Monday, January 15, 2007

Melody Becomes a HomeBody

I've been thinking it for a month, but when Tim came home the other day and said, "We're not on the road!" in a voice of relief, I started verbalizing my joy at becoming a normal family again.

It's not that being on the road as a lifestyle was terrible.

It's just that I never want to do it again.

Here is why living on the road was hard:

--You don't get to sleep. The beds in hotels stink. I had to share with Tim AND one kid (in a queen bed....). Plus, other performers (usually drunk) make noise until later at night than we go to bed (can you believe it?!), and then the maids make noise starting at about 8:00 am. Did you know that maids yell up and down the halls to each other after you leave the hotel? And that they open all the doors to the empty rooms and turn the TVs on to the same music station so they can work to music? No sleep.

--Food? What's food? Finding things to eat when you are living in a hotel room is hard. If you have a kitchenette, you still can't store enough food for a family of five for one day, and then you're pretty much limited to things you can fix in the microwave one portion at a time. Look through the freezer section of your grocery store some time and think about it. Carbs and highly processed food. Not good for health, weight, or ADD. And this is when it's good. When there is no kitchenette, you're limited to what comes out of a can or a box and can be heated in a pan on a hotplate that you can't let the hotel discover you have. Also not healthy or satisfying. And feeding kids (ADD kids, no less) this way? Not good.

Of course, you can go to fast food places and buy from the dollar menu. My view on that now: the idea of eating another cheap hamburger or fries LITERALLY makes me sick to my stomach.

--It's hard to stay clean. Hard to bathe kids. Hard to wash dishes. Hard to do laundry. Nothing is convenient. And just try to keep three kids' worth of trash in one of those tiny hotel garbage cans....

--Isolation. We traveled as a family and with the band, but it's an isolating life. Nobody wants to take the effort to get to know you except as a novelty (or bragging point--"I met ___ musician!"), even if you make an effort to get to know them. There are two reasons for this: musicians have a pretty bad reputation; and you're moving on in a couple of days. Nobody wants to commit the energy to get to know you if there is no permanence in it. The church members were nice, when we could meet them, but it was hard to find them.

For the family of the band, it's even more isolating. The band takes the car, and the family is stuck in the hotel room or wherever they can go on foot. Plus, tour season is hot summer, so arranging the car and going out is NOT easy. Not with three kids under five, anyway.

In addition to not being surrounded by people you are familiar with, you don't have resources you expect to. Like doctors. Musicians don't make enough for insurance, let alone nationwide insurance plans that work in all states. And it doesn't really matter because even if a doctor IS taking new patients, they are not taking transient patients. So if you get sick or hurt, you're pretty much limited to emergency room visits (costly) or welfare clinics (long waits for mediocre to poor care--and the welfare clinics are hard to find. They aren't listed in the phone book as "welfare clinic"). And it's not just doctors. It's the whole community around you that you don't even think about having (banks? libraries? internet access? movie theaters?)--but nomadic folk like musicians lack.

--You get sick. Oh boy did we get sick this summer. When we're at home, we rarely get sick. Maybe a cold every once in a while (rarely even serious ones), or a stomach virus. This summer the kids got chicken pox, pinkeye, head-to-toe eczema (due to Utah's water we found out today), viral meningitis, colds, stomach viruses, allergies to antibiotics, and I don't remember what else. Fortunately, we HAVE a pediatrician in Utah who was willing to see us still, and give us a "self-pay" break. Still--no mother wants all those serious childhood illnesses to go through all three kids in their entire childhoods. We had them all in 8 weeks.

--Constant displacement makes growth and development hard for kids. Kids don't really learn and grow if they have to think about where they are constantly. So, while we learned geography and about things you see at fairs, and other useful knowledge, the real Growth was stunted.

--There's nothing to do. Really. It seems like there should be. But we ended up watching TV and going to fairs. Boring. And it got to be a little much when my four-year-old knew the first names of all the hosts of all the daytime shows on the Discovery Channel. And I was bored--I can't write when we travel.

