Persistence and Talent

While I was at college, I had the opportunity to share studio space with a breathtakingly talented illustrator named David Linn. To this day, he’s one of the most talented artists I’ve ever seen. David was getting awards from the National Society of Illustrators before he even graduated.

David was the closest thing to an rock star we had. Girls used to come up to the studio just to watch him paint. Seriously. And most of them would say some variation of the same thing as they left. Something like this:

I wish I had talent.

David’s response was almost zen-like in its truth and simplicity. David would usually say something like:

It’s nothing a million hours of practice wouldn’t do for anyone.

Most people would laugh as they left. Once in a while, someone would challenge him on it.

C’mon. A million hours?

David would then recite a litany any artist, writer, musician, or athlete would recognize instantly. He’d speak of spending his days painting when others were off riding bikes or playing basketball. Of sketching in class, in church, in front of the television. Of spending his summers painting rather than surfing. Of what it really means to be an artist. He’d sum up with:

So, by my estimation, I should pass a million hours sometime next summer. If I’m not good after a million hours, I probably ought to quit and do something else, don’t you think?

The older I get, the more I’m convinced David was right. Real talent comes from from persistence. It goes way beyond some natural ability to a soul-deep desire to do something all the time, and to do it better every time than the time before.

If you have something you love doing — something creative — do it. Every day. Write. Draw. Cook. Play your guitar. Run. Play hockey. Whatever your thing is, push yourself. Be better today than you were yesterday. Because that’s where talent comes from.

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What I Like – Simple Pleasures

Life is good. Really good.

I don’t live in a big, fancy house or drive the latest “must-have-it” car. I’m just a simple man living a simple life. Enjoying simple pleasures.

That said, there are a million little things that make life good. Things I really like.

I like the feel of a shower, of kissing my wife, of having a cat curl up on my back while I watch TV, of cold water on a hot day, of dogs leaning against me, of hugs from children, of of crisp, freshly laundered dress shirts, of pulling a weed without breaking it, and of grinding my bike up a long, steep hill.

I like the smell of the rain, of pine forests, of freshly cut wood, of candles just after they’ve been blown out, of fresh herbs, of shelf-loads of books, of canvas, linseed oil and oil paint, of chocolate chip cookies being baked, of my ancient leather briefcase, and of my wife’s hair.

I like the sound of slow, smoky saxophone solos, of acoustic guitars, of children laughing, of my wife moaning as she finally lays down for the night, of crickets chirping, of the absolute silence of the mountains after a serious snow storm, of cats purring, of pine logs popping and crackling in the fireplace, and of being far enough from civilization that I can’t hear traffic.

I like the taste of warm, gooey brownies with really cold milk, of Cinnabon cinnamon rolls, of properly-roasted chicken, of Heath bars, of really good Chinese food, of M&Ms, of fresh omlettes, of Mexican hot chocolate, and of my wife’s kisses.

I really love the taste of my wife’s kisses.

I like seeing the sun rise, seeing a storm blow in over the mountain, seeing the full moon on a really clear night, seeing the leaves change in the fall, seeing my son curled up with a cat and good book, seeing my daughter take over the kitchen table with an art project, and seeing my wife’s eyes.

Actually, to be honest, I like seeing all of my wife. I like it a lot.

Then, of course, there’s stuff I just like.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I like playing my guitar, drawing, studying architecture, cycling along the California coast, cooking with fresh herbs, and walking my dogs at night. I love the way my wife’s eyes light up when she decides it’s time for cocoa or a bath. I like taking naps on Sunday afternoons, cooking Sunday dinner for my family, going to church with my family, and pretty much Sundays in general. Families in general, for that matter, and my family in specific.

I love curling up with the scriptures in an old leather armchair — especially when my rottweiler decides to curl up on my feet. I love waking up next to my wife. I like the way both my dogs tip their heads to the right whenever I talk to them. I love the pause between finishing a song and having the audience break into applause. I like Levi’s 501 jeans, sweat shirts, and old Adidas sneakers. I like fountain pens, Moleskine notebooks, Altoids tins, old Mercedes diesels, and waxed cotton canvas.

