let it be stated that the search for balance in one’s career is not strictly limited to the music industry. It is quite a hot topic in all trades as technology allows us to be increasingly connected, blurring the line between work and life (assuming you want to or can draw that line). For myself and my friends, our work is our life and our livelihood, especially because we are privileged enough to enjoy what we do. I would argue though that touring for a living makes it much more difficult than other jobs to find consistency and balance, based on the fact that the job mandates leaving home (arguably the real core of psychological and emotional balance) and living a temporary nomadic existence.
Personally, I have grown much over the past few years in terms of finding a sense of evenness in a pendular career. Often, this search involves restaurants and other establishments I am able revisit every time I stay in a particular city. As food is often a source of joy, a cheap way to replicate home, and truly the best way to experience any place I find myself, eating well has become my #1 priority when I travel. More deeply, it is symptomatic of a larger quest to find some semblance of control in a lifestyle that is often characterized and dictated by powers beyond one’s control – psychological and emotional issues pertaining to excessive travel; navigating planes, trains, and automobiles; spending too much time in dark venues with no real sense of time or space (thereby never knowing what day it is); inconsistencies in one’s ability to properly care for their body and mind; limited personal space and privacy with overwhelming contradictory feelings of isolation – the list is innumerable and I often find myself reminding my fellow touring companions that what we are currently engaged in is a far cry from normalcy. My understanding of the vast array of individual tics and quirks on tour stems from the relative knowledge that we all have to do what we have to do to stay sane. And trust me when I say that the breadth and depth of behaviors and activities done in the name of sanity is VAST.
In the face of all of that, I can still say I love what I do and truly mean it. But the chaos of the job has me relentlessly holding onto the small things that keep me sane. Since touring is an evolving exercise in ascetic practices, I truly mean small things – whatever can fit into my suitcase or can be snapped in a photograph. And of course whatever can be smuggled out in my belly. Food, literature (usually one gigantic book), and something to keep my hands busy (assuming my computer is not): knitting, felting, and photographing to be specific.
So, imagine if you can the elation I feel when I can wake up in my own bed with the luxury of choosing what I would like to do with my time off from the road. I embrace my morning rituals at home as much as I embrace the road rituals, confronted with the finite nature of both. The beauty of such a bipolar lifestyle is that you do not take these luxuries for granted because next week they might not be there. It is that mentality that slows and boils the day down to the few moments you find yourself engaging in something akin to “home”. What’s more, you are aware it is happening and you have a chance to give thanks.
I love drinking tea in my sunny southeast-facing kitchen. Tea has always been lauded for its ritualistic nature and its intrinsic peace. Tea is fundamental to many traditional meditative practices. Essentially, it should be no surprise that I love tea because it is the antithesis to my chaotic job. What endlessly fascinates me, though, is how little I drink tea while I’m touring. Tea does not bring me peace – tea happens when I’m at peace. I wish I could rely on tea’s meditative properties and use it as an outlet when I travel but I cannot. I can only fully enjoy my tea when I am at home, knowing I have endless hours to devote. I wake up and plod into the kitchen, turn on the kettle, and choose one of my two Belle & Sebastian mugs. I start with the basic green tea and move up to a strong Earl Grey. I brew it for 4 minutes (hence the little timer) and wait for the temperature to fall to a few degrees above lukewarm – and I do this all morning. I might even read a book at the same time, but truly, I could (and often do) stare out my kitchen window until my cup is empty. Lather, rinse, repeat. What I love most about drinking tea is that because I only do it at home, it gives me something to look forward to in the same way that hunting for perfect coffee has characterized my mornings on tour. They both work as hallmarks in largely structureless, unpredictable days. They act as an excuse to pull off the road for a minute or give purpose to a 15-minute lull in the day. They are my answer to a smoke break and I hold them close. Without my home tea or my tour coffee, I might lose my grip and lose track of the days. Therefore, I can always be found with my small Sigg thermos in one of two situations: drinking out of it or filling it up. It is elegantly symbolic and actuates the very goal I am hoping to achieve amidst all the busybodying. I love to think about the thousands of other rituals being engaged in at the same moment and to know I am participating in something much bigger than my small cup of tea, namely a silent protest against the speed and energy-sucking grey area of this modern life.