But why new words? Why not the old, familiar, comforting words?
It's because a healthy vocabulary isn't about trying to show rental property owners you're smarter than them. To the contrary, it's about selecting the right word and using it correctly, whatever one's pay grade or station in life.
Even municipal corporate attorneys are eligible for this enlightening expansion of personal horizons, and really, for those of us watching as every tree in town is transformed into firewood, all we really have is time on our hands -- moments enough for us to learn something.
This week, a different approach.
Autodidact (aw-toe-DIE-dakt) is a fancy Greek word meaning “self-taught.” Simply stated, an autodidact has gathered knowledge without the benefit of formal or specialized education.
Perhaps the most celebrated example of an autodidact is Leonardo Da Vinci. We now refer to him as a “Renaissance man,” because this term implies expertise in multiple areas of the human experience. In Leonardo’s case, he excelled at painting, sculpting, engineering, architecture, music, geology and astronomy. This list is by no means comprehensive.
A more recent pop culture exemplar is Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, guitar virtuoso and a former member of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. You may not know that Baxter also has worked for many years as a respected consultant to the US Department of Defense on the topic of ballistic missile defense, of which he is entirely self-taught.
Autodidact is a concept of respect, or at least it should be, except that this is New Albany.
At Tuesday’s weekly meeting of the New Albany Board of Public Works and Safety, economic development director David Duggins introduced Larry Timperman. He is a local architect, and the designer of the controversial dog park to be installed at Cannon Acres.
Links to previous coverage here.
Last week local Native American activists, most notably Tony Nava, became aware of these plans and protested. Their objections are ongoing. So are is the city's plan to begin construction.
More than a decade ago, when proposals for this acreage were first made, archaeological studies were commissioned and conducted. Nava believes that these previous studies were not sufficiently comprehensive, and in any event, a further phase should be conducted prior to the dog park’s construction.
To speak with Nava about Native American history and culture is to understand that what he might lack in academic credentials, he has learned through self-motivation and study.
That's an autodidact.
Larry Timperman is quiet and personable. He exudes stolid competence. As the dog park protest crescendo began to rise last week, he quickly was chosen by Team Gahan to serve as its public shield, i.e., the soft-spoken and apolitical architect and planner whose very presence aims at diverting the discussion from the forever troublesome back corridor deal-making in which the mayor and Duggins select and reward builders, contractors and ancillaries.
Over the weekend, in an interview on WHAS, Timperman referred to the 2005 state archaeological survey, commenting that in situations like this one, trained planners always go with the most recent letter.
He fleshed out this comment at the Tuesday morning BOW meeting. According to the most recent letter from the Indiana state archaeologist (presumably, from 2005), the two previous surveys marked certain quadrants at Cannon Acres as the only ones likely to contain Native American artifacts. So long as the city builds around them -- no harm, no foul.
(Nava points out that these surveys were conveniently spaced to allow the soccer fields subsequently installed at Cannon Acres).
But to me, the most interesting aspect of Timperman’s presentation – and what returns us to autodidact – came only after he finished speaking.
Duggins rose and immediately asked Timperman to explain his professional background and credentials, which the architect was more than happy to do. Figuratively, Timperman modestly pulled his wallet from his back pocket and allowed the vinyl pouches containing degrees, certifications and endorsements to cascade like a Slinky, all the way to the floor.
The intent was unmistakable.
In a room 95% filled with mayoral appointees and functionaries, none of whom gives a damn about Native American anything, and all of whom want nothing more than to be spared the mayor’s 2:00 a.m. phone calls, Duggins was tossing bloody meat to the true believers, heaping scorn on Nava for the latter’s temerity in first trying to speak with the great and inaccessible Oz, then claiming knowledge as an autodidact.
Our deputy mayor-pretend had a point to make: It’s the nicely perfumed, well-remunerated, professionally recognized white man who should be trusted, not some crackpot activist who couldn’t possibly marshal facts without having first attended the right school – you know, like Silver Creek.
Throughout the shamelessness, Warren Nash played his familiar role of leering, biased enabler:
“Wow, Mr. Duggins, do you mean to say we’ve known all these things from the very start and exercised our stewardship with the sort of flawless aplomb that we’ve come to expect from our Dear Leader?”
Nava’s an autodidact. We should praise him, not denigrate him, but this clash was inevitable. From Gahan’s standpoint, comprehension of Native American culture is impossible precisely because it isn’t right there in front of him, like an aquatic center or Disney theme park. It’s a spiritual thing. It can’t be held in one’s hand, raffled or monetized for campaign finance.
You can keep your Philistines.
Give me the autodidact, any day.
Previously at NAC: