Thursday, February 16, 2012

Carrying logs

this is the pic that prompted the question

This is another one of those little things, where... I figure maybe it's a little specific, or not of interest, but then I realize that nobody really reads my blog anyway, and hell: I already did all the typing, so why not? I think it serves as a general overview of what it entails, producing a good shot. I suppose that to most people, it must seem like getting a good picture is perhaps the result of special equipment, or perhaps some sort of talent, or gift, but really it's just lots of carrying logs. And I think that because often the response I intuit after dispensing this kind of advice is that they were really hoping to know the secret, and that they don't believe me in my answer. But it is generally the secret that it's a lot of work.

Anyway: I got this question from an acquaintance, who had noticed some of my pictures:

Those colors on the sunset picture, is that a filter on your lens? Or Photoshop tweaking. Curious because my daughter wants to be a photographer.

And here's my reply:

it's a lot of things, all in combination. but (and I guess a lot of people often don't believe me on this): the majority of it is finding a sunset that looks like this. (same hold true for most of the stuff I do: the secret is finding something cool looking to start with). -so... I spend a lot of time sitting around in the middle of no-where, waiting. it's unpredictable when the colors and balance will be just right, so I usually start about 1/2 hour before the sun hits the horizon, and stay until about 1 hour after it's gone down. to get a typical sunset pic, I'll usually come home with about 700 frames. then I go through and find out what worked. in this case, and what tends to make pop-y colors, is that it was pretty much dark, and I brought the exposure back up on this. It's also a blend of a few exposures, and then I did a bunch of hand tweaking, to bring out detail in the clouds and the foreground mainly. basically 'dodging' to selectively lighten those areas. there's probably some minor white balance adjustment and saturation increase. I don't remember specifically.

but anyway: all that stuff is designed to bring back what the sunset actually looked like. you have to do all that because camera sensors aren't really as sensitive or hi-ranging as the eye, so all that stuff is compensating basically.

I think this is the most technically difficult sunset pic I've taken

so no: no filter. thing is though, there's really no formula. each situation is going to be different, and most of what I described up there is in service of making sure I get enough different shots that I successfully capture the particular sunset well. of those 700 frames, probably 40 are worthwhile. and I'm really happy if I get 10 final pictures.

my general advice to a starting photographer is to get a camera with a manual mode and use it. that's about 85% of everything right there. there are pocket cameras that have manual (M) mode for under $200 new, or you can do like I did and get an old used DSLR. mine was $179. -there are a lot of really cheap cameras that can take really great pictures, but the problem is that if you use those, it's really the camera and its designers and engineers, who are doing most of the picture taking. you can get really good pictures, most of the time, but it's often difficult to capture the best picture, or the one you want to capture. -and before you can do that, you have to have lots of practice with what does what.

Thanks for reading,
Dave DeHetre

Monday, February 13, 2012



live in a house

live from detroit

live from detroit, work from anywhere

live life to the fullest

live: 'life'

Sunday, February 12, 2012

old blog

I finally found my old blog.  it's not very good, but to keep some sort of cohesion, I'll link to it.  It covers things from roomba fandom to the meaning of life.

You know I'm always right.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

is it worth it

This past weekend, I covered a mardi gras party. These are kind of a cool underground thing in Kansas City, with dozens of krewes all setting up their own event during the season. There's a good natured competitive spirit underlying the whole thing, and it's as much support as it is competition. -really, it's one of the nicer manifestations of humanity I've seen.

I went to an event last year, to get pictures of a band, and while I was there, I took pics of some of the other goings on. Jugglers and dancers and costumes and other things like that. It was really cool. And on the strength of those pics, I got asked to cover the event this year too, which was really flattering and exciting.

I've worked at a party pics place before, but I've never tried to do anything of this scale, especially by myself, so when I found out that they wanted me, I spent the better part of a month studying and practicing things like lighting technique, and working with models and events. I watched a lot of youtube videos about wedding and studio photography. I bought a second camera and some strobe units (all surprisingly cheap), and I practiced with them. A lot.

Basically, I spent the month of January learning how to do event photography properly. Maybe they didn't care. Probably they didn't. But I wanted to do a good job. I learned a lot of good stuff in the process, and in fact, got a lot of good pictures just from the training stuff.

