Odysseus himself would have likely had a lot to say about the sentiment "absence makes the heart grow fonder."
I wrote last year about my first public performance of 2018 and how I continue to find "wonder" in the story of the Odyssey and presenting it to modern audiences. One of the ways this "wonder" is renewed is by taking some time away from the performance and subject material and then revisiting it with a fresh brain, body, and heart.
The academic calendar affords me some more naturally busy times of the year and some times during which I'm much less likely to book performances, so I've never really had to actively plan time off. January, June, July, August, and December tend to be quieter months.
But I was a little surprised when I started preparing to write this post and in looking back I discovered that the nearly ten weeks from my last performance of 2018 (December 6 at Bowling Green State University) to my first of 2019 (February 12 at Iowa State University) was the longest stretch I've gone without performing the Odyssey in 5 years, since an end of 2013/beginning of 2014 break.
That's pretty incredible.
It also explains why this break I had felt so needed.
And possibly why I was so productive over the course of the ten weeks from The Odyssey.
So on a cold Tuesday morning as I hit the snowy road west to Iowa for 3 shows in less than 24 hours, I was very curious to see what these first performances of 2019 would feel like after such a break, a break during which I attacked in earnest creating a similarly conceived of version of the Iliad.
A fascinating and challenging thing about Homer is that it's very difficult to talk about one of the epics attributed to him without talking about the other. Most classicists pick a favorite (ala the Beatles vs. Stones question) of course and for decades I've loudly and consistently come down on the side of The Odyssey as my preferred poem.
The last 10 weeks (really actually 10 months) of working on the Iliad have forced me to reevaluate a bit.
I still believe the Odyssey is a perfectly constructed piece of literature which concerns itself with themes that are universally and timelessly relevant.
Man, the Iliad is an absolutely devastating and beautiful piece of work that frames the human condition of war and the particular experience of being a soldier with staggering grace and a surprising amount of love.
So after my show on Tuesday night at Iowa State University, I not only held forth on all things Odyssey during the audience Q&A, I also peppered in some new insights I'd developed on the Iliad, and subsequently it felt like no other discussion I'd had around a performance: my ability to integrate more of the Iliad into the conversation seemed to resonate with the audience and allow for a much bigger and more human conversation about the Odyssey. And this on my 279th performance.
This is what it is to be obsessed with Homeric epic: around every corner there is new wonder. It's essentially a bottomless repository of human experience. It's humbling, fascinating, and beguiling all at the same time. It's just waiting for you to discover its wisdom.
The next day, after a fantastic lunch with the Classics club, I performed again for a class studying Greek drama. In the small classroom packed with 30 or so students, I felt my muscles happily a little more comfortable with the moves of my 32 minute song.
Following the classroom performance I raced to the car and hustled the two hours to Iowa City, where I arrived just in time to perform for an excellent group of students and professors as part of the Classics Department's lecture series.
Again, the Iliad loomed over the familiar rhythms of the show and discussion in a way that (to me) felt important and different.
After a dinner with some of the wonderful Iowa graduate students, I was back on the road and heading home in the dark.
I remembered ten months previously when I set my mind to adding to my modern bard repertoire. I remembered my tour to Nebraska and South Dakota on which I listened to the Stanley Lombardo audio book reading of the Iliad as I drove hours across the Great Plains, often in the darkness of the highway's hum.
I remembered a month earlier, January 8, 2019, to be exact (David Bowie's birthday!), when after months of reading, thinking, and listening, I finally had an epiphany about how I might be able to build off all I've learned over the last 17 years and present the Iliad in a meaningful and unique way.
I remembered just a week earlier, February 7, 2019, when I wrote the 15th and final song I needed for my Iliad retelling, a song sung from Hecuba's point of view as she watches the dead body of her eldest son Hector borne back to Troy for burial, how my voice cracked with emotion on my iPhone demo.
I thought about how much more work I had to do to get the Iliad to the point where I could perform it (or have it performed).
I thought so much I almost missed my exit.
If these three shows were any indication, 2019 is going to be something special.