SOLD OUT Toast, Fuji X-T4, Emotional … Intelligence?
Next steps for Kissa by Kissa, thinking about videography, and why you should strive for a higher level of emotional intelligence
Fine Roden Folk —
Another month (or has it been sixteen years?) has passed and I, Craig Mod, your inbox interloper am here once again with Roden — a newsletter sometimes about humidity, sometimes about photography, always implicitly about far away volcanoes and sleeping under the wing of your light aircraft beneath the stars.
Kissa by SOLD OUT
Last month I announced my new book, Kissa by Kissa. And then, in a scant forty-eight hours … it sold out. Sure, “just” 1,000 copies, but to say this was unexpected is to put it mildly. It’s a $95 book about toast and walking in Japan. My genuine false-modesty-exempt estimate was a three year span to sell out this first edition. In celebration, I took a little night bike ride (too hot to walk).
I’ll write up the full economics of this endeavor in good time, but to have pushed over $130,000 USD in revenue (-discounts, +print sales, +shipping, et cetera) through a small publishing machine in just a couple days is astounding. That’s the equivalent of selling 10,000 copies of a $10 book in short order. Which I think would qualify it for bestseller status? Anyway — Shopify freaked out (rightfully so) and I had to “prove” that the books were being made (and also provide almost all forms of ID outside of a DNA sample). All that’s cleared. Money is in the bank. The printer gets paid tomorrow.
THANK YOU to everyone who has supported this project spiritually and financially.
The book was enabled in large part by my SPECIAL PROJECTS membership program. Memberships continue to grow at a nice, gentle, organic pace. Pre-launch, I had a theory that this book could drive even more memberships. I’m happy to report that almost 20% of all Kissa by Kissa sales included the purchase of a SPECIAL PROJECTS membership.
This is great because memberships provide a baseline of working capital. They allow for predictable income, and from that flows the big walks, the publishing experiments, the buying of equipment to facilitate these explorations. I try to “repay” members, or provide a “dividend” in the form of a big discount on the book. (This, of course, on top of what I hope is the fun of being a member and the “cultural capital” being paid out in each newsletter or missive.) Yearly members of SP got $50 off Kissa by Kissa.
This first edition was limited to 1,000 copies, not because I was trying to create false scarcity, but because every piece of data I had about selling a book like this indicated that 1,000 was a solid upper bounds, and selling that many would take a while. I’m happy to see I was mistaken!
Since most of my friends and family didn’t even get to buy a copy, we’re going to do a second edition in October. I’m still playing with how this will work, but here’s my current thinking: The second edition will feature a few slight changes to distinguish it from the first edition (different silk screen ink color on the cover, slightly different blind deboss on the back). The second edition will be unnumbered. We’ll have a ten day “pre-sales” period that will “define” the size of the print run. That is, the run will scale based on demand. Price will be the same as first edition (will break down why this price is important in a later analysis). I’ll add some perks (postcard prints?) to all orders if we hit a certain threshold of sales in that ten day period, and possibly offer signed copies for a slight premium.
Yearly SPECIAL PROJECTS members will once again get a $50 discount. Join here for that and many more perks. SP, Roden, and Ridgeline subscribers will be first to hear about this new run.
I’m happy to report that Craigstarter — my Shopify-based, open source, free-to-use-and-extend crowdfunding tool — worked admirably well, nary a hitch, and I’ve since made some updates to the codebase. Help spread the word, and do let me know if you use it to launch anything.
With that whirlwind of sales complete (one of the benefits to a capped sales number is that the hyperventilation of selling can stop, and focus can shift to next steps), the last month has been full-on production. Well, mostly production. All of Japan shut down for about ten days for obon holidays. Outside of that, I’ve been making trips to northwestern Tokyo and Saitama to film and photograph the making of the book. Tomorrow I head into the printer’s office to help them setup fulfillment. Basically, Kissa by Kissa is catalyzing a research-to-write-to-ship, highest-quality, full-stack, physical book publishing machine. The goal is to open this machine to more authors and artists in Japan. But first we need to make sure it runs smoothly.
Current production status: covers are silk screened and blind debossed, and body signatures are beautifully offset printed. Tomorrow I’ll film the folding of, cutting, and sewing of signatures. Then we go back for gluing the end pages to the covers. Then I sign. Then they’re shrink wrapped. And then, finally, they’re shipped. We’re having custom shipping boxes made (in Japan, 100% recycled materials) to minimize waste. Currently on target for October delivery goal.