And it was a pretty big thing of work. On the day, it took me about eight hours covering the event, and another couple getting there and back. And then I spent four whole working days processing/editing/distributing the results. I got 2785 frames, resulting in about 1100 good images. And I got about 100 pictures that are my pictures, as opposed to event pictures. So, in exchange for all that work, I got 100 really good shots for my portfolio, as it were. That's a really great average. Normally I'd be happy to get 15 great shots a month. But it was very concentrated effort, and very taxing.

I do wonder if there's anything besides pure art in it though. As of now, five days later, only a couple of people have bought any of the pics. So I've recouped about $5. Which, in general, I expected. I wasn't doing it to make money. But being immersed in it like this, I can't see that there's any way that the process is monetizable. People have expressed dismay that they can't get full access to all of the shots I've taken, even though I've done everything I can to get them out. I've responded to every request by directly emailing pictures, and I've done some outreach to try to find people. But it seems like the demand is for them to all be in some big open album that everybody can take from at will. Even disregarding how undesirable this is for me as a photographer, it just isn't practical. To start with, there's no easy way to host that many pictures with any kind of quality, and there are possibly issues of privacy to think of.

On the fifth day after the event, somebody posted a comment on the event page that they wished they could get easier access to the photos, and didn't understand why it was so difficult. Other people on the page pointed to my, and a couple of other people's galleries, and I sent her the message below, which I think spells out some of the issues. It's odd to me that even if I put aside any thought of making money, or breaking even, there are still so many obstacles. I put a lot of work into doing something I think is good and worthwhile, and spent a lot of my own money on it as well, and yet the burden still seems to be on me to facilitate the process. And it's becoming more difficult to not have doubts.

I saw your post about the pics. It's pretty involved (I'm thinking of writing it up for my blog), but the short version is: facebook has some pretty big problems regarding something like pics of an event like this, not least of which is that they look like crap. But there's also issues of privacy and model releases (potentially), and also, from my point of view, of copyright. So... I don't know if you saw the galleries of the rough proofs I posted on my facebook page, I made those available to friends only to try to minimize some of the issues, but it really got out of hand anyway, people copying and reposting them and then tagging people, taking it out of my control... probably it's not a big deal, but you can see how it's not ideal.

So, my zenfolio page has advantages regarding quality and privacy and copyright, but, as you say, it does make it difficult for a third party to take control of the images (in fact, that's on purpose). -so far, only two people have actually purchased pics, for a total of $5. So it's not like I'm making money off of it, and I didn't expect to.

All that said, I agree with you about the spirit of the thing, and that they are pictures of the people and the costumes and such. I've been working on curating a set of images and figuring out a way to provide them to the group, but it's not easy, I'm fairly poor, and there aren't too many good options (I don't want to fill up my flickr page with event pics, and my zenfolio page is... well, you know).

I've been trying to send individual pics to people as they request them, and that does away with most of the issues, but I think what you're wanting is an 'event' album, and like I said, that's what I've been struggling with for the past day or so. I'd be open to suggestions/help, and I'm sure I'll figure something out sooner or later (and as another aside, just getting what I have out there now has been a full time task since I left the event. I've really been working hard at it).

I guess it's flattering that you see my work as being a definitive document, and I loved doing it and I was flattered to be asked to do it, and I got a lot out of it, but: the truth is that regarding my obligations, I'm really no different than anybody else who had a camera there. I didn't get paid, and I'm doing this all on my own dime, in time and money, so I hope you understand my difficulties, and that you'll be patient while I figure something out.

Ultimately, once I figure out who's in what picture, I'll get a set of pics that are non-problematic (that's what I'm working on now, and that's part of the reason I've been trying to track down identities of various people), and I'll get you guys that set to do what you like with. (and maybe I waffled around it too much, but my main issue is releasing a picture that has somebody in it that doesn't want to have that picture released, for whatever reason. Possibly, for some of the people there, some of the pics could be embarrassing for whatever reason. I like to take fairly intimate pictures, and I try to repay/honor that trust, and in fact I think it's necessary that I do, so that I can keep taking these kinds of pics.)

So... anyway. hope that's not too heavy handed. The underlying issues aren't really all that big of a deal, as I said, and it's mainly just a matter of time, but I thought some sort of explanation would help.

