Book Review: How We Learn

How We Learn is a book that reads like a great NPR story, and I mean that in the best way possible. It takes you on a journey, first through your brain and then through the history of learning research, before landing on some practical steps you can take to improve your own learning in specific situations.

Don't let the promise of "history" and "research" lull you into thinking the book is a boring one - in fact, after reading the first 100 pages across the course of several days (squeezing in a handful of pages whenever possible), I was finally able to sit down and read the remaining 130 pages uninterrupted. Ironically, the large chunk of reading began with Chapter Six: "The Upside of Distraction." Well, there may indeed be upsides to distraction when it comes to learning, but I was glad to be able to sit down and finish the book anyway.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens is the kind of title that prepares me to be a little skeptical. I came into the book thinking it was going to be positioned as some expert telling me why everything I thought I knew was wrong (or some kind of sensationalist thing like that). Certainly I have read plenty of insightful books that have shifted my perspective or broadened my view of a topic (Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point and Outliers come to mind, though I was less a fan of Blink), but for some reason I was expecting the book to wind up like a bad Netflix documentary - pushing buttons just because they exist without really saying anything of substance.

I am happy to report that I was wrong.

This book was written by a New York Times reporter who has been with the newspaper since 2004, and his expertise as a science journalist shines through in How We Learn. Carey doesn't claim to be a scientist, a researcher, or a leader in the field of learning, and as such he does not attempt to inject any sense of nose-in-the-air authority into his words. He writes as one who has done a lot of reading on the topic; he has talked with many people who have dedicated their lives to the field. While he doesn't introduce any new research, Carey also does not simply regurgitate the results of others' work. Rather, the author takes the findings of these researchers and uses them to look back on his own life before considering how they might apply more broadly to us as his readers. In addition, several of the researchers whose work Carey cites actually helped in the process of reviewing the book to make sure he was accurate in his reporting.

As I mentioned before, the book begins with a look at what we know about how the brain works (particularly as it pertains to learning). It's an interesting summary that lays the groundwork for some later stories, helping readers to understand them better. From "how the brain works," Carey progresses into a section I'd summarize as "how learning is affected by specific variables." This is the part where he not only shares some of the latest research, but also shows how scientists arrived at this point. It's a fascinating look at the history of learning theory, and Carey does a great job of mentioning larger historical trends (such as Freudian psychology) that affected scientists' decisions on where to go next. After reviewing the lands that learning research has traveled through, Carey brings us up to speed on the latest of "what we know now" and uses it to suggest several practical (I daresay actionable) ways that we can improve learning in our own lives.

The book wraps up with a brief Q&A section that serves as a recap of everything Carey just finished saying; it also serves as a quick reference guide for the major topics of the book. While How We Learn is a pretty easy read, it also contains a ton of information, so it's nice to have a refresher at the end of the book to consolidate everything that was included.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and came away wishing I owned a copy (mine was from the library) so that I could reference it down the road as I actively try to learn new skills and information. It's very practical in addition to being informative, and I may end up purchasing a copy of my own.

One feature I'd like to add to my book reviews (starting with this one) is a list of people I would recommend the book to. So, here we go - I would recommend How We Learn to:
  - Caitlin Metzger (my wife) because she's a great teacher and would be able to effectively leverage the book's material to help her piano and violin students continue to succeed.
  - Betty Metzger (my mom) because she is also a great teacher who would be able to bring the book's concepts into her K-6th music classroom.
  - Ben Eicher (my brother-in-law) who is heading into high school next year and could put the book's techniques to work as he continues his academic career.

How We Learn is an expertly-woven tale of how our brains work and how we can use them more efficiently. I'll give it three stars today and an additional two stars the day after tomorrow (to help the book commit its five-star rating to memory!)

40 Bags in 40 Days

My wife is pretty great. Really, she's the best. I am a big fan of hers.

Today she is launching a project called 40 Bags in 40 Days, a de-cluttering effort aimed at simplifying one's life by simplifying one's possessions. (I realize the irony of posting this immediately after talking about how I just can't quite bring myself to get rid of my collection of old video games.)

The project takes place across the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter, and if you'd like to follow along or join in yourself, check out her posts in the series or (better yet) subscribe to her blog! You can also follow the project through the Facebook event that she set up for it.

Let's Play Friday!

I have a not-insignificant collection of old video games. It's not the kind of glorious catalog that's painstakingly curated and fawned over by fellow nerds on the internet, but I'd say it falls just inside the lower bound of "extensive."

