Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for August, 2009

Bon Jovi says ‘Thoreau is Like Ralph Emerson’

Friday, August 28th, 2009

ThoreauMy good friend Jim (Happy Birthday, yo!) once hipped me to a deep dark truth about Jon Bon Jovi and the record indus­try. Apparently, New Jersey’s sec­ond favorite rock god, was forced to rewrite one of his ear­ly hits, Your Love is Like Bad Medicine. Instead of the refrain every 80s teen knew whether they want­ed to or not, accord­ing to Jim’s sources, Bon Jovi wrote the song this way:

Thoreau is like Ralph Emerson
Ralph Emerson is what I read

Funny, eh?

I love that sto­ry and repeat it often. I par­tic­u­lar­ly like telling it with a straight face to mem­bers of the unof­fi­cial “Bon Jovi Haters and Doubters Club” — you know ’em, they like to talk about the unpar­al­leled great­ness of Death Cab For Cutie, et al.

Get this straight, I am no Bon Jovi fan myself (and no Death Cab hater), but I do get it. It’s big, loud, sweaty, rau­cous fun music with nice hooks and get ’em sexed up atti­tude and lyrics. I don’t own a note of it.

I am, how­ev­er, a bit of a Thoreau fan. Emerson not so much — a lit­tle too pro­to-new-age for my tastes, though occa­sion­al­ly he turns a phrase that’s worth a pon­der or two. Like the one that came up on my scenic quote cal­en­dar a few days before my 40th birth­day:

Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn appear­ances and you always may.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nice one Ralph.

Just in time for Jim’s birth­day, a few days after my own, a Thoreau quote appeared on the same cal­en­dar.

Pursue some path, how­ev­er nar­row and crooked, in which you can walk with love and rev­er­ence.

-Henry David Thoreau

Not such bad med­i­cine, that.

Rock on, Jim.


Friday, August 21st, 2009

InOurSpectacularSociety3In January of 2007 I began work on a much too large and too unde­fined writ­ing project. I called it ‘Peregrinations’ because I need­ed to begin with­out a set a path and with the inten­tion that the jour­ney to fig­ur­ing out what I was on about would be part of the sto­ry and the most impor­tant part of the expe­ri­ence per­son­al­ly.

I kept a  jour­nal list­ing all of my ref­er­ence works and all those I hoped to delve into along with notes and ran­dom thoughts I had along the way. The whole thing was pret­ty short lived by almost any esti­ma­tion, (I added to that jour­nal only until the Spring of 2007), espe­cial­ly giv­en the grand ambi­tions that moti­vat­ed me. Freelance projects and mon­ey needs inter­ced­ed and my time was quick­ly not my own. I’m hes­i­tant to say the project died. I see my cur­rent day job and most every­thing I read as part of the project.

You see, for all my will­ing­ness to wan­der, I was and still am in pur­suit of answers to one cen­tral line of ques­tion­ing: What makes true believ­ers — espe­cial­ly polit­i­cal believ­ers — believe? How do peo­ple like Che and Mao get from mak­ing ratio­nal argu­ments about pover­ty and land reform to wag­ing wars and rationing food based on polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion? In the absence of coher­ent reli­gious and polit­i­cal arti­cles of faith how do true believ­ing lead­ers know how to act? What com­pels them? Just how are their mon­key brains wired dif­fer­ent­ly than my mon­key brain? Is it in the water? Is it nature or nur­ture or some oth­er thing?

Working for a ‘mis­sion-dri­ven’ orga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion includes (depend­ing on who and when you ask) social jus­tice, con­flict trans­for­ma­tion, pro­mo­tion of peace, inter­cul­tur­al under­stand­ing, etc. I get to see and inter­act with a fair num­ber of true believ­ers first hand. I have com­pared the place to a reli­gious mis­sion school sans the meta­phys­i­cal pur­suits of reli­gion, though to claim that there is no reli­gion here would be to hold to a fair­ly nar­row def­i­n­i­tion of the idea. There are arti­cles of faith, a moral code, and even some dog­ma. I think a clever soul with more time than I have now might be able to parse out some meta­physics too. Suffice to say, I get through the rough and bor­ing days here by think­ing of it as pri­ma­ry research into the way true believ­ers work.

