I feel strange and uneasy every time I go back to Ithaca. I lived in that town from March 1995 (when I moved up from Panama City FL) to July 2012 (when I moved to Cazenovia NY to be with my sweetheart). So, quite a few years. Enough time for me to go through a quite a variety of experiences, from the sublime to the terrible, and to grow through a few stages in my own personal evolution. I have been so many different people in the course of my life in Ithaca! It was in Ithaca that I first became a poet, and became a musician, and became an artist. It was a town in which I found great inspiration and learned a great deal about many things, and experienced much real beauty. It was also a town in which I went through some real emotional trauma, in fact many times. This had to do mostly with some unfortunate love relationships I embarked on, which turned out, sadly, and despite my best efforts, to eventually degenerate into a lot of bitterness, alienation, and depression. Not just once with one woman, but a few times with different women. And then there was the additional painful situation in which I found myself, where I had a boss in my job at Cornell who was seriously mentally ill and who bullied and harassed me for years. All of these things are bound to leave some emotional traces in the person who experiences them So to say that I have mixed feelings about Ithaca would be an understatement.

I now live in Cazenovia, a small town about 55 miles from Ithaca. I’m retired from my job at Cornell now and I have few ties to Ithaca left. Actually after I moved to Cazenovia and then retired I felt an urge to cut all ties to Ithaca, even though it is a town that in some ways I still love. But even though I love it, I’ve had too many painful experiences there to feel really comfortable with the place. The only times I go back to Ithaca now are for occasional doctor’s appointments, and for the meetings of my poetry group every two weeks. I have been attending meetings of this poetry group since 1997. It is probably the only thing that has been a constant and reliable source of inspiration and support in my life during all the crazy years I lived in Ithaca. Even during the times when it seemed like everything was falling apart and my life was going to shit, I had the group meeting with my poet friends to look forward to.

Nowadays when I drive down to Ithaca to attend the group meeting, and I get there and I get out of my car and walk along a downtown street, I inevitably feel uneasy and anxious. All of the past time in which I lived there seems still present to me then somehow, and I walk those streets and feel how I walked those same streets years ago (sometimes feeling truly desperate). And it is still there somehow, all of those past years have become compressed together and I feel their presence, all that time being experienced at once, like the successive layers of the past all being superimposed on each other. And I even feel a little afraid, as if somehow my past unhappy Ithaca life there might even reclaim me and require me to return to my old self. I would expect that I am not alone in this, and that a lot of people, especially if they have lived long enough, must have similarly disquieting feelings about this personal perception of time. As Faulkner said, “The past is not gone, in fact it’s not even past.” Or, T. S Eliot in “Burnt Norton”:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past

We find that certain places in the world have this sense, this strange and subtly disturbing sense of all time being present at once. Even though we may try our best to live in the present moment and to free ourselves from the past, the past will still be there with us in a way because it is what has made us what we are now. So we have to try to make our peace with it as best we can.