Wednesday, May 18, 2011


It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how much I know there are so many things that I do not know. I have spent a good deal of my life learning things. I went to school forever, obtaining three graduate degrees. After a short stint in academia, I settled into a career in law, specifically litigation, where each new case, for the curious, is a bonanza of new information to be learned. I work now with technologies and the internet as well as copyrighted content. But what I know about technology is small compared to the experts I must frequently consult to explain the way the internet works. I also read a lot for pleasure -- mostly nonfiction rather than vacation novels, so I think that I am exposed to a lot of ideas.

However, this week twice I came across a term that was new to me. In two different articles, I read about arriving at or finding "Ithaca". To me Ithaca is a city in New York state, home of Cornell and one of my friends from college. I also recognized that it had some reference to Greek mythology, but I am not so well educated or well read that I understood the reference.

photo © 2010 Roland Turner (Ithaca, Greece)
In the first article, the reference was to a young man who was top graduating senior from UC Berkeley this year. This young man had dropped out of high school after his parents refused to let him take the SATs necessary to attend college. He made a living as a professional cellist for several years and then returned to community college until he could transfer to Berkeley. His studies lead him to an academic passion for sociology, his so-called Ithaca.

The second article in the LA Times by Yolanda Reid Chassiakos, concerned the familiar midlife crisis issue where the author, a physician, discussed the stresses of one of her patients. That patient, a woman in her 50s, had divorced and returned to school after her nest was empty to study screenwriting, an difficult occupation to enter especially as an older woman. At the end of the article, Chassiakos said that she herself was satisfied with her own life as a doctor, mother, wife and writer. She (the author) had "arrived at [her] own Ithaca (destination)".

I was grateful for the definition in the LA Times article because after reading the first article about the Berkeley graduate, I did some online research about "Ithaca". As I suspected, it was likely a Greek mythology reference to the Odyssey given that Ithaca was Odysseus' home to which he ultimately returned. That reference still did not make the usage completely clear but I also found  a poem entitled "Ithaca" by Constantine Cavafy which starts as follows:

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, 
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
This little exercise in understanding the reference to Ithaca has reminded me that, unlike Chassiakos, I have not reached my Ithaca. Hopefully I never will.  Whether my road is long (and I still grapple with that issue every day), I am intent on continuing to learn and continuing to have adventure.  May you all feel the same way.

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