νόστος = a return home.
My trip to perform at the 2023 National Junior Classical League convention was a return of sorts: a return to the site of the 2014 convention, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia.
The 2014 NJCL holds a special significance to me because it coincided with the failing health and passing of my first dog, Hendrix. I wrote about that experience HERE and I couldn’t help but think about it as I rolled onto campus on a warm summer Sunday to play four shows over three days. I was staying in the same accommodations as I did in 2014 and the simple dorm room conjured up memories of being on the phone late at night with my wife, trying to lend support as she nursed Hendrix along until I could get home and we could all say goodbye together.
The summer of 2014 also marked a significant turning point in the arc of my Odyssey performances. After some very generous encouragement from a professor in Florida that spring, I had started to pursue bookings and tours comprehensively, researching and cold emailing every college Classics program in the country that April and May. Many of the shows I book to this day are a legacy of the connections I made in that first concerted booking push in 2014.
Nine years after that first visit, I played my Odyssey on Sunday for a nice crowd in an excellent sounding theater. On Monday, I played The Blues of Achilles in that same room for another great crowd after I went running on campus at dawn, my legs remembering the hills that tortured me nine years earlier.
Tuesday was a big day: a morning Odyssey show, an afternoon Blues of Achilles show, and then a booth at the conference expo to network and sell merchandise.
After another dawn run, I made my way to the venue for my morning Odyssey show in a building near the Carlos Art Museum. It wasn’t until I was in the lecture hall that I realized it was the exact same one I’d performed in in 2014 after taking the call that Hendrix was dying. The crowd filed in and I was off. I could feel from the start that my voice was in a special place, one of those rare times everything comes easily and you feel completely like a vessel for the Muse.
I finished singing and told the students and teachers about my connection to the room and my experience integrating the news about Hendrix into my performance nine years prior. It was a heavy and nice remembrance.
That afternoon I sung The Blues of Achilles and the residual emotion and intensity from my Odyssey performance carried over: I think it was only the second time I’ve done both pieces in one day and it’s really emotionally and physically taxing. But very satisfying especially for a crowd of Classics enthusiasts like NJCLers. I met more students and teachers at the materials expo and then early Wednesday morning I was back in an Uber heading to Hade- er, the Atlanta airport to return home.
νόστος = a return home.
Every return is an opportunity to examine change. It’s easy to list the ways in which I’m different than I was in 2014. But how am I the same? What about me has survived the last nine years intact.
The ways in which I’m the same are largely connected to what I’ve come to understand as my identity. And that's why I’m maybe a little more sympathetic towards my protagonist than most of my audiences seem to be. Until you’ve been a wanderer and a searcher, until you’ve journeyed a decade or two telling tales, it’s easy to look down on a guy like Odysseus.
But for those of us who have been out on the seas trying to get home… we know. We know it’s easy to judge from afar but a lot more complicated when you’re the one clinging to the raft.