If you just pay attention, life’s full of such delights. That’s the way God designed it.

So, what’s your list?

Riding Bikes

I’m 45 years old and I ride a bike to work.

Perhaps I should clarify: I ride a bike to the bus stop, then ride the bus to the train station, then ride the train most of the way to Los Angeles, the ride my bike the rest of the way to my office.

That means most mornings you’ll find me flashing along the nearly deserted pre-dawn streets of our town with nothing but the silky sound of well-tuned gears to mark my passing – an overweight blur in chinos and an old silver helmet, an ancient leather briefcase slung over one shoulder and onto my back like a messenger bag.

I love it.

There’s something extraordinary about bicycles. They may be the single most efficient machine man has yet created. A decent bike can enable a middle-aged guy like me to cruise along at 20 miles per hour for hour after hour – on something like one-quarter of one horsepower.

I got my first bike for Christmas when I was six years old. It was a Schwinn Stingray with burnt-orange metal flake paint and a long, white banana seat. I spent all Christmas day teaching myself to ride on the frozen street in front of my home. For the next ten years, it took me everywhere: school, swim practice, Saturday matinees at the old Scera Theater, milkshakes at the old Hi Spot drive in. That old bike was both transportation and recreation.

It was freedom.

The old Stingray has given way to a succession of bikes — most recently a sleek Cannondale – but riding still has that joy, that freedom.

So tonight you’ll find me flashing through the relative calm of post-dusk suburbia, whirring gears and an ancient briefcase, on my way home.

The Prestone Man of Highway 91

Southern California’s been a mess lately.

We’ve suffered through one last summer heat wave; temperatures at my house have pushed above 105 degrees every day for a solid week.

That’s not people weather; that’s lizard weather.

A wildfire north of Los Angeles has burned over 150,000 acres on Mount Wilson, threatening the observatory Edwin Hubble used to demonstrate that the universe is expanding, killing two firefighters, burning dozens of homes, and filling the entire Los Angeles basin with thick brown smoke.

Then there’s State Highway 91.

When it was built, the 91 was a Godsend: A broad black ribbon of asphalt that promised a quick drive from the cities of the Inland Empire to Orange County and back. So, of course, masses of people moved inland, lured by cheaper houses and a relatively painless commute.

Which means now the 91 is a car-choked mess — very likely the most congested road in Southern California: Bumper-to-bumper from before dawn until well after dusk. It’s enough to convince one to ride the train, which, most days, I do.

But not last Tuesday.

For various reasons, I decided to coax our nearly 20-year-old Volvo to take me to work on Tuesday. Sixty-five miles each way with the windows down and NPR cranked up on the radio.

The drive in to Los Angeles was uneventful, if slow. Two hours from my door to the office — a half-hour savings over taking the train. The Morning Edition crew had me up to speed on the affairs of the day, and I was spared the two-and-one-half-mile walk through one of the more desolate sections of Norwalk.

The way home wasn’t so smooth. A third of the way home, while stuck in the automotive quagmire that is Highway 91, the temperature gauge on the Volvo shot up into the red zone. To borrow a phrase from Bill Cosby, “The needle fell outside.”

I frantically looked for a safe place to pull off the freeway.

Although I’m no one’s mechanic, I popped up the hood to look around. The old Volvo hadn’t blown a hose on the radiator. In fact, it was still full of water and anti-freeze. She still had all her oil. No steam blasts or smoke rising; just one really hot engine.

After poking around the engine compartment a bit, I came to the conclusion the fan that draws air through the radiator must have gone. In the lurching traffic, she couldn’t get enough air to keep her engine cool.

The only thing to do was wait for her to cool down and for traffic to clear enough to offer a non-lurching ride home.

