Ithaca Reflections Part 1: Moving Backwards

I wait for the Cornell shuttle at the NY Public Library on a really amazing September day. Bryant park is not that crowded, mostly tourists taking photos with the fountain, with the food stands, with one another, with anything really. I like this so I take some pictures too. I wish I took more pictures in general. Trying to do more of that, so I took my camera with me to Ithaca. Here's the library from where I was waiting. 


This trip is really like time travel. Here I am at the library, the final spot for really doing the hard work on my dissertation, which I started long after Sam, my friend at Cornell, pushed me into graduate school at Syracuse University. Seems funny that I wait at a finishing point to travel back upstate, to the place where the ideas were just bubbling, nowhere close to firming up to be served. 

Why do I do this lecture every year? It's something I really look forward to doing every term. I get to see an old dear friend. I get to have some great food. I get to walk around in upstate NY. I get to walk around on the set where my past was performed. 

There would have been no way to predict where I am now in life and professionally from those days in the early 2000s when I was soaking in the incredible alien-ness of upstate New York. Everything was from far away, and it was where I lived. The air, the smells, the trees, all very different. The snow intimidated me as I had not seen it yet, and imagined it powers that only fear can grant to something. So coming here to wait for the bus that will take me back to where this whole life began in 2001 is a pretty cool thing to think about. 

I also took some great pictures of a bug, we call this a "katydid" in Texas but I have no idea what the actual name of the bug is. If you know, feel free to put it in the comments. He landed on this small turtle sculpture on one of the flagpoles and hung out for a while. It made me think about this part of this book I assigned to my public speaking students called The World is Made of Stories by David Loy where he talks about the "turtles all the way down" moment in East meets West philosophy and epistemology. This guy had no idea he was on the back of a turtle or probably even what a turtle is. It's one of the best pictures I think I've ever taken and I really like it, and I like the bug too. 

Moving backwards - this guy went back to the tree which was a good idea. But moving backwards is rarely thought of as a good idea. The NY Public Library represents a conclusion for me, the end of an era and the beginning of a new life. Going back to where the new life was planted allows me time to reflect on everything and gives me the chance to think about how good and bad things are in balance. It's a good meditation. 

Add to the situation that I am travelling back to upstate New York to lecture on the foundations of rhetoric, the discipline that had been calling me so long through various vicissitudes over the years which I now serve in all of my work. Returning upstate to talk about the scholarship that I spend most days and nights pondering is like bringing home some of the things I've found along the way. It's a bit of a stretch, but I often think of the scholars who lugged all those heavy books through Nepal and the dangerous mountains to Tibet to translate. This physical moving of knowledge through the world is something we rarely think about. I was able to send a book to a student tonight via email in less than 20 seconds of labor. Information is now truly light in a dimension that Marshall McLuhan didn't know, but predicted.

With information moving so quickly, what's the value of slowing it down to human body speed, both physically and vocally? Why not record something, or appear on Skype, or email something to them? Why not link one of the many videos of this lecture that exist on my YouTube page? I think there's a value in having the distant guest speaker appear and teach the course, bringing the information to them from afar. This conveys a type of value and a type of . . . I don't know, pleasure? Some sort of enjoyment for the effort that flavors the teaching differently. It is why online courses lack something we can't name since all the parts are clearly there. There's something about the body, the body moving through space, going back in space and therefore going back in time, wondering about a life long over but somehow is still very much being lived, even if it's not thought about directly every day. 

The bus arrives, and I get on - we move away from the city to Upstate New York, to the past that could never assume or predict that I would live where I live and do what I do.