This is the October, 3,300 word edition of Roden, and I’m Craig Mod, a man in Kyoto at the moment (ed: that was last week; not in Kyoto anymore), writing from an empty Cafe Bibliotec Hello, a stalwart, workable cafe with flagrantly overpriced smoothies. This is the first time in my decade or so of visiting this place that I’ve been here alone. That is, with no other customers. It’s surreal, as is the city. Kyoto itself has been denuded of tourists; it often seems I’m the only one in a shop not living within a few hundred meters of the shop. I’ll write more about this (over-tourism and covid) later.
The photo above is from Kiyomizudera, a temple with normally eighteen billion visitors and four-hundred million selfie sticks a day. Last week, there were about ten folks there with me. Zero selfie sticks.
3,300 words is a long newsletter. Skip around if you’d like:
General: Kissa by Kissa publishing and membership program updates
Photography: iPhone cameras and Fargo cinematography
That first printing sold out so quickly that most of my friends and family didn’t even get a copy. I get emails daily from strangers looking to see if they can snag one. So we’re printing a second batch. These won’t be editioned, but they’ll be made to the same exacting specs as the first printing. We’re using a dark grey ink on the cover to distinguish between 1st and 2nd editions, and obviously the copyright page is updated. That’s about it though. Otherwise the same, beautiful, literary nugget of wood.
As before, we’ll do a ten day presale capped at 1,000 books starting around Oct 19th. If we hit 500 copies sold then I’ll include the four postcard print set of some kissa interiors. The book will retail for $95 normally, but, as before, sell for $85 during the presale period. It is scheduled to ship in early November (we’re printing now).
As usual, the announcement for the sale will go out to SPECIAL PROJECTS members a day early. Yearly members will once again be offered a coupon, this time for $40 off (meaning you can buy the book for $45 + shipping).
Since we’re shipping so many books, we managed to negotiate a significant discount with DHL and FedEx. Going forward, shipping costs for most folks should be a bit more reasonable (all books are tracked, two/three day DHL international).
I’ll also be running a members-only livestream design / book discussion towards the end of October. It’s always a good time to become an SP member, but now’s a great time if you’re thinking about grabbing Kissa by Kissa.
Thanks again for all your support with The Book. There’s a reason most folks don’t self publish: It’s quite stressful! I’m doing pretty much all of the coordination, setup, launch prep, and general management on my own. My days this past month have been dedicated to solving production kerfuffles, negotiating shipping contracts, helping office folks get up to speed on fulfillment software, and updating a few dozen addresses for customers who moved since they placed their orders in August. Thanks for your patience as we get this new system oiled-up and well-run.
Another little members-only perk: The third episode of the Office Hours podcast also went up a few weeks ago. Office Hours is my “audio FAQ” of answers to questions oft asked during my quarterly members-only office hours. When you join you get a member-specific link to subscribe to the podcast. Current episodes:
“How do you build up connections / connect with interesting folks?”
“How do you measure success?”
and the perennial, “How do I write more gooder?”
iPhone Cameras and Fargo cinematography
On Twitter the other day, I opined a desire for a “camera mode” on the iPhone. That is: A mode where the camera is automatically loaded when you wake the screen. Not a new idea, but let’s revisit it anyway.
I sometimes find myself doing two or three hour photo walks with just the phone. Keeping the camera open and the screen on is a battery killer. So I sleep the thing in between shots.
I know you can slide from right to left on the lock screen to bring up the camera but:
it often doesn’t work the first try
notifications can “get in the way” of the slide
it’s simply too slow
And, it’s frictive to do over and over. The camera icon on the bottom of the lock screen is somehow even worse — I can never get those buttons to activate with any reliability. Alien haptics.
When pulling the phone up to take a photo hundreds of times over the course of a few hours, this slide / camera activation becomes a hindrance, can rob you of shots. It’s also annoying that it resets the lens you were using. So if you want to keep shooting ultra-wide you have to: 1) wake, 2) slide, 3) slide again because the first slide didn’t take, 4) wait for camera to load, 5) select ultra-wide, 6) finally take the shot.
