The American Idol Effect

American Idol is a show I’ve never really followed.  Sure I’m aware of the show, the participants and the judges.  The qualifying shows have provided a few moments of laughter but once it gets into the actual competition, my channel changer goes into action.  My niece however is a huge fan.  She watches the show religiously and loves singing along with the contestants.  I have a picture she colored for me that shows last seasons winner with the 4 judges on stage.  She’s going to be crushed when the show goes off the air.

When I was visiting her house the other night, she wanted to sing me a song she learned from the show.  And she did a great job with all the words.  I was amazed.  But she threw in a twist I hadn’t expected.  It seems she’d been not just learning the songs but studying the mannerisms of the singers as well.  As she started singing, her facial expressions and vocalization became something other than her normal manner.  In her quest to be like the stars she emulated, she’d lost the essence that was her unique voice and her wonderful personality.

Talk about a 2 X 4 between the eyes.  Standing in front of me was someone doing the exact same thing I’d done  to my voice.  Watching my niece sing was like watching myself in a mirror trying to find my vocal placement.  I really wanted to sound like the sultry voices I was hearing and in pursuing this goal, completely messed up my unique voice.  I really wanted to get my niece to understand this but she couldn’t wrap her brain around the idea.  She just saw the people she admired and thought if she mimicked them, she would be successful like them.

Hopefully this is just a stage for my niece.  She’ll find something else that will pique her interest and she’ll goes back to her awesomeness.  Me, I’ve been trying to find my natural placement again.  I’m getting closer.  But I realize how many of us think that someone else’s way of doing something is so much better than our own natural way.  So there’s comfort in numbers but I’d rather be somewhere else.

Helicopters

We had quite a bit of rain in June.  I think it was one of the rainiest, if not the rainiest, June on record.  Before I left for my sister’s wedding I wanted to get the flowers planted in the front yard and get a really good weeding done.  So around the second week in June I got all the flats of Impatiens and spent the afternoon planting and weeding.  I don’t have a huge front yard, at least by suburban standards, but it’s pretty big by city standards.  Some yards are 4 feet deep by about 12 feet wide.  Because we have a wider lot and the house is set back, my front yard is about 18 x 20.  Massive.  In the parkway, there’s a huge oak tree that’s been there forever.  It’s about 60 feet tall and really shades the front of the house which is why I need to plant shade flowers.  I love how the sun dapples the light through the leaves when I’m in my office working.  The tree seems pretty healthy which is good.  I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have this tree outside my window.

Every spring though, in nature’s unyielding cycle, the tree in it’s quest to maintain the species showers the front yard and every other surface area with helicopter shaped seeds.  They thwap down seeking a place to germinate and put down roots.  This year we had more than I’ve ever seen.  I think that means we are going to have a long cold winter.  Great.  I spent the better part of the afternoon plucking the seedlings out of the ground where they’d rooted underneath the mulch.  I cut short the future of about a dozen dozen little oaklings.  It’s was cold hearted but I got over it.  I got the flowers planted just in time for the week of rain that followed before I went out of town.  When I returned and resumed my walks 10 days later, I was astonished at all the seedlings that were now popping out of the ground.  I thought I’d removed all of them!

It made me realize that you can’t see all that’s germinating whether it’s planted deliberately or not.  I also learned not everything pops up at the same time.  I’m hoping this is what will happen with my new business efforts.  Lots of helicopters going out from me at the moment, hopefully reaching fertile ground to sprout at a later date.  As for the actual helicopters, they’ll meet their fate this weekend.

A Sparkle or a Smolder

For a long time now I’ve been struggling with my voice.  I know, it sounds silly.  After all, it’s something that is so intrinsically a part of us that how can it be a problem?  It’s kind of like my struggle with clothes.  I want to be a size 4 but in reality I’m not.  Probably never will be.  GRRRR.  And that’s not easy to accept.  But that’s a topic for another day.  With my voice, I’ve always longed to have that sultry, husky voice that I so admire in many female voice talents.  The kind that envelopes you in texture and feels all cashmere and warm.  And I do have that voice, in the morning before I warm up the vocal cords.  The problem is, I’ve been trying to make that my default voice and it’s not.  Trying to change my voice at this stage of the game isn’t a wise thing to do.  Not only is it like trying to change the hand you sign your name with, awkward at best, it can be dangerous to your vocal cords if try to make them do something you naturally aren’t supposed to do.  But I’ve been dinking around with placement for over a year and all I’ve managed to do it screw it up magnificently!  Any of you who’ve tried changing your golf swing know from whence I speak.  It’s brutal.  I finally came to the realization that I’m not and never will be that voice I so admire.  Sigh.

