08 October 2009

Setting Sail for Ithaca, Yet Again

I'm a long-time writer who lived up to everyone's expectations but my own. Oh sure, I have a hefty stack of published clips--from newspapers, magazines and slick, four-color corporate publications, some of which I designed as well. But I started in the fourth grade telling everyone I knew I wanted to write a novel, and so far, I've won one small-town poetry contest and had two poems published (both more than 25 years ago), along with one short story (in 2007).

I feel a lot like Odysseus who took 10 years to find his way home from the war, and I'm beginning to wonder if, like him, my name translates in some half-forgotten language as "trouble."

We tend to think of Odysseus as a hero and The Odyssey as a synonym for a great journey. But Odysseus' grandfather named him "Trouble," and as an adult he spent a good part of his life living up to that name. First, he pretended to be crazy to try to keep from going off to war at all. Then when the fleet was stuck in harbor for lack of a sailing wind, Odysseus was the one who suggested to Agamemnon that sacrificing the older man's daughter, Iphigenia, might appease the gods. It worked, but when Agamemnon finally returned home, his willingness to listen to Odysseus cost him his life.

It took 10 years to subdue Troy and return the beautiful Helen to her aging husband, Agamemnon's brother. Odysseus' ships set sail homeward, along with their comrades, but they made one last booty raid on an island en route. The mayhem he caused so angered the gods, who were by this time tired of warring, that they condemned Odysseus to wander the Mediterranean for another 10 years. When he did finally reach home, he found his estate plundered by suitors trying to marry his wife, Penelope. And though she'd remained true to him, he had missed out on a lifetime by her side, watching their son grow into adulthood.

You already know if you've read the story all those years of wandering weren't a total waste either. The tale we know is told, in fact, as a frame or nested story; that is, it's a story within a story. Odysseus washes ashore on Phaecia and relates his adventures to his hosts in grand style at a banquet before they transport him home to his beloved Ithaca. What he finds when he arrives incognito is yet another level of nesting.

Whatever my own detours have been, I have to believe they were meant to bring me here to this place, right now. Writing for me is a lot like Ithaca was for Odysseus. He paid it great lip-service by always contending that's where he wanted to go, but like me, he ended up somewhere else more often than not. He only finally made it all the way when those he'd entrusted his story to transported him on their ships the rest of the way home.

I'm entrusting my story to you. Every day I'll make a poem, and then I'll write about it and my journey. Each day, you can follow the "readcrumbs" I leave and in a way travel along with me. Where we both end up will be Home. I don't know what it will look like, but when we get there, I think we'll know it by its embrace.

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