Other suboptimal options: You can keep the the camera open in unlocked phone mode, and then unlock-to-camera each time, but that’s also slow. You can set up a double-back-tap accessibility action to load a shortcut that then loads the camera, but, again, too slow.
A hardware solution: If you swaddle your svelte phone in Apple’s giant battery pack you get a dedicated camera button. This seems like overkill.
I’d “solve this” by adding a toggle that only appears on the lockscreen-activated camera app: a little switch in the camera “header” area, top left, next to the flash icon. Toggled on, it would put the phone into wake-to-camera mode. Toggled off, you’d go back to wake-to-lockscreen. Maybe it would automatically revert to wake-to-lockscreen if you haven’t unlocked in thirty minutes.
There’s a much larger, meta issue at play here: iOS is extremely rigid and locked down. There’s very little “looseness” available to us users. Contrast with macOS which is relatively malleable. I have dozens of little hacks and fixes that make my day on a laptop more fluid and enjoyable than days spent on, say, the iPad. I wish we had more control.
Fargo season four is now up and running. We’re only three episodes in so I won’t yet issue script judgments, but it’s safe to say this season is a marvel of cinematography and set.
Somewhat related (the interview above talks about LUTs and film emulation): My least favorite conversation in the world is about film vs digital (I simply don’t care; just show me the great final artifact), but cinematographer Steve Yedlin’s geeky deconstructions around resolution obsession, sensors, and film vs digital are glorious. Mainly he’s poking film shamans in the eyes with science and data. Thanks to Robin Sloan for sharing his website, which feels like it came out of 2002 in the best and worst possible way. The guy is sharp and, as Robin says, “suffers no fools.” Strong opinions, mega strongly held. Keep that in mind while reading his essays.
Second Person Lit & Video Games
Books randomly arrive to my house. If folks I trust recommend something, I’ll often put in an order for a used physical copy. Sometimes the books arrive quickly, other times, months later. How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid arrived months (years?) later carrying with it no memory whatsoever of purchasing it. (In fact, it’s possible someone else bought it for me.)
It was my Kyoto book, that is the book I read whenever I had downtime in Kyoto. It’s an easy read, and as soon as I started it I realized (possibly) why I had bought it: second person.
Years ago, when I was working on my in-a-drawer novel (that is, a novel that you work on for years and then put in a drawer) a big chunk of it was in second person. Friends or folks I’d hire would read my novel, and make suggestions. Those suggestions would often be in the form of other books succeeding at my failings. I suspect this was a book given as an example of “good” second person.
That said, having now read it, I’m more than ever convinced not to do a book in second person! Not because it’s an inherently bad form — second person has its place; but it’s a tool that can draw excessive attention to itself — but because I had a distinctly bizarre experience while reading Hamid’s work: I felt like I was in a video game.
This is in part because of how he structured the book: Faux self-help, you start at “zero” points as a sick malarial child and the goals is to work up to “filthy rich” levels (in unnamed … Pakistani cities?) of points by essentially upgrading or shedding yourself of certain baggage, making government connections, et cetera. The characters feel like sketches, proxies for a larger, amorphous aggregate (it’s a short book), and it moves quickly and somewhat weightlessly.
Rewind two months. I had never played Universal Paperclips by Frank Lantz. Have you? I’m reticent to link it up because, well, I lost two days to the game, playing through it a few times. You start at zero paperclips, and then you keep going until … it would ruin the game to tell you where it goes. Let’s just say, it goes well beyond paperclips.
These kind of “clicker” games feel inherently “of” the second person. Sierra-ish. Even if the games don’t explicitly say “you buy another auto-clipper, you raise the price of your paperclips,” there’s an implicit second personness to it all.
A Dark Room is another well known example. “[you] stoke the fire” is how it all begins. The “you,” implicit. Beginning as a kernel, inflating until it encompasses universes.
I find these games compelling. As do many of you out there. Part of it is the slow-burn minimalism, the “balls in the air” mode of feeling like you’re being productive. (I feel like late-game Civ VI is, for me, the peak of “balls in the air” game play.) But I’ve never seen one rise to the “capital L” Lit levels of, say, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Have you?
