Michelle Tea: It's Hard Out There on the Road

I’ve been touring regularly since the 90s, and I know all too well what distance can do to a relationship. I myself have had EVERY SINGLE RELATIONSHIP I'VE EVER BEEN IN collapse after a tour.
Publish date:
September 12, 2012

Due to my experiment with Clomid, my period is a week late, and when it comes, it’s extra gnarly. Don’t make me use my writerly skills to elaborate on what an Extra Gnarly Period looks like, OK? Use your imagination.

In that limbo between my expected period and actual period, I don’t really have a lot of baby hopes. Just to squash the teeny tiny one that might be sprouting like a mushroom in a soggy, emotional blind spot, I Google "Clomid Late Period" and am reassured that I have indeed tripped my body up with my illegitimate pill popping.

In the Sister Spit van, heading out across the US for a solid month of no insemination and heartbreakingly scant Dashiell, Dorothy Allison tells me that Clomid and all those fertility drugs cause cancer. Btws, I do change all the names of all the people mentioned in this here blog, but I’m not going to change Dorothy Allison’s name, because it is freaking DOROTHY ALLISON and I’m not going to skip an opportunity to brag about getting to travel around in a van with one of the best writers ever. Sorry, Dorothy!

A quick Google search confirms that Clomid increases, perhaps by double, the risk of ovarian cancer. I’m going to need a bunch of it if I’m going to go forward with fertility nonsense, which I CAN’T EVEN BELIEVE I’M STILL CONSIDERING, but it’s just hard to get my head out of the game. Being on tour and away from my life could have been a nice break from it all, except that I’d decided to read from the blog at our shows each night. It’s hard being on tour with nothing new to perform, and while I have some books in the hopper I’ve already read from them on past tours and when they come out in the next couple years, I’ll have to tour them again. The only writing that feels fresh and interesting to me is the blog, and so I read from it every night.

In Oakland, where Dashiell sits in the front row of the tiny DIY zine emporium we’re performing at, I do a last minute switch and read from something old, because I feel like it’s too tragic to read about happy baby hopes in the face of the news we’re still assimilating. But after that, it’s babyville.

After every show, someone comes up and asks me if I’m pregnant. I knew this would happen and just accepted it. I’m used to being asked personal questions after a show –- that’s what you get when you read about your personal life on a stage in front of a hundred people, making jokes about it and seeming infinitely comfortable with the world knowing your business. People come up to you later and ask you about fisting, or your difficult relationship with your parents, or how your ex feels about what you just wrote. I always hope it won’t happen, because in spite of everything, I actually DON’T like talking about my personal life with strangers. I really don’t. There is a major disconnect in being able to write about my private shames, perform them on the magical and protected-feeling space of a stage, and then having to discuss it with people you don’t know.

I don’t expect anyone to get this, or even be sympathetic toward it. You can’t have it both ways. Which is why I chirp politely, "No, not yet!" when everyone asks me about the baby after the show. I’m so used to being slightly out of my body after reading in and hosting an hour-and-a-half show, I figured the weird autopilot I’m on would coast me through the discomfort, and it mostly does. Mostly.

After Erin Markey, a performance artist on Sister Spit, dreams of the Heart song "All I Want to Do Is Make Love to You," we are forced to listen to it on repeat for a few hundred miles. The culture inside this van, where a bunch of weirdo artists are cohabitating for 30 days, is so surreal that this is more or less acceptable. Also, the rigors of living on the road are real, and we all try to be very accommodating of one another’s needs. And Erin needs to listen to this song. A lot.

Eventually, after a heavy dissection and analysis of the song’s lyrics, Erin proclaims that the "one little thing" the narrator’s lover can give her that her husband can’t isn’t an orgasm, which I’d always thought, if I’d ever thought about the song that deeply which I guess subliminally I must have –- it’s a BABY!

“Are you sure she doesn’t mean an orgasm?” I challenge.

“No!” Erin exclaims. “’Imagine his surprise/When he saw his own eyes.’”


