“Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all.” –C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
For the last 19 years, while living in New York City, Massachusetts, Iowa, and Rochester, I have regularly visited friends in Ithaca, New York. This past spring I also taught selections from The Odyssey and thought about that other classical Ithaka. After months of planning (to find a weekend that worked for both sets of my friends and for us), my fiance and I finally drove to Ithaca, NY, last weekend. It was a relief to have an easy getaway in a summer that has been unexpectedly busy with our engagement ceremony, family and friends visiting, writing projects, and some of our own longer travels (to visit family and for a wedding).
My MFA thesis, a collection of stories called Ithaca Is Never Far, deals with the search for home– both cultural and geographic. The title story is a retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view. It was also, for me, about growing up in Western New York State–a place often considered at some remove from New York City, other East Coast cities, and anything cosmopolitan. Although I resented the idea of New York State as some sort of culturally remote backwater when I was growing up, after living in NYC myself for six years on and off across 10 years, it is sometimes challenging for me to be back here.
I miss the caffeinated buzz of the city–a constant electric hum–, its diversity, my friends and family who still live there. Devouring all of Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York (a birthday present from my friend Sally) in one sitting a few weeks ago made me miss the city even more.
These days, I am not able to get back to New York as often as I would like. (My last trip was a one-day whirlwind visit in April to give a reading at the College of Staten Island with my friend, fiction writer Stephen Schottenfeld.) I try to appreciate what is here, including the quiet charms of my hometown: great restaurants, ridiculously easy commutes, friends I have known for years, my 91 year-old grandmother, a good job with kind colleagues, a lower cost of living, the natural beauty of places like Ithaca. And I met my fiance, also a native Rochesterian, here.
I don’t know where the future will take me–whether I will settle down here or if Rochester is one more stop along the way. Cavafy’s poem reminds me to be patient, to not hurry the journey.