02/02/2014 08:15 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2014

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Author

I've done hundreds of talks and readings from my books across the U.S. and Canada, and in Great Britain, Germany, Austria, France and Israel.

When I'm picked up on tour at a train station or airport, one of the most frequent questions is a rhetorical one: "This must be pretty exciting, right?"

It is. I'm an extrovert. I love meeting new people and speaking to new groups. I prepare extensively for every gig I do: finding out as much as I can about the audience and venue in advance, then writing talking points for my introduction, studying and rehearsing those, and practicing the reading from my book, whichever one it is, to get the timing and rhythms right. When I was asked to do readings from the German edition of my memoir My Germany, I actually hired a tutor and studied with her for months to perfect my delivery. I'd had German classes, but had never had to perform a text in German, least of all my own.

When it comes to being a traveling author, it helps that I did so much theater in college, and that I've taught for many years as well. I generally feel comfortable as a performer of my own work -- and my own life. And yet there's always a trace of sadness on the road, too, that's unrelated to being away from home.

I was recently in Marquette, Michigan, a picturesque town of about nine thousand, where I did five different talks starting with a keynote at the beautiful interfaith Holocaust memorial ceremony.

I got to see the area from the local standpoint because I met so many natives and so many people who'd moved there either from elsewhere in the Midwest and around the country. I saw the beautiful tiny synagogue in tiny Ishpeming, which has remarkable stained glass windows and feels like a spiritual jewel box. Members told me about the area's Jewish migration patterns and gave me an in-depth look at local sites and drives. The beautiful downtown of Marquette with its late 19th century stone buildings and churches was especially impressive, especially the Tiffany window in one of them.

And I had what I always have, whatever the city or country: fascinating conversations with people I'll probably never see again. I was lucky to be in Marquette three nights, because it's very rare to spend more than one day anyplace on tour as an author. Even then, if you have some extra time, you're often so tired and burned out from travel or talking to people, that going out to sight-see feels overwhelming. I once had just a few free hours in Dresden and opted for a hot bath and a nap over seeing any of its museums or churches because I was too exhausted to leave my hotel. I desperately needed sleep.

The whole experience of touring as an author is intense, and wonderful, and fulfilling -- and then it's over way too soon. That dynamic repeats itself again and again and again. Touring abroad magnifies the experience a hundred times: you have a new language, a different culture, you're soaking it all in, meeting amazing simpatico people you would love to get to know better, getting glimpses of exotic and fascinating cities -- and then you're gone. Yes, you can keep in touch, but it's never really the same.

That's one thing I never expected when I launched my career as an author many years ago: the miles it would put on me, the smiles, too, but also the sadness of random, lovely contacts that fade away.

A different version of this blog originally appeared at here.