My Life in Keyboards, Part 2

Ensoniq KT76

I was playing three or four nights a week, and every once in a while I would hit the accompaniment button on the Yamaha PSR-600 and start a drum beat in the middle of the song. It was never cool. I also suspected that the reason I couldn’t play amazingly well was because I didn’t have a keyboard with weighted keys. That may have been part of it, but the other part was that I really, really wanted a pro keyboard so that I would look like a pro on stage (even if I didn’t sound like one!) The beginning of Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I took some money from my tax return, and some money from my parents, and drove to Ohio to buy this guy. At the time, it was an amazing keyboard. I did break some keys and I wasn’t really happy about that, but I played hard back then. I did feel very pro when I started using it. It was also really, REALLY heavy especially with the wooden case, but I was in my mid 20s, so whatever, right?

Ensoniq KS-32

This is predecessor of the the KT76 above. The KS-32, also weighted, also 76 keys. Here’s where it gets interesting. I knew I needed a backup keyboard, but because the “Syndrome” I was fooling myself. What I really wanted was a practice keyboard already set up at my place, so that I didn’t have to set up and tear down in order to play or just fool around. I was starting to build my studio without even knowing it at this time. I know this now, because I ended up gigging with the older KS-32, and keeping the KT76 in my studio. I think my brother-in-law Danny bought this for me. He liked my music and what I was doing. I have no idea what became of this instrument.

Yamaha DX-100

Kinda like the little brother of the vastly popular DX-7, this was a fun synth to have hanging out around the house. I always played with the presets, but I never got around to learning how to actually use a synthesizer beyond the basics. For me, a keyboard WAS it’s preset sounds. Tiny little thing, with guitar strap pegs on the sides so you could sling it like a keytar. I used this in a parade once, beyond that, it was still a little toy. I sold it to get some money together for a guitar.

Casio DH-100

Another little toy that I found at a local music store, I picked this up because I wanted to learn saxophone. I eventually learned a little bit, but this didn’t help me. Fortunately, it was also playable with recorder fingering. By the time I got a real sax and started working on it, this bugger crashed and burned. I wouldn’t turn on, and when I put new batteries in it made a whistling sound out of the speakers whether I was playing it or not. A neat feature for that time period was that it had a midi port, so I could hook it up to a keyboard and play a decent sax sound. But that just chained me in place, so I may as well have played it on the keyboard.

Roland A-30

My very first controller keyboard. No onboard sounds at all, meant specifically for controlling external MIDI devices, either another keyboard, or a sound module, or a computer. I used this for a while with the QY-100 (below), but I did not like the feel of the keys when I played so I eventually just sold it.

Yamaha QY-100

This thing was an absolute MONSTER! I was in love. I actually wish I still had it. I did my entire Christian album using the styles and arranger features. It had the sounds of my Yamaha arranger keyboards, and it had styles, and a really amazing sound for the time. Drums, bass, even the guitar backing was believable if it was mixed low enough. I could record all my parts on this, get them how I wanted in the mix, and then bounce the entire thing to a single track on my computer. (I know, I know. It’s best to have individual tracks for better mixing/eq/compression/etc, however, it was the year 2001, and I was just beginning to figure things out in the digital world.) I wish I knew what happened to this unit. I really do. I’d get another one, but they are still around $250 used, and I’m just not willing to pay that much for nostalgia.

Yamaha PSR-2000

This is the coolest keyboard I have ever owned. I was missing my arranger keyboards of the past, and my brother made this happen for me. He set me up with his friends who were looking for a web designer. They generously traded a website for this Yamaha. I had the most fun playing it, using for recording, writing songs with it. It was very inspiring. I downloaded thousands of styles online for this thing, and created a few styles of my own. I could put a microphone through this to get the reverb I was looking for when I recorded a part. It had guitar amp modelling and effects, so I could record my guitar through this into the computer. I had built in three part harmony for audio signals. It was a performing machine, and made me so much better a musician for having it. I left it on at church for an entire week and came back and it was not working. The repair shop told me that it would be around $900 for a new motherboard, something I couldn’t afford at the time. I had to say no. It was a sad day.