Technically some of these games and consoles belong to one or the other of my brothers, but they have basically allowed me to tend the digital flock for the past several years. There's only one real problem with my prized pile of plastic and silicon: I rarely play any of the games in the collection. Sure, I'll occasionally fire up the NES for another go at Super Mario Bros. or a round of Tetris - sometimes I even host parties to have people come over and play the games - but mostly the collection just sits on the shelf. Truth be told, I'm not even that good at video games. At the same time, I can't quite bring myself to part with them.

A portion of my collection. What to do, what to do?

There is a phenomenon on the internet known as Let's Play videos. They've been around for a while, at least 8 years, but have become especially popular recently. A Let's Play video is pretty straightforward - it basically just involves somebody playing a game and providing commentary while the video shows both gameplay and the player, either cut together or superimposed in the corner of the screen. This type of video differs from a walkthrough or a review in that its purpose is primarily to entertain rather than inform.

Assuming you can put the proverbial two and two together, you might deduce that I'm planning to start a Let's Play channel of my own on YouTube. In such a case you would be correct! Good job, you! I've been rolling this idea around in my head for a while and I'm planning to go ahead with it, though I still need to get some equipment to capture the game video and wrap up some other logistics. If everything goes to plan I should be able to publish the first video about a month from now. Keep an eye on this blog and/or follow the show account on Twitter (@LetsPlayFriday) for updates!

So, what do you think of the idea? Would you be interested in seeing me play through video game history starting with Atari 2600? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

As I mentioned on Saturday evening, I recently finished reading Col. Chris Hadfield's book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. The full title is a mouthful but one of my favorite albums is called Give Us Rest; or: (a requiem mass in C [the happiest of all keys]) so maybe I'm just a sucker for creative works with overly complex titles.

I came into the book without any particular expectations; my decision to grab the book from its display on the library shelf was based primarily on name recognition. I remembered seeing videos of Col. Hadfield doing experiments on the International Space Station on YouTube, particularly some really cool demonstrations of how water behaves in microgravity. He also starred in the first music video recorded in space, a cover of David Bowie's Space Oddity which was recorded on the ISS during downtime. Given that picking the book up was a snap decision on my way to the checkout counter, I found the volume a thoroughly satisfying one.

If you open the book expecting some very specific type of account - a memoir, say, or a technical account of Hadfield's trips to space - you'll likely come away at least a little disappointed. It's not a linear autobiography, though it certainly tells the story of Col. Hadfield's life from childhood to retirement. Neither is it "how to become an astronaut," though Hadfield shares the journey he took to become one and many lessons he learned along the way. There aren't detailed accounts of every training and mission activity he took part in (and it quickly becomes apparent that such a work would be massive), and though Hadfield does include plenty of technical information in the course of his storytelling, the book remains quite accessible to non-astronaut readers.

What I mean to say, then, is that the book is not any one thing; it's part life story, part career memoir, part adventure, part mission recap, and part advice column. Hadfield manages to weave these many approaches together in a way that is both seamless and entertaining. Tales of tense moments leading up to a mission had me breathing shallowly; moments of triumph bestowed a soaring sense of joy and accomplishment, as if I had been the one who traveled to space three times. Portions of the book sharing life lessons did so in the context of Hadfield's life and career, but weren't so specific as to feel irrelevant. Indeed, as Col. Hadfield shared experiences and realizations that kept him on track and helped him to make the right decisions, I found myself considering thoughtfully how to apply these lessons to my own life.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth is, generally speaking, celebratory in nature. It wraps up with Hadfield's retirement after completing his third trip to space, a highly successful 5-month stint aboard the International Space Station. The book bubbles with joy and doesn't dwell on negative experiences except to show how they taught an important lesson. Some may view this as a downside to the book, viewing it as self-congratulatory or unrealistically cheerful, but I think that the tone of the book is simply a reflection of the tone of Hadfield's life. Toward the end of the book, Col. Hadfield shares, "If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you're setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time." He explains that by counting each positive part of one's life as being equally important, it's easier to find meaning and motivation as you move toward a goal. In some ways, this outlook reminded me of a previous post I shared, called Finding Wins. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed the book so much - Col. Chris Hadfield seems like the kind of guy I could get along with pretty easily... though to be fair he also seems like the kind of guy anyone could get along with pretty easily. Throughout the book, I found myself identifying with him (except that he's vastly more experienced and has way cooler stories to share at parties). Overall, I found the book to be accessible, entertaining, and interesting. I give it 9 out of 9 planets (here's looking at you, Pluto).

