Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Being A Touring Storyteller Is Like Being Shackled to a Galloping Unicorn: Amazing and Disconcerting.

The odometer on my 2006 Saturn

Before we made this the running around town car last February, I put 256,125 miles on it.  

An itinerate performer’s life is not a stable one.  We travel to everywhere from Miami Gardens, FL to Lima, Peru.  Our daily lives can be described as many things but the word ‘routine’ is not one of them.  This is not such a problem if you are single, don’t have pets, and are not needed for anything in particular in your community.  This becomes much more tricky if you have pets, children, spouses, social obligations, or some kind of side job that requires stable hours.

Pets like to eat and they need attention.  Not so easy if you are gone all the time!

When I went into storytelling twenty-six years ago, most of the storytellers I knew had gone into the field as a second career.  They’d had their children, raised them, and then, in their retirement or second life, they’d become storytellers.  Most of the ones who’d chosen it as a primary career were men whose wives had stepped in to take on the role of stable parent.

Being neither a man, nor old enough to have retired from a previous career, my husband and I had to look at this a bit differently.

I went to my friends for advice about how they dealt with the touring schedule and family.  Jim May, Milbre Burch, and Syd Lieberman gave me invaluable advice about what to expect while touring.

After careful consideration, my husband and I decided upon a simple idea.

My chaotic life could not create chaos for the rest of my family.  We divided up the work in a way that seemed very unfair, but couldn’t be helped.

David anchors the family in place.  He drives the kids to school and collects them at the end of the day.  He volunteers at their functions, goes to their various activities, helps with homework and makes sure that meals are on the table.  He organizes their chore schedules, keeps track of their calendars and plays games with them.  In other words, he took on a major amount of parenting work.

David also took on the role as business manager, PR guy, and personal accountant. 

My job?  Write books, travel the world, create and teach workshops, make recordings, and tell stories.  

Yeah, I know, it is out of print.  Hey, I'm just supposed to write the things!

For ten years now I flow in and out of my family’s manicured life.  I join in when I get home.  I help with the housework, cook, drive the kids around, help with their writing, and stand about being everyone’s cheerleader.  Then, like smoke I vanish for a while. 

When my kids were little, it was a frightening to them when I left.  They had no understanding of time.  When I left and didn't come back right away, they feared I might never return.  As far as they knew, I disappeared into the ether the second the car left. 

We used several things to help our kids cope with this dismay, and incorporate the travel schedule into their lives.

We put a calendar up by the front door.  It was mommy’s travel schedule.  If I was gone, the name of the place was on the calendar and there was a star on the days I would return.  They crossed off the days and could look forward to when I would return instead of feeling that vague sense of discomfort because they didn’t know when I would appear.  Some families put up a map and use push pins so that kids can see where their parents are going. 

Still keep a calendar by the door.  Not as big a deal, but they still like to keep an eye on when I'll be back.

These days you can also Skype and email, but the calendar and the map are tangible ways to help your kids understand the time involved.

Despite our best efforts, there were the plaintive requests from our children that I not leave.  Children, as everyone knows, are not above emotional blackmail, and they are excellent at manipulation and breaking your heart. 

We explained to our children that everyone in the family has something that they contribute.  Daddy was there to keep their lives running smoothly and keep them safe.  The kids were supposed to learn, play, and grow up.  Mom’s job was to make sure we had a house, clothes, food, cars, toys video games and so forth.  If I didn’t travel, we wouldn’t have anywhere to live and there would be nothing to eat.  They accepted that, and if they started getting upset, we would remind them that it was important for me to travel.

Travel isn’t easy for me either.  I miss exciting events, the daily discussion of what is happening in their lives, the discussions that can only happen when I am sitting in the kitchen and they wander through.  I miss teacher conferences, award ceremonies, presentation nights, and project presentations.  I missed the tooth fairy, and birthday parties, and I don’t even like to think of what else I just wasn’t on the spot to experience. 

Still, the reason they do so well is because their lives are such that they only have to worry about homework, getting their chores done, what their friends are doing on the weekend, and planning their future.

My kids with their younger cousins

They are older now and accept that travel is part of my life.  Still, every now and then, when I am preparing for a trip, my seventeen year old gets that sad little note in his voice, as he demands, “Where are you going now?” 

They don’t have to like the fact that you travel, but they do need to understand why you do it.

Being able to make a living as a storyteller is a privilege that not many people have.

When I’m listening to the latest event I can only watch on video, or hear in a retelling from one of my children I remind myself that I am very lucky.

Happy Touring! 


  1. Well written. It's not any easier for a guy to do this would be my only comment.

    Folks think the whole traveling-artist thing is glamorous. It is the first time you fly off to parts unknown. After that, it's work. I did better when I finally realized that two days of flying for any event was part of the job, it was what I did for those particular days. At least I wasn't digging ditches on those days.

    Don't get me wrong, I LOVED the people, festivals and events in far-away places. Still do. I am still flying about as people book me and planning to do more. It's my job.

    On the other hand, the need for good artists is as important in my own "backyard" as it is anywhere I go. Bloom where you are planted, so to speak. But the work of touring and traveling is very much work indeed.

    1. So true, Sean. I love the travel, but it is also draining. Traveling is hard on both the body and mind. In the last few years I've worked much harder on getting work in this area, but that doesn't mean I don't travel about six months of the year! At some point I'm going to hang up the walking shoes and travel only a little, but at this point, that dream is nowhere in sight! Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  2. Very aptly put! Sometimes people find it hard when you tell them that you did'nt even have time to walk around sightseeing and playing tourist because you were working.

    1. I try to do a bit of sightseeing, but after a long day, the only sight I have any interest in is my pillow! Staying in people's homes is also tricky since there are many people who assume you will entertain them and/or their children while you are there! Thanks for stopping by the blog,