And that’s when the “Prestone Man” showed up.

I’d been sitting well off the shoulder in the shade of an overpass for about 10 minutes, when a gentleman pulled over in a moss-green Volkswagen Rabbit — a 1980s model that looked like its roof hadn’t been raised since the Reagan administration. At the wheel was a 40-something-year-old guy with bleached-blond hair pulled back in a short pony tail, wearing board shorts, dark glasses, and what appeared at first glance to be a long-sleeved paisley shirt.

When I pulled on my glasses and stepped from the overheated Volvo, I realized with a start that he wasn’t wearing a shirt at all; the pattern was a mass of tattoos.

“So,” he called out with a big grin, “D’ja overheat?”

His smile was contagious. Despite myself, I smiled back and said, “Yeah, I think so.”

He was still grinning. “D’ya need some Prestone?”

Not exactly the question I was expecting from this tattoo-covered Samaritan. “Uh, no,” I stammered, ” I don’t think so, anyway. She never boiled over. It still has all its coolant.”

He was undeterred. “You sure? I got 5 gallons of Prestone in the back. If you need one, it’s yours.”

“Uh, no thanks. I should be able to get home if I just let it cool down a bit,” I replied. “Thanks, though.”

“Alright then, if you’re sure,” he said with that big grin. Then he drove away, stopping about a quarter of a mile down the shoulder where an old camper stood with its hood open to repeat his query.

It was an almost surreal exchange. A forty-something surfer with more tatoos than a member of the Yakuza, loading up an old rabbit with anti-freeze and driving around looking for people to rescue.

The world need more people like that. Tattoos, old Volkswagens, and all.

Follow Up on New Hampshire

That didn’t take long at all. New Hampshire’s governor has signed legislation making it the sixth state in the U.S. to allow gay marriage.

Once again, you can read The New York Times coverage here.

New Hampshire Is About to Fall

In a move that’s not really much of a surprise, yet another liberal New England state has joined the race to political correctness, regardless of the consequences.

The New Hampshire Legislature approved revisions to a bill on Wednesday. If Governor John Lynch signs the measure into law, New Hampshire will become the fifth state in New England and the sixth state in the U.S. to redefine marriage.

The New York Times has a writeup here .

That makes one more legislature that’s willing to redefine “marriage” to render it essentially meaningless.

The Gay “Marriage” Crew Attempts to Bypass the People. Again.

Back in March I speculated that the way proponents of gay “marriage” set up their arguments before the California State Supreme Court made it look like they were assuming they would lose, but using their case to set up a Federal fight. In that entry, I wrote the following:

… the legal muscle behind the fight for same-sex “marriage” — must have known this. In fact, it’s entirely possible they were counting on just such a result because it would enable them to bring an action before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s a safe bet their lawyers already have a Writ drawn up and ready to file. And that they will do so — with a great deal of media posturing — within 24 hours of a decision from the California Supreme Court.

(You can read my original entry here.)

Fast forward to today. The Los Angeles Times is announcing that later today — less than 24 hours after the California State Supreme Court announced its decision in the Proposition 8 case — the attorneys who argued the Bush vs. Gore election case in 2000 will be holding a massive press conference at the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to announce that they are filing suit in the U.S. District Court in California. It is likely they will argue that yesterday’s decision by the California State Supreme Court amounts to formal recognition that sexual orientation creates a vulnerable class of citizens in need of Federal protection.

And, predictably, their lawsuit calls for an injunction against the proposition, a move that would effectively nullify the will of the people and the voice of the California State Supreme Court by forcing the State to recognize same-sex “marriages.”

And so, the fight continues, but despite the rhetoric this is not a fight for equal rights. It’s an effort by a small group to seek official endorsement for acts that were previously private, consensual sexual behavior between adults — acts the vast majority of Americans still find morally offensive.

And to win that endorsement, they are willing to destroy the very institution they claim to embrace.


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