“And she says ‘Please, don’t you find me, don’t you dare,’ because she doesn’t want him to find the kid!” Erin continues, high on cracking this mystery after a couple hours of heavy rotation.

“Well, her partner is shooting blanks,” Chimes Cassie J Sneider, a writer who has been reading about her family getting attacked by monkeys at an amusement park each night.

“That’s what I think, too!” Erin exclaims. “It’s like the most feminist and most misogynist song of all time.”

We give it another listen and I feel camaraderie with the narrator and the extreme efforts she makes to get herself knocked up.

Me and Dashiell have a pact -– no more than two weeks can go by without us seeing each other. I’ve been touring regularly since the 90s, and I know all too well what distance can do to a relationship. I myself have had EVERY SINGLE RELATIONSHIP I’VE EVER BEEN IN collapse after a tour. I am for seriously not kidding. Sometimes it was my fault, like back in the 90s when I was such a wild alcoholic and would get carried away on the road, partying every night in a different city and I would just FORGET that I was in a committed relationship! On a couple occasions, I went ahead and started WHOLE NEW RELATIONSHIPS inside the strange bubble of the van, which after a week or so feels like the only life you have ever known.

I have no concerns of anything like that happening ever again, especially with Dashiell, who I understand to be my real true love, the love of my life, my whole life. My destiny. But other things happen on tour. I’ve had people feel really abandoned and lose their minds. I’ve had people just sort of lose the connection, unable to sustain it without me right there in their face reminding them of how awesome I am all the time.

I don’t think Dashiell needs reminding any more than I do. I have full faith that her heart is strong and true. Since we don’t even fight or act manipulatively toward each other, I’m not expecting any of the sad squabbles that can erupt when a person is feeling lonely and jonesing for a degree of intimacy that is truly hard to get in a telephone conversation.

Mostly I’m just a little superstitious. The odds are really, really bad. So bad I don’t even mention them to Dashiell. We make a plan for her to come and meet me in the Midwest and travel around with the group. I’m psyched that she gets to experience the insanity of a performance tour -– the shows, the van, the chaos of flying on airplanes together. I get us special fancy hotel rooms all by ourselves. I read from the blog in front of her, and it doesn’t feel so sad. We feel very away from our regular lives in San Francisco, running around a Colorado college campus grabbing dinner from vending machines in the student union.

Walking through downtown Denver, we pass a girl who looks about 15 years old. She has a sulky face and is leaning against a brick wall, smoking a cigarette. She looks to be about eight months pregnant.

We are gripped with the crazed impulse to turn around and beg the girl for her baby. Her brazen cigarette smoking on a busy street seems an obvious cry for help. We walk for a block or so reeling from how strongly we feel like we should do this. But it’s a maniacal thing to do. We can’t bum a baby off a smoking teenager. Right? We judge her instead. We’re out of our minds. We trip out on this for blocks before understanding that she is probably a kid in need of some parents, too.

Just as Dashiell hasn’t quite given up on me getting IUIs, I haven’t quite given up on her getting pregnant. “You got about a year,” I say part playfully, part seriously.

“A year?!” She repeats with terror on her handsome face. Oh, never mind. We’re taking the month off from baby planning. Except I’m really not, not if I’m reading from the blog every night.

In Philadelphia, a girl at our show tells me that you can get free fertility treatments in Israel if the baby is Jewish. “Even if we’re gay?” I ask skeptically, but apparently yes, even if you’re gay. I’m not Jewish but Dashiell and Quentin are, so that is a Jewish majority. But your mom has to be Jewish for it to count, right, and I’m the mom, maybe? Unless Dashiell is. Or I could covert. Would I covert to Judaism for a free baby? Of course I would! It’s a super beautiful and practical religion and then I finally would not be the only not-Jewish person in the room, as I often am.

I make a note to share this information with Dashiell, and then forget.

Oh, hey, if you’re intrigued by Sister Spit or already love us, check out the first ever Sister Spit anthology, "Sister Spit: Writings, Rants and Reminiscence from the Road," just out on Sister Spit Books/City Lights!