Just as I was getting used to this idea I was talking with a fellow voice talent, Philip Banks, and recounting this oh-so-tragic realization.  I am not and never will be a sultry voice, my voice is bright.  In his inimitable British way, Philip said “some people are a sparkle and some people are a smolder.  You are a sparkle.”  In those 15 words, Philip managed to take news I’d considered shattering and make it instead a wonderful thing.  I’m a sparkle.  Yes indeed I am.  Just like diamonds and emeralds and rubies.  Who doesn’t like a little glitter in their life?  Pretty dang cool.  All of the sudden I’m kinda happy about my voice, at least the one I used to have.  I just need to find it again.  Maybe it’s in that drawer I’m afraid of opening.  All I know is, I’m a lot more content with the voice I was blessed with that I was 30 minutes ago.  And excited to see where it can take me.  It just took some mental adjustments accompanied by a long distance kick in the pants.  Thanks Philip.

Anniversaries

Today is an interesting anniversary for me.  It was one year ago today that I was laid off from my corporate job as a Sales Manager for a television commercial sales firm.  Even though I was planning to leave and had been saving for over a year for this leap of faith, I was still surprised.  I sat there with a grin on my face during the meeting because I couldn’t believe my plans were coming together.  I’m sure they thought I’d gone over the edge and had security on alert just in case.  It was a surreal experience.  Not because I wanted it to happen, but because it was happening at all.  Being a manager one of my responsibilities was to forecast the month and quarter ahead.  I’d been watching the numbers get smaller and smaller as the recession tightened it’s grip around the economy.  I thought the powers-that-be would merge us with another division and keep the strongest people.  Kind of like what happened when the NFL merged with the AFL.  Instead they chose to amputate us.  I don’t blame them.  Our amputation brought them back almost to breaking even.

The funny thing is, even though I wanted it to happen exactly the way it did, I still went through a depression afterwards.  It’s not easy being told you aren’t wanted anymore and that you as an employee aren’t valued.  It took me a while to break through that and move forward to my new life.  One of the best things I did was take a long driving trip through the south.  It was a physical and timing break, a perfect transition from one life to the next.

So here we are 1 year later and I can’t believe it’s been a year already.  I am living the life I envisioned for myself, a free lance creative life full of auditions and go-sees and bookings and voiceovers.  At this point I really can’t imagine going back to corporate.  Hitting this one year mark in important because if I were to go back to my former corporation within a year, I would go right back in as if I’d never left.  Back into the health plan, the 401K and the earned vacation.  I needed to hit this mark so there’s nothing for me to go back to.  Here’s to moving forward!

4 minutes

As you might have guessed, I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to numbers and most especially when it comes to the weather.  Living in Chicago right next to this really big body of water, we are continually impacted in ways that not only are fascinating, but affect one’s daily life a lot.  All year long, we exist in what many call a concrete jungle but what they don’t know is most of the winter we live with concrete skies over our heads.  Because Lake Michigan is so deep, it takes a long time for it to freeze so the water temperatures stay right around the high 20’s/low 30’s.  Add to that air temps that are about the same and you have a perfect recipe for concrete skies.  Low clouds that obliterate the sun and guarantee to obliterate any good mood you might have.  We do occasionally have blue skies but the trade off here is they are the result of a extremely cold arctic front visiting from Canada.  And it’s that word arctic that the sticking point.  When they say arctic, they mean arctic.  But you do get to see the sun which is so welcome if you don’t have to venture out in it.

This time of year we are, and by that I mean I am, at our wits end with all this nonsense.  The snow continues to fall and because it’s late season snow, it’s very heavy wet snow.  The winds are starting to change so we get more snow off the lake from the east.  And there’s not a bit of green to be found anywhere.  It’s enough to break even the hardiest of spirits.  One thing that has helped me get through this period each year is the amount of sunshine we gain with each day.  Even though I can’t see that sunshine, I check the Weather Channel every morning to see the changes in sunrise and sunset.  Most days it’s a minute or two, but the other day, it was 4 MINUTES! I know, I could barely contain my excitement.  The sun is now rising before 7am and setting after 530p.  I’m all aquiver.

