We know very little about talent

We know very little about talent. When I saw, we I mean the entirety of folks who have ever asked themselves what talent is. Everyone is pretty sure they can recognize it when they see it. But isn’t there something more? I had a music teacher when I was  kid who said: “A lot of people have talent and a lot of people have discipline and tenacity. What you’ll find in most professional musicians is a combination of the two, and it can’t be beat.”

I agree, but there’s another question: Are discipline and tenacity simply additional manifestations of talent or are they qualities that all of us have access to and thereby not a function of innate ability?

Because if discipline and tenacity are innate talents aspiring to develop them may be like aspiring to be taller.  I think this is one of the most ignored questions in all of creativedom. My belief is that you cannot readily divide talent from drive. And, there’s a good chance that the combination of what we call talent and drive are different sides of the same coin that help our betters to attain artistic heights that are hard for we mere mortals to imagine, let alone  realize in our work.

Bummer, I say.

If all a given writer has on me is that he’ll outwork me, and for whatever reason I do not have what it takes to work at the same level, is he truly the more talented? We’re now likely on the cusp of trying to come up with another better descriptor like capable but every new word you or I come up with will take us right back to the same unanswerable question.

I am a believer is the search for small improvements. I believe that if I can affect an improvement in my drive as a writer, not to the level of someone who can crank out 50,000 words in a couple months, but just an improvement of a couple thousand words a month I’ll be really happy. And, the sequel to may first book will be done sooner.

But, I won’t be any more talented. I guess that will have to be good enough for me.

 

We know very little about talent

Social Isolation Part 2

Why have I always found it so pleasant to drink while I sit in the sun?

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I’m sure I can’t explain it. But, in these days of Social Isolation it still has its pleasures even though for now outside is a front yard rather than one of my local bars or brew pubs.

Plus, I’m dodging some clouds. Still, you know what they say about beggars and their lack of choices.

Now, the thing is I find outside & alcohol mentally provocative. Many times I will find myself enjoying a good IPA (like this one: Santa Monica Brewing Inclined IPA) and about halfway through I’ll get an idea and have to mosey on home to put it down. It’s not true every time but the reaction, or effect, always surprises me when it happens.

And, I do wonder why.

Is it the sun or the IPA or more likely a symbiotic combination? I vote for a symbiotic combination that flows from the sun’s gathering warmth and the mental softening effect of the IPA.

But, there’s something else and again it works in concert with both solar radiation and a good IPA; the lack of hurry, the feeling of easy contemplation, the sense that one is where one should be for that moment.

It’s often hard to create a lack of hurry sense, but that’s what I need.

Anyway, it’s a hard balance to strike and it’s all to easy to take it too far (IPA wise) and to become insensitive (idea wise). The key is to create a combination of balance & opportunity. If I can achieve that balance perhaps I can make some inroads on my book while staying safe. I’m well over halfway through but it’s still a little hard to see the end of tunnel.

I encourage all of you to do the same while being safe.

 

Social Isolation Part 2

Roger Modjeski Obituary

I wrestled with myself about writing this, I really did. I have known and worked and fought with Roger Modjeski since the 1990s. He has been an immense influence on my life as I know I was on his.

He was brilliant.

He was generous.

He was greedy.

He was visionary.

He was shortsighted.

He was my friend & I’m truly sorry he left this world so soon.

This is not an attempt to tell Roger’s life story. It’s more of  stream of consciousness obituary. If any dates  or the timeline of events are incorrect, I’m not really bothered. And, I’m not telling anything that I wouldn’t have said in Roger’s presence. We had an occasionally difficult relationship but an honest one and we were always civil toward one another during our battles.

Roger grew up in Richmond, Virginia, the son of the dean of the dental school at UVA, Peter Modjeski. I mention Roger’s father because it was he who got Roger interested in electronics, tubes and circuit design when Roger was little more than five years old. When Audio Advisor wanted a photo of Roger to include in their catalog, Roger wanted to use the photo of him at six, sitting in his pajamas with the first tube amplifier he ever designed, a single-ended triode, of course. He was a surprisingly outdoorsy kid, loving to fish the local rivers and streams. Roger spoke many times of grilling fresh fish and making hush puppies out in the woods near his family’s home.

Roger experienced a very strong push & pull toward the last of the 1970s that ended with him in California, first working at IBM and later at his then dream job with Harold Beveridge. Bev used Roger’s abilities wisely (for the most part) and Roger developed the RM-1/2 preamp and power supply while he was at the company but soon thereafter Roger felt the push and pull, again that only going into business for oneself can satisfy.

