Category: Life (page 2 of 2)

Show Some Respect

I traveled to New York last week, and was blessed to be able to take time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero.

The grounds are simple and beautiful: Two reflecting pools; a list of names representing the lives that were lost; and greenery and trees that quietly remind us of nature’s comeback. This is in the shadow of the new Freedom Tower, a majestic skyscraper that glistens in the New York sun.

Amidst all of this peace, though, there is an undeniable vibe of despair.

I actually wasn’t sure how to get to the memorial from where I began Friday morning in SoHo, so I began walking in the direction of the Freedom Tower, which I caught glimpses of as I made my way down the narrow streets.

I had a good morning — I’d just acted like a silly fangirl at the temporary Central Perk that has been constructed in honor of the 20th anniversary of the show Friends. I snapped photos, talked with other fans, sipped free coffee and sat on the original couch from the set. That night I had plans to have dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in over two years. My mood was nothing short of jovial.

But the closer I got to the site of the tragedy, the more nauseous I began to feel. Without glancing up or looking at street signs, I knew exactly when I had arrived at Ground Zero from the sick feeling I got, which was like an energy physically pulling the joy from my body.

A little dizzy and a lot haunted, I began to survey they area. The construction currently going on gave me flashbacks of the hundreds of news reports I watched of workers looking for survivors amidst the horrible smoldering pile of death and debris. The well-dressed business people making their way to and from lunch sent me into a memory of office workers that day in their professional attire, running in horror from their soon-to-be-former workplace. The visitors openly weeping at the reflecting pools reminded me that some tragedies will never truly end.

I walked from the memorial across the street to a beautiful little park along the marina and took a breath of fresh air before returning to the space where I had to purchase a museum ticket. I needed the break.

When I decided I would run out of time to go in unless I returned, I quietly stood in line, listening to the British accents behind me and the French speaking friends in front of me. I thought about how lovely it was that they cared enough to visit.

My timed entrance was over an hour from when I bought the ticket, so I walked as far away from the site as I could to get the vibe off of me, bought and wrote some postcards to friends, and people watched.

When I returned, about 20 minutes before I was due to be admitted, I unfortunately got in line just ahead of one of the most obnoxious children I have ever encountered.

She was a skinny, brown-haired, freckle-faced brat that I would suppose was in the neighborhood of 12 years old. She was with her father and another female family member (but it couldn’t have been mom, because any mom would have told her to shut up).

In her high-pitched voice, she proceeded to loudly complain about the fact she was standing in “another” line and though our tickets were stamped for 1:30, we would surely not be out of there until 5:00. This whining drew looks from the people in front of me and the people behind them, and everyone to our left and right, English-speaking or otherwise.

Due to a complete lack of self-awareness, the girl continued.

Next on her list was verbally scripting a show, starring her and her dad (who was coaching her along and laughing with her). I forget what the plot was intended to be, but several times I heard her joke and giggle about being killed, killing, dying, etc.

People became uncomfortable, the looks shot in her direction were scathing and at one point I turned around and made direct eye contact with a look that screamed “please shut the fuck up.” None of this even phased her. She kept going, getting louder and louder with her stupid story.

By the time I had rehearsed the lecture I was going to deliver to her and her father about how inappropriate her behavior was at such a sacred site, it was our turn to go in, so I bit my tongue and got as far away from them as possible once I was inside.

I heard a couple with an indistinguishable accent speaking in hushed tones about how out of control the behavior of American children is, and I’m certain they were referencing her.

Of course kids get antsy as they sightsee with their parents. I get that. And I cut some slack to the toddlers, but adolescents???

I remember being less than thrilled about being dragged from one art museum to another when I was seven and we lived in Greece, but I never would have dreamed about joking and carrying on about an inappropriate subject matter outside any memorial or place of solemn reflection. And if I had, my parents would have quickly silenced me.

We were standing upon hallowed ground at the 9/11 Museum, an area where so many lost their lives and their loved ones grieved for them. I was witnessing our American history with people who had no connection to the site and people who were a part of it that day. The level of grief on display varied from silent acknowledgement to outright sobs of pain. It is still September, after all.

The girl (and her dad) should be horribly ashamed of her behavior and should serve as a lesson to the rest of us: To truly honor the victims of this horrible act, behave with reverence in the presence of their lost souls.

And if the site doesn’t mean anything to you, please don’t waste anyone’s time by visiting.

