On December 5, 2001, I framed my initial idea for "a contemporary musical reading Homer's Odyssey" on the first page of a blue and white travel journal embossed with the word "Voyages." By January 30, I had written 18 songs and sketched out a clear arc of all 24 (initially, 25, actually) on pages marbled with a texture meant I suppose to approximate clouds that populate the minds of travelers, dreamers, and lovers.
On March 4, 2002, I wrote the word "DONE" in all caps on these pages and on March 17, in my parents' Oak Park living room, I premiered my Odyssey for a group of 20 carefully curated friends and family.
The public debut wouldn't come until September 5, 2002, at my alma mater, Oak Park River Forest High School, for a classroom of freshman English students.
By the time I took a nearly complete hiatus from performing the piece in 2006, I had 40 or so performances under my belt, almost entirely in high schools, in a total of 4 states.
My standard description of how long it took me to write my Odyssey is that it took 3 months to write 90% of it and 8 years to write the last 10%, and when I resumed my performances in late 2010 as someone who had weathered a journey on his own personal winedark sea, something was different enough to begin in earnest to turn what had been a curiosity, a casual aspect of my musical life, into a potent and adaptable part of a 21st century music career.
It didn't happen all at once, but from 2011 until 2014 I gradually added performances and broadened my audiences to include colleges scattered around the country. Like most journeys, this one was populated with moments of clarity, bursts of progress fueled by epiphanies often triggered by the words of sage outsiders who reflect your truths back to you as some sort of mirror would your own face.
I remember them in flashes: a professor at University of South Florida in spring of 2014 quietly encouraging me to reach out to as many colleges as I could because she could see my performance stoked unique and powerful interest within her undergraduate students.
At a performance at University of Vermont in the fall of 2014, itself the result of that first burst of emails to college Classics departments, some Muse compelled me to disclose to the audience explicitly and nearly tearfully how moving the performances were to me and how thankful I was for the opportunity to perform. Almost every one of the 60 response papers I was lucky enough to read mentioned this act as something that intensified the experience for them as listeners.
Episodes like this dot the years of 2015 through the present, providing insight into how this piece of performance, this thing that not once had I ever thought of as a career or calibrated it as such, has become the most important thing to me artistically, intellectually, and professionally, something approaching what one might call a "legacy."
What word would I use to describe the path of my Odyssey, from that bedroom in December of 2001 to my Subaru Outback in March of 2018 as I set out in the pre-dawn light from Chicago to drive to Omaha for my performance at Creighton University?
I would use the word "organic."
When I look at that writing journal, though I know it is my handwriting in it, fueled by my brain, created by who I was in late 2001... it feels like another person.
I don't mean that as a bad thing really. It was another person in the same way that the Odysseus who went off to war was another person than the one who finally returned home 20 years later.
I thought about the arc of my Odyssey quite a bit during the 7 hour drive while I listened to an audio book of Stanley Lombardo's translation of The Iliad. I pulled into my hotel in downtown Omaha and just an hour later my host picked me up and it was off to campus.
A great show and discussion and an amazing dinner followed, and I found myself sitting at a bar near my hotel having a much-needed beer to decompress from the long day.
This performance was my 251st in my 35th state.
I tipped back my pint glass, signed my tab, and headed for the door and a hard-earned night of sleep.