RAM Labs came first, followed by RAM Tube works and finally Music Reference. I heard my first Music Reference product at Brooks Berdans’ store in Monrovia way back when. A few years later I was publishing The Audio Observatory. Being an admirer of his designs, I always sent an issue to Roger. At some point, he wrote me a letter, inviting me to meet with him in Santa Barbara.

RAM 1

Really, though, the real Roger came through in the bit of verse he included on a separate page.

RAM 2

I say the real Roger, but I really meant that this was Roger as he could be, and as I know he strove to be. But, it was hard for him to sustain this kind of sensitivity and reflectiveness, especially when it came to his business.

RAM Labs was born at the perfect time. Had it started a decade later few would have valued his properly tested tubes and engineering rigor. But, in the early 80s folks were just beginning to yearn for it and the attraction to his tubes, once established, continues to this day. Music Reference was founded on Roger’s personal investment of $4,000. That cash built the first run of RM-4 pre-pres and the rest is history.

One of the reasons I sold The Audio Observatory was to go to work for Roger. I’m not sorry I did it though nothing turned out like I expected (does it ever?). Roger detested the processes of building gear as much as he loved designing and prototyping it. The RM-10 was born of his desire to build both an eco-friendly amp and one that got way more power out of a humble pair of EL84 output tubes. Given the right speakers, it sounded (and sounds) spectacular. Its small size kept it from being as respected as it should have been but to those who know there’s no amp anything like it designed or built anywhere.

The RM-200 was my idea. I waxed lyrical to Roger about my Audio Research D-70 MkII and what I regarded (and still regard) as the magic of two 6550s in a hard-driven circuit. Roger listened to me, and he listened to the D-70 MkII. Still, the ARC offended his sensibilities. The driver and input stage were overly complex and the 6550s were simply driven too hard. One day, Roger asked me if a reverse hybrid, one with a balanced solid-state input driving (you guessed it…a pair of 6550s) would have any appeal. I asked him how much it would cost and he said we could sell it for $1850. That number fit nicely with the RM-9 MkII so I loved the idea. Well, by the time the RM-200 hit the market it cost nearly $3000.

Why? Because Roger hated the process so much that he kept raising the price, even before the amp was available and even though out best dealers and distributors had placed cash deposits based on the old price. The truth was that building the RM-200 was fairly easy (especially compared to the RM-9 MkII). Still, it nearly killed Roger and I do not exaggerate. His doctor advised him no fewer than twice to abandon the project and sell the company if he wanted to preserve his health. The RM-200 was everything it was designed to be though a lot of people just didn’t get it. It broke too many rules, spoiled too many assumptions about hybrids, and feeding tubes with transistors. Though we knew selling it would be an uphill battle, the reception (save for Stereophile’s Class A Recommendation) was hurtful to both of us. The price increase simply killed that amp and prevented it from being the unusual classic it could have easily been.

By the time I moved on from RAM Labs we were basically out of the equipment game. There was nothing being built. We had RM-9 SEs on hand and a smattering of RM-4 but that was it. The RM-5, the RM-10 and the RM-200 were all in suspended animation at that point. I had grown tired of making promises to dealers and especially our distributor in Singapore who had made a sizable investment in our gear and tubes. As Roger admitted to me one day, “It’s hard not having anything in your cart to sell.”

I visited Roger a few times while he was still in Santa Barbara and we always had fun hanging out and chatting, never about business. By then, he was building his custom SE stuff. That had been a kind of dream for him for a long time; build one, sell one. You see for Roger, the joy was in The Study as he called it. That was his process of going from inspiration to finished circuit. That was the part he loved and it had nothing whatever to do with business. Most high end companies are the opposite. The designs fly together, be they good or not so good, and then move on to production. It’s time to sell the damn thing is the collective battle cry of the high end.

Roger was caught between those two desires. He believed his real value was as a designer and, of course, it was. He used to say, “Why can’t I just design it and someone else build it?” That made sense, but in the end it was always his company and the idea of prototyping something let alone moving it on toward manufacture without him was unsound. Still, the glory of his designs do and will endure. The RM-10, the RM-9, the RM-5 and the Counterpoint SA-4 are among the most enduring high end products ever; and for good reason.

