Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

You Can't Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe liked that sentence so much that it perches atop one of his massive novels (1940). And I actually had a colleague, years ago, utter that sentence to me when I was about to return to teach at Harmon Middle School (Aurora, Ohio) in 1982 after four years of trying other things--from college to university to prep-school teaching (to working in a book shop!).

It turned out I could go home again: I had a wonderful time at Harmon between 1982-1997 (when I retired), and I would say that a substantial proportion of my Facebook friends are former students from those years.

And then I did it a second time--went home again. I'd left Western Reserve Academy at the end of the 1980-81 school year. And in 2001 I went back for what I thought would be a couple of years. It turned out to be ten. And--again--I had a wonderful time and regret only that my health didn't allow me to continue for a bit longer.

In "The Death of the Hired Man" (Link to entire poem) Robert Frost had a couple of things to say about going home. The husband (Warren) speaks first; his wife (Mary), second:

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’

                                      ‘I should have called it

Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.’

A famous exchange, containing, as it does, two profoundly different notions of "home."

But in recent weeks and months I have found a way that it's difficult to "go home"--at least, if by "home" you mean something with which you were once intimate.

Next week, I'll be making some Jack London/The Call of the Wild presentations up in Michigan as part of the NEA's Big Read program. I'll spend a day in a middle school working with 7th and 8th graders (that will be home again!), and then in the evening, a presentation to the community.

Here's the issue: My Jack London mania occurred mostly in the late 1980s and 1990s. I published some books about him in the late 1990s, but then I found myself whirling away in the orbit of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein. So all the detail about London that had once lain in the very front of my brain now began to retreat into the remote recesses and folds of memory. So every time I do a London presentation now, I have to spend some weeks and months getting it back (well, most of it)--a process that includes re-reading The Call of the Wild (for the gazillionth time), catching up on the London-related publications that have appeared since I last roamed in the Northland. Etc. And it's that very Etc. that I've been doing the past couple of months in prep for my trip next week.

And then there's Mary Shelley ... I spent about a decade with her story, obsessively reading, traveling, thinking, writing. But then she eventually drifted away (Mr. Poe arrived!), and I gradually lost easy access to her stories and biography. Which wasn't a problem--until I decided to write a memoir about my experiences with her, a memoir (in a rough rough rough rough draft) that I'm serializing three days a week (mostly) on this very site--Frankenstein Sundae.

And--again--this has meant far more work than I ever thought it would. Review. Reading new publications. Etc. Frustrating.

But I've learned that you can go home again. You aren't the same; it isn't the same. But it has both the oddness and familiarity of a dream, the heartbeat of Love.

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