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The Session #74: The Beer Balancing Act

Our 74th Session, is hosted by Bryan Roth, who writes This Is Why I’m Drunk. His topic is about finding balance in life, recognizing that however passionate or obsessed any of us are about our beer, life is more than just beer. Or as Bryan puts it. “Beer is more than the alcohol that goes into it – it’s the passion, history and community. Beer is also just one of many interests I have in my life, whether it’s exercise, continuing my education or keeping tabs on how social media impacts society. Beer doesn’t define me, even if it may be something I can ramble on about for hours and hours. These are all things I love spending my time on, but what about you?” So here’s his invitation to I’m Having a Party and You’re Invited: “The Session” for April 2013:

April’s topic is “Finding Beer Balance.” It’s a discussion I hope will offer a variety of responses as people consider their interests outside of finding the perfect pint.

Is beer your vice? Is beer your reward? Does beer really have to be either? Do you find lifestyle balance through work, hobbies, family or maybe even “Dry Days” like David Bascombe? There are a variety of ways to find balance. These questions are simply a jumping-off point.

It’s hard not to love Bryan’s topic, even if it requires us to talk about the one subject every one of us loves more than beer: ourselves. But blogs are, if nothing else, personal; so being personal seems part and parcel of any blog. If it wasn’t personal, at least part of the time, then it would be something else. So how does anyone balance their work and their personal life?

For me, it’s never been that difficult. Almost every longterm job I’ve had was in a field that I first came to because I was passionate about it in some way. When I was a kid, I was into music, played in bands, and my first real job out of high school was playing in a U.S. Army Band. After that, I managed record stores and became one of the record buyers for a large chain of records stores.

My next job played on that experience plus a lifelong passion for film, when I did marketing and advertising for a small chain of video stores. After moving to California, and a few grunt jobs to pay the bills, I once again found myself managing video stores and then was a buyer for that chain, too.

I later turned my lifetime love of comic books into a job — you guessed it — managing a comic book store, before a chance opportunity landed me a job writing for a law office, finally putting those journalism classes (and my stint as sports editors of my junior high school newspaper) to good use. While there was a lot I loved about that job, it was the writing — crafting a persuasive argument, applying law to a set of facts, and agonizing over every word — that really got me up in the morning.

At that time, I was already a beer geek, having really started down that path in the late 1970s while stationed in New York City. After moving to California in 1985, there was plenty more to discover there, and I held tasting parties and started homebrewing, too. In 1991, I visited over 550 bars over a period of about four months, with the result being the publication of the book The Bars of Santa Clara County: A Beer Drinkers Guide to Silicon Valley. (Hilariously, someone in Florida will sell you a new copy of the book for $60.90! I have a box left, I’ll sell you one for far less than that!)

I used that book, along with my experience as a record and video buyer, to become the beer buyer for Beverages & more, and have been involved in some part of the beer industry since around 1991 or 1992.

Although throughout my entire life I’ve generally felt lost, confused, bewildered and disoriented, I’ve always gravitated toward work that has something to do with a passion. So most of my jobs have never been just for the paycheck. Even when the paycheck wasn’t all that much (most of them frankly) I’ve been fortunate that I tended to care about them far more than I probably should have — good for the employer, jury’s still out if that was good for me. Last month, I found this great quote by legendary brewer Pierre Celis. “To me, work is being on vacation. Why do I continue working? Well, if I stop I’m no longer on vacation.” And that’s a bit how I feel about my work. I’m always doing it, because it doesn’t feel like work. Oh, sometimes it does, certainly, but by and large I feel driven to do it — not because of deadlines or paying the rent or any mundane reasons like that — because it’s something that I feel like I have to do. I feel fortunate I found beer, and that I’ve managed to turn writing about it into not just my job. but a career. But even if I hadn’t, I suspect I’d be writing about something else. Writing has always felt like something I just do, something I just have to keep doing. Publish or perish, as they say.

So I may not be typical in balancing work and life, because for me the two are so inextricably entwined together. It’s a symbiotic relationship. One couldn’t exist without the other. No matter what work I’m doing, I tend to live it 24/7 even though sometimes that can be very, very bad. Unfortunately, I think I’m just hardwired that way. Over the years I’ve collected board games, legos, Hawaiian shirts, ties, records, comic books, books, videos, animation, view-masters, 3-D anything, buttons, breweriana, clothespins, dates, ticket stubs, dice, miniatures, postcards, art, globes, rocks, gems, fossils, birds, playing cards, baseball and football cards, tarot cards, beer books, quotations, xmas ornaments, Atari games, and pint glasses. And that’s just what I can remember off of the top of my head.

Does it get in the way of life? Sometimes, naturally, but usually it’s not a problem. Kids have made me more grounded about being too obsessive, because they demand your attention in way that you not only don’t mind but that you actually want to stop whatever you’re doing and focus on them. Anything that makes you less self-interested has got to be a good thing in the long run. So while I’m as obsessive about beer as any beer geek, maybe more so in some ways, I can go on and on about any number of subjects, as people who know me well can attest to. I can bore you to death talking about a great number of arcane hobbies, pursuits and passions. Just wind me up. My geekdom knows no depths or bounds. A few years ago, I wrote one of the “It’s My Round” pieces for All ABout Beer magazine in which I compared comic books and craft beer in Living in the Silver Age.

Part of it is an unquenchable curiosity about damn near everything. There are very few subjects that I can’t find something interesting in. Asking Who, What, Where, When, Why and How in life is a good way to live as far as I’m concerned, especially since asking questions and seeking the right answers is something journalists are supposed to do. How lucky is that?

I wasn’t always as lucky as I feel today, but maybe that’s lucky too. Having struggled in different ways and at different times in my life has made me a much stronger person and most importantly allows me to appreciate how lucky I am right now. I love my job, my career, what I do every day. I love that I have a supportive, loving wife and kids who bring me both joy and keep me grounded at the same time. I love where I live, not just the house we’re in but where in the world, too. Living equidistant between Lagunitas and Russian River doesn’t suck. And just as important: friends. In my twenty plus years in the beer world, I’ve made many lifelong friends to share both a beer and our shared passions for it. In the end, that may be the best thing of all, because I’ve always felt that one of the best aspects of beer is its shareability. Beer alone is good, but often a little sad, too. Beer just cries out for companionship. Beer’s at its best as a shared experience.

Still, even though beer is unquestionably a big part of my life, it’s not the only part, and it’s probably not even the biggest or most important part. That would be people; family and friends. Luckily sharing a beer with them makes for a richer experience and for a more balanced existence. For me, that’s balancing beer and life.

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