RAM 3

RAM 4

This Christmas card from way back when will always be how I remember Roger Modjeski. Working alongside him was many things, including fun. I will always wish that we could have accomplished more, with Music Reference especially. But, in the end, we did what we could and we did it our way. I know all of the owners of Music Reference gear will treasure their gear all the more now that he has slipped away from us. For myself, I wish only for one more sunny day in Santa Barbara with him, sitting outside one of our favorite restaurants, talking about the high end and music and life.

 

Roger Modjeski Obituary

The Truth About Drinking & Writing

The truth is that I don’t know very many hard truths about drinking and writing, or even exactly why writers tend to drink. That said, I will say that many of the learned explanations I’ve read don’t show much understanding, let alone truths either.

No less an authority than Psychology Today included gems like:

the drive for success of every kind

the hunger for prestige, fame, and money

Naw, that ain’t it…

Anyway, I do have some ideas (better ideas than those, anyway).

Crafting the Buzz

You’re a wordsmith, that’s great. And, if you drink when you write you also have to be a buzzsmith (yes, I did just invent that word) because too much alcohol, and this is news to no one, blunts perception, true sensitivity and the ability to articulate ideas.

But, what about just enough alcohol? Well, that’s a different story. I contend that, for me, just enough alcohol, just as it facilitates some conversations, facilitates access to ideas and word combinations that may well be elusive in a state of total sobriety.

The general accepted idea is that judgment is the first faculty to be affected by alcohol. But, think about what judgment can mean when applied to writing. It’s easy for judgment to become self-judgment, and self-judgment is very effective in closing down new and novel ways to think about things. Since when has that helped the writing process? There’s a chance that just enough alcohol can open the very doors that need to be open for the ideas to flow their best.

But there’s something else, too.

A Foil Against Writing-Induced Loneliness

I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me how I can spend so much time alone and writing, owing to my basically chatty nature. It’s not only difficult but it runs against some of my most basic instincts to be around other people and talking. When my office is quiet, and it’s dark outside, my first impulse is to call someone on the phone. But, if there’s something I want to write I need to replace that temptation for a while. I start with a snack and follow it with a drink. If I make good progress, I may have another drink, but that’s it.

The law of diminishing returns sets in after two drinks.

Is a Rum & Coke So Different From a Xanax?

When I get home from a long day and a hundred miles or more of driving and I need to write, I’m also going to want a drink. That’s the just the truth without a proclamation of pride or shame. I admit it’s an ongoing balancing act. I admit that I have also written effectively when sober as a proverbial judge. And, sadly very close friends of mine have had their lives ended by the ravages of alcoholism.

So Where Does that Leave Writers and Alcohol?

Writing, like living, is an art. There’s simply no rule book that governs the creative process. I can only say that I seek balance. I want to write. I want to see people and enjoy their company. I want to have a couple drinks and enjoy people and writing sometimes even more when I do without.

All of that said, I want to do all of this safely, in a way that protects me and everyone else. That can be the hard part but it’s also the most important part of all.

Enjoy & create, but take good care of yourself while you’re doing it.

 

The Truth About Drinking & Writing

Everything’s easy, right?

I’ve not been around lately because I am trying to make hay while the sunshines on my second book. It’s coming along nicely, thanks for asking. I have an outside chance of finishing the narrative by my self-imposed deadline of December 31 of this year.

It’ll be close but I might just make it.

Anyway, I was having lunch with a preternaturally nervous and stressed friend yesterday. Does he deserve to be as wound up as he is? I don’t think so but it’s pretty much his natural state. He’s a little better some days and worse others.

We were parked at the bar of the local CPK and he asked why I wasn’t having a beer. I told him CPK had a lousy tap list. They used to make mixed drinks with Pepsi, for heaven’s sake.

He said, “I wonder why some of the local brewers don’t just get a keg in here. It would be easy.”

“Easy?” I said incredulously.

“Wouldn’t it be?” he said naively.

Before I not-so-gently corrected him I reminded myself who he was and how he thought. For him, everything is always simple and easy as long as someone else is doing it. I try to remind him that pretty much anything worth doing is located on the Hard Scale somewhere between difficult and impossible but he’s quite resistant to the reality of all things worthwhile.

Writing a book? Easy until you try.

Brewing a decent red ale? Easy until you try.

Learning a new language? Easy until you try.

Admitting something’s hard shouldn’t scare us away from doing it. We only have to care enough to take the steps that need taking, day after day.

Simple, right?

Just remember that simple isn’t easy.

 

 

Everything’s easy, right?

The Rosemarks are installed, so let’s talk about the thrilling topic of Grip Solvent!

Yes, they’re perfectly aligned.

Yes, they’re fully seated.