There’s a to do that’s been sitting in Things.app for ages. It says: Write up a walk in Ink. Ink is a scripting language you can write video games in. I really need to set aside a day or two and dig in.
The internet makes it exceedingly easy to reach out and slap someone. What does it mean to criticize? Can it be done well? How do you deal with proverbial dingdongs? I look to answer some of these questions in this month’s essay.
Unfortunately, you might be a dingdong. It’s true, you may even be a bona fide dingdong. What’s a dingdong? Paradoxically, a dingdong is a subset of asshole, but for the sake of levity, we go with the former. A dingdong believes — genuinely! — that their opinion and their frequent, unsolicited deployment of that opinion is helpful. Often: It’s not.
For those non-dingdong readers — I offer tips for dealing with a dingdong found in the wild.
For the dingdongs — some concrete suggestions on how to be better.
Regardless of race, sexual orientation, origin of passport, or age, dingdongs universally have no self-awareness. They are blind to their own biases, and are convinced their word is gold-gilded and tastes like fresh gelato under a scorching Venetian sun, their tongue is encrusted with bedazzling diamonds, and their lips are dripping with manuka honey. They respond to essays or tweets or blog posts or films or books with nuggets of utterly useless so-called “criticism.” Sometimes terse, sometimes hilariously (terrifyingly) voluminous — length matters not. The binding agent amongst dingdong “criticism” is a lack of actionable component. Dingdongs are not looking for conversation. Nor are they really looking to help. Instead, they desire only for you to prostrate before them as if Zeus has come down from his throne to fart brilliance. This self-inflation is connected mainly to: a deep-seated narcissism, a bulging and fragile ego based on (self-perceived) past accomplishments, and, often, a sadness and brokenness of heart and/or soul. Dingdongs may be the most hug-needy of all creatures.
That said, life is short, and our purpose in life is not to save every dingdong.
Step one in dealing with dingdongs: block or mute them immediately.
Step two: there is no step two.
Most comment sections on most websites might as well be labeled: Dingdong Bonanza. So an easy dingdong avoidance method is to simply ignore comments. This is a superb strategy, one I highly recommend.
For, you see, dingdong engagement has a very low energy-in to positivity-out yield. Almost zero. In the exceedingly small chance that you end up in a fruitful back and forth with a dingdong, it’s likely you’ll look back on that tête-à-tête and wish you had been doing literally anything else with your time.
Dingdong blockage is easier said than done, however, because the essential nature of a dingdong is to “troll.” That is: To sit upon a self-imagined high horse and deploy meaningless platitudes upon those below them. That rankles. Who made you king of the inbox? It’s a bully move. If you’re like me, the impulse is to throat-punch a bully. But that’s not the emotionally intelligent riposte. Instead, be like Bruce. The Bruce Lee retort — to be like water — is to block swiftly with an almost sub-autonomous nervous system like counter, and keep walking, briskly, away.
Once you realize that a dingdong engaged is a dingdong activated (the second worst form of dingdong is Activated Dingdong) you are more easily able to block and forget. In fact, the block move itself begins to feel — and I use this term sparingly — orgasmic. Yes. Blocking and disengaging from dingdongs can make a person tingle in their nipples. I’m just saying.
Once you’ve mastered this first Bruce Lee engagement level, you are perhaps ready for the second level: Dalai Lama status of dingdong (dis)engagement. I wouldn’t use it often, but sometimes it can be helpful. The Dalai Lama stance is to respond with a “Oh, that’s very interesting! Thanks for your advice.” and then block. A stealth block. Never respond with, “Thanks dingdong. Blocked.” NEVER! Dingdong ego is the Faberge egg of ego, and to damage it is to invite Full Dingdong. Full Dingdong is the worst dingdong. Avoid at all costs. It is relentless, like a locomotive powered by nuclear holocaust. But — a dingdong ego stroked — well, that placates the dingdong, deactivates the dingdong. Stroked dingdong is — again, paradoxically — flaccid dingdong. Flaccid dingdong is not a threat.