Voiceover Diaries

The Finish Line

The book is done! The book is done!

I’m pleased to report that Schooled is now available for purchase at Amazon and Audible.com. Interested in hearing how it turned out?

The link is here.

I’m excited/thrilled/terrified/anxious to know what you all think of it.

It was so much fun to be a part of, and I find myself missing the alter egos from time to time. In fact, when I went to see A Brony Tale this weekend, I found myself hanging on every word of the voiceover artist featured in the film.

I was thrilled to see that some of the things she does with her arms and hands while she’s narrating are the same things I do, and even more excited to learn she also often models her characters on famous celebrities like I do.

I can’t wait to get better equipment and dive in to more projects.

Voiceover Diaries

Chapter 5: Top 5 Words That I Hate

  1. Ankh
  2. Wildebeest
  3. Benzodiazepines
  4. Sheepish
  5. Seashell

2 days until deadline; 2 more chapters + closing credits to go.

Voiceover Diaries

Chapter 4: Number 9

John Lennon had an obsession with it. Unfortunately, I’m developing one.

The number 9.

When I recorded Chapter 9 of Schooled over a week ago, I was in a really good mood. The sun was shining, something good had happened to me that day and I couldn’t have been happier to morph into Lexy and all of her cohorts to deliver the story goods.

What I didn’t realize until I began editing on Monday night was my tendency to be louder when I’m happy. Just like the Pharrell song, I suppose I felt like a room without a roof. I sure sounded like one.

Trouble is, for the audio files to all line up nicely and become one book, the sound levels have to be exactly, precisely the same.

Think of it like this: It’s what happens when you’re laying in bed, half dozing, half listening to/watching a show. Its comforting din almost drifts you off to sleep until… a commercial comes BLARING ON and you’re jolted out of your peaceful state, scrambling for the remote to make it stop.

I don’t want to do that to Schooled’s readers, but once the file is there, without being in a state-of-the-art, $1000 per hour studio, it’s very hard to equalize those sound levels.

I employed a few of my best podcast editing tricks (my partner and I are never the same volume, so I typically put us on separate tracks), but separating out my “happy” voice from my normal voice was unsuccessful. The drop was too noticeable, and my enthusiasm within the reading too uneven.

I could choke my happy self.

So tomorrow I can only do one thing: scrap the happy file and start fresh. Make a new recording of Chapter 9 and forget it ever happened.

13 days until deadline.

Voiceover Diaries

Chapter 3: Half-way There

I turned the draft of chapter 7 into the author last night. There are 14 total chapters in Schooled, so I’m technically half-way done.

Important things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Don’t edit when there will be known interruptions (i.e. landlord stopping by to make repairs to the house; the oven beeping when it reaches its preheated temperature). You will kick yourself later for not catching duplicate pieces of dialog.
  • Don’t record on an especially sunny day. The birds will be chirping and the pitch of their shrill songs will be picked up by the almighty USB microphone. Edit in daylight and wait until the sun goes down for the performance time.
  • Don’t wear anything with a zipper while recording. When you get physically animated reading scenes back, the pull of the said zipper will make itself known by clinking against itself, causing you to re-record four pages.
  • When in doubt, look it up. I probably saved myself at least five re-records because when I was unsure about a product or celebrity name pronunciation, I simply looked it up. For brands I searched for commercials where someone spoke the product name; for celebrities, I searched for interviews where people introduced them.
  • Know when to take a break. If I’ve recorded for over an hour, my voice is probably beginning to sound like it, and my laptop fan will kick on because it’s too hot. Both of those situations make for bad quality recordings, so now I keep a book close by and read a few chapters while everything rests.
  • Watching a marathon of Inside Amy Schumer on breaks also helps. Amy’s hilarious, but she’s also a hottie, badass, voluptuous woman, just like Schooled’s Lexy. I think they’d be friends in real life if they knew one another.
  • Know your audience. I’ve never been a gaming sort of girl (unless you count my passion for Ms. Pac-Man and Centipede in the 80s), and gaming is a huge part of the Lexy Cooper series, so I’ve been reading up on that culture, watching old Xbox videos and lurking in some forums to see what it’s like. Realizing the nuances of the community is very helpful when developing voices meant to represent them.

I also just finished the second book in the series, Pwned, because I’m starting to feel so connected to Lexy, I just had to see where her life went next.