And then, while I was typing up this blog post, this reply came through:

That was one longgg email that I didn't understand at all. I'm really not getting why they can't be added like any other pics and why they are only for purchase. They aren't modeling shots..they are pics of a party. No one there is a "model" nor should there be any reason to worry about copyright. Who cares if people copy them or repost them? Or tag them? I'd think that would be flattering to you as the photographer. It absolutely sucks that the people who threw this party and put in weeks and weeks of work...can't post the entire album of pictures taken that night or even the ones that they want to post. I'm not going to sit down with a pen and paper and go through over a thousand pics making a list of a couple hundred that I want copies of. I should be able to right click them and simply save them.

Thanks for listening,

Friday, February 3, 2012

spec short

About eight years ago, having finished a book, and not being sure what to do next, I read in a magazine that if you were trying to sell a novel, it helped to have some publishing credits with short stories.  So I looked at a list in that same magazine of publications accepting short fiction and picked the most appropriate and realistic option.  A low budget online 'zine of a hard-boiled noir bent.  No idea what the name was, and it has long since disappeared.

I wrote a story to the spec: Hard boiled noir detective mystery, 2000 words, first person.  Sold it for ten dollars.  Or, about ninety cents an hour.  Still the highest rate I've made.

Percy and agent Paltry keep popping up in my books.

The general theme, style, structure and so on for this were directly patterned off of 'Tales of Houdini' by Rudy Rucker.  My favorite short story of all time.


The Gilded Cage
By: Dave DeHetre

Percy Niebarger. Must have gotten beat up a lot as a kid with a name like that. Not that I cared, except in so far as it might give me a little piece of leverage against him. The more I thought about it, the more it cracked me up. I made an effort to forget about it, so I wouldn’t spend the whole interview giggling. I was heading towards the crown jewel of the state rehabilitation system, the Carlsbad medium security penitentiary, to interview Percy as a suspect in a murder. This was weird for a couple of reasons: murder wasn’t Percy’s style, and he’d been in Carlsbad for over a year. Off and on.

Perhaps I should explain. Percy was the old school kind of criminal: a straight up burglar. I suppose he might have used more florid terms if he was doing the describing, maybe he’d say jewel thief sounded more respectable. It’s all the same to the law. But you had to respect a man of his scruples. If all criminals were like Percy, the world would be a better place. He was willing to do his time. He’d known what the risks were, and when he got caught, well, that was just one of the costs of doing business. So he really wasn’t the type to commit murder, especially of a stranger. The other thing, as I said, was that he’d been locked up for over a year before the murder was committed. This wasn’t quite as odd as you might think, because the really odd thing about Percy was that he was an escape artist. Hence the off and on I mentioned earlier.

We always had a sneaking suspicion that he was letting himself out at night and keeping his hand in the burglary game. Nothing major, just keeping the skills sharp, keeping the bills paid till he was rehabilitated. Up until the murder, we’d had no hard evidence, just a regular pattern of jobs that fit his M.O., but we never got past step one: his alibi. During each of the burglaries in question, he’d been under lock and key as a guest of the taxpayers. But we knew they were his work, so we just filed them in the stale case drawer and waited ‘til the next time he got out. Then we’d catch him the old fashioned way. And maybe we’d tie all his ‘mystery’ jobs to him then. Or maybe not, like I said, you have to respect a criminal like Percy. He’s one of the good ones.

As I made my way through the various checkpoints, I admired the décor. It wasn’t bad, especially compared to the box I live in. In fact it was quite cozy. It looked more like an old folk’s home than a prison. Quite nice.

Anyway, by the time I got to the interview room, I was in a very nice mood. Apparently, so was Percy.

“Agent Paltry! Nice to see you again.”

“Nice to see you too, although I wish it were under better circumstances.”

“How so?”

“This interview is in relation to a murder investigation.”


“Your fingerprints popped up at said murder’s crime scene.”


“Yes, oh. I won’t bother asking your whereabouts last Friday.”

“Very sensible of you. For the record, I was here.”

“I know, I checked already. But you and I both know that you weren’t necessarily here the whole day.”

“We do?”

“Yes, we do. Don’t waste my time, OK? Here’s the deal: I don’t really care that much about your little ‘hobby’, well, I do, but I don’t think I can do anything about it, and as long as you don’t hurt anyone, well, sleeping dogs and so on. Thing is, now someone’s been hurt.”

“Agent Paltry! I’m devastated that you could think I’d be responsible for such a horrible act.”

“I know, a man of your good standing in the community. It’s unthinkable. But there’s your prints, all over the crime scene.”

“Well that pretty much proves it then, doesn’t it? You know me well enough to know that I would never leave even one print.”