Yamaha S80

My church at the time bought this for me. I was the worship leader, I led from a keyboard, so after the PSR-2000 died, I needed something. They bought this for me to USE, and when I asked if I could slowly pay for it until it was mine, they decided to give it to me as a gift. It had pretty heavy keys, like playing a grand piano. I had to get used to it, but the sounds were great, and it felt good to be back into a weighted keyboard. This was also my first 88 key instrument (except for my real piano!)

Yamaha PSR-S700

My brother stepped in again and outright bought me this keyboard. I was dying for an arranger keyboard again, to help write and record songs. I love it – great sound, great everything. As a replacement to the PSR-2000, I was a little bit disappointed because this more expensive Yamaha arranger didn’t include the vocal harmonizer. But I got over that pretty quickly. I used this for many, many gigs. I still have it – the back light doesn’t work so I have to shine my phone on the screen to see what I’m doing, but the buttons all work fine, so I can save my presets and access them easily. I don’t use it much anymore, but since it’s still here I play it every now and then for some fun. In my 3-piece band Patio Drive, we named this keyboard Sam, and anytime we needed an excuse for anything on stage, we blamed Sam. Even if it wasn’t his fault. (I will still take donations to help fix Sam’s broken leg though!)

 

Kawaii ES8

This was a heavy beast that I never had a case for. But I used it at a ton of open mic nights when I was socializing as a musician in a new area. I loved the piano sound in this thing. EPs were okay but the piano totally rocked. I started doing my YouTube videos with this keyboard, so it must have been some kind of inspiration.

Casio Privia PX-330

My life as I knew it in Kentucky was over, and I came crawling back to Pennsylvania to start over. I sold some stuff off for funding. As far as instruments go, I only took my PSR-S700 with me. The Casio was the first keyboard I bought here. I loved LOVED the feel of the keys on this thing. It felt more like playing my beloved Baldwin Acrosonic upright piano that I grew up on (I have a 1954 model in my house right now.) Keys were not too heavy, not too light. Piano sound was incredible. Organs were pretty good. Electric pianos were decent too. I had issues playing live – sometimes notes would stick, sometimes I’d get a full-volume note when I was gently playing, and once, I broke two keys in one night. With a really loud band.  I had to move on, so I sold this to my sister to give to my niece for Christmas. I’m happy with the rig I have now, but this Privia was so light and easy to carry around and set up, that I might have gone with this again. I’m already a more tasteful player, and in much quieter bands now. (No quiet bands, were still loud, just not as loud as the band I was in.)

Korg Microstation

As I studied more music, I became aware that with all the focus on piano and electric piano, that I hadn’t devoted any time to figuring out how to actually play a Hammond organ realistically. I assumed that you just played it like a piano, but it was just a different sound. Right? I started really getting into learning about it, and trying to download software to make it work. There will soon be a blog post about my journey into this world, and my search the perfect Hammond clone. This keyboard marked the beginning of the journey. It had some great organ patches, and I bought it from Sweetwater Sound and they had an extra SD card that came with a user patch that was a Hammond sound. I could control drawbars, the rotary speaker speed (Leslie speaker), percussion, overdrive, all on this little 61 micro key instrument that I could throw in the bag like a backpack. My wife bought this for me for my 40th birthday and I love it. I still have this board, although I’ve moved on in the organ world, it still comes in handy for small gigs, or as a backup keyboard that just makes me feel safe. You’d think it would be difficult to play those little keys, but it only takes a few minutes of warm-up, and a full size keyboard seems way to big.

Korg SV-1

Once I had my organ patches that I was happy with, I also became enamored with genuine Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano sounds. I wanted to go full-on vintage. This masterpiece of design and sonic beauty I found by accident, and I’m so happy I did. I was at a large music store in Toronto looking at a Hammond SK-1, to replace my Casio Privia which was still broken and barely usable live. I played the SK-1, I knew I had my wife on the hook, she was going to be okay with me buying it. It was $2400. All I had to do was say, “Yes, let’s do it.” But I couldn’t. The Hammond was amazing for the organ, but I played piano on it and it just didn’t feel right, those light organ style keys were too difficult to control the piano strikes. I had to say no. Walking out, I saw the SV-1. I played the piano, and it felt and sounded so real, thick, rich, and beautiful. It soudned like my upright at home. I switched it to the Rhodes. Amazing! Turned up the overdrive. Even better! Tried the Wurli and I almost died from happiness. I looked at the price tag, saw that it was $1595. Almost $1000 cheaper than the keyboard I showed up to look at. I knew that this was my baby. Killer vintage EP sounds and a really good piano sound. This is part of my live rig today. I could only be happier with it if it was lighter. Much lighter.

