November 9, 2018 - University of Mary Washington, Virginia

What's the relationship between "home" and "identity?"

The Odyssey is undoubtedly curious about where these two ideas intersect, philosophically and practically.  

It's clear that Odysseus feels he won't be wholly himself until he not only reaches his home in a physical sense but also reclaims his identity as ruler of Ithaca: even when he arrives on his home island he cannot outwardly represent himself as "Odysseus" until he is ready to take action to assume fully the identity that being "Odysseus" entails.

Practically speaking, it makes sense: most of us first associate "home" with "where we grew up," meaning that "home" was the setting in which we first explored and developed our ideas of self and identity.  As adults, we continue to identify "home" as a place to which our identity (or at least one of our identities) is strongly connected, and that has implications for the impact of traveling and absence from home.

I think about this a lot especially during some of the more extended tours I've done for Odyssey performances over the last few years. These travels highlight to me in very real terms some of the consequences of being unmoored from a "home," even temporarily.

In particular, my travels to tell a story about a guy who travels around telling stories have sharpened my belief that someone involved in the creation of the text of the Odyssey likely had experiences similar to its protagonist and was very aware of how the existence of a bard mirrored Odysseus' in certain ways.

And possibly wanted to use the story of Odysseus in service of his or her own story.

This is one of the things that, to me, most notably distinguishes the Iliad from the Odyssey.  The poet/maker is nearly invisible in the Iliad while in the Odyssey we're confronted with numerous explicit and implicit reminders of who created the text (or at least the tradition from which it was created) and how this person or people were similar to the hero of the text.  It's playful, self-aware, and meaningful in a way that I've found poignant from the first time a professor in college pointed it out.

So I, a traveling storyteller, woke up in Connecticut on a Thursday morning.  The last time I was home in Chicago was the previous Thursday morning and since I departed I'd played 6 shows in 5 states and slept in a different city every night.  

I watched the sun rise from the beach and then did some writing and reading for a couple hours before packing up my car for the 8th straight day.  I used the day off to stop in New York and have lunch with my best friend from high school. We sat in Bryant Park and the warm connection of longtime friendship mixed with the cool crisp air.

After somehow surviving the trauma of driving and parking in Manhattan for the second time this year, I headed south. I was staying just outside of Philadelphia for the night and before I checked in to my hotel I headed to a nearby gym to get a solid swim in.  

A couple hours of reading at the hotel, a dinner and beer at a neighborhood bar, and before I knew it I was waking up in a 6th state (Pennsylvania) to drive to a 7th (Virginia) on my 9th day out for my 7th show.

I was to be a guest of the Classics Club at The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The trip down I-95 in a fall rain was nearly as treacherous as a Poseidon-cursed raft ride but I made it and was set up in a fantastic performance space called The Underground.  The Classics Club members were wonderful and I started into my show without incident. 

Then, a strange thing happened: I started to lose track of my performance in real time.  I'd get to a song and have no memory of singing the three songs prior. It got to the point where I wondered if I had indeed skipped parts of or even entire songs.

I've done the Odyssey so many times (277 to be exact) that it's not uncommon for me to not remember having sung certain song after the show... but I can't say I've ever been that acutely disassociated from my body in real time. It was as though the song was just pouring through me guided by some outside agent.

After the show I casually asked my contact if I'd skipped any songs and the answer was that I hadn't: it had all come out fine.

The discussion went great and before I knew it I was back onto the road and heading towards my accommodations in Alexandria.  

I had one more show (of my Record of Life material) the following night and then early on Sunday, after 10 nights away from home, I drove the 10 hours back to Chicago and home.

On the long drive I couldn't stop thinking about the show at University of Mary Washington and that unmoored feeling of being just a vessel for a performance with no agency and no sense of self.

This was the feeling of what an ancient bard was expected to be.  He was supposed to disappear in the service of the Muse to tell that night's story and I had experienced this acutely: for 35 minutes or so I was nearly a Nobody.

Is this the feeling that Homer (or whoever) had three millennia prior, a feeling that perhaps made its way in the Odyssey?

I pulled into the garage, turned off the car, and marveled at how good this homecoming felt, excited to reclaim my full identity after 10  years - er, 10 nights away.

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