No, for real, I'm back!

If you recall my last post, you know that I am excited to get back to blogging after taking a 3-week break from blogging every day in December. The only niggle with that plan is that my last post occurred two weeks ago. It seems that at least one member of my family (and sometimes up to three at a time) has been sick since that post came out. It's not quite a valid excuse, but it's certainly a distraction from the concept of sitting down to blog. And, though I do care about those of you who follow along with my posts, I care about my family more.

That said, I just finished a wonderful book called An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield, who has been to space three times. It's an interesting mix of genres - at some points it's more like an autobiography; at other times it feels more like a collection of practical advice. There are also moments that fall straight into the category of trivia (how to properly urinate in space, anyone?) The book deserves its own review, so I'll be publishing that sometime next week.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you all know that I'm still alive, my family is still alive, and I really appreciate your joining me as I attempt to do creative things and share them with the internet.

See you next week! (assuming nobody gets sick again)

I'm Back!

I had a lovely 3 week break from blogging after posting something every day in December, but I think it's about time I got back at it, don't you?

This blog will continue to function as a means of accountability for doing things and sharing them with the internet. However, I don't plan to post every day like I did last month; instead I plan to post about twice per week. Depending on how that goes I may change it to three times per week.

I don't have one big project planned at the moment, though I'd certainly welcome any suggestions. I do have a few things I've been exploring or working on in the background over the last several months so I'll be highlighting those until the next bigger project begins. See you Monday!

December 31.

On December 1, I got this website up and running and showed up to declare that I would post something every day this month "as a means of accountability for doing things and sharing them with the internet."

Well, here we are at the end of the month and it appears I have accomplished what I set out to do. This month, I have:

As far as my metrics can tell me, that last one I mentioned - the post about dreams and fear - was the most popular post I wrote this month, and I'm not sure why. Maybe people identify with the idea of being afraid to succeed. I don't know, you'll have to tell me in the comments ;)

More generally speaking, what type of posts did you enjoy most, and what do you want to see more of in 2015? I tried to do a variety of things with the blog this month, from straightforward project updates to more reflective, idea-driven posts; from posts focused on what I'm doing to posts highlighting what others are doing. If there's a particular type of post you enjoy most (heh, that rhymed), tell me about it!

Also, now that my big December project is over, what should I tackle next? I'm always open to new suggestions so if there's something you'd like to see me try, tell me about that too! One suggestion was to sculpt something out of something and post it - I love that idea and I'll be doing it sometime in the next month or two.

Lastly: I'll be taking a few days off and then I'll be back to post regularly again. It won't be daily; more likely it will be 2-3 days per week.

It's been a great month! Thanks for being a part of it.

minimake: serving board!

I'm doing a few small projects with the leftover wood from the bed I built for Caitlin for Christmas. One of them was particularly fun and quick - I made a serving board for my brother Sam and his family. The board was already planed from one of the side rails of the bed, so I sanded it smooth and wiped it down with a tack cloth before applying a generous coat of teak oil. Teak oil is designed for hard woods (particularly teak - surprise!) so it seemed like a good match for the especially dense walnut I had been working with. After letting it soak in for 30 minutes, I applied a second coat and let that soak for 15 minutes before wiping the board dry with a cloth. I repeated this process for the other side of the board. The teak oil really brought out the grain of the wood and should protect the wood very well. I think the board will look quite nice with a baguette and an assortment of cheese on it. Now if only I had also given Sam a baguette and an assortment of cheese for Christmas...

Tri-State Station

Yesterday, we visited Tri-State Station, a model railroading club located amongst the outlet stores outside of Angola, Indiana. Elias and I had fun looking at all the displays and I also enjoyed photographing some of the trains and displays.

It was a unique photographic challenge I hadn't really taken on before - I learned a lot and the process of editing the photos is teaching me even more. I'd like to go back sometime and get more photos, but here's what I have for now. Click any of the images to enlarge:

A New Christmas Tradition

This Christmas, our family tried out what I think will become a new tradition - Christmas Crackers!

Christmas Crackers are a tradition in the UK which I first learned about while watching Doctor Who. A cracker looks like a tube that's twisted at the ends; when pulled, it tears open with a loud pop and several prizes come out. Last year my friend Derick gave us a set of crackers just after Christmas to use this year, so we've been looking forward to using them for a long time! Something I didn't realize until yesterday is that the crackers pop so loudly because they contain a strip of paper in the middle with some Silver Fulminate, which is highly unstable and explodes easily. Only a tiny amount is used and it's safely contained so there's no danger.

