May 2, 2019 - The Robin Theatre, Lansing, Michigan

"Do you ever regret not going on to study Classics in graduate school?"

Students, man: they can bring it.

And the Waverly High School students who filled the intimate Robin Theatre in Lansing, Michigan, on a May Thursday morning sure as heck brought it.

I make it clear to all my audiences that I will answer each and every question with full honesty and they need not feel limited in the type of questions they ask me.  Some audiences take me up on this, some don't: this audience did.

The question about regret came towards the end of a particularly long, invigorating discussion that encompassed pretty much every aspect of what I do with the Odyssey and what the Odyssey has done with me: classics, music, creativity, career... you name it, these kids asked about it and I had a blast responding and interacting.

As I've written about HERE and HERE, the Robin Theatre is a special venue run by special people and I'm certain the character of the space contributed to the intensity and depth of the conversation.

We talked dactylic hexameter, we talked oral composition theory, we talked about how old I am and how my Odyssey was older than most of the kids in the room (ouch). 

We talked about variation in performance, we talked about the music business, we talked about my dearly-departed dog Hendrix.

We talked about if I have bad performances, what I did in my day job before I went full-time musician, and how I tune my guitar.

We talked about what a pre-literate culture might have been like, how I selected my song subjects, Odysseus' character, who or what Homer might have been, and... finally, the question came:

"Do you ever regret not going on to study Classics in graduate school?"

I've written before about how being put on the spot in front of an audience brings truths out of me and as I launched into a response I could feel a number of issues coalescing in my thoughts. 

I hadn't realized it until I was asked the question in this particular way but it was something I had been thinking about quite a bit recently. The last year I've been interacting more and more with professors who are my age/of my generation.  They are who I would be if I had gone on to study Classics in graduate school and pursued a career in academia.

And I admire them greatly.

They are doing great work intellectually but maybe more importantly great work to open up the field to a wider audience and dispense with some of the long-standing structural problems that have existed in Classics for... well, forever.  They are creative, invested, self-aware, humble.

I'm proud to think of them as age-peers and partners in the field.

I also get a tinge of envy when I get to talk to them about the research they are doing into the material that so enchanted me as an undergrad. It fascinates and excites me.  I know that being a professor is not all (in fact, is very little of) this wonderful intellectual exploration... in fact it's even less of it now given the crises in humanities and general higher education.

But still: I certainly sometimes wonder what my life would be if I had followed through with my brief investigation of graduate school and gone on to pursue a more scholarly path. 

Some of this too is undoubtedly connected to my desire to feel acknowledged by the field: not as an academic, because I know what I do is not scholarship per se. But as someone who does offer a unique perspective on the material rooted in reasonably deep thought.

And, as I started to realize during my answer in front of these 50 students at the Robin, as someone with value to the field. Someone who can help open the material up to audiences in a way that other aspects of the discipline can't.

Then the answer clicked: in the same way that any Greek epic story was a composite of all the bards who told it over the centuries, so is Classics as a field a composite of all the folks who think, write, and (yes) sing about it.  We all present different aspects of the field in different ways and the field is the sum total of these efforts.

So just as I don't do what a professor does, a professor doesn't do what I do. My talents are almost certainly better used in a performance like the Odyssey and discussions like the one at the Robin.

And I don't regret for a minute what this role in Classics looks like.

As the students filed out, one of them came to the front of the stage where I had started to pack up my guitar. 

I made eye contact and smiled and she said: "What you do is one-of-a-kind. It is a completely unique experience."

Students, man: they can bring it.

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