This may seem like a silly thing to be obsessed about.  I’ll admit it, I’m a bit obsessed.  But it’s the small things that make a difference.  The attention to detail that set you apart in any situation.  Now this particular quirk of mine may set me apart in a way I hadn’t counted on (I can see the comments now “oh HER, she’s a little too excited about the weather)!  But in a broader sense, paying attention to details will help me remember the names of my clients children, their favorite restaurant or what college they went to.

And of course, I’m in with all the other weather geeks.  You know who you are.

Tour De Force

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the premiere of the epic Civil War saga, Gone With the Wind.  Turner Classic Movies played the film in it’s entirety with no interruptions.  I happened to catch it just as Atlanta was falling to those Yankees.  So I missed some of my favorites scenes with the prettiest dresses at the beginning of the movie.  After all, what girl didn’t imagine herself at the barbeque in that beautiful green dress that her mammy deemed so inappropriate because it showed her shoulders before evening.  On top of that, she was surrounded by all the handsomest beaux in the county.  Truly a dream!

I promptly sat down and watched the remainder of the movie.  I still turned my eyes at the most difficult to watch scenes of war and suffering and this time turned the sound down.  But this time around, I was struck by how amazing the film was.  I don’t know if you know any of the history of this movie and all the difficulty that happened in trying to get it made.  The short end of the story is they went through multiple directors, many rewrites, budget issues, casting challenges.  You name it, they experienced it.  They even started filming before the role of Scarlett O’Hara was even cast.  But through it all, what remained was one of the most exciting, visually engaging and well produced films of history.  I’d forgotten how much I loved this movie.

I’d also forgotten the incredible writing that the film contained.  My favorite line comes at the end of the movie.  No not the one Clark Gable is remembered for, the classic “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, but instead the one that Scarlett says after he leaves.  In her grief and sadness as she is trying to figure out her next step, she makes the statement that is my favorite-“Tomorrow is another day”.  I love this.  Tomorrow is another day, it is a new beginning, a new start, an opportunity to do the right thing and take the next chance.  That is the promise made to us.  We will have another go at it.  If we are lucky it will happen with beautiful clothes and fabulous lighting but if that isn’t the case, grab at it anyway with both hands and make the best of it.

The year without a summer

It’s cold here.  Not cool, we went right to cold-with a wind chill thank you very much.  We really didn’t have a summer and that’s a stinker.  Here in the upper Midwest, we live for our summer because the winters are so blasted awful the thought of warmth is the only thing that keeps us going through the long, cold, dark days.  Every year about this time I plant approximately 800 tulips in my front yard and plan them for early, mid and late spring blooming.  That way I have color for about 6 weeks.  There have been years I’ve almost waited too long to plant and thought about blowing them off but then I remembered how much seeing their little leaves poking through the snowy frozen ground lifted my spirits each spring.   Out came the shovel and the bulbs, sometimes getting the job done in the dark.  It’s a big job but the payoff is so worth it.

The summer is our long thank you from Mother Nature for putting up with the cold grey skies for what seems to be endless months.  There’s a trade off, if the sky is clear blue and the sun is beautiful, you know the temp is most likely in the single digits.  If it warms up to the upper 20’s-low 30’s bye-bye sun, hello lake induced low cloud cover.  So we wait in anticipation for the weather to break and the 15 pounds of additional clothing to be cast aside.  I live behind a grocery store and one of my past times is seeing when the first pair of shorts and flip flops will appear in the parking lot.  It’s pretty much guaranteed to happen if we get a sunny day in the mid 40’s.

But this year, no summer.  When I drove through the South I got a big dose of the heat, temps in the upper 90’s with matching humidity, and it followed me north for a few days.  We did have a heat spurt in mid June for about 5 days but then nada.  July and August were below average in temps and above average in rain.  Nice.  It’s been cool and humid for about a month now and my hair is over all this foolishness.  And now we get to deal with the ever darkening days.  It’s enough to send a body into decline.  I used to laugh that Chicago winters weed out the faint of heart.  I just hope this poor heart can take 8 months of yuck.