Backing into an Odyssey

I never planned on an Odyssey.  I had no experience, desire or understanding of the concept.  And while over the past eight years, I came to refer to these quadrennial treks of mine as such, I confess that I really had no idea what it meant, how it worked or why I did it.  Until this year.  It came into sharp focus this year.  .

It might help to start with a standard definition,

  1. A long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune or hardships
  2. An intellectual or spiritual wandering or quest

Fair enough.  But eight years ago all I really wanted to do was ride my scooter across country.  That it happened the same year as the most historic election of my lifetime (of which I was obsessed) well, that was happy coincidence.  Using a microphone just gave me an excuse to talk to people.

Turns out I had accidentally created my Odyssey.  Here are some of the essential elements and recommendations,

It starts by going alone.  To separate yourself physically from your home and to put as much distance as you can from all of the ways you identify yourself.  For the duration, the people you meet will not know where you went to school, what you do for a living, or that you are a Mom who drinks too much Diet Coke.  Your interactions are just you, in that moment, in that place.

Put the same face forward everyday.  Pick one outfit and image (I recommend no makeup) that you know is constant in every interaction.  Hint – It does help if your clothing stands out in a way that indicates you are not a local.  A willingness to make yourself ridiculous (cow pants or an accidental Easter peep lookalike) works wonders.

Make it hard and foreign.  Greyhound bus, scooter, sleeping in Walmart parking lots, a daily challenge that serves as a reminder that you are in unfamiliar territory.

Move every day.  Experience as many different places and people as you can.  This is not a time for leisurely pacing.  For me, the benefit was in the patterns that I could only see relative to each other and the chance to string them together.

Take it as you find it.  Land where you land and do not research or plan ahead.  Eat when you are hungry and take what is offered.  This is not a time for Yelp.  Most of all, meet every person where they are and listen.   That is the most powerful of all.

And finally, the willingness to not know why you are doing it and to not expect any particular outcome is the greatest gift you give yourself.  What you observe and what you discover is secondary (I will share mine tomorrow) but the experience of being in the world as you are…  well, it is simply enough.


Backing into an Odyssey — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your advice on how to do an odyssey right, Julie. I think I agree with about 90% of those tips. As for the other 10% – well, perhaps we can have a reasonable conversation about it someday. Looking forward to your next post!

    We bought a radio so that we can listen to the elections at the house I’m working on (there’s no internet or cable). We’ll knock off early tomorrow, maybe 3-4 pm local time, to catch the last couple hours before the polls close in California.

  2. We are SO glad that you are home! What an amazing journey and you are an amazing woman. Love you so much.

    Also I think you would make an amazing battery saleswoman. 😉

  3. Wow, Julie! I have tears in my eyes because I just finished reading your last two posts. Just watching you give us all the tour of your van and showing us all personal gifts from your loving and devoted friends and family made me feel so connected to you and your amazing odyssey! You are such a gift to all of us and I am so grateful and thankful for you!