The crackers we got contained a slip of paper with lame jokes (dad-joke quality or better), a paper crown (these come in basically all crackers), and a small toy. My toy was a tiny set of bowling pins with a ball:

The pins are about 1" tall

All the crowns in our crackers were gold, though they sometimes come in different colors.

Derick also thought I looked like the Burger King mascot in my crown; I decided to take it as a compliment.

"Who wore it better?"      -Derick Lehman

"Who wore it better?"
     -Derick Lehman

It was a lot of fun to open the crackers before our Christmas meal and I think we'll continue the tradition for many years to come.

What's your favorite Christmas tradition?

Secret December Project: Building A Bed

I've told you all about one project of mine this month, and I shared the results of it a couple of days ago. But, for the past month and a half or so, I've been working on another project in secret. I couldn't share details here because it was a Christmas gift for Caitlin. Now that Christmas is over and she has her gift, I am excited to share it with you!

Secret December Project: Building A Bed

I first want to extend a big thank you to my brother-in-law Breagan, who let me use his garage/basement to prepare the pieces of this bed. He also provided plenty of tools I don't have (yet) including his planer, compound miter saw, and table saw. He also sourced the wood for me, having found a Craigslist seller who was getting rid of rough walnut for about $1 per board foot.

After selecting the boards I wanted to use, we planed them smooth and then cut them to length. On one or two boards that had some curvature only at one end we cut them short before planing. Next, we ripped them to 10" wide on the tablesaw, and I sanded the boards to make them even smoother. I then used my drill press to make holes where the boards would be bolted into the supports. This was done in two steps: first by drilling a hole just large enough for the bolt shank to fit through, and then a 3/4" wide hole about half the depth of the board thickness to allow the bolt head and washer to sit below the surface of the board.

The supports for the bed (which hold the frame together) were five 2x4's. I cut them to length, drilled a hole in the ends, and then embedded an insert nut in the ends so that the bolts could engage metal threads and tightly hold everything together. The headboard was made of three smaller boards which were planed, edge-glued together, and sanded smooth. I drilled five holes in the bottom edge of the headboard with five corresponding holes in the top edge of the frame rail at the head of the bed so that I could insert pegs to align and join the two pieces. My goal was to make it easy to disassemble the bed in case we move to another house or want to move the bed to another room.

I coated all the external faces of the frame and headboard with three coats of Minwax Polycrylic semi-gloss finish, and the inner faces got two coats each. I sanded between each coat and cleaned up the dust with a tack cloth.

The final steps before assembly were to cut some 1/2" plywood to size and to attach legs to the outermost 2x4 supports. I also attached small support rails to hold up the head- and footboard. This part is better explained visually in the gallery below, which depicts and explains the assembly process. Click any of the photos to enlarge; you can click or arrow your way through the enlarged images if you'd like. Mouse over the enlarged image to see the description.

I had a lot of fun doing this project and I'm so glad I finally get to share it. We slept on the bed for the first time last night and it didn't collapse, so we're off to a good start! I need to add a little bit more bracing for the headboard, which is currently only held in place by those five brass rods - I forgot to pick up the bracket I wanted last time I was at Lowe's. Overall I'm quite happy with how it turned out.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! I hope that you have been able to spend it surrounded by people you love, and that you feel the nearness of our God who came to be with us. As the familiar carol reminds us: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see-- Hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as man with man to dwell: Jesus, our Emmanuel.

In case you missed it yesterday, I completed my December project of recording O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Tomorrow I'll share the results of my other December project, which I've been occasionally teasing but also haven't really talked about because it was a surprise Christmas gift for Caitlin.

Grace and peace to you on this Christmas day!

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

I am not a vocal performer. I haven't been in choir since 6th grade, and my vocal training since then has only consisted of a few semesters of voice lessons with the excellent Wishart Bell while I was a student at Bethel.

I am moderately terrified to share the final product of my December Project with you. I wasn't able to complete the instrumentation to my desired outcome, I know that a few more vocal takes would have produced a better result, and I was basically stumbling around Adobe Audition in the dark (with a flashlight named Google) when it came to mixing and editing the final song.

I recorded the vocals for this song in my basement. Note the awesome wood paneling.

I recorded the vocals for this song in my basement. Note the awesome wood paneling.

But action trumps inaction. Doing something is always better than talking about doing something. Sharing is better than keeping everything for yourself. So, here it is:

I hope you enjoy it. Shoot, I hope you make it all the way to the end without giving up on me.