Yes, I am a little too precise with this regripping thing and I’m not sure why.

I’m not even going to burden you with a blow-by-blow account of my grip replacement protocol.

Instead, let’s talk about grip solvent. I know, that’s some nasty, boring stuff.

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For years, I’ve used the Clubmaker brand, though I always disliked the smell and its tendency to cling to my hands even after repeated washings. So, I decided to try Wedge Guys grip solvent. It was reputed to smell better or at least less bad.

It’s true. It doesn’t smell bad at all and the order doesn’t seem to linger in the air as long as Clubmaker.

But…

There’s a problem. It also isn’t quite as uniformly slick when you’re installing the grip, no matter how much is used. It’s like there are slick spots and sticky spots and this is no good especially when you’re installing expensive grips.

Also…

The stuff dries very slowly and, this is a weird one, stays a little slimy even after it’s been on a grip for weeks.

How do I know this?

I know because I removed a few grips weeks after I installed them and the grip caps were still slimy and almost damp. Remember, this is SoCal so it’s both hot and dry.

So, my experiment is over…I’m sticking with Clubmakers.

Sorry, Wedge Guys!

The Rosemarks are installed, so let’s talk about the thrilling topic of Grip Solvent!

Best writing advice ever!

I’m in deep into the sequel to my first novel,  John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

The working title (and my bet the final title) of the sequel is Cottonwood.

I am dedicated to moving the narrative along at a rapid clip. I hike fast. I play golf fast. I speak fast and I write fast, until I take a break, which I did too often with JJM.

That’s a mistake I will not make again. In fact, I’ve put a serious time limit on writing the narrative to the sequel. I want to finish the narrative by the end of 2019. It’ll take another three to five months to edit and format the dang thing, so it’s really not all that fast compared to other writers.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the best writing advice I ever heard. The advice is in Doug Nichol’s 2016 film, California Typewriter and it came from the late Sam Shepard.

I’ll paraphrase the advice:

Never quit when you’re stuck. When you start up again you’ll still be stuck.

Now the funny thing is that I rarely consider myself to be struck. If I fail to work on my book it’s nearly always because I’ve been distracted by lesser things like work. But, there’s still a lot of wisdom and usefulness to what Shepard said. Since I heard his admonition I try to quit when I’m on a roll I know I can keep it going later. In fact, a lot of times the momentum of the roll is actually enhanced by the renewed energy that comes from taking a break to go on a hike or drink a fine IPA.

When I do nudge up against stuckness (to borrow a word made up by Robert Pirsig) I dedicate myself to the kind of written thrashing about that, if I’m lucky,  gets a few more words and hopefully good ideas onto the page. The small success of getting those kinds of difficult words down blunts the sharpness of feeling a little stuck and replaces it with the confidence that a way forward can be found with a bit more effort.

Anyway, think about what Sam said the next time you find yourself stuck.

 

 

Best writing advice ever!

Kingdom of Dreams Part 2

This is Part 2 of Kingdom of Dreams, my 2014 golf short story.

Part 3 will be available soon so please check back.

I hope you enjoy it and thanks for stopping by and having a listen.

You can buy the ebook here: Kingdom of Dreams ebook at Amazon.

Kingdom of Dreams Part 2

The software I’m using to write my new book is…

I’ve been making good progress on my new book, especially considering the hodgepodge of software I’ve been using.

I wrote my first book in Microsoft Word and it was a harrowing and creativity-sapping process. Word is like a huge Swiss Army knife of a word processor. A knife with a shit-ton of tools can be impressive. You look at it wondering how many tools there are and whether you’re likely to use most (or any) of them.

Then you realize the damn thing’s heavy. Then you realize that using any of the tools except the main blade is a fiddly and frustrating experience.

In the end, you leave the knife at home more than you use it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that Word exists. The choices made by the folks who created it result in a benchmark product. I would never refer to Word as a bad piece of software. It’s simply a bit of software that’s unsuited to the creative flow of my writing.

A while back, I was prattling on about Ulysses and iA Writer. Later, I discovered and used Bear for a while. I deemed each of them as interesting but not quite useful enough. Each design is good at pretty much keeping out of the writer’s way.

It’s the issue of sync that settled the matter, and not in favor of iA Writer, Ulysses or even Bear.

Each of those platforms rely on iCloud for sync. That’s OK if the writer uses the same Apple ID across all devices and the iTunes Store. There’s the problem for me. Also, I think the software companies should use their own system and servers for sync rather than relying on iCloud.