Novation Impulse 61

I kept up my quest to find the right Hammond clone for me, and I decided that the least expensive way was to use my MacBook, because I already had it. So I researched for a controller keyboard that had 61 keys and nine faders (that could be assigned to the nine drawbars of a real Hammond). This was more expensive than most, but it had the best reviews, so I ordered it. I’m glad I did. I assigned every assignable button, knob, pad, and fader to some aspect of the organ software I was using. This was a part of my live rig for a couple years. It felt great to use for organ, and in a pinch I could also use it for all my piano and EP sounds. Something went haywire, and the pitch bend would randomly send a signal. I opened the board and disconnected the pitch bend. It still sends a pitch bend message when I touch one of the faders. Not a lot of help from Novation on that one since it was out of warranty, so I decided to move on. This board still sits in my studio as the controller for recording. I just have to put a MIDI pitch bend filter on every instrument before I record.

Casio CTK-7200

Short and sweet, this keyboard was pimped out because of the organ drawbars and patches, which were okay except for the Leslie simulator. And the fact that the drawbars were incremental at 16 or less volume levels so you could hear the volume pop up louder as you pulled out the drawbar (instead of having an infinite (or at least 127) array of volume. It’s still fun to play with, and you know I love arrangers boards.

Yamaha MX-49

This thing is great. I got it because I wanted quick and easy access to some sounds – as a backup, or on a night that wasn’t organ-heavy. It has 1000 patches from the Motif, so I knew I’d be getting some great sounds out of this I’m still exploring it. It’s kinda cool also that it is it’s own interface. I just don’t trust it to be my microphone pre-amp for recording, so I don’t use it in that capacity. It’s a great looking keyboard.

Crumar Mojo 61

I’m going to ruin the surprise of my next blog post, but here goes. After the Impulse failed on me, I was going to buy another one, but I got tired of setting up my laptop at every show, and always worried that something would go wrong. Nothing ever did, but I still wanted a dedicated board for organ, and I finally chose this. I am thrilled. It sounds amazing, the drawbars look and feel like real drawbars, the keys feel like the keys on a Hammond. To me this is the perfect “clonewheel” organ, and as a bonus it has a modeled piano, Rhodes, and Wurlitzer. The EPs are great, the piano is okay, but I have played it live with no complaints. This thing is a dream, and it rocks the house. It looks beautiful as well! I love having real wood on stage. (No jokes allowed there, no matter how easy the joke.)

 

So that’s it folks. I have had other keyboard instruments, but this was about electronic keyboards. The others are all pianos and organs which I will get into another time. I hope you enjoyed reading a little about my musical history. Thanks a million!

 

My Life in Keyboards

I have written about My Life in Jobs and My Life in Cars, so I think it’s time to post about my life in keyboards. More than my jobs and cars, I believe that keyboards have been the central assets in my life, and music has taken me to some spectacular places, and into some incredible circumstances.

Yamaha PSS-450

Ahhh, my very first keyboard. It wasn’t velocity sensitive, and the sounds were pretty bad. But I made due. I was probably around 12 years old, and I had a keyboard. I had played only piano until I got this, so having the ability to play along with an arranged section was very new and cool to me. I left this keyboard at a home for troubled girls in Kentucky. They seemed to enjoy it and I didn’t have a use for it at the time.
A relative recently gave my daughter an old keyboard in like-new condition. I picked it up, and was amazed that it was the PSS-450.

Yamaha PSR-47

I was 16 years old, and had been looking at new synths ever since I got a chance to play one (I think it was a Yamaha DX-7, or possibly a Korg DW6000) in a music lab at my high school. I was jealous of the very cool sounds that could be made, and even enamored with just the presets. I found this at my local music store – it had so many patches and rhythms, and drum pads. I fell in love, and it was a lot cheaper than the others. I used this board on my first recordings, and in my first band. I traded it for something even better.