“True. Which is why I’m here interviewing you instead of just writing it up. I thought maybe you could shed a little light on things for me.”

“I’d be more than happy to help. Why don’t you fill me in on the details and we’ll go from there.” Percy took my pen off the table at this point and licked the point, preparing to take notes. I hate pen licking.

“Alright, the victim was Stanford Martall, he was quite a respectable businessman. Owned a few grocery stores, I believe. Hardly your sort of person, but I have to ask: did you know him?”

“Not that I know of, but I do go to the grocery store sometimes.”



“So you don’t know how your prints came to be in his house?”


“But I haven’t told you where his house is, so how can you be sure?”

“Good point, why don’t you tell me where his house is?”

“2454 Barberry.”

“Ahh, next to the old church.”

“Right in one.”

“Nope, can’t imagine how my prints got there. Sorry.”

“I see how this is going. Alright, how ‘bout this? Why don’t you just tell me anything you know that might be helpful to our investigation? Presuming you didn’t do the murder, and taking the fingerprints as irrefutable evidence, it seems to me that you can probably shed some light on the situation without me having to pull teeth to get it out of you.”

“That seems logical, but I’m afraid I can’t help you out.”

“I see. Really, it’s fine by me. I’ll just start proceedings to charge you, and we’ll see what we find out.”

“If you must,” Percy seemed, disappointed in me.

“I must. And Percy?”

“Yes Agent Paltry?”

“In case you get any ideas, I’ll have some one watching you. Extra close. So don’t think you can just waltz out of here and off to Aruba or something, OK?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”


Percy unnerved me with his calm, disinterested manner. So much so that I actually ordered up the surveillance I’d threatened him with. I’d only been bluffing at first, but on reflection it seemed prudent.

A fat lot of good it did me. The next morning I had to go straight back to Carlsbad penitentiary.

“Percy! I don’t know what you were thinking, but that was the silliest stunt I’ve ever seen!”

“Hmm, Agent Paltry? What stunt?”

“You know very well what stunt, we have the whole thing on video tape.”

“What whole thing?”

“Don’t play stupid, the odds of someone else stealing a car parked in front of a prison are pretty slim. And by the way, from now on my boys will be bringing a Thermos; so don’t count on finding an empty car waiting for you next time. Anyway, as I said, the odds are pretty slim that anyone would steal a car from in front of a prison; but those odds have to go pretty close to zero that said car thief would take it to 2454 Barberry; and really, just plain zero that said car thief would bring the car back where he found it. Unless that car thief was you. It was, wasn’t it?”

“Could be... You make a convincing case anyway. I suppose that’s your job though, making cases.”

“Yes it is, and I’ve got a pretty good one going against you at the moment.”

“A case?”

“Yes! A case! Look, I know I’m probably wasting my breath here, but I don’t suppose you can shed any light on the ‘absconder-with-police-cruiser’ mystery?”

“I’m afraid not, and you can save the sarcasm Agent Paltry, it is a waste of breath.”

“Aaagh! Look, you and I both know you took that car, can’t you just tell me why you went there?”

“Since I was here all night, I don’t know that I can tell you anything. But. I suppose, if I was to sneak out of here in the middle of the night, steal a car, and go to the scene of the crime, I’d probably be doing a little investigating on my own.”

“Trying to find the ‘real killers’?

“As you say.”

“Hypothetically speaking then, you’d better not try any nocturnal sleuthing again. We’ll be watching you extra extra close from here on.”

“Lovely! I love attention.”

We gave him all the attention we could spare, two cruisers circling the prison, and a man in the cellblock, watching the door to his cell. Again, fat lot of good it did us. This time though, it was a good news bad news type of situation.

“OK Percy! I’ve really got to hand it to you on this one.”

“Hmm? How’s that?”

“I really wish you’d drop that act. It gets tiresome.”

“I’m sorry, what act?”

“Fine, have it your way. I was just trying to pay you a compliment. I know it was you. I know it was you who ‘arranged’ to have the bees in the squad car. I also know it was you who took said squad car to the precinct. I also know it was you who convinced Desk Sergeant Tucker to stand in front of said squad car and discuss his crime of murder against Stanford Martell, on surveillance camera, no less. And I also know that it was you who got him to describe, in detail, how he planted the evidence against you. Namely, using a mold he made, constructed of Jell-O and based on your fingerprint card we have on file at the station.”