This blog was created to get me to make things and share them with people. I guess it's working.

Virtual Instruments

In the process of producing the Christmas song I'm recording this year I finally jumped into the world of VSTi's, or Virtual Studio Technology instruments. For a long time, I shied away from the idea of using MIDI for anything other than transmitting notes or other data because the first thing that comes to mind when I think of MIDI as a music format is the cheesy (albeit awesome and nostalgia-inducing) background music from Chip's Challenge back in the day, or the floppy disk full of movie themes in MIDI format I got from my friend Alex in grade school. Fun, but not really what you want for serious music.

Turns out things have changed a little bit since 1993.

After getting over my irrational fear and nerding out over how cool technology is, I programmed my arrangement of verse one of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel into Finale NotePad, along with a final chorus arrangement I plan to use. I saved this as a .mid file and loaded it into Pianissimo, a VSTi/virtual instrument I just discovered today. It normally costs about $70 but comes with a 14-day free trial. As soon as the first note played it was abundantly clear that virtual instruments are not at all what they were 20 years ago. This should have been obvious without even hearing the instrument, but sometimes I'm just a grumpy old man like that.

I may end up just doing an instrumental version of the song as the official end of my December Project, depending on how competent my voice feels tomorrow and on how much time I have between finishing my secret other projects (just a few more days until the reveal!) and enjoying my time off from work (rest is important!) At any rate, I am very much looking forward to sharing the final results with you!


verse one

Because of some other projects I've been working on (secret until after Christmas), I won't be able to produce a full performance video of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel like I wanted to... but like I've said before, setbacks are all about finding wins, and my wins this time around is that I was able to put together a performance video for the first verse, and that I've technically completed what I originally set out to do: 

  • to successfully record and share at least one Christmas-related song by Dec. 24
  • to record a performance video for this song
  • to use at least two audio tracks in the production process.

The audio version I released yesterday was made from four tracks - two piano, two voice - but I'm really uncomfortable with how the harmony sounded, so for the video version below I removed the second voice track and its associated video.

I still very much hope to produce a full audio version containing a more complete arrangement and more verses before Christmas, but it's going to be a tight squeeze to get that done. We'll see :)

a demo, or: a test

I've been doing so much stuff today that I haven't had time to write yet, so here's a tiny update:

I've started recording a bit for my December Project, and it looks like I won't have time to make a full performance video of the entire song. As a test this evening, I did a few quick takes of the first verse and then had fun becoming more familiar with Adobe Audtion to mix the tracks together. This is from two piano tracks and two vocal tracks (second track shows up partway through, it's the bad harmony.)

I'll have a performance video of just this portion tomorrow, and then I'll jump into recording all the audio for the final project!

C&P Music Recital

Tonight, our music lesson business hosted its first recital. It was a lot of fun to see the students perform, some of them for the first time in front of a crowd. Caitlin acted as MC, and I scurried around furiously trying to get a couple of good photos per performance while also managing these two brothers:

I've used the Canon XA20 and XF200 on other shoots, so I knew they'd handle the recital pretty well (and they did!) I was also pleasantly surprised at how well-lit the recital space was - we held the event at an assisted living community and had no idea what the room would be like coming in (I was expecting a dimly lit space like the nursing home chapels I visited with my dad as a kid).

Overall, it went very well; I am looking forward to sharing more in the next couple of days but for now I just need to chill on the couch and watch SNL with Caitlin. I spent most of the day doing woodworking for some Christmas gifts (all will be revealed after Dec. 25!) and then of course we had the recital tonight. It has been a good, tiring day.

Music Workstation

Yesterday I shared about a dream that finally came true, and about how fear had needlessly held me back from reaching my goals. Today I'd like to talk a little more about that project, this time from a nerdier, less reflective standpoint.

Getting everything hooked up was a simple enough affair - I simply opened up the Roland USB/MIDI interface, installed the driver from the included CD, and then plugged the MIDI ends into the PSR-6300 keyboard and the USB end into my computer. When I opened Finale NotePad, it recognized the UM-ONE and set it as the default MIDI IN device.

That's it.

I opened a blank document in Finale NotePad and when I pressed a key the note appeared before my eyes. It was a momentous (if undramatic) experience.

To my disappointment but not to my surprise, Finale NotePad (free software) is pretty limited in how it accepts and interprets MIDI data. It does not analyze note duration, song tempo (either through MIDI clock or inferred from your playing style), or other data such as pitch bend. It simply takes the pitch (MIDI note number) and inserts it on the selected staff at the specified duration. So, if you have the eighth note selected everything you play comes in as an eighth note, and so on.

