9.09.2011

The Day After Coming Off The Road

The day (or so) after I get back from being on the road, I'm in a mood. It's a very difficult mood to quantify. I'm not mad. I'm not even agitated. I'm direct and blunt. I can't focus on anything except doing work, and I'm useless for doing work because I'm tired. So there's this element of "Don't bother me, I'm trying to work, even though no work is happening at all" to everything I say and do.

It's not something I've been aware of for most of my life. But this year, I got called out on it by my wife and my friends, mostly because this year has seen more distance travelled than any year before, even 2005-2006 when I did my first book tour. It's not the absolute longest I've been from my home (or whatever served as my home base -- in the mid and late 90s, I had a place I paid rent at, but spent the vast majority of my time not there as I consulted in other cities for months at a time). But it's absolutely the most I've bounced from place to place.

And it's a dream fulfilled, for sure. When I was in school, I daydreamed about a life of travel and adventure. I thought all the time about what it'd be like to go on tour with a rock band, or hit cities and tell stories like Henry Rollins, or go on book tours. And when I first started, it was exciting and adventurous. I looked forward to every single trip.

These days, I'm not sure if its just age or if the luster has worn off, but travel ends up forcing me into a work mode I don't ever experience when I'm at home. There's this jaded element to it that makes me utterly disinterested in touring the city, visiting landmarks, seeing the sights... I just want to do whatever it is I came to do, the best I can possibly do it, and eat a decent meal and go home. I LOVE meeting new people. I love sharing stories. I love the connections and the conversations. But the cities themselves... I see landmarks from car windows and as I take off and land at the airport.

When I get home, it takes a day or two to cleanse from that mindset. And it shows to everyone except me. Even right now -- I feel fine. I feel like things went very well with Art of Akira Exhibit and Fark work the past week. And yet, all day long, people have been asking "What's wrong?" and "Are you okay?"

Before Andrea explained to me how I present to people when I come home from being on the road, I would just get agitated and insist they were insane. Now that I know this phenomenon is actually taking place, I at least have something to give people who ask me that question. But then that leads into the inevitable conversation that ALWAYS comes from trying to explain the difficulties of a life on the road, especially from those who daydream of it: "You have it made, you're living the dream. I don't get why you'd be so obtuse about it."

They're right. I do have it made. I live a life where I get to do several jobs I've always wanted to do, and I get to be really, really good at them. I get to see new sights and meet new people and invent new things and talk about my favorite animation and the state of art today. I get to tell stories from my books and entertain people. And I love the hell out of it.

But it's work. That's the point I don't think people who don't do it can get. Going to Montreal and New York and Boston in a single trip sounds glamorous. But it's work. You get there, you load out your luggage or exhibit or booth or books, you set up, and if you're lucky, you get a bite to eat. Then you get to work, and you work the night and the next day. If it's a convention, you work the entire weekend. And because you are working, you don't get to walk around the city and see cool things. You get to walk out to the nearest food vendor and bathroom and that's about it. And when it's all done, you pack up and you load in and you take off to the next place. There might be a meal in there if you scheduled it. Other than that, it's work.

Before I started doing this, all of my travel fell into a vacation type category. And when I consulted in another city for a long period of time, it was like being home in a new place for months. You had the weekends and most nights to soak it all up and explore. But you travel to exhibit or promote, you're in work mode the second you get in the car, all the way through the event, and until you get home.

That's not to say we don't have fun. Jeremy and I (and whoever is with us depending on the event -- Shawn and/or Mike with Art of Akira, Andrea with Mentally Incontinent stuff, Drew with Fark stuff) have a blast. It's got it's high notes and low notes, like everything. And when we're with the public, we are in very high spirits, because come on -- it's a dream come true.

But it's work. And it does tire you out and does things to you. And it's very hard to explain -- it's addictive and tiring and something you love and need distance from, all at once. And when you get home, and life has its routines that you've not been a part of, you feel out of place and distant and out of step, and all everyone else wants is to welcome you home and feel comforted that you're back where you belong. And that itself is hard to get into the groove of, because all you WANT is to sit back and relax and enjoy the time where the stress and work is over... But you're in that mode still, and everything you do that isn't actually working on things feels like you're stealing time. Even though your brain knows you're not, and remembers just a few weeks or months ago when sitting at home on a Thursday night watching football cause your work was done felt just fine, this time? It feels like theft.

And it's like that for a bit. And it goes away. But until it does, it's how I am until it goes away. And I'm completely blind to it, because to me, it all just feels normal.