I’m a lucky girl to get the privilege of voicing her.

Voiceover Diaries

Chapter 2: Wait. There’s an Aussie in Redmond?

Of course I knew that Reg was an Aussie—I read Schooled twice before I auditioned to become its audiobook narrator.

What had escaped my brain was the fact that I’d be responsible for speaking a few pages of male dialogue in an Australian accent.

I’ve always been good at mimicking people. I can nail the pitch of someone’s voice after listening to them for just a short time and replicate their intonations to sound uncannily like their authentic selves. I can karaoke with the best of them. I’m also pretty solid at various American dialects because I’ve lived in three distinctive parts of our country. And of course, if anyone wants to know what a real Greek accent sounds like, I channel my own immigrant father.

But Australian? Yikes.

Absolute fear came over me when I came to the first stretch of conversation featuring the Aussie character. Would I just sound too cheesy?

When I’m preparing to speak in a new voice, I summon the sonic textures of someone I know close to their persona and pretend I’m them. This also helps with mannerisms, expressions, etc. that pepper the performance (though thankfully you’ll never actually see those since this is just an audiobook).

In some cases, it’s close friends I’m picturing; others are celebrities with distinctive twangs. For the Aussie, I could think of several female actresses (Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, etc.), but not so many men. And it’s important for me to picture a man while I’m allegedly speaking like one.

I finally exercised my Google right (though that felt like cheating), and arrived at Hugh Jackman—this helped a lot since I’ve seen many of his films, and of course, his appearances on Oprah.

I started saying the lines and they sounded okay, and the more I got into the rhythm of it, the less self-conscious I felt. But I still wasn’t happy with it, so I re-recorded it about eight times until I finally began watching YouTube videos with Australian dialect coaches, etc. for more help. Those were wonderful too, but I kept getting stuck on single words that they weren’t necessarily demonstrating.

After another half an hour of Google mining I finally arrived at the solution: Forvo. This is a genius site that allows you to type in a word and hear it spoken in several different (real) voices from around the world. There’s almost always an Australian contribution, so I simply write it out on my script phonetically how I hear it played back and then mimic the pronunciation.

If I could hug the Internet, I would.

Voiceover Diaries

Chapter 1: The Devil’s in the Details

I’m living a double-life.

I wake up in the morning, drive to my day job, behave like Tassoula, sound like Tassoula and drive home as Tassoula, but when I step through Tassoula’s front door in the evening, I become Lexy.

Narrating my first book on tape, Schooled, by Christa Charter, has so far been an exhilarating, exciting experience. I’m using my voice in ways I haven’t since I was singing in the 90s; I’m enjoying the book even more than I did the first two times I read it; I’m relishing the escape of morphing into Lexy and the entire cast of characters who color her life.

There’s even a part of me that enjoys the rituals associated with this type of work.

To explain: On days that I’m recording, I limit my speaking—I don’t take phone calls (except texts), I forbid myself from singing in the car, and try to avoid unnecessary conversations in the office. I eat no dairy. I perform breathing exercises I used to use with my music students to warm up. I turn off all of my heat (electric furnaces make a lot of noise); I take the landline phone off the hook and put my obnoxious Smartphone under a pillow; I don’t run the dishwasher or do laundry; I saturate my immediate surroundings with blankets to absorb the sound and prevent echoes. I turn off the Internet so I won’t be tempted to look. I set my laptop on a kitchen trivet to keep it from overheating. I suck on Ricola and Luden’s cherry cough drops to clear my throat and keep water or hot tea with honey at the ready for my breaks. I coat my lips in orange ChapStick to avoid the sounds that dry mouths make. I remove my shoes so I won’t accidentally tap the side of my desk. I check the file settings six—maybe eight—times before hitting “record” to ensure all of the volume levels are equal to the other completed recordings. I turn the lights off except the one I need to read the script. All of this helps me transform into a living, breathing citizen of the Xenon culture.

As I begin to record, I read each page all the way through before I start speaking to ensure there are no pronunciations I need to look up or no accents I need to learn. Then, I place myself in the mind of whomever I’m about to become. Lexy is the easiest because I feel I know her best. I speak an octave higher to communicate her youth, give her a sense of urgency since she’s always hot on the trail, and (hopefully) add a little seduction in there to mirror her physical allure. Her uncle Mike is the most difficult for me because he would undoubtedly have a deep voice and as a soprano, deep voices are hard to achieve without sounding cartoonish. Kim is the closest to my own voice, etc. I have a key that I keep adding to (see photo) with little hints to remind myself what my voice should be doing. I also have to be careful not to “act” too much because as a reader I know how insanely annoying it is when the narrator is trying so hard, they overpower the story.

