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