Thankfully, Caitlin had a brilliant idea which eased the pain of Finale NotePad's limitation significantly: she suggested I use my ShuttlePRO v2 to facilitate note entry. The ShuttlePRO is a hardware controller that features a shuttle wheel, jog dial, and 15 programmable buttons. It's immensely useful to me when I edit photos and especially when I edit video, so when Caitlin made the suggestion I knew right away what a great idea it was (she's pretty awesome like that, coming up with good ideas all the time).

ShuttlePRO v2 from Contour Design

I programmed the five buttons above the dial to select whole, half, quarter, eighth, or sixteenth notes, the wheel to move forward or back one note at a time, the right side button to convert a note to a rest, the left side button to add a dot to the selected note, and one of the top row buttons to undo the previous action. I'm sure that I'll find useful shortcuts or macros to fill in the rest of the buttons, but just making that handful of shortcuts so easy to access without looking down or moving my left hand immediately made note entry much simpler. It's a far cry from real-time transcription as I play, but it's also way better than entering notes by using the mouse.

I quickly programmed the desired buttons using the Shuttle config panel.

Finally, to make everything easier to control at once, I removed the upper keyboard from my stand and laid my whiteboard on the top tier to act as a platform (it was the first strong-ish thing I could find that was the right size). The monitor, ShuttlePRO, keyboard, and mouse went on top of that. It worked really well and I plan to cut a piece of plywood to fit on that upper level for when I want to use a monitor/etc. or smaller gear such as my drum machine or Korg MS-20 mini.


So there you have them: all the nerdy details. I'd be happy to answer any relevant questions you might have in the comments!

Dreams and Fear.

Tonight, a long-held dream of mine came true. It was nothing earth-shattering, just something I had dreamed about since 1997. Tonight, I played a note on a MIDI keyboard and saw it appear on a music staff on my computer screen. Then I listened as the computer played back the pitches I had just played. Then I listened as the computer sent those pitches back into the keyboard and the keyboard played them back to me in the voice selected on its control panel. This all might seem simple or boring to you, but it is seriously cool to me. And yet, it took far longer to achieve than it should have.

Sometimes, failure to achieve a dream is due to something completely out of our control. Something happens that has nothing to do with us and suddenly the thing we wanted to accomplish is no longer possible. Other times, life delays the completion of a project and we have to pick up the (maybe literal) pieces from where we left off and figure out how to bring everything together again. Some dreams might be too big to chase right now and we have to lay low for a while, work on what we can, and gather the resources over time to make them eventually come true. And sometimes, things just don't go our way - maybe it hasn't been our day, our week, our month, or even our year - but we can still find wins and keep moving on our dreams. Sadly, none of these are the true reason it took me so long to achieve this particular dream.

I've had the MIDI/USB cable I needed for months; I've had the keyboard, computer, and software for years. I even had a successful attempt at using MIDI to communicate between two instruments earlier this year. So what kept me from this dream for so long? In a word: fear.

Two types of fear were the key players in keeping me from chasing this goal and succeeding much sooner. The first was a fear of being let down. I've achieved some goals in the past only to realize that they weren't all I anticipated them to be. Certainly I've also achieved goals that were very fulfilling, life-giving, and encouraged me to move forward - but I've also realized dreams that turned out to be less like a mighty zeppelin and more like a 3-week-old birthday balloon. I was afraid that the idea of using a keyboard for notation via MIDI would far outshine the experience of it.

The second type of fear that held me back was a fear of success. I admit that sounds odd but I think it happens more often than we might realize. I've experienced huge wins, achievements I'd count as milestones in my life, that left me empty. I've had goals that I thought would be some kind of pinnacles only to find they were mere foothills - that the thing I thought would bring satisfaction only served to reveal how much further I had to go. This, I think, was the primary issue that kept me from pursuing this goal sooner. What if I suddenly have the tools to make notation and arranging easier, and I fail to live up to the potential those tools give me? What if I suddenly feel a responsibility to do more with music? Sure, it's what I want to do; it's what I've been dreaming about all this time - but when it suddenly becomes possible I suddenly become timid.

I've said many times that I started this blog to force myself to do things and share them with the internet. Apparently it's starting to work a little bit. You have helped me overcome years of fear and inaction to achieve something I've dreamed about for 17 years.

What type of fear is most prevalent in your life? How will you overcome it to move toward your goals?