January 24 and 25, 2024 - UC-San Diego

I’ve written before about the transformative experience of reading Homer in Greek for the first time. I got the sense of being in a physical space inside the poetry, surrounded by a living organism.

It’s still among the most connected I’ve ever felt to humanity.

If that was a lightning strike that rewired my brain and heart (and the course of my life), my understanding and appreciation of the world portrayed in the epics has been a decades-long slow burn.

Yes, I sensed right away that a musician/modern bard might have insight into the character of Odysseus. That instinct revealed itself as correct as I stretched hundreds of mini-odysseys out over 20 years. But what has surprised me recently is how much I’ve come to adopt the basic worldview of the Homeric environment.

In very brief: life is brutal and often unfair. Humans are subject to the whims of fate. We have agency, but far less than we suppose. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t and can’t try to improve our lot and that of others. It’s not an excuse for bad behavior. But we often do everything “right” and things still turn out poorly and that’s life.

Does this sound grim? 

I actually see it as freeing and it’s led me to be more grateful for all the things that do go right in my life. I know I work for them but I also know my work has less to do with my successes than I would probably like to think, and luck, more.

So after a 2023 filled with achievements and milestones, I came into 2024 trying to recognize and honor and be grateful for the gifts I’ve been given: personally, creatively, and professionally. 

A very easy way to jump start gratitude is to fly out of Chicago in a January ice storm and arrive in San Diego to be greeted by sunny 60 degree weather. Which is what happened as I embarked on my first trip of 2024 to perform the Odyssey twice and The Blues of Achilles once at UC-San Diego. 

Over the course of almost three days, I got to: play my Odyssey for two different Humanities classes, a total of 500 students who allowed me to perform without a microphone by being engaged and respectful; Perform The Blues of Achilles as part of an amazing lecture series to a standing room capacity crowd in a 15th floor room with a near panoramic view of the coast; Share half a dozen meals or coffees with a wide range of undergrads, grad students, and professors, during which I had a chance to talk and hear more about my performances and the work of others; Have a student veteran gift me a book, an oral history of the African-American experience in the Vietnam War; Stay in a beautiful hotel walking distance from the ocean and campus, waking up every morning to the sound of a courtyard  fountain and calling birds; Climb hundreds of yards down a somewhat harrowing path to the beach and listen to the morning surf; Take a daily run in shorts and a T-shirt through demanding but beautiful terrain.

And most importantly: feel like my performances are creating for others something like the connection to humanity that I experienced the first time I read Homer.

If I was a Homeric hero I’d be slaughtering a hecatomb of oxen to some God to say thanks for this amazing start to 2024. 

So maybe I don’t emulate the Homeric world to *quite* the level of a livestock sacrifice but the year is young and you just never know… 

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