“You know a lot Agent Paltry.”

“Yes I do. You know how come I’m so sure about all this?”

“Do tell.”

“Because Sergeant Tucker told me so.”

“If I could point out a problem with that? You seem to have a little paradox on your hands. Sergeant Tucker is not to be trusted, especially regarding me. By his own admission, he lied and planted evidence. Implicating me.”

“Right, but now we have the video, and he confessed, and if you weren’t there then… Know what? Forget it. Keep your paradox. There’s one other thing I don’t get, which I hope you’ll give me a straight answer about.”

“What’s that?”

“Hypothetically now: if you can get out of here at will, why would you bother going to all the trouble of defending yourself? Why not just take the rap? You took a lot of risks to clear your name of the murder, yet you seem quite content to be known as a burglar.”

“Hypothetically? Murderers have to go to the maximum security wing, or worse.”

“Aha! And you can’t break out of there so easy, can you?”

“No, it’s not that at all, it’s just that you meet all the wrong sorts of people there.”

In the end, Sergeant Tucker’s lawyer tried, unsuccessfully, to use the ‘paradox’ Percy described to defend Tucker during the proceedings. It didn’t go over any better with a jury than it had with me. Turns out, Sergeant Tucker had been having it on with Mr. Martell’s wife, during the day, when he was off-shift and Mr. Martell was minding the shop. He’d taken advantage of Percy’s peculiar reputation, in hopes of throwing off any investigation. He hadn’t counted on the fact that Percy had worked very hard to build that reputation, and wasn’t going to let it be besmirched just to keep a cop out of jail.

Ironically, they’re neighbors, of sorts, now. Pending his transfer to a super-max prison, Sergeant Tucker is staying at Carlsbad. In the maximum-security wing, of course. I guess that proves Percy right: the wrong sorts of people are in there. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sucking, and what really matters

Recently I've had a few interactions that have me thinking about process and skill and inspiration and results and what matters.

Three different people over three days, all totally unconnected to each other. All of them pursuing one sort of creative expression or another. All three of them producing good work. And all of them overwhelmed with self doubt to a crippling degree.

Actually, the first of the three involved multiple people. I posted something a few weeks ago about how I saw no reason to write another book. A lot of people misinterpreted this as me saying that I was disillusioned, or that I didn't think I was any good, or something of that nature. And as a result, I've heard from many people about their own doubts. But I don't have any doubts. I started writing knowing I was unsuited to it, and I've been very happy with my progress, I know pretty much how good I am, and I know I've reached a point where I can't get any better. Simple.

But those people, who doubted themselves in some way... Most of them, I've read their work, and I know it to be good. So I started pondering this. Why were they so fearful, so uncertain? What were they afraid of? And I came to this generality: I know two kinds of writers: those who are gifted, who have a story in them, or a gift for perception or who knows what. I'm not one of those. The other kind are people who started out bad. I know, because I've read their stuff. But they kept doing it, refining and practicing. Here's the insight: After a number of years, what happens is that the people who were gifted haven't improved, and the people who were bad have. I don't know why the gifted ones haven't improved, though I suspect it's due to the same thing that makes the bad ones better. The bad ones produce, and fail. And try again. And again. Learning from the failures and working to not create that failure condition again. What's happened is that now: the 'bad' ones aren't so bad, and in addition, they know how to work, and how to adapt, and produce, and market, and interact, and all sorts of ancillary things that are important if you're going to be a writer. The 'gifted' ones are just the same. They write stuff that is really brilliant still. But they're stunted in all those other areas. I guess it's because they never had to leave their comfort zone. The 'bad' ones and the 'gifted' ones alike all have doubts about their work, but the 'bad' ones now know how to cope with that and overcome it, while the gifted ones... I don't know. I'm not sure what's up with them.

