February 21, 2020: Casper College Humanities Festival, Wyoming

After three days in Texas and four in Hawaii, I awoke as my plane landed in… Denver, Colorado. 

Talk about Odyssean travel routing. 

I checked my phone and noted that it read 80 degrees colder than the last time I looked as my flight departed Honolulu the night before: 3 degrees on the ground in the Mountain West winter. 

It was just after 6:00 am local time on a Thursday morning, a week since I left home in Chicago. 

I collected my rental car, thankful that there was a Dunkin Donuts essentially inside the airport grounds, and started the four and a half hour drive north to Casper, Wyoming, where I was scheduled to perform at the Casper College Humanities Festival on Friday morning. 

The theme of the Festival was Mystery, Mayhem, and Madness, and I’d pitched Odysseus as a close friend of the first two. 

I skipped the interstate and drove up a slightly longer route through Laramie.  Snow drifted across the two lane highway but it was sunny and noticeably warmer as I pulled into my hotel.  A nap, a treadmill run, and I was off to a reception to meet some of the other speakers as well as my host, a wonderful Art professor at the college. 

After hitting my 300th performance during the Texas leg of the trip, my 40th state in Hawaii, I was wrapping up the tour by notching my 41st state in Wyoming. 

The next day I arrived at the performance space to find it a stunning 300 seat hall with beyond spectacular acoustics and a sound guy who knew how to harness them. The audience arrived and I was off, my guitar and voice rang through the room and I felt as if the sound surrounded me and the listeners. 

I was as lost as I’ve ever been in a performance and the applause snapped me back to myself. 

I began taking the customary questions from the stage and the crowd was full of interesting thoughts in a way that was different from a student or fully academic audience. 

I’m as proud of how I handle the discussion portion of my show as I am of how I handle the musical performance itself: my discussions are vulnerable, freewheeling, (I hope) insightful, and sprinkled with evidence of my secret fantasy of being a stand up comic. I’ve found the more I open myself up to an audience, the more they’re willing to volunteer for discussion, and the feedback loop of trust between me and them is what creates a meaningful and fulfilling experience. 

Near the end of the discussion, a gentleman asked why I thought ancient stories like the Odyssey continue to resonate after thousands of years. 

I think it varies for each person but the reason the Odyssey initially lit and still lights up my brain is because it is an unflinching hyper-real examination of what it means to be human. 

Odysseus often rubs modern audiences the wrong way because there are facets of his character and behavior that do not comport with how we think a human (let alone a “hero”) should act. 

His lying, infidelity, selfishness, negligence, and violence, offend our modern sensibilities. 

There’s a separate (and interesting) discussion to be had about what Bronze Age or Classical Greek audiences would have thought of some of these traits and behaviors but I argue that doesn’t really matter for our understanding and appreciation of the core universal themes of the poem. 

We all have at least a little bit of Odysseus in us, a little bit of Mystery and Mayhem.  Most of us wrestle with a range of darker impulses and behaviors. Maybe not as dark as Odysseus’ but nonetheless we still grapple with how these aspects of us jive with our identity and relationships. 

All of us are (to borrow Emily Wilson’s translation of Odysseus’ famous epithet) ”complicated” and many of us spend a good deal of time out on the ocean trying to get to something that resembles a home, a place where we feel able to express (and be recognized for) our identities in their most authentic forms.  Along the way, we tell stories about ourselves (in fact, our selves are really just stories) of varying veracity. 

In the lobby, I sold some CDs to a number of lovely and enthusiastic audience members, and then I was back on the road heading south to Denver for an evening flight home. I drove the interstate this time and it was just as spectacular if not more than the two lane highway I took up on Thursday. 

In Denver it was sunny and nearly 50 degrees and I sat at the Dark Horse brewery in the airport sipping a Titan (natch) IPA and chatting with another traveler about Dead and Co. 

A relatively painless flight and I touched down just after 11:00 pm local time in Chicago. 

Sweet home Chicago. 

What a great name for a song. 

(Hey, I didn’t say my fantasy included me being a GOOD stand up comic).

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