I do remember my 11th grade Honors English class – we had to memorize the prologue to Canterbury Tales and speak it in front of the class. I wrote it as a rap, and recorded it, just for fun. I gave it to my teacher, who listened to it, and gave me an A for the project, and I never had to actually memorize the thing. I still know it, though.

Casio SK-1

My first sampler! I bought this from a friend for $20. I can still remember how powerful it felt to be able to record a voice, or my piano, or the toilet flushing, and play it back in different pitches. This board stopped working for me.

Back then, the speed of the sound was also affected by the pitch, so the lower notes took longer than the higher notes. At the time I didn’t consider this to be problematic – it was cool.

Yamaha PSR-500

This thing was a badass. I was able to record entire chord structures of songs and then play along with them. The memory wasn’t great, so I think I had to erase a song if I wanted to start a new one – but this just made me better at using the board. My first multi-pad loops, intros, endings, registration memory (to access my favorite settings with a single push of a button) all really great stuff. I just turned 18, had no will power, and went to the music store and applied for credit, and I was accepted. I found this to be absolutely amazing. My parents were pissed. I did pay it off though. I traded this later for a Yamaha MT-50 4-track cassette tape recorder, soon after I bought my PSR-600.

Yamaha PSR-600

As soon as the PSR-500 was paid off, I went and got this thing. It was nearly identical, except that it had a floppy disc drive in the front. I could now save my work, and keep working. It was totally worth it. This was also the keyboard I had when I joined my first “real” band, a band with paying gigs. By then, music started making me enough money to start looking at some professional equipment. I traded this keyboard for an alto sax on eBay in the early 2000s.

Next post – the Pro Equipment and more.

Quora: How do I choose chords or scales to make people feel specific emotions ?

clef-799259_960_720There is no mathematic formula for this part of the art of composing music. But it’s also so subjective because different people feel different things. What are some songs that make you feel moved? Study those songs. Which chord changes in those songs felt the most powerful to you? It’s not a crime to write songs with those changes. Nobody has a copyright on any chord structure.

You are asking us to tell you which chord changes make you feel emotion, but we don’t know which changes do that for you. Only you do. Study good songwriting, but also study the songs that move you. Learn them inside and out. Which chord inversions are your favorite songs using? Moving from a Bm to a C might not be powerful to you if both are in root position. But if the Bm is in 2nd inversion and it moves to a C major in 1st inversion, you may feel a burst of emotion. There’s no telling what chords will move which people.

I’m glad you’re searching for an answer. Remember that any art is just a series of corrections. So if you are having a hard time finding the notes or chords, then you are getting closer to an answer, because each time you try something you are eliminating things that don’t work.

You have my best wishes in your journey – find what moves you.

Vertigo – any help would be appreciated.

640px-Glass_Floor_of_the_CN_TowerI’m trying to put things in perspective here,

for myself as much as for anyone who reads this. I am NOT scared of heights. Of course, there’s the old joke that says, “I’m not scared of heights, I’m scared of falling.” Not so funny because it’s true. However, I don’t have any problems with heights in general, except that every once in a while something will trigger either vertigo (as I understand it) or something else that makes me feel like I’m going to lose control and fall over or worse.

Because this feeling is induced by heights, for the longest time I thought I was afraid of heights and I stuck to the ground as much as possible. But over the course of time, too many things have happened for my problem to come from the fear of falling.

Vertigo as I understand it:

640px-A_leaning_child's_view_through_a_skyscraper's_window_and_glass_floorI somehow fear that my body will lose control. There’s no actual fear played out, I don’t feel dizzy, I don’t feel like I’m going to fall over, there’s no “end result” that I’m scared of. It’s hard to describe, I just feel like I might lose control of my body. I also have a physical reaction, a not quite painful feeling throughout my body that I can only describe as sharp. I feel it in my legs, stomach, groin, and arms. It’s the feeling I get when I’m going down a hill in a roller coaster, but it happens when I’m standing still.

The internet is full of articles, but vertigo is always described as dizziness or the feeling that one might fall over. None of the descriptions of the problem have ever been close enough to my own symptoms for me to feel comfortable diagnosing myself with the word.

