I'm currently on my fourth book tour in Germany, where people value books and authors in ways you don't find in the U.S.
I'm reading from my memoir My Germany in German and English, and the tour is going well, with enthusiastic audiences. But there's also an inner tour I'm on, one that has five stages I am very familiar with. I think other authors will recognize them.
First comes exhaustion. The time change is brutal, but even worse is the long flight. Even when you fly business class, if you're lucky, sleeping well en route is unlikely and starting a tour in that state is starting with a huge deficit. Readings demand absolute focus, they're performances and you have to be totally committed. Pushing past the exhaustion ultimately leaves you even more drained.
As that fades, though, loneliness follows. No matter how beautiful the city you're in (and I started in lovely Leipzig this week), it's not home and it's hard to enjoy museums, architecture, restaurants when you're thinking ahead to the next Skype call, hoping you'll have email waiting for you next time you check. And you check constantly. The contact is a lifeline.
But familiar rhythms take over pretty quickly, and you open up to your surroundings. You're suddenly interested and focused outward. The food, wine, and beer taste better than you realize; buildings you passed with a shrug demand appreciation, photos, maybe even a description in your journal. The life you're living as a tourist on a kind of mission becomes fun. And it's not so bad anymore being unable to share it directly, in the moment, with someone you love at your side.
Interest turns to excitement. The cultural differences become more and more fascinating even if you've reflected on them before. The sensual pleasures of being in a place with a cafe culture mount and you wonder yet again at how comfortable and clean the train stations are, you revel in the flower shops at even the tiniest ones, and the solidly delicious food at the stations. Maybe you even start thinking in your host language or dreaming in it. Instead of waking up dreading the next city, you're eager to move on.
And then there's regret. After half a dozen or more readings, many dinners and lunches with fascinating people you would never meet in any other way and will likely never see again, suddenly the tour is ending. You have to pack smart now, not just throw things in your bags as you've done so far. You have to ship back the presents you've received, hoping they won't get held up in Customs too long. You've learned once again how to thrive under a special kind of stress, and suddenly this skill has to be shelved. You wonder when your next tour will be...