Schooled stands strong on its own, without theatrics.

When looking back at some childhood report cards not long ago, I noticed that I always got perfect marks in the category that stated, “Reads with interest.”

Let’s hope the audience for this book agrees!

The Demonizing of Drug Users Has to Stop

Philip Seymour Hoffman Death Shines Light on Darkness of Addiction

In Seattle, we have a radio show hosted by former child star Danny Bonaduce that I often listen to on my way to work. He has a segment called “Danny Bonaduce Life Coach” where he helps callers with their various problems: divorce, unemployment and most often, addiction.

On this morning’s show a man called in, distressed about getting help for his substance abuse problem in light of financial difficulties. He thought that because he had a disease, his insurance would cover some or all of his treatment for it. But of course, as Danny told him, that wasn’t the case.

Though The Mayo Clinic (and every other notable medical group) validates alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease, our country treats these individuals as lesser members of society.

Though I’m not an addict, I’ve loved and hated addicts all my life. It took me over 30 years to truly understand that they couldn’t control what their bodies were telling them to do, but I got there.

Though their actions may seem selfish, on a purely biological level they are not.

Imagine yourself walking through the dry desert, the hot sun beaming down upon you, dehydrated and starved for even just a drop of water.

At that moment in time, you’d probably trade your clothing, your electronics—anything for a precious drink to quench your unimaginable thirst.

That’s how addicts feel every minute of every day: they’re thirsty for their poison because their bodies are telling them they need that poison to survive.

I was devastated to hear of the recent passing of genius actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. So young, so talented, so unfair.

Even more devastating has been the commentary emerging in the days following his death. Instead of letting his family, friends and fans grieve in peace, our community of haters on the Internet has to shame him, prove they amongst the living are better than he could have been because they’re not laying on a floor with a heroin needle in their arm. At least not yet.

Entertainment Weekly put him on the cover of their next issue, and I applaud them for doing so. What infuriated me were the comments that bubbled up when they posted said cover online on Facebook. Folks who were angry that they were memorializing someone who died of an overdose. They called the deceased “stupid” and worse.

I can’t imagine that those stone throwers have never had to deal with addiction, but boy they’re lucky they dodged that bullet if they haven’t.

From those of us who have experienced it: It’s a horrible existence. For those who deny they have a problem, it’s a constant uphill battle just to keep them alive; for those who admit they have a problem, it’s a struggle to get them help (even if they have the means) because they fear the repercussions to their reputation. They fear that jackasses like the haters on the EW Facebook page will prevent them from getting work, or being accepted at church or attending social functions with loved ones. They fear they’ll lose their dignity, so often times they continue abusing to mask the pain of that fear.

So, how do we solve this?

First, we could take a cue from Portugal, who decriminalized drugs, which decreased drug use in their country dramatically.

Second, we could promote effective treatment centers like the world-renowned Hazleden as places to go for wellness much like a yoga spa rather than make them the punchline of jokes.

Third, we could invite compassion back into the conversation, so when the unthinkable does happen, we help those affected heal instead of demonizing their dearly departed.

Can you imagine taking to a public Facebook page to call a recently passed cancer-victim “stupid?” Neither can I, but cancer and addiction are one and the same: their victims lost a genetic game.

Just like cancer, environmental factors are also to blame (i.e., a smoker that develops lung cancer), but some of us are far more likely to develop an addiction than others.

Have a little heart for those who are losing the fight.

The Recipe for a Perfect Friday Night

Seattle, Washington, June 3, 2011

1 Swanky Hotel Room (booked in your own city for concert-going convenience)
10 friends from all over the country, all arriving within a few hours of each other
1 Irish pub with a semi-private room and delicious food
1 tribute band performance, emulating the band you’re all in town to see the next day
3 or more alcoholic drinks (per person)
A dash of sunny weather (imported from some other state)

Mix all of the above, starting at Happy Hour, while discussing happy memories, laughing about past hijinks and remembering why you all follow the best living band around the globe. Continue well into the night.

Serves 11+

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