When vertigo “kicks in”:

When I am up high, like in the mountains, and I am trying to walk closer to the edge. Even if the edge has a fence and there is no way that I could ever accidentally fall, the vertigo still rears its ugly head. I was in Washington just a few days ago at the Columbia River, and we pulled over at a scenic viewpoint to take some pictures. I did okay…

IMG_0768

 

If you see the plaques on the lower left and right hand sides of my photo, you will understand that this “edge” is a tourist attraction, and people are meant to walk right up to the plaques and read them. I couldn’t do it. This photo was taken with my iPhone about 10 feet away from the edge. I just wanted to walk up and touch the stone at the lookout point, and I took steps towards it, but just couldn’t finish because each step got more and more painful. But it’s not only being up high that  causes my vertigo…

When I look up at a high object, even though my feet are solidly on the flat low ground. The higher the object, the more intense the feeling of vertigo.

One time I was (as a car salesman) carrying helium balloons outside to affix to the cars in the morning. I was actually scared to carry them to the car because I had the feeling that if one of the balloons got away I would experience that loss of control. The thought of watching a helium balloon go up and up and up triggers the vertigo.

Nothing to fear but fear itself…

As I was driving through the mountains the other day I realized that I wasn’t scared of driving through the mountains. I wasn’t scared of going off a ledge and dying. I was scared of experiencing that loss of control that comes with SEEING the heights, and the expanse of nature. I have the same exact feeling if I’m on the low ground and see a huge mountain next to me, and I’m scared of that, too. So it’s not heights… But it does create a lot of fear – I’m scared of the vertigo, the problem, itself.

So when I head towards the mountains again on the way home, I will be scared, but not scared of the mountains.

WebMD on Vertigo

Wikipedia on Vertigo

Wikipedia on Acrophobia (fear of heights) with special guest star, Vertigo

This represents three of the sites I used to look for my specific issue, but I researched quite a few more that all said about the same thing.

Amelia Lois is HERE! Born 10/10/2014

Amelia Bennett 20141010_162015_Android

 

I am the luckiest guy in the world to have a beautiful, happy and healthy family! This is going to be my most important journey ever!

Here is the birth story as written up by the doula:

QuoteBirth Day of Amelia – October 10, 2014

Well, Amelia, everyone waited patiently (more or less) for your arrival; especially your mama. You kept everyone in suspense about when you would come until the very last minute!

On October 8th, Janelle agreed to try and entice you to come and went to St. Vincent to begin preparations. You didn’t seem to mind too much and by morning we thought it was likely you would probably make an appearance sometime that day…

October 9th, 6am, mom is feeling the changes that will ultimately bring you. Things are calm, and Matt and Janelle are excited, pensive, hopeful, nervous, wondering how your birthday will unfold. Nancy is our nurse in the early morning and she is helpful and kind. Janelle is leaking fluid by now and it’s clear and baby is doing well. Ctx are a little frequent, so nurse gives more fluids and things quiet down . Janelle is tolerating them fine.

Room is busy all morning. Nurse Robin comes in to begin care. Olivia, a student nurse joins the group and an intern, Dr. Brotherson, stops in as well.

7:15am Janelle up out of bed for a walk around the hall and then back to bed. It’s nice to refresh and stretch. She eats a few animal crackers and Matt goes out for a stretch and a break. The ctx are changing a little, sharper. Janelle is calm and collected and has a great attitude. She is smiling and expectantly waiting and observing what is happening inside and outside.

8:10 Stephanie comes in to check on Janelle and learns she is 1-2 ct. She releases Janelle’s water – still clear and good – and places the balloon to help dilation. She also places a device to measure ctx strength and starts Pitocin.

9:05am – Matt is softly talking with Janelle, rubbing her back and encouraging her. Janelle is still in good humor and shares that pressure is building. She would much rather be upright, but is confined to laying/reclining for a while after last exam and rupture of her waters to make sure baby’s cord stays in a safe place. At this point, she has lots of questions – great! Robin, our nurse, is very good at explaining and trying to answer all questions Janelle might have. (5)

9:40 Janelle is on the floor on hands and knees. Ctx are pretty regular and we resist turning up Pit any further for now.

9:50 Janelle is back to leaning on bed (6)

10:10 Janelle tries leaning on back of raised bed.