Once I’m sure all this is functioning properly, we’ll prep for the second edition, with a goal of opening up sales in the second half of October. Printing and binding in November. And shipping well in time for the year-end holidays.
A while back I began running members-only “office hours.” That is: twenty-minute one-on-one Zoom sessions with SPECIAL PROJECTS members. They’re great. I love doing them. But they obviously don’t scale. Especially so given the recent bump in memberships. They’re limited to fifteen slots and fill up almost immediately upon announcement.
That said: I am frequently asked the same questions. In an effort to scale “access” to these answers, I started a new, extremely low-pressure members-only podcast called … Office Hours. (Based on the cover image, it’s also a forthcoming Netflix seaside romcom about a Honda Cub love triangle.)
The first two episodes are, “How do you build connections?,” and “How do you measure success?.” Where I espouse my armchair philosophies around how and why I’m doing what I do, and try to provide concrete examples.
I’ve tried to make creation of Office Hours as simple as possible since I know myself. And I have … uhm … writers-block-like issues with audio production. So all episodes are just different tracks in the same Audition session. The first two are about 15 minutes each. Essentially one take recordings. (I’ve practiced by giving these answers nearly a dozen times.) Again, this is the “hack” of a membership program — because I’m not producing these to be consumed by ten of thousands of people, I am OK with single-take-and-published, rather than enter into a kind of performance paralysis, or perfectionist paralysis when pushing to a bigger audience.
The Fuji X100T was my post-GF1 gateway drug back into “real” cameras. For, shortly after I bought the X100T I grabbed the Leica Q which perpetrated a rekindling of camera adoration.
Fast forward five years (five?!) and I snagged an X100V. For no real rational reason. I just loved the object and it seemed like a formidable evolution in the series. Well, it turns out, the X100V does video really well. And is able to act as a high-quality web cam.
Once again: X100 series as gateway drug. I found myself in quarantine doing more video-adjacent work than ever, mostly as livestreams for SP members.
Since we sold more than 700 copies of Kissa by Kissa during that first Craigstarter, I “have to” make a YouTube show about “pizza toast.” Which means I need to get better at video. Book production seemed like the ideal, low-stakes way to ramp up those skills. The X100V shoots 4k log. Perfect!
I invested in a Rode VideoMic NTG shotgun microphone to sit atop the camera, and a Ronin SC gimbal. The NTG is wonderful but, man, gimbals are a drag. After a day of shooting with it, and it constantly losing balance, quivering, shaking, being generally weird (despite my having spent hours and hours testing and balancing and rebalancing and watching so. many. videos. about. balancing.), I decided gimbals weren’t for me, right now. And, anyway, it seemed my SC was defective. Sent back to Amazon. Refund. Maybe I’ll revisit it later.
I was also hitting the limits of the X100V pretty quickly — focal length was obviously limited to 35mm equivalent, and it overheated with gusto. So I started poking around. I like Fuji as a spiritual corporate entity. I really liked the quality of footage coming out of the X100V. The Fuji X-T4 had just been released. It touted solid in-body stabilization. Was reasonably priced. I nabbed it and the following lenses: XR 23mm f/2, XR 16mm f/2.8, and XR 16mm f/1.4.
I really loved the look of the X100V’s 23mm f/2 lens in the footage I had shot. So I figured I’d get something a bit wider. I started with the tiny, new-ish, 16mm f/2.8. Which I found to be somewhat uninspired for video, and overly light-dependent for low-ISO indoor shooting. As a walk-around street photography lens, it’s superb. But f/2.8 on a APS-C sensor is more like F4 on full-frame, so it was tricky to get truly “cinematic” shots. With some resignation, I grabbed the XF 16mm f/1.4 with the intent of returning the 2.8. The 16mm f/1.4 is glorious. A heckuva lens. Cinematic to the max, but also beastly in size. It basically turns the X-T4 into a DSLR.
In the end, I don’t think I’m going to dump the XF 16mm f/2.8. It’s a WR lens (as is the f/1.4) meaning it has weather resistance, and the combo of the X-T4 (also WR) and that 16mm f/2.8 might be an ideal light-ish-weight walking / hiking setup. We’ll see.