Perhaps you’re a dingdong that has read this far. Thanks. Let me offer some gentle suggestions for how to dispense criticism in a helpful and additive way. Maybe — just maybe — someone will even get better at what they do because of your advice! You may even shift from entrenched dingdong towards the direction of, dare I say … mentor. (The reality is, many dingdongs do have valuable insights to share.)
First step to de-dingdonging: Never write anything to someone you wouldn’t say to their face. This is kindergarten 101, but the social impulses of many dingdongs ossified decades back. So it’s worth reminding us of this useful rule.
Second step: Consider the person to whom you’re writing. What about their creation irritates so? Think: Did they intend to irritate you by making the thing? Are you so solipsistic that you believe they imagined you — your very being — when they produced the thing, thinking, “Let me give it good to that dingdong!” Did they have evil intentions in heart? Or are you simply being ungenerous in your reading? Try to empathize. Who are they? Why are they making their work? What is their goal? If you think they are vapid or their goal is pointless, then why are you engaging in the first place?
Third step: Consider if you are being triggered because you perceive the person on the other side a threat. Are they younger, more attractive, smarter, more successful than you are? Then be wary! You may be triggered. And if you’re triggered, it’s unlikely you’ll rise above your inherent dingdongery. Disengage until you come to grips with whatever social hierarchy may be at play.
Fourth step: Have a clear goal in mind. Take this essay as example: My goal is not to lambaste dingdongs, but to help normal folks deal with them, and offer concrete tips for communicating critical thought. As a dingdong you may believe anything you have to say is worth hearing, but it’s not. Because: Bloviation doesn’t make anyone better (the bloviator or recipient; it simply fills the world with useless carbon dioxide). Instead — be precise in your desired outcome. Do you want someone to be a better writer? A better filmmaker? Have a sharper eye for cinematography? How so? What exactly about their creation feels off to you? Imprecision in criticism is the hallmark of a dingdong in the making. I can’t emphasize this enough — imprecise criticism is lazy, dangerous, and doesn’t deserve a millisecond of engagement.
Fifth step: Consider successful works of art that align with the work you feel so moved to harangue. How did these successful works do the thing that this person failed to do? Take the time to really look for solid, exciting, unexpected examples. Providing someone with great archetypes is a superb strategy to help someone be better in all aspects of life. Archetypes are concrete. The finished successful work a real thing, able to be held, considered, learned from. The mentorship of example-giving is golden. It is the anti-dingdong.
Sixth step: Put it all together. Start by saying how much you appreciate someone’s effort (if you can’t bring yourself to do even that, then you are hopelessly dingdonged, stop what you’re doing and place your laptop in the toilet). Gently bring up what you think — precisely — precisely! — — might be wrong with the work in question. Provide ample examples of other folks attempting to — and succeeding in! — doing something similar. End by saying, once again, thanks.
The corollary of the above is that when a non-dingdong reaches out — someone who is empathetic, kind, curious, someone who comes with humility and, more importantly, someone who has done things, produced work, engaged with the world, failed and succeeded, and carries with them a self-awareness and deep-seeded emotional intelligence — you’ll know they’re someone with whom engagement is worthwhile. It’s from that stratum of correspondence that unexpected friendships and mentorships arise. And despite the vast sea of dingdongs covering limitless swaths of internet, wonderful humans abound. Focus on them, surround yourself with them, use the number of non-dingdongs in your orbit as a proxy for measuring your own success.
When a piece of creative work provokes or chafes, drives you mad, the true power move is not to attack but to provide counter-archetype yourself. Make the opposite thing. Transmute the attack energy into creative energy. Write an essay about dingdongs.
Unfortunately, you might be a dingdong. But not all hope is lost. You can change. Just don’t expect a response until you do.
Do you have any tips for dingdongs or general tips for criticism? I’d love to hear them.
We’re well into October. I’m prepping for a big walk come November. More on that in Ridgeline. As always, thanks for reading and your support.
I’ll end with one of my favorite little pieces of one of my favorite little gardens: A snippet of Shigemori Mirei’s Tōfukuji temple garden in Kyoto.