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Some Semi-Personal Thoughts on My Odyssey

I don't get personal on this blog often--or in real life, actually. I'm generally more inclined to analyze and laugh at the world than I am to share myself with it. This post, however, is going to lean strongly on the personal side--not intimate or spicy or oversharingly personal, mind you. Just about me as opposed to about something else. If that doesn't interest you, and there's no reason it should, you can close your browser tab now without me hunting you down and ask why you don't want to hear about my feelings.

As you no doubt know if you're reading this, for the past nine months, I've been embarked on a little project called the "Odyssey Reading Club" inspired by some peeps on Twitter. In brief, a few of us (a very few, I'd guess), have been reading Homer's tricky second album slowly--really slowly. As in, we started in January and will finish some time in December slowly. The point of this approach is to both allow people to go at their own pace and to minimize the "life getting in the way" factor. To keep me focused and perhaps to engage people a little on the way, I've been writing about it.

But I've also noticed something rather strange and marvelous happening. By moving through this epic at a deliberate pace, it's been sitting with me, and taking up a space in my mind in a way few things ever have. Most written material gets read fairly quickly--a matter of days or weeks. (Face it, that book that you're still on page twenty-five of that you started a month ago? Yeah, you're not going to finish it.) Movies last a few hours and rarely have lasting after-effects beyond a few days. A piece of music can be heard and enjoyed and almost immediately forgotten until heard again. Going through The Odyssey like this, however, has been akin to watching a television series week-in, week-out; or, to use the model that initially inspired the idea for this, reading The Bible a little bit a day. It's influenced how I think about things, coloring my thoughts, my speech and writing patterns, and even the examples I think of to illustrate situations in my life. It's become part of what I think of as me.

A lot of this is clearly from the "constantly living with the work" effect that anyone who's spent a long time writing an essay on a certain book or studying a certain musician or artist can describe. But I think a lot of it is that, maybe because I'm older and more experienced now than when I first encountered the poem, I'm not just appreciating it or marveling over its intricacies. Rather, I'm experiencing it. All of the main characters have sometime to say to me--directly, unmediated by over two thousand years of history, several changes in cosmologies, and enough interpretation and imitation to fill a decent-sized library.

And that's the genius of this poem that, for me, only really started to sink in when I started living with it for 270 days and counting. I have been/am/will be Telemachus: a young man, inexperienced, uncertain of his place in the world or whom to trust; knowing that he needs to do something to change the status quo and improve his life, but needing guidance from those wiser than himself; uncertain of his own inheritance and his worthiness of the mantle that is being given to him as his legacy. At the same time, I have been/am/will be Penelope: frightened for the future, anxious to hold on to the things that matter when everything seems to be conspiring to take them away; attracted and flattered by the charms and allures of those very people and things which are doing the conspiring; struggling to maintain the belief that being noble of heart and clever of mind is not only its own reward but will bring happiness, even if that happiness is a long time in coming. But most of all, because it is his poem, I have been/am/will be Odysseus: desirous of returns to places and people that may not be welcoming to me; thinking, thinking, all the time thinking, how to achieve those goals which matter the most to him, but always suspicious those things may not be there any more, and perhaps never were--but never surrendering to the doubt or allowing himself to be lost as a person; enduring all that life gives us, hoping to come out on the other side slightly wiser, if chastened by the experience and perhaps a little sadder and less full of bravado, but still uniquely himself.

And that's the genius of this poem that I've always accepted as fact but never really known until now: we are all Telemachus, we are all Penelope, we are all Odysseus. Every morning we wake up and began the next stage of our odyssey. And isn't that terrifying? And isn't that miraculous? It is, to borrow a phrase, a wonder to behold.


  1. I have just been catching up on your blog and figure this is a good time to say again how much I am enjoying it. I agree the chance to linger over the Odyssey -- to live with the text -- has been uniquely rewarding. Thanks for being our mentor and guide along the way. (I guess you neglected to equate yourself with Athena, too -- which would also be profoundly appropriate!)


  2. You are far, far too kind. But yes, living with and in this poem has been such a delight, I hate to see it draw to a close. But, like Tennyson's Ulysses, there's always another shore to visit. "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."


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