That whole thing put me in a state of mind though, so I was sensitive to issues of process and genius and what-all. And then the second person: A young photographer contacted me for some tips about astrophotography, something I'm passable at at best, but I gave him all the help I could. Following on from that, I got a message from him expressing that he despaired of getting honest feedback, because people usually are so nice (the 'help' I gave him came in the form of twenty paragraphs or so about what was wrong with the picture he'd posted and was asking for help with). And that was fine. I reassured him and gave him some advice. And then he said, in so many words, that he was sorry that he was presenting such mediocre work, and that he'd continue to improve his skills. That caught me off guard, and told him so. I told him that his work already was good (it is), and that further: the fact that he hadn't achieved mastery was no reason not to publish and be proud of his work. I told him that I still have pictures that I took thirty years ago, when I had no idea what I was doing, that I still cherish because they are great. And this got me thinking more. I know more now, and I can produce more good pictures in more situations. But I think when I was fourteen, I could still take a good picture sometimes. And I thought some more. … Because: what makes a good picture, isn't anything to do with the process. What makes a good picture is knowing what makes a good picture. A 'good eye', so to speak. And sure, a good eye can get better, but that doesn't mean that the work produced at a naïve level is in any way inferior. If it's good, it's good. Who cares how it happened? (well, some people. Pedants.)

So I felt pretty good about that. I'd figured something out, and maybe helped a kid have a happier time with his hobby/profession. I hope so.

Then today, I was buying a painting from a guy I know in town, really cheap. And we were talking, and he said much the same thing to me, about how he felt he hadn't reached the point he wanted to with his skill, and I thought of the photographer again. But the difference here was that this painter... I know him because he's out there. He's selling himself. Selling his paintings, his performance. He knows he isn't as good as he'll be, but, maybe through circumstances (i.e. he has to sell his work to eat), or personality, he's not letting his doubts get in his way. His work is cool. It has a core creativity and uniqueness to it, and he's a hard worker. He'll succeed.

And so I started thinking about succeeding. And how, of the people I know, the ones who succeed are rarely the best, and in fact are often the not the best. The ones who succeed are the ones who realize what matters, and do it. They do it good enough and get it out the door. They don't let fine details slow them down, and: and this is the critical point, I think: they don't mistake the process, or the fine details, for what matters. They know that it's the result, the effect, that matters.

So I went back to the writers, in my pondering. And I think it's possible that those gifted people may have reached a state of obsession paralysis. They've been working at refining their writing, so much so that they've lost sight of what the point is. They're obsessing over details that even other writers don't understand, much less readers. And they won't publish because they know that their book has many sloppy sentences. And that there must be dozens of punctuation mistakes, or passive voice, or who knows what. So they don't share. And they don't get the feedback that's important, that their stuff is good. And maybe it's because they're afraid to possibly hear that it's not good. I don't know. But if it is that, I feel sorry for them. Because they're crippled. And it's so pointless.

I've read a lot of these first draft books, to the point where I kind of like it that way. Maybe I'm better than normal at ignoring first draft issues of spelling and punctuation and weak characters and such, but it's not important, because those things aren't important. They're either trivial, or fixable, or both. And in no case do they get in the way of a good story. So I get to read a lot of good stories. And half the time or whatever, the author thinks it's horrible. Because they've lost sight of their original good idea, and how cool it was. Now all they see is the weaknesses, the mistakes. And sadly, in many of those cases, they shelve the book. Because they think it's horrible, and they don't have it in them to fix it.

(and let me detour here in parentheses to restate something I think I've said before: No detail of execution, no mistake, no weakness, no sloppiness or any other detail of any kind will ever derail a good story. A slobbering drunk in the cold, in the dark, with a lisp and poor memory and attention span can still tell a compelling story. And on the other side of things, no amount of money, skill, talent, time, people, intention, production, or anything can make a bad story compelling. (see: Hollywood) – it's the story that's important, and you probably have a good story. If it intrigued you enough to spend the time writing it out, it's probably interesting enough to read. So there.)

And it happens to all writers. It's so arduous to create a book that you have to get mired in the details. But you don't have to let it cripple you. My advice, which I know is sound, through experience, is to let other people tell you if your work is good or not. Do your best, in a draft, and hand it out. There's no point in revising at all until you hear back from your audience. And this first audience will have lots of bad things to say, which is why you gave it to them. That's not a surprise. But what might happen, and always has in my experience of reading these things, is that there is stuff that's really good. Stuff that's a surprise to the author. Stuff you won't know about, no matter how many revisions you do on your work by yourself. And many of these people have reached the point of quitting. Because they don't think they're good enough. Because they can't satisfy themselves. Because their work isn't perfect.

Now, I've never been talented in any way, and also: I've seen too many people succeed at all sorts of things without any talent or even skill or even any good output to ever give something up just because I was bad at it. In fact, large chunks of my life's motivations have come from being bad and trying to get better. It is the greatest puzzlement to me when somebody won't try or do something because they're bad at it. When I see this, I wonder: what must it be like to be good at something innately, and enough somethings, to be able live life that way. Life must be so easy for some people. But: I take pride and hope in knowing that I have become good at some things. Pride in my accomplishments, and hope for myself and for others, because I know that, within reason, anything is possible.

