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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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artistic fire

So, the topic of voice-overs came up at work the other day…..

……… A manager from another department at my place of work said he’d been told that he had a great voice that would lend itself to voice work, like commercials. This pleased the manager very much…..until he was told he should take some classes.

The manager was dismissive of this suggestion – if his voice was so good, why did he need to take classes?

Excellent question.

Given that my background is primarily theater (I hold a Bachelor’s degree in the subject), I attempted to explain to him that taking a class in voice work would actually benefit him, that it would give him tools in how to use his voice and diaphragm correctly. I added that actors, singers, writers, dancers, etc. take classes in order to keep their body (which is their instrument) in shape and capable of stretching beyond their comfort zone. This aids them in continuing to strive for their best work.

This notion was immediately dismissed by him and my co-worker. If you’re already good, then you don’t need to take classes, was their opinion. I was actually surprised by my co-worker’s attitude, since she does physical training to get into her target weight range. Does she think that once she gets to her target, she needs to stop training? Or that with one work out class, she knew all there was to know and should therefore quit? I didn’t think so at the time and I don’t think so now. Unfortunately, I was not able to draw a parallel to her workout regimen with that of an actor or dance or singer or musician.

The egos of my co-worker and the manager would not allow them to conceive of the idea that anyone with talent in the arts needed to have training.

Because that’s what those classes are – they are your workouts, your training sessions to exercise your muscles and learn new methods so that you can stretch and grow in ways you didn’t think possible. And when you’re not in your ‘workout’ class, you maintain what you’ve learned by practicing on your own.

The class, the workshop, the training you take in is only half of what you need to cultivate your creative talents. Practice is the other half to maintain it, improve it and grow it.

There’s an image of a ballerina’s feet that I’ve seen a number of times online. I like it because it’s a visual of how much hard work you have to put in to make your art look beautiful and effortless. One foot is encased in a pointe shoe, perfect and beautiful. The other foot is bare and shows the bruises and calluses and wear it has endured. What a ballet dancer does to make his or her movements graceful and effortless is reflected in that bare foot. It is hard, demanding work to be a ballerina. It is also symbolic of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to create a novel, a film, a painting, a play, etc.

Going back to the manager and my co-worker – they don’t understand that creative work is actually work. That to get skilled in it requires not just talent, but determination, training and practice. They seem completely turned off by the idea that they would have to do any actual work to become even decent.

So, no, they won’t pursue it. That’s fine. They’re enamored of the end result, but they aren’t willing to put in the hours or the discipline it takes to get there.

If you wrote a 400 page novel, a romantic song ballad, a poem, or painted a portrait or landscape or completed anything artistic, give yourself a round of applause. You did that. You sweated and worked and made something tangible out of the intangible.

Ignore the doubters and nay-sayers – they don’t have what it takes to do what you did.

Now go do it again.

*****

Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

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So, I’ve been in an Ireland sort of mood…..

…..which is pretty understandable, since I’m planning to visit the Emerald Isle this year. In honor of this adventure, I’ve been watching the only two movies I own set in Ireland (clearly, I need to get more).

One of them is P.S. I Love You (2007), starring Hillary Swank, Gerard Butler and Kathy Bates. This is not a critique or review of the film (although I do have plenty of opinions about it). It’s more of an observation, I suppose, because from the first time I’d seen it when it was released until the last viewing (which was four days ago, in case you’re curious), I had a hard time figuring out what kind of movie it was.

Was it a meditation on grief and loss? A romantic comedy? A tragedy? A drama? A romantic drama-tragedy? What the hell was it? I enjoyed it, for the most part, but I was never really sure about what kind of movie I was watching. I remember, after the movie came out, trying to read the book, probably hoping to get a better handle on it, but no go.

This probably was one of the reasons why I didn’t quite fully embrace the movie.

But then something interesting happened. Last week, on the most recent viewing, at the part where Gerry (Gerard Butler) is narrating his next to last letter to Holly (Hillary Swank) about the day they met, I heard it.

“I’m not worried about you remembering me,” he tells her, “It’s that girl on the road you keep forgetting.”

The girl with artistic fire and passion for something she didn’t know about yet. The one who got buried under the weight of life, responsibilities, marriage and sensibility. The girl who put her dreams on a shelf. She had become apathetic to her own creative nature and buried it with the need for her comfort zone.

That resonated with me, because over the last year, I’ve been fighting that same battle. I’ve been searching for that fire, to find meaning in my own life that serves me and allows me to fulfill my own best potential. If you put yourself second, there is no reason for others to put you first. It’s selfish, in a way, but by putting your needs and your dreams first, you’re better able to support and take care of others.

So, let’s go back to that first meeting with Gerry and Holly – she’s talking about creating art, whatever that may be for her or for him or for anyone. Even if it includes painting socks. Her passion, we learn at the beginning of the film, is designer shoes. By the end of the film, by chance or fate or accident, she has combined her love for designer shoes with her creative nature into a successful marketable business – shoes as wearable art. Of course, this is Hollywood fantasy, but there is truth there and it does happen. We only need to look at JK Rowling and Stephen King to recognize that it is possible.

So it got me thinking, that little bit at the end with Gerry and his next to last letter. He is reminding his wife, whom he loves, about that fire for creating. What passion did I have as a twenty-year old that I’ve forgotten? I still write, still dabble in sketching and painting, still hang with my homies, er, horsies.

The only thing that left was theater. I’d been acting in community theater since the age of three. I quit acting ten years ago because I felt that I had outgrown it and I didn’t need it. I’d performed in three plays in the last six and I felt alive each time I stepped onstage. And I remembered how it felt to be on stage, to command an audience’s attention through my passion, the words I spoke written by playwrights many years or centuries dead.

And now I know how to re-kindle that passion again, that fire. Do I need to pursue it professionally to feel legitimate as an actor? Not at all – I prefer it this way, as an amateur.

As for P.S. I Love You, I still don’t know what kind of movie it’s trying to be, but I guess it doesn’t really matter, in the long run. I got something out of it.

The Irish landscape doesn’t hurt, either. 🙂

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