I think WorkFlowy does sync right. Their ingeniously simple software is truly web-based, syncing by username, seamlessly.

I encourage those folks to develop WorkFlowy for Writers and let me know when it gets to beta. If they can build on the way WorkFlowy works and apply it to the work of long-form writing it would be a real game changer.

The software I’ve chosen to write my book in is Apple’s very own Notes. File organization is simple and straightforward. You can choose your own font and basic formatting is a snap. I will continue to use Word as the destination software (and archived backup) for the eventual manuscript. Importantly, documents created in Notes paste cleanly into Word without any weird or unexpected formatting problems. Notes also syncs both immediately and perfectly across all devices, as one would expect of one of Apple’s own creations operating in their own ecosystem. The UI is clean and uncluttered and this helps me to focus on what I’m working on. 

I’m glad to be watching that hodgepodge of software vanish into my rearview mirror. I’m also glad there are software folks out there who are trying to make the challenge of writing easier and I’m really happy Apple did such a marvelous job with Notes.

The software I’m using to write my new book is…

How to (and how NOT to) discuss a friend’s new novel.

I’m going to take a few minutes to explain how to discuss a friend (or loved one’s) new novel.

Please consider & accept my premise:

The novel was a royal pain in the ass to write. It was a wholly unreasonable thing to try to create while holding down a day job.

It started out hard & got harder.

Then, as if by magic, it was done.

In the end, the writer failed in ways he never imagined.

In the end, the writer succeeded in ways he never believed possible.

A book should be read, it must be reacted to, so the writer gives it to the audience he imagines will be the most kind and receptive and responsive.

You’re that audience and I’m going to tell you what the writer wants you to say and ask (and also what he hopes you won’t).

First, be aware the writer knows his novel is flawed.

He didn’t write the novel to get rich.

He didn’t write the novel to become famous.

He wrote the novel in an effort to convey an idea or series of ideas in the best and most engaging way he could.

Let’s cover those pesky don’ts first.

The writer doesn’t want to hear what you’re reading right now and that you’ll get to his book when you’re done. The writer doesn’t care when you read his book, only how.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how he intends to promote his book.

The writer doesn’t want to be reminded how nice it is that it’s become so easy for anyone to write a book and sell it on Amazon.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how many copies have sold so far.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked if he he’s going to send the book to any real publishers.

Let’s move along to what the writer does want you to ask about.

The writer wants to know if you liked the book. He wants to know if you found any of the characters to be likable or loathsome or fun or frightening.

He wants to ask him how he went about writing the characters the way he did.

He wants you to ask if any of the characters were based on people he actually knew or knows.

He wants you to ask what it was about the real person that made him want to form the person into a character in a fictional book.

The writer wants to know if you didn’t like the book.

He really does. Trust me on this.

He wants to know if you simply didn’t find the story intriguing or the characters engaging. If he fell short, you’re his best chance of figuring out he did and, just maybe, why.

The writer wants you to ask how you decided on the book’s sequence. He wants you to ask how you were able to handle the different times and places while maintaining the book’s coherence and flow.

The writer wants to be asked why he decided to write a book at all?

Why make an effort to do something that took literally thousands of hours and, in many cases, years to complete with a vanishing a chance of financial compensation?

It’s a valid question every aspiring writer has asked himself not only when he set out to write the book, but very likely every single time he sat down to work on it.

The way you ask that question may help the writer draw a closer to his own answer when he asks the question of himself.

He wants you to ask him about other subjects he may be interested in, or may already be working on.

He wants to be asked what he learned from writing the book.

He wants to be asked what you regard as the best part of his book & believe it or not, the worst.

Lastly, the writer wants to know what his book made you think and feel. Were you happy to be done with it, to be relieved of the obligation of reading it, or did its ending leave you wanting more? Did reading it make you think differently about the writer? Did it change the way you thought about what he might accomplish in the future, based on what you might see as the promise or lack of promise brought forth by the book you just read?

The writer is asking himself each of these questions as he lays his head on his pillow every night.

Is the writer is an honest soul, looking to achieve beyond his prior achievements?

Though obvious to me, I should say that every word I write here assumes the writer in question is an honest soul. I assume the writer was trying to achieve something bigger and more importantly than bigger or longer, a work beyond anything he may have written before.

Thinking of a novel as leap of faith.

A novel represents a leap of faith for a writer and I believe a writer simply wants to be asked what made him want to take the leap.

 

How to (and how NOT to) discuss a friend’s new novel.