For my first semester of college at UW-Madison, prior to succumbing to the Siren song of Classics, I was an intending psychology major.
The sum total of this dalliance was two classes: Intro to Psych and The Psychology of Human Emotion.
What I remember of these classes is fleeting: I remember giggling incessantly with my roommate about the term "Skinner Box." I remember all the girls seemed to have a crush on the professor who taught both classes (or at least the girl I had a crush on did).
And I vaguely remember the concepts of mood congruent and state dependent memory recall.
I couldn't recall (heh) for you today the subtleties of said concepts (possibly to due to my, uh, "mood" in college), but I do remember being struck by the idea of how one's emotional state influences one's brain functions.
It's recently occurred to me that this very phenomenon is at play in a fairly profound way for me in my Odyssey shows.
Take for example my performance at Northern Illinois University on a seasonal fall day in October.
I've performed at NIU several times over the last few years (and wrote about those shows HERE and HERE) so the 75 minute drive west of the city is a comfortable one. This year I'm performing in a larger and newer classroom than previous shows, a room with a high ceiling and generous natural light.
I set up and feel very good in the space. The class is 75 minutes long as opposed to the usual 50 minutes, which means I have plenty of time to introduce my piece, perform, and lead an in-depth discussion. I'll also be taking advantage of the extra 25 minutes to perform a few songs from my in-progress adaptation of the Iliad, for the first time using a special guitar I purchased just for my new war epic material.
I embark on my Odyssey and feel very comfortable, filling the space with my voice and guitar with a physical abandon I don't always get to embrace.
I finish and as I begin to solicit student questions, I'm aware that my heart rate is still elevated and I'm slightly out of breath from singing and playing for 30 plus minutes. I'm also palpably emotional and can feel the residue of the characters I've just channeled still clinging to me.
There's an electricity around me as I start responding to the excellent questions and I'm letting myself elaborate at length in my responses,. It's hard to put into words, but I often feel like I'm inside a physical space when I'm answering questions extemporaneously in front of an audience about a text I know so well. I'm walking around inside a world only I can see and pulling out things to show to my audience, trying to open up a conduit for them to the magic that I feel about the story and the discipline of the Classics.
In fact, the conduit I open to perform my Odyssey and how I present that material creates an altered state in my body and brain that in turn impacts how I analyze, process, and understand the Homeric text and it's interesting to me that I most often get to think about and process the epic in this altered, emotional state. It's a gift that others, even academics, don't necessarily get in the same way, a feedback loop of inspiration in which Homer inspires me and the thing Homer inspired creates the opportunity for more inspiration about the thing that inspired it.
And it is my suspicion that I am able to access unique aspects of Odysseus' story because of my altered state, that my performances change the chemistry of my brain which in turn changes how I'm able to frame and process the text.
Following the discussion, I perform three songs from my Iliad work, and, still buzzing, get back on the road to the city, thankful for Homer and my music.
And my brief detour into the field of psychology.