An Odyssey into a College Classroom

The older I get the more I see profound intersections between great literature, like The Odyssey, and movies, music, and a mentor.

With all the clichés in The Breakfast Club, written and directed by John Hughes, people typically fall back to discussing personality.  What character were you most like in The Breakfast Club. The Odyssey and The Breakfast Club share a much larger theme, and their characters share specific traits. They are both coming of age stories, or Bildungsroman. The kids in detention, Telemachus, and Odysseus are all maturing. Odysseus is a bit like Andrew, he can’t think for himself, and has the gods, not his father, decide his fate. Ultimately, we all mature, as witnessed in The Breakfast Club, and in the two main characters in The Odyssey, but what’s far more important is accepting our identities, with all their unforgiving flaws and sparkling facets.

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The snap, crackle and intermittent silence when I slide the volume control bar on my Sony floor stereo system drives me crazy. The frayed connection silences the music, but not my anger. I continue to tap the volume so the sound in my three-way floor speakers thunder into a booming balance. I totally dig the sound, but am bummed at the fact that I’ve missed the opening and the first words. Devour the Day does not disappoint. “Good Man” fills my living room with a thunderous wave of thrashing sound. It envelops me and the treble and bass lift me up until I hear the song’s screamed refrain. “Is there any good left in me?”

A Christian band, Devour the Day is about faith, forgiveness, and redemption.

When I hear the line, “I want to be a Good Man,” I remember Odysseus, the carpenter who crafted “The Great Rooted Bed.” Despite his decisions and flaws, we root for Odysseus because we too are human, and fallible.

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With the speaker volume balanced, another favorite comes on TK 101. Metallica, who now have a 3-D movie in theaters, first pummeled my eardrums with their album, “Master of Puppets.” Only a handful of people listened to Metallica when I was in high school. It was not popular.

Master of Puppets?  Isn’t that what the gods were to the humans in The Odyssey? The gods so controlled the lives of Odysseus and Telemachus, it is difficult to envision how they would have fared independent of divine intervention.  Metallica lead singer and guitarist James Hetfield explained Master of Puppets was about being on drugs, and how they control and corrode every part of your life, just like the Lotus Eaters did to Odysseus and his crew.

“I’m your source of self-destruction,” are the drugs or the master and we, the humans who take them, are the puppets. Hetfield sings the lyrics and I hear them through the lens of experience when he howls, “Your life burns faster,” which means your life is far more likely to end faster. (www.azlyrics.com) For Odysseus, it was the opposite experience. After eating the flowers, they were no longer motivated to go home. Drugs are generally used as a crutch to prop you up or to divert your mind from life. This does not lead to improved living but puts your life on a downward spiral that changes your life in a negative way, though you may not realize it while under the influence.

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At the end of The Breakfast Club, the students agree to have Brian write the letter explaining who they think they are.

“We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain… …and an athlete… …and a basket case… …a princess… …and a criminal.

Signed, The Breakfast Club” (www.imdb.com)

A true mark of great writing in literature, movies, and music lyrics is how the characters change. The high school students, Odysseus and Telemachus transform themselves by learning from their experiences. Humans are no different.

In the spring of 1986, I took English Composition with Dr. Bill Babner at Cape Cod Community College. Now that I’m teaching my first college English course at the University of Mobile, I think of Babner’s influence and instruction. The formula for student writing hasn’t changed much in 27 years. We were required to journal, write papers, and start thinking for ourselves. It was Babner who encouraged me to write expressively, emotionally and persuasively in my journals. Seeing some potential in my entries, Babner suggested I clean up my persuasive essay. It was published as a letter to the editor in The Mainsheet, the school newspaper. The letter and a poem in my high school yearbook were small tastes of writing success. (Visit www.deadmule.com for my latest)

For me, writing will always keep me humble because it is never perfect. There is so much I want to write and yet I have to thank Babner, not just for his encouragement, but for his mentorship. His class provided me the freedom to essai, or to try to write about my feeling and thinking in a passionate yet logical way. He saw the value in me before I recognized it in myself. As I look at my journal entries from 1986, I still see the value, but now I want to fix the mistakes. I resist the temptation to make them living documents, something I continually edit and update.

“Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey.” The journal calls to me. A contradiction between the past and the present, like The Breakfast Club’s synthesized-single, “Don’t You (Forget about me),” the writing simultaneously sings sweet memories and blasts bitter warnings.

College is a place to learn, not only about your career, but about maturing and forming your own identity, accepting who you truly are as a person. It is also a search for your muse, or the source of your artistic expression, and your faith and hope for mankind.

“Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course,” Homer rhapsodizes to the God of Literature about Odysseus. Whenever you find yourself off course, I hope that you find heartfelt hospitality and happiness on your journey. If you find yourself wandering, remember you have mentors to guide your decisions and a muse to inspire your creativity.

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