10:30 Starting to vomit, ctx are getting stronger and she expresses some worry for the first time. Janelle receives some Nubain to take the edge off and it seems to help for a while. She is able to rest a little more easily between ctx and Matt actually snoozes a bit in the chair. I rub Janelle’s legs for a while and this seems to help her to relax. (6)

1pm Balloon cath is removed and Janelle’s cervix is 4-5 cts. Labor is much harder now and Janelle is needing more support and encouragement from Matt and I. We take turns doing a press to help open her pelvis and this gives her a welcome relief. Even Olivia pitches in to try and help. Janelle is constantly on the move now, trying to find positions that give her relief. The ctx are very frequent at every 2-3 minutes and they require all of her attention and focus. (36)

3:15 Steph finds that Janelle’s cervix is 5-6 cts dilated. By now, Janelle is very, very tired and has coped incredibly well with artificially strengthened contractions that come very frequently. Baby is tolerating the augmented labor, but it’s starting to wear on Janelle. She requests an epidural. Dr. Semple comes up very quickly and places epidural. By 4pm, Janelle is resting comfortably, so everyone else takes a rest too! We get Janelle all tucked in, Matt retires to the recliner and I go to next room to sit awhile.

5:30pm Everyone is still resting, but awake. Samantha is our new nurse and she’s got lots of energy! It’s nice in a way to help infuse the atmosphere with new energy, especially with Janelle being confined to bed now and feeling a little static. (60)

6:00pm Samantha notes that the ctx don’t seem to be registering and she is being asked to increase the Pitocin. Suspicious that ctx are actually very strong and frequent, she palpates the old-fashioned way (yay!) and finds that Janelle is contracting just fine – and strongly! She won’t increase the Pit because of her findings and relays info to Stephanie. Steph comes in and finds that Janelle is now almost complete! Baby is doing fine and tolerating labor well. We help Janelle to change positions from back to side to back to side to help baby’s position. Janelle is still comfortable, but she can feel pressure increasing. Steph suspects that the baby may be posterior and that’s part of reason we keep trying to help Janelle shift position to help move baby to a better place.

7:25 Janelle tests pushing a little. By 7:40 she’s pushing with more confidence. She’s able to hold her own legs easily and push with lots of strength. Now we have Nurse Laura helping.

8:20 Dr. Tseng comes in to evaluate and see if he can turn baby. He asks for epidural to be turned down and Pitocin to go up. He feels that in ½ hour, when Janelle is able to feel more sensation that she will be able to push more effectively. So that’s what we do and then we help Janelle to get on hands and knees on bed. This position will help baby to turn. Janelle can take a break from pushing unless she can’t resist and wait for contractions to bring baby even lower and gather her strength for the pushing efforts that lie ahead.

9:35 Janelle is back to pushing in earnest. She can definitely feel more and it is helping her efforts to move baby. She pushes and pushes. She is so amazingly strong. She likes to get in as many pushes as she can every time she feels pressure to push and her pushes just get better, with her last pushes always being her best! Every ctx, she’s ready to go and asking to push and then pushing for as long as she can before resting. All the while, she is still holding her own legs and supporting herself. We help to guide her by counting, which she likes. It seems to help keep her on track and remember to stop for breath. This is really hard work and Janelle is feeling the strain. It’s exhausting and long and she wonders if she is really making progress. She’s hot, thirsty, hungry, tired and has to keep pulling energy from some mysterious place. She looks at Matt after another effort of pushing and says “You better love me!” to which Matt replies, “I do, hon. I do.”

Janelle continues to work hard. Baby is still tolerating labor and Pitocin. Janelle’s primary effort is to get baby to move under the pubic bone. Steph has to consider whether Janelle has the steam to do that and then still finish bringing baby the rest of the way. She explains that she wants Dr. Tseng to come assess Janelle and the baby and then make a call on how to proceed. Dr. Tseng does so and feels that Janelle is pushing with much more effectiveness and that she can birth the baby on her own if she continues. (!!!!!!) So that’s exactly what Janelle does. She pushes and pushes and pushes. Such effort in another scenario could have birthed multiple babies!! Who is this passenger that Janelle is working so hard to bring?!?! She finally gets the baby past the tough and works for another hour, pushing and pushing. We see more and more of the baby. It won’t be long now and we keep encouraging Janelle who is giving it everything she’s got.