This is actually heavily influenced by the next one...

--Even "Family friendly" places (hotels, fairs, restaurants) are unprepared for THREE kids age 4, 3, and 9 months. So we lived in constant fear that we were bugging people. And certainly healthy kid stuff (jumping, running, laughing, singing) are NOT allowed--leaving me either policing or entertaining (and not writing...) and the kids with nothing to do.

--For all of our effort, we didn't get Tim anyway. We were there, but fairs work you 3 shows a day every day, which amounts to about 10 hours a day of not being able to leave fair grounds. And when Tim DID get to come "home", he was either too exhausted or too busy catching up on the work that runs the business to really "Be" with us.

--For all that work and sacrifice, we still were living at a wage 80% below poverty level and qualified for Colorado Medicaid without any trouble--Even making $500 more per month for those months than we did usually. And the extra expenses of travelling (everything costs more, even the performer's time) cut back the earnings significantly.

--I hate living with the band. I hate walking out of my hotel room at 3:00 am to get ice and finding one of OUR band members sitting in the hall in his garments. I don't need to see that. I hate living with their schedules (why do they always check out of a hotel late but get to the next place before us?!). I hate having to be nice to them if I've had a bad day or if I have PMS, and feeling guilty if I only cook enough for my family or don't want them to come over during the one hour we get Tim. And they, I'm sure, think I am equally hard to live with.

--You can't be fully active in the church (or community). You can't have a calling. You can't have (or be) visiting or home teachers. You can't serve the poor. You can't help people move. And when you come back, you are no longer an integral part of the ward. They've moved on without you, and you are an outsider once again. What's more, they never know when you will be around and when you won't, so they assume you're always gone, and everyone forgets to tell you about Ward Parties and stuff.

I guess what it boils down to is there is a rhythm to life that you are unaware of until you have to leave it. And then when you get home to, as Desi Brown puts it, "Your cold and dusty house," it isn't home anymore. You can't find anything, you have no food (you can't leave a house with food in it unless you WANT mice), and it's all very foreign. It's that rhythm that we missed.

Now I completely understand why Roma culture developed the way it did. In order to be happy as a nomadic people, you would have to ALWAYS live out of your gypsy wagon (own a motorhome today, which is way more expensive than driving a car and staying in hotels every night), and you would have to travel in a large group of some kind. This would create a solidarity--and a unique culture--that made it so that the rhythm of life came with you and it didn't matter where you landed. I can see why the gypsies turned to each other--we, as musicians, were no more trusted than gypsies. And I understand. Most musicians leave a town with a few richer drug dealers, a few more destroyed hotel rooms, and a couple of pregnant teenage girls. (In fact, I even had to tell several local girls to obey their parents and not associate with "our guys" any more because, "on Sunday we're going to pack up and drive away, and you'll never see him again." And we're nice!)

So the gypsies, in order to survive their careers, took the community with them and developed ways of eating, dealing with sickness, sleeping, etc. that worked for them and that were consistent. They had their own language, their own 'Ways'--and that made the culture work.

And that's what I think happens when a people is forced to be nomadic. To survive, they develop their own culture and associations.

Maybe that's why the early Mormons had to endure so much rejection and forced wandering. It took a group of fully culturally integrated people and isolated them, creating in one generation a unique culture that otherwise might have taken decades to form, if it ever did. But for the Lord to get what he wanted out of the people, they had to leave the "old ways" COMPLETELY behind--and being forced to be nomadic DOES that. So they very quickly developed their own ways of talking, eating, teaching, governing, etc. Then, when the immigrant saints started pouring into Salt Lake City at the last part of the 19th century, there was an established, unique culture for them to be integrated into, instead of a mishmash of everyone's old traditions getting mixed up into something new and man-made. He did it to the Jews, too--back in Moses's time.

Just something to think about.

Mormons weren't made to be gypsies. And they still aren't.

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