I really don’t know much about Greek Mythology, or any mythology for that matter. But I think I’m right in thinking that at the end of The Odyssey, Odysseus comes back from all his mad adventures to find that his lover is with a new fella.
Well at college, my ‘lover’ was the smoking area. Out the back, round the corner to the right, near the fire exit of the drama department. This was where I spent a lot of my time, made a lot of my friends, and where most of my stories of Bilbrough College are set. So, I imagine myself, perhaps melodramatically, to share in Odysseus’s anguish to find, on my return to Bilborough in December, that the smoking area had moved. It’s by the bike sheds now, near where the buses queued up at the end of the day to take us all home. A disgrace.
I was back at Bilborough last month, having been given the opportunity to lead two ‘Spoken Word Masterclasses’ as part of the College’s Enrichment program. I think it was the first time I’d been back since leaving in June 2013 with my three B’s in English Lit, English Lang, and Drama. The unnerving thing was that nothing appeared to have changed. The same halls, the same teachers, even the students seemed the same as they were when I was studying there.
I’m thinking a lot about journeys at the moment. I’m reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, which is probably why I began this blog thinking about The Odyssey. For those of you who don’t know, Joseph Campbell was a Mythologist who came up with the ‘monomyth’ of the Hero’s Journey. The monomyth is the idea that all myths, no matter from where in the world they originate, follow the same basic structure, which breaks down thusly:
It’s a ready made story structure, with a protagonist who starts in a comfortable zone, ‘the known’, and journey’s through an unchartered, ‘unknown’, uncomfortable zone, in order to return to the familiar a changed man – a hero. Fans of TV and Film writer Dan Harmon might recognise this as the ‘story circle’. It has been co-opted by writers (especially in film) as a dominant structure. Circles are beautiful and humans like patterns.
In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell goes some way to try and explain why this structure is so common in mythologies all around the world, citing Freud and Jung, giving a psycho analysis angle to the monomyth which is interesting, but the thing that sticks out most for me in all of this is the importance of change.
In the Hero’s Journey, there is always a point at which the protagonist must cross a threshold, move from the known to the unknown, the comfortable to the uncomfortable. There are times when I’m sure moving to London was the wrong decision (about 80% of the time). It seems, at times, that the broke, stressed out existence is not worth the benefits of living here, but it was nice to return to the familiar this winter. To notice my own growth and rate of change by visiting a place that hasn’t change that much (apart from the smoking area). Despite never having enough money, or enough time, or enough energy: I am really happy with the person I am right now. And I would not be that person had I not braved the unknown and moved to London. I would be no use to the participants in those two masterclasses if I had stayed in Nottingham, I don’t think, at least not as much use.
I sign off with some happy news. Off the back of two successful Masterclasses, I was invited back to Bilborough College to discuss the logistics of setting up a longer term Poetry program at the college and I am pleased to announce that I am now the Director of the Bilborough Poetry Collective program.
Not bad for a kid, who five years ago, in the library of that very same building wrote his first poem to try and impress a girl. How’s that for a circle?