I am per­fect­ly aware that I am head­ed down well-trod­den ter­ri­to­ry, but as some­one once num­bered among the born-again Christians, the thor­ough­ly con­vinced agnostic/atheistic Anarchists, as well as some­one peren­ni­al­ly pro­ject­ed upon by the white male estab­lish­ment types, lib­er­al types, tree hug­gers, ani­mal lovers, and ‘real­is­tic mod­er­ates’ I feel the need to exam­ine this stuff from the inside out as much as from the out­side in.

As an aside here, some­day I’m going to write a long piece about what it’s like to be a well spo­ken, white guy with a fair­ly neat hair­cut and how every­one thinks they know who you are before you even open your mouth. But that’s not what my pere­gri­na­tions are about. They’re about fig­ur­ing out what we’re all on about as a species and just what I’m on about too.

I’ll be post­ing bits and pieces of the project here. Read ’em and weep, laugh, or smirk as you will.

Daunting Depths

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

pollock.fathom-fiveI’m in the midst of try­ing to learn and/or become pro­fi­cient at over a dozen things these days: ukulele, Drupal, PHP, MySQL, Playwriting (yes, still), non-fic­tion writ­ing, online writ­ing, WordPress, CSS, XHTML, gar­den­ing, draw­ing, Italian, Spanish, French, Unix, healthy cook­ing, Tai Chi, being a good boyfriend, stay­ing healthy…

Every one of these things, these fields of learn­ing, has depth and every field’s depth grows daunt­ing as I gaze into its heart. I know this has some­thing to do with the way I’m wired. Other peo­ple don’t think twice about the vast mul­ti­plic­i­ty of ukulele chord charts, CSS3, or mas­ter­ing more than one Unix text edi­tor.

For me, every one of those things has a daunt­ing amount of depth. I’m good at the sur­vey lev­el. I LOVE the sur­vey lev­el. The full fath­om five of details gives me pause. The acces­si­bil­i­ty of all that I don’t know about every­thing and any­thing feels like some hor­ri­ble curse of the infor­ma­tion / Internet age.

Truth is, I wish the details gave every­one pause. Too often peo­ple mis­take vast gen­er­al­iza­tions for well-found­ed truths, in fact, this coun­try is rife with it these days. One of the things I think we’re sup­posed to learn in a good lib­er­al arts edu­ca­tion is that you don’t get to know every­thing, not even about one par­tic­u­lar thing. Specialization is next to impos­si­ble and prob­a­bly not desir­able if you believe the sci­fi author Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a dia­per, plan an inva­sion, butch­er a hog, conn a ship, design a build­ing, write a son­net, bal­ance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, com­fort the dying, take orders, give orders, coop­er­ate, act alone, solve equa­tions, ana­lyze a new prob­lem, pitch manure, pro­gram a com­put­er, cook a tasty meal, fight effi­cient­ly, die gal­lant­ly. Specialization is for insects.

I don’t tend to agree on much with macho lib­er­tar­i­an wingnuts, but I think the guy had a point on this score. Still, I look into the heart of each of these things I’m learn­ing and I am daunt­ed — in a good way maybe, but daunt­ed all the same.

The Pollack at the top of this post is Full Fathom Five (1947; Oil on can­vas with nails, tacks, but­tons, coins, cig­a­rettes, etc, 50 7/8 x 30 1/8 in). It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen that can give me that daunt­ed feel­ing with­out mak­ing me feel anx­ious or bad about it, but then again, Abstract Expressionism is kind of my bag — if only I knew more about it…

Migraine Much?

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

vermont-from-pinacle-peakStrangest thing hap­pened to me last Wednesday after work: I expe­ri­enced an odd gap in my vision. A sco­toma, if you want to know the tech­ni­cal term. I noticed it first when look­ing at the brand­ing for a Chevy Milan while park­ing. The first leg of the ‘M’ went miss­ing. I couldn’t make myself see it, but I knew it was there. Testing my eyes on that word, I found I could lose parts of oth­er let­ters as well.

