Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Daunting Depths

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…

3 Responses to “Daunting Depths”

  1. David » August 18th, 2009

    Specialization is the hob­glo­bin of.….something or oth­er.

    But in jour­nal­ism and TV writ­ing I have found sad truth is being a jack of all trades is not prefer­able. People want to be able to cat­e­go­rize you (“a music writer” “busi­ness expert” etc). Not to get too meta, but even blogs to some extent have to hew to a cer­tain through­line y to get the most fol­low­ers, no?

    To be over the place, you have to be a name-brand writer first. And you prob­a­bly got to be a name-brand by doing one thing well.

    Even on Facebook I have found myself focus­ing on cer­tain things — bad movie remakes and the Mets foibles — as opposed to spew­ing every opin­ion I have (I have stayed away from health care, most­ly). Not sure why that is. Maybe because it’s a dif­fer­ent lev­el of “friend” that is mon­i­tor­ing me.

  2. Laura » August 18th, 2009

    I think know­ing what you don’t know over­whelms you. In fact, you are one of the strongest peo­ple I know in rec­og­niz­ing that fact and find­ing the right solu­tion, as you need it, when you need it and mov­ing on.

  3. weston » August 19th, 2009

    nice post! gen­er­al­iza­tion is much on my mind since my ear­ly 30s — when i real­ized i will nev­er mas­ter any­thing and that real­ly my desire to either learn some­thing new every­day or build some­thing new every­day. and it does hap­pen one day at a time.