In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero comes home after years of fighting and travel to find everything has changed. Son grown, wife depressed. Estate overrun with rivals; wine cellar drained and barbeque grill charred and crusted with grease from uninvited guests’ parties at his expense. Years of parties! Generations of his own slaughtered livestock! Odysseus had to start again when he got home–with his property, his son, and his wife.
I went on an odyssey of my own this summer–to Greece, actually. Not to Odysseus’ home of Ithaka, but to Mycenae, the historical city where his story took root. On this hilltop city, 3,500 years old, I sat in the ruins of an artists’ residence/workshop and imagined the sculptors, gold-workers (Mycenae is known for its gold) and potters going about their work. I imagined the artists reciting episodes from the Odysseus story as the day went on and their hands turned raw elements into art.
I got home from my summer travel to find everything changed: some relationships, my belongings (when I left for Greece, I was in the middle of a complicated house move), my writing. All three are essential to me. All three will take work and patience, but the one I feel most confident about right now is my novel-in-progress.
The day I flew to Europe, I left my heroine, Carmel, in the midst of her own messy homecoming. Carmel is a 23-year-old cook who doesn’t eat, drinks too much, and hasn’t seen her family for years. When a drunken kitchen accident reveals yet another complication–she’s pregnant–she quits her stagnant life in Iowa and returns to Michigan to confront her father. She reaches the lake she still thinks of as home, only to find her father is gone, and –you guessed it–everything has changed.
I’m 3/4 of the way through a rather heroic (and game-changing) re-write of ETERNAL GIRL. I’d hoped to be done before I traveled and moved house, but like most revisions, this one is taking its blessed time.
But truthfully, the month-long break in writing–the travel, the relationships, the house move–have helped me understand with my heart, not just my head, what it feels like for Carmel to come back to a place she loves, only to discover everything flipped around and yanked out from under her. She’s forced to confront her core: what do I love? What travels with me? What lasts, what washes away?
I’m asking myself some of the same questions. One answer I do have is–oddly enough–Carmel. She’s the same girl/woman she is when I left her for three weeks in July and she’s more ready than ever to grow with me through the end of her story–at least this part of her story I’m getting down on paper. I think I know her better now, having traveled so far myself. She has definitely not washed away.
Some of the same questions went through Odysseus’ head when he returned to Ithaka. What do I love? What’s traveled with me? What will last here? What flows away with the tide?
All three of us: me, Carmel, Odysseus. Travelers struggling, with varying degrees of bravery, to return home and make sense of the mess that we find here.
If Odysseus had not traveled, not struggled, not returned home, what kind of a story would those artists in Mycenae had to work out in gold?