I didn’t pan­ic, but it wasn’t nor­mal. It felt a lit­tle like walk­ing from a bright­ly lit place into a much dim­mer room. Dilation trou­ble, but dif­fer­ent and my eyes weren’t adjust­ing to include the miss­ing bits again.

I went into the book­store I had dri­ven to and the prob­lem per­sist­ed in near and far vision. It was slight enough that I could func­tion and even peruse a book, but damned if I could read one. I bought an ice decaf and left with­out a book (no, mean feat for me). My eyes right­ed them­selves on my half hour dri­ve home, but I felt a headache com­ing on.

By the time I pulled up the dri­ve I want­ed to find the ass­hole who had pound­ed the invis­i­ble train spike into my brow (lit­er­al­ly the brow bone over my right eye) and do some pain trans­fer­ence. I popped a Tylenol but the headache just kept com­ing. The pain remained focused over my right eye, but soon my whole head throbbed. I won­dered if and when I would throw up.

I start­ed try­ing to rate the pain as  the folks in the emer­gency room had me do when I showed up there a Memorial Day ago with my right wrist bro­ken into sev­en small pieces. That was an eight-and-a-half to a nine (I very near­ly puked and passed out). This headache hov­ered at a sev­en.

I yelled at the cat for yelling at me and went upstairs for anoth­er Tylenol, a cold cloth, and my bed.

I laid down and felt bad about the cat. I remem­bered some­thing from Aldous Huxley’s book The Island. A char­ac­ter hurts his knee and goes to the local island doc­tor who tells him to breath and focus on the pain, not what it feels like to be in pain, but the actu­al phys­i­cal region where it hurts. I’d tried it before (with the wrist) and tried it again with the headache. It almost nev­er fails. It is a) some­thing you can do when there’s noth­ing to be done, b) a great way to calm down, and c) the only way I’ve found that I can leave the expe­ri­ence of the pain and deal with the real­i­ty of it.

Truth is, most things that hurt us aren’t that big and don’t hurt much of us. Yet we con­tort our­selves around emo­tion­al reac­tions of fear and anger when we hurt our­selves. It’s bred into us as kids that Mom and Dad can make some­thing bet­ter, but until then every­thing is a dis­as­ter. This breaks that dynam­ic and keeps us from tens­ing our entire being around a small area of pain and mak­ing it worse.

Fortunately, that and the sec­ond Tylenol put me out for 45 min­utes and I awoke with just a dull ache.

A slight­ly pan­icked trip to the eye doc­tor the next day left me with two impor­tant bits of infor­ma­tion: 1) it was an ocu­lar migraine and not so unusu­al a ver­sion and I should only wor­ry if they recur with increas­ing fre­quen­cy over the next few months; and 2) I’m not han­dling stress well.

Doctor’s Prescription: “Get your­self in some Yoga class­es.”

And that’s anoth­er rea­son to love Vermont, isn’t it?

Mad Jen

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

madjenA quick nod to my pal Jen Getzinger.

The WSJ quotes her in a nice piece on Mad Men, her cur­rent show.

I’ll admit I was a bit slow to catch on to it, myself. Not for lack of inter­est, but lack of the oth­er thing: time. I’d caught an episode once or twice (Jen’s TV direc­to­r­i­al debut among ’em — pret­ty bril­liant BTW) but didn’t real­ly fall for the show until I dove into the DVDs about a month ago. I’m more than hooked, I’m reeled in and loaded on the boat.

More than a styl­ish­ly vivid recre­ation of of the 60s Mad Ave plas­tic fan­tas­tic lifestyle, the show picks at the whole idea of American adver­tis­ing — the peo­ple, the place, and the not-so-long-ago-or-altered val­ues — to uncov­er the many and var­i­ous motives still dri­ving us Americans to keep try­ing, fail­ing, and (typ­i­cal­ly only inad­ver­tent­ly) suc­ceed­ing at per­son­al rein­ven­tion.

Kudos Getzinger! I’m itchin’ for sea­son three