Thursday, August 10, 2017

Don't let the thing you love become painful

Imagine being locked in a box with a ceiling so low you can't stand, so narrow you can't lay down, stifling with heat, the only available light coming through a tiny slot to reveal the outer world - nay, freedom itself - from your lonely coffin.

I could be talking about either an old French prison or any number of my previous voice over booths.

My booths have gone an evolution from the "Death Cubicle" - marginally effective, short-lived and possibly lethal, composed of three mattresses, some unstable wooden planks and a blanket or two - to the Coffin, which was basically an old French prison - to four sound curtains suspended from a ceiling in someone else's garage while I hid under a blanket - to my current booth, which is an entire room with ample lighting and plenty of leg space. Right now, I've got it pretty good. My booth is literally just my bedroom, so all I need to do to record is hook my laptop up to my interface and boot up Audacity.

In the year I spent furiously avoiding homelessness and beating on life's chest like Raiden fruitlessly whaling on Armstrong...


...I wasn't able to work on my craft much. People would ask me if I was still doing "that book thing," and it would take me a bit to realize that was a funny and slightly stupid way of asking if I still narrated audiobooks, after which I would nervously laugh and say nothing new had come up. How could it? After all, for awhile I didn't even have a voice over booth. For awhile I didn't even have a house of my own. And before that, with few options available to me, my booth was in a generous friend's garage several blocks away, so if I needed to record even one measly line I had to plan a trip across town and pray the owner wasn't using it, or mowing his lawn, or doing virtually anything he had the right to do considering it was his own property.

So sitting in front of my recording desk in my booth-bedroom, scheming for my inevitable conquering of the world somehow using primarily my voice and writing skills, I had to meet a grim reality. Inexplicably, I didn't find voice acting as fun as I used to.

I had no legit reason to feel that way. I have a comfortable booth. I have a spiffy new character demo. I have new friends, a better perspective, more knowledge. Everything should be a go. Yet during that year of virtually nothing, voice acting had become...painful to me. The thing I absolutely loved, that I was willing to spend thousands of dollars and years of my life working toward, became a chore I tried to push off.

How in the freaking frack did I let that happen?

A lot of my senses intertwine with one another, so to speak. I can't smell pine without thinking of Ocarina of Time because the wooden entertainment center I played so much OoT on smelled that way. I can't listen to Thousand-Foot Krutch without remembering the smells of bleach and urine that permeated the nursing home I once worked at because I would listen to them on the way to a job I hated, which unfortunately means a great band with awesome music instinctively brings up bad memories for me. (Nursing homes are no joke, man.) Simple things like that become near-permanently associated with what I was doing at the time.

So for the past year, "voice acting" to me meant fearfully hoping I could even use the booth we'd set up across town. It meant sweating under a blanket in a room with dim light. It meant having my auditions interrupted by clocks where various John Deere tractor sounds play at every hour (hi, Meredith!). (I live in Indiana. This is normal for people here.) It meant feeling my creativity stifled because it's hard to adopt good posture and act with my hands when I've got a blanket draped over me like an executioner's hood. It meant stressing over the nearest deadline when I couldn't even get to my booth for the next few days. It meant wondering if I would even have a booth at all in the next few months, weeks, days. Soon, it became wondering if I'd even have a place to live.

Voice acting became synonymous with pain for me. The thing I devoted my life to became synonymous with pain. That is a horrible fate.

I voice act because I love it. I can't imagine my life without it. I love bringing spark to new characters and worlds, exploring what makes them tick, seeing how people react to the stories they create, how no job is ever the same. It is an almost sickening feeling to realize weeds of fear, doubt and anger have been sown among the roots of your life.

Of course, the first step to beating a problem is to acknowledge you have one, and that's what I'm doing. I need to remind myself every day why I voice act. Because I love it. I'll be dipped if I'm going to let one strange period of my life poison the thing I love. I will fight that to my last breath.

But it also occurs to me some of you might be going through something similar.

It may not even be voice acting; it could be anything in your life you hold dear. Maybe something is happening to you that's dousing your flame, poisoning your water. Assuming it is voice acting (and this is a blog dedicated to that subject), it could be that your booth is downright hell to record in. Maybe the process of recording and auditioning brings so many technical issues that combating them all feels like more trouble than it's worth. Maybe you live right next to a highway and a bunch of ne'er-do-well punks insist on constantly driving by blaring 2 Chainz at max bass, and it's driving you nuts.

Whatever it is, don't let it ruin what you love. Do whatever you need to in order to make it right. Redesign your booth, or take a step back and study technology more, or change locations, or shoot the tires off the next punk's car who blasts his hood music all over your neighborhood. Or maybe you need to evaluate what it is you truly want the most and ask yourself if this voice acting thing is something you need to drop for now.

It's okay to bow out of a fight you no longer want to fight, but if you want to stay in that arena, don't give up. If voice acting is starting to feel painful, acknowledge that you have a problem, take a step back, and figure out how to make it right. If acting is who you are, an inseparable part of your identity, do not let it become painful.

In my case, I didn't have a great deal of choice - I needed to find another place to live before I could record again. However, it could have been worse. I could have thrown in the towel and declared the whole thing not worth it, probably to forever regret that decision. Instead, I realized something was wrong. In fact, I revived AVA partly to wage war on that wrong.

A critical part of my life philosophy is taken straight from Nemesea's song "Caught in the Middle" - "What's the point in giving up when you know you'll never stop anyway?" I can't give up acting or writing or anything else I love because I will never be at rest doing anything else. So to that end, I'm not going to let life spoil this for me. And seriously, don't let it get to you, either. It's a horrible place to be.

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