I also zoinked up a used X-to-Leica-M adapter, and will be using my Summilux 35mm f/1.4 to film tomorrow. On APS-C it becomes a ~50mm lens. Which is great — in full-frame mappings, the XF 16mm, XF 23mm, and Summilux 35mm resolve to 23mm, 35mm, and 50mm equivalents. Hilariously, the Summilux alone costs more than ALL THE FUJI — meaning you can buy an X100V, X-T4, XF 16mm f/1.4, XF 16mm f/2.8, and XF 23mm f/2.0 for the price of a single Leica lens. Full disclosure: Leica gave me a huge discount on my Summilux, but still. The value you get for a Fuji is breathtaking.
I’ll probably sell my X100V (as I sold my X100T soon after getting my Q) in the next month or two. The X100V is a marvel of a machine, though — so small, so capable. But the X-T4 with the XF 23 f/2 is the same optics, just in an uglier, less romantic, less compact, but far more capable package.
In fact, the X-T4 is probably the least romantic photographic purchase I’ve ever made. I cast upon it an icy eye, see it as a raw get-shit-done tool. I love that I literally dial in photography settings with the top dials, and then flip a switch to video mode, where all my video settings are set using the front and back dials. Meaning, I can effortlessly and instantaneously switch to photos during filming to capture stills. Then switch back and keep filming. No fiddling with any settings. It feels like a Swiss Army Knife with a hidden chainsaw.
The IBIS + digital stabilization of the X-T4 seem to cover about 50% of the goodness of a gimbal without an onerous setup or balancing theatrics. Good enough for me!
So far, very pleased. Learning tons about videography, and looking forward to applying it to the pizza toast filming later this year. Will write more about this setup in time. (Biggest takeaway so far: auto-focus is unreliable / unpredictable; manual is often the way to go.)
(All the photos in this issue of Roden are hastily graded f-log stills or random snaps from the X-T4.)
Daisy Okazaki is bi-cultural, 17 years old, and writes beautifully about identity. She recently spent last summer working in a cafe in Hiroshima, meditating on the history of the city and her experience as an outsider:
Hiroshima is both the past and the present. It is unique and sad and beautiful. In the beginning, when I returned to the apartment by myself late at night, when I woke up to a missed call from my parents, I would feel suddenly very lonely and ache to go back to California. But as the days passed that happened less and less. Sitting on a road overpass in the rain, walking along the riverside, or serving drinks to people at the café, I felt completely at ease. Through meeting people like Kawamoto-san and Kaji-san, I was shown an experience—a story much larger than myself.
Their software and tool philosophy is especially poignant:
The energy required to power tools like Xcode and Photoshop keeps growing, and the large and incessant updates have often long stopped adding worthwhile improvements. While fashionable devices and protocols exacerbate planned obsolescence, bloated software increase energy usage and shorten the lifespan of computers resulting in more than 130'000 computers ending in the garbage annually.
We have decided to focus on documenting, and archiving, means of reusing and repairing older devices and programs. All of our tools are designed to work offline first, operate with little-power on older devices and operating systems. Operating this way, we can keep creating content while off-grid, and when our power and connectivity is limited.
This month’s Newsletter Essay™ — Emotional intelligence
These past five years, the notion of “emotional intelligence” has become an organizing principal for my moving through, and responding to the world. It’s become a prime characteristic by which I (perhaps ungenerously!) qualify who I want to be spending more time with.
I’ve had older friends query my use of the phrase “emotional intelligence” with a side-eye suspicion reserved for banal millennial ambiguities. So I thought I’d take a second to break down — for me, anyway — how I’ve come to characterize the notion of “emotional intelligence,” with the aim of reducing any wishy-washy ring it may carry.
I find high emotional intelligence is defined by a refined sense of empathy, thoughtfulness, brilliance, kindness, and curiosity. High emotional intelligence is the antipode to bombastic jingoisms, and signals an overcoming of childish impulses. Most importantly: High emotional intelligence does not suffer sloth. Lazy responses are often physical responses, takedowns, attacks, slanders, ad hominems. Someone with high emotional intelligence rises above the low-hanging response, takes time to compose themself, and responds with clarity and with a clear goal in mind. (Which does not strictly preclude emotional intelligence from deploying violence.)
