Looking back at my writing book for the post on my performance at Union College was, to use a formal academic phrase, fucking weird.
I often talk and have written some about how the generative phase of my Odyssey is so far in my past that it doesn't feel like I even wrote it: I feels like it's just always existed and I've known how to do it.
But in paging through this writing book from the very beginning of the millennium, I can't avoid confronting the proof of the moment the piece came into being, documented in pages like this:
I mean, there it is on February 5, 2002, in my own handwriting, the song I sing to this day with entirely the same words, For Pain.
This page is the only one dedicated to that song meaning this is it: this is the sum total of the creative life cycle of this song. I didn't even copy these lyrics anywhere else in the book so this is both the rough and the final draft.
Even before writing these posts led me back to this artifact, it and what it represents have been on my mind.
I was on stage at St. Andrew's School in Delaware, taking questions from a small group of incredibly smart and curious students who stuck around after my show for more in-depth discussion. This show in Delaware meant I've now performed my Odyssey in 38 states and 291 times and I think these statistical milestones have added perspective to the beginning of my journey, the creation of the performance piece.
One of the students raised his hand and asked "For whom were you creating when you wrote your piece?"
As my answer spun out of me, I realized this truth: when I wrote my Odyssey, I was creating for myself and the material, and really no one and nothing else. I didn't expect there to be an audience for it, I didn't expect anyone would want to hear it let alone take something away from it as happens so regularly. And I didn't expect that 17 years later it would come to define my creative life as well as my career as a working artist.
I was just writing something I thought was interesting and that moved me personally, something I thought I was in a unique position to be able to create.
So I look at that page with a mixture of awe and maybe jealousy... part of me wishes I could be back in the mental space that my 24 year-old self brought to writing the Odyssey: no expectations, no pre-conceived notions, no sense of how difficult it is to make art and make making art your living.
But that of course is a hopeless game: I can't be that person any more than Odysseus can be the person he was before he left for war and returned home. Surely the pre-war Odysseus is still a part of the returned Odysseus just as the 24 year old that wrote the words above is a part of the 41 year old who still sings them.
After wrapping the discussion, I packed up my guitar and headed back to my hotel. My Saturday morning was a 3:30 am alarm, an hour drive to Philadelphia, and a 6:00 am flight back to Chicago so I could have a somewhat normal day of teaching.
My next Odyssey show isn't until late July when I'll perform three times at the National Junior Classical League Convention in Fargo, North Dakota. This will bring the performance total to 294 and the state total to 39.
Somehow the 24 year old me knew to ask the correct questions, even if it took more than 17 years for me to understand how right I got it... Who Am I, indeed.