Anybody. Can play the guitar, or the piano. Anybody can knit, or juggle. Anybody can be a politician or a car salesman. Not everybody can run 110 meter hurdles, you have to be sensible. But the list goes on for ever.

I'll admit to preferring the work of the truly gifted. They really are better, and what they do is transcendent. I've known a few actual geniuses in my life, especially musicians or mathematicians, and being around them is a tangible, palpable experience. They're different.

In motorcycle racing, they call these people the aliens. Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo. I think that's a good term, aliens. These guys are gifted and skilled and practiced, and they win most of the races, but not all of them. They represent a small percentage of the grid, and the rest of the guys out there are still racing, still doing what they do, and not infrequently beating the aliens. Colin Edwards is my favorite, I think. He consistently finishes around fifth place. Best of the rest. Never reached any sort of pinnacle at all in his career, but he keeps doing it. Keeps doing his best, and he's respected and has had a long career racing motorcycles. Come on! Think about it? He races motorbikes for a living. How cool is that? I bet he's frequently annoyed or depressed that he hasn't been able to go that one notch up into genius, probably spent his whole career with it hanging over him. But he never let it stop him from trying. Trying anything and everything. Over and over again. And that's really cool. I admire the ones that keep trying.

Even though watching the gifted, the prodigy, the savant, the alien, is a magical and transcendent thing, it doesn't mean that the merely talented and good are without merit. They do great work in all their fields. And sometimes they come to a solution through slog and hard work that genius would never imagine, or maybe would imagine and disregard as inelegant, or pedestrian. And I believe that often, the really big paradigm shifts in whatever field come from these workmen, rather than the geniuses. Because the geniuses, by and large, don't know how to work.

I guess what I take from this is that: okay, so I'm not a genius, I'm not special, so what? I can still be good, or even really good, and that puts me in so much of a better place than somebody who insists on being an alien or nothing.

So how is it done? How do you overcome limitations and doubt? There're probably a lot of ways, maybe drinking, or meditation. But for my part, it's always been a matter of taking a deep breath, and going out on that stage, whatever form it takes, knowing that I'm going to be awful. And not caring. Not caring because I know this is what it takes to be good. And not caring because I realize that other people don't really care that much about me. That they won't really be bothered if I suck. I guess I've had the luxury of failing at a lot of things. I know that for me, succeeding at anything is going to require me to fail at that thing, and a lot of other things a lot of times.

First time I remember intentionally putting the secret weapon of failure into action was when I was a teenager, I was short and heavy (still am). But I went out for gymnastics and track. No idea why now. Horrible at both of them. One time at a track meet, somebody got hurt, and I was asked to sub in for the hurdles. I knew I couldn't clear a hurdle. I'd looked at them. Run up to them. Tried to climb over one. Looked at the angles. I knew. There was no way possible my body could go over a hurdle. But I said sure.


Because I knew I wasn't going to win. I knew nobody expected me to win. I also knew I was probably the only guy who would do it, so I felt some responsibility. And the big thing for me, as a teenager or whatever, was that I knew that I'd be able to think, and know, and say, that I ran the 110 meter hurdles at a state event. Can you?

I asked for a side lane, and ran straight down that lane, pushing every single hurdle over in front of me. Far as I knew, and still know, there's no reason not to do this, other than that it's really slow. I finished in something like 29 seconds. Really spectacularly badly. And there was a lot of laughter from the bleachers and the sidelines. But I held my head up and waved. And then I walked back and reset all the hurdles.

And I suspect that a lot of people reading this will read that anecdote and think I'm a moron, or ridiculous, or unbalanced or unserious or disrespectful. They'll miss the point. Because that event. That process, and thousands of others similar, are how I got good at the things I'm good at. And there's no picking and choosing. I'm good at the things I'm good at because at some point, when I was not good at them, and had no reason to think I would be good at them, I did them anyway. And failed really badly. And then did them again. And again.

I never ran the hurdles again. Because nobody asked me to. But I do still run for exercise and enjoyment, despite my total unsuitability for it. It's kept me healthy and sharp, and all sorts of good things.

Thanks for reading,

Dave DeHetre