11:55 Dr. Tseng is watching as Janelle has gotten the baby to crowning. Janelle is so, so, so close and Dr. Tseng sees that she is exhausted. He asks her to push and he helps her and baby with a small vacuum to help bring baby the last bit of way. Janelle births the baby’s head!! A pause and then Stephanie helps guide the shoulder. Baby is no longer posterior and has rotated into better position. A longer pause and Stephanie works on guiding the baby’s body while Janelle pushes some more. This is not a tiny baby!! One more push and baby is out. Wow! She’s here! It’s 12:01, October 10th, and she’s here on her own time! Welcome Amelia!

On reading

portrayal-89193_640
So many books, so little time

Stephen King reads more than 80 books a year. I thought I was ahead of the game attempting to read 50 books a year. Since I started keeping track:

2010 – 10 books (It was a bad year in many ways) (9 fiction, 1 non-fiction)
2011 – 32 (14 fiction, 18 non-fiction)
2012 – 33 (24 fiction, 9 non-fiction)
2013 – 37 (24 fiction, 13 non-fiction).

I felt rather chastised after reading King’s book On Writing because he is reading all the time (even waiting in line at the post office, etc). His advice is basically that writers must immerse themselves in books in order to improve writing skills. I agree with this. And as I am writing fiction, I feel like I haven’t been reading enough fiction.

This year I decided to read more fiction, and I started the early months off wonderfully. I read 11 books by the first week in February. But I am not Stephen King, and there was a backlash…repercussions. Since that first week in February I have been reading strictly non-fiction (except for some of the blogs I keep up with). I went far too long without getting my dose of reality. My interests are far too varied to keep my nose buried in novels when there is so much I have to learn and know about everything.

And as far as the 50 books/year goes, well – I will keep that goal, just so that I am constantly moving forward and improving myself. And even though I feel bad sometimes that I haven’t made that goal yet, I don’t think that is a bad thing, considering that I don’t take into account the thousands of words of news I read daily, or my subscriptions to The Economist, YES!, Wired, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Entertainment Weekly, Family Handyman, Mother Jones, Urban Farm, Grit, Reason, and a couple of others I may have missed, plus my local newspaper. Yeah, I feel satisfied that I read the equivalent of at least 100 books a year, if not more.

So maybe I’m not learning as much about how fiction writers write fiction. But I’m sure that my varied interests and all of my learning will somehow reveal themselves in my own fiction, and even though my books may not become NYT bestsellers (although there’s always a chance), at least they will be unique, different, and mine. Stephen King* can read all the fiction he wants, I just can’t do it.

471px-Stephen_King,_Comicon*Before anyone gets the wrong idea, King is one of my all time great idols. And I only have a few all time great idols. He is a hero to me. It is because of my respect for him that his statement in the book bothered me enough that I had to write about it and justify, if only for myself, why I don’t follow in his footsteps in this area.

 

Analyze your writing with Expresso

glasses-272401_1920I have seen text analysis engines before, but these engines generally are used for text mining, or data mining of text. I have never seen an app that analyzed a writer’s style. Until today. I just found Expresso, and I am incredibly impressed.

Before I get into the details, I need to say that this is one of the cleanest, purest, uncluttered apps that I have ever seen. It is beautiful in its simplicity.

From the website:

Learn practical techniques to improve your writing style

QuoteWhile good writing style is hard to master, there are several simple yet powerful techniques which many writing guides and coaches focus on. They can quickly improve the quality of your texts. Expresso teaches these techniques by applying them directly to your writing.

I picked a random post from my blog, and copied a random paragraph from that post, and pasted it into Expresso.

Expresso

Now as I click on each stylistic “problem” from the metrics on the right, it highlights the related portions of my text, and I am able to determine whether or not to make a change. I can also change the text in the app and analyze it again if I want to.