There is a disembodiment to emotional intelligence, and in that way, a connection to Vipassanna-style meditation. (Prev. notes: part 1, part 2.) Someone with high emotional intelligence is able to distance themself from the immediate chemical component of a dire situation, and cooly assess (which is different from dispassionately, or assessing without emotion) how to achieve some desired result in the most efficient and most sustainable way possible. People with high emotional intelligence don’t look for simple solutions, they look for durable solutions. They don’t look to solve a problem once by force, they look to unlock a problem forever, often through kindness and cunning.
Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind as easy examples of highly emotionally intelligent people. The long walk, the sit-in, the non-violent gesture — these are sustainable, historical-arc responses to oppression. These are not the “obvious” or easy responses. It requires a tremendous faith, understanding of human nature, and belief in core values to rise above “punching back” when you’ve been punched. In that sense, a cultivation of high emotional intelligence enables us rise above our base animalistic station in the world. Emotional intelligence is often a proxy for grace.
Personal attacks are often emotionally driven attacks. And in that sense, they are perhaps the simplest indication of someone with low emotional intelligence. Personal attacks represent low impulse-control. They are childish by default, and often have no lasting useful effect. Folks who tend to attack — rather than deconstruct, or empathize — are often trapped in tremendously narrow world views. They tend to see all relationships as existing within a thin column, a tight hierarchy of being above or below each other. And in service to that “alpha” pole position at the top of the column, they need to attack and make sure you or your work sits below. The emotionally intelligent person recognizes that this person’s thin column is not the world, steps outside of it (or chooses not to enter the column by disengaging), and looks on with a mixture of pity and freedom as the attacker is stuck in a cage of their own historical construction.
This stepping outside of the column isn’t easy to do! That’s why emotional intelligence and sloth aren’t compatible. To be emotionally intelligent is to require energy, training. It is a skill and mode of living that isn’t necessarily implicit or “organic” to our programmed being.
It’s easy to pick on social media, but perhaps more than any tool in history, social media rewards, amplifies, and encourages a self-immolation of any emotional intelligence someone may have. The less emotionally intelligent the tweet, the more likes, the more retweets. Without friction between an emotional spike and response, we are disincentivized from considering non-reactive responses. The result is dumpster fires heaped atop dumpster fires, all the way down. Tiny loops, aiding in animalistic impulse.
Similarly to how the vipasanna meditator is not so disembodied from the world as to allow someone to come up and slash them with a knife, so too, the emotionally intelligent person does not take attacks without response. But instead of operating on a response timeline of milliseconds, they can operate on one of minutes, hours, years. This timescale is relative; the best martial artists are the most emotionally intelligent — that is, they see the opponent gestures not as emotional, personal affronts, but as moves in a puzzle. I suspect Bruce Lee was able to channel or distill any impulse-laden emotion into greater focus and accuracy.
Which is to say, those emotionally intelligent among us are alchemists. Our bodies are as bodies are, billions of years of genetic encoding can’t be erased, but it can be willfully redirected. I’ve witnessed that aikido-esque energy redirection of the mind in certain friends during stressful moments. It’s been inspiring and instructive to see someone attacked, the eyes harden slightly, the initial jab-response transmuted into a fifteen-move game of well-understood manipulation, ending often with the attacker having fallen in love with the one being attacked, and the attackee getting everything they wanted and more. Importantly: Everyone in the social equation has been elevated. And perhaps the attacker is able to see — however slight — the world beyond their thin column.
Until you see this happen, it’s difficult to believe it’s possible. John Lewis knew this, experienced this, and preached this.
If you’re looking to increase your own emotional intelligence — that is, if you find yourself overly enthralled to impulse above rationality or equanimity — I’ve personally found therapy to paid handsome dividends. The ability to self-analyze can be learned with the help of a good therapist. A good therapist should be of supreme emotional intelligence. Disengage, immediately, from any therapist that judges or berates. They are not the teacher you’re looking for. In developing the skill of self-analysis, one gets better at understanding an impulse as it arises, seeing it for what it is, and analyzing how best to channel that primal energy. Done over and over it becomes a habit. The best habits define our identities. Emotional intelligence can very much be learned.
Aaaaaaaanyway — I hope you’re all thriving as much as one can thrive today. My heart is with all the dingdong-fighting going on in the US.
I’m off to prep for filming tomorrow. And then am going to hide in Kanazawa — one of my very favorite cities in the world — for a few days to write and walk and photograph.