February 17, 2006

Howard A. Rodman '71

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Backspace appears biweekly in commemoration of The Sun’s 125th Anniversary. Honoring not only the history of The Cornell Daily Sun but also the role it played in major campus events throughout the years, each column features a different writer chronicling a different era of Cornell’s lively past. Howard A. Rodman ’71 was editor in chief of The Sun in 1970-71. He is currently Professor and Chair of the Writing Division of the School of Cinema-Television at USC and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Writers Guild of America, west. Rodman’s works include the film Joe Gould’s Secret, the novel Destiny Express and articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Village Voice. More of Rodman’s current writings can be found at www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-a-rodman


Odysseus, as we all know, yearns to return to Ithaca. But Ithaca, it seems, is a moveable feast. If you’ve spent time in Ithaca, it stays with. I live now, and have for twenty years, in the capital of the movie industry (there’s even a view of the Hollywood sign from the kitchen, admonishing as we rinse the cocktail glasses). But Cornellians in general, Sunsters in particular, make their way here – in ones, in twos, some years in full droves – carrying their memories, and some of mine, with them.

They climb off the jetway at LAX, blinking in the sun, then find their way here. It’s not unlike The Wizard Of Oz in that many of those I knew back east, in black-and-white, re-appear, but in vivid color and wearing animal costumes. (The econ professor’s kid, remembered as an Ithaca High schooler who yearned to join us in taking over buildings, pops up colorfully here as “The Dude” – you may know him from The Big Lebowski.)

What none of this circus changes, or obliterates, is the Ithaca inside.

Shortly after I was elected editor in chief of The Sun, I was walking through the old offices – 109 East State, an address I don’t remember how to forget – and was summoned into the EIC’s office. Sitting there was a visitor, David Radin ’68, who’d been editor three years before and now lived in a yurt, which is a kind of Mongolian thatched hut, but situated rather more near Trumansburg.

David was perhaps 22 but seemed, from my vantage, impossibly old, impossibly wise. He looked at me and said, “You can learn everything you need to know in this office. If not, you have to go to law school.”

The latter prospect filled me with terror, so I tried, each night, to learn something. Some of the lessons were practical, involving the application of warm wax to slick paper. Some of the lessons were syntactical in nature or concerned vocabulary. (As Sam Roberts ’68 memorably put it, “God reveals. Men disclose.”)

Others lessons were more spiritual. One night, walking from my Collegetown lodgings to the Sun office downtown, when the air was crisp and the leaves just beginning to turn and the dusk coming on quickly, I found that I’d broken into a slow trot.

Then I was running.

Most of my life, running had been for me a clumsy, syncopated affair – thump-thump, thump-thump – but that evening, for the first time in my life and perhaps the last, running came as natural as breathing. I felt as if I were gliding toward State Street an inch above the earth. My legs and feet had little to do with the process, other than to lightly touch the sidewalk from time to time, less for propulsion than for reassurance. The trip to the office door took five minutes, took a lifetime, took no time at all; and when I arrived, the night’s editorial was clear in my head as if already written, and all I’d have to do was transcribe. I’d been looking down the hill toward the Sun office, as if it were the goal. Now that I’d arrived, I realized that the learning happened on the way.

This, like much else these days under the Hollywood sign, puts me in mind of a poem by C. P. Cavafy, entitled “Ithaca.” It goes, in part:

Always keep Ithaca fixed in your mind.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.

But do not hurry the voyage at all.

It is better to let it last for long years;

and even to anchor at the isle when you are old,

rich with all that you have gained on the way,

not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would never have taken the road.

But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.

With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experi-

ence, you must surely have understood by then what Ithaca


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