Here I have highlighted all instances of “passive voice” (green) and “modals” (blue):

expresso2

Having just discovered this internet gem, I’m sure there is a lot more to discover, and if it proves to be a really helpful tool, there is no doubt you’ll be hearing more about it. But go ahead and give it a try. Just remember, it’s not a writing god, it’s just an app, so before you go ahead and change that beautiful sentence of yours, remember:

… don’t blindly optimize metrics in your texts

Quote

Writing metrics employed by Expresso can be powerful but they are not a “magic bullet”. They highly correlate with good writing but are not the cause of it, just like umbrellas correlate with rain but, of course, don’t trigger it. Therefore, there is no benefit in optimizing the metrics blindly. For example, constructing short nonsensical sentences out of several common short words — “it”, “get”, “all”, etc — will result in a low readability grade; however, the text will be unintelligible. Instead, use highlighted metrics to identify weak areas and to get ideas for possible edits.

Good writing style remains an art, not a science…

“It is what it is” and the meaning of life.

is-what-it-is
I was tired, so I sent my shadow to take this picture.

Janelle and I have a difference of opinion about the meaning and implications of the phrase “it is what it is”. The interesting thing is, we’re both right – it’s all about perspective and experience.

Resignation

In Janelle’s experience, this phrase has been used as resignation, and many times as an excuse NOT to change. She has heard the phrase used in this manner so often that she is sick of hearing it.

I can easily see why you’d get tired of the expression if someone were using it like:

Well, you may not like how I’m acting, but it is what it is.

or

Nobody likes being mugged at gunpoint, but I need some heroin, so I’m really sorry, but it is what it is.

Reality Check

For me, the phrase is actually an inspiring reality check, and the reason is that I had a job for five years with a boss that I really admired, and he used this often, and in this way.

So we’re five people short at work, and we have to get 26 flights loaded on eleven different ramps, and keep them all guarded. It is what it is. Let’s get moving.

Basically, in my interpretation of the phrase, we are saying. This is reality, we can’t change reality, and we can’t change the situation – but we can change ourselves and challenge ourselves, and figure out a way to get this job done.

Us

I like my perspective on this commonly used phrase much better than I like her perspective. This should be very surprising to exactly zero people.

Janelle still hates when I use the phrase, but like I tell her, it is what it is.

Kennedy, Lincoln, and Snopes oh my…

256px-Abraham_Lincoln256px-John_F_Kennedy_Official_Portrait

Every once in a while I wander over to Snopes.com and hit their randomizer button in order to see if I can learn anything new. A few days ago, I landed on the Lincoln/Kennedy Coincidences rebuttal, and I was entirely surprised at the demeanor of the unnamed author of the rebuttal. I have read hundreds of Snopes articles by now, and I have never seen one that seemed as distressed or as angry as the article on this urban legend. The author seems downright irritated that this particular legend persists. Usually Snopes has a good sense of humor about their mission, but there is a tone throughout the piece that is somewhat distressing, and it makes me wonder what set the writer off on the tangent. Below are some quotes, but it is the article in its entirety that has the underlying anger.

QuoteWe’re supposed to be amazed at minor happenstances such as the two men’s being elected exactly one hundred years apart, but we’re supposed to think nothing of the numerous non-coincidences

QuoteAnother non-surprise. Absent all other factors, the odds were already one in seven that both killings would have occurred on the same day of the week. (Don’t even think about writing to tell us that we’re wrong and the odds are really one in forty-nine. If you think we’re wrong, you don’t understand the question.)

QuoteThis is one of those coincidences thatisn’t a coincidence at all; it’s simply wrong.

 

QuoteCoincidence? Neither their first nor last names have the same number of letters. And why should it be significant that both assassins had the same number of letters in their full names when the same wasn’t true of Abraham Lincoln and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, or of Andrew Johnson and Lyndon Baines Johnson?

A side note!

I found it kind of humorous that in the rebuttal of coincidences, Snopes actually gave us one more coincidence to consider (underlined in quote):

QuoteThis “coincidence” is another one which is exceedingly trivial in nature. The only two types of shots which reasonably assure a dead victim are chest shots and head shots, so two assassinations committed by head shots aren’t the least bit coincidental — especially when one considers that since both Lincoln and Kennedy were shot from behind and while seated, so their assassins had no other practical choice of target.

A note to the author of this Snopes piece:

It’s all gonna be okay! It really is. Have some tea and enjoy the evening.