All Alone, Reachin’ For The Stars

There’s a movie from the early 80’s about a down-on-his-luck wanna-be musician/songwriter who desperately joins a high-stakes amateur boxing competition for the money. It’ called Tough Enough and starred Dennis Quaid and Warren Oates while also featuring Pam Greer and even Wilford Brimley (hey, I did say 80s, right? Wilford was in almost everything back in those days, kind of like 80’s movie law).

Quaid plays ‘Art Long’, a guitar player and singer in country/western bars in Texas, who is going so broke trying to fulfill his life goals of musical success that he is forced to literally fight for money. He joins a Toughman competition and surprises everyone, including himself, with gutsy performances in the ring.

His ark in the story is a subtle one and is beautifully played . As a child born in the 70s and raised in the 80s, Quaid is forever embedded as one of my favorite actors of all time. He portrays ‘Art Long’ as a guy who really knows himself and truly believes in his eminent future success. However he is also getting an earful of ‘get a haircut and get a real job’ suggestions from his folks and his wife, and that’s causing him to even slightly question himself. Not a lot, but enough.

By the time we get to the climax of the film (sorry about the spoiler but, c’mon, it’s nearly 40 years old), Art is winning fights and claiming cash prizes against steep odds. Because of this success and his popularity beating the odds, his musical star is also now on the rise much to the pleasant surprise of his earlier detractors.

He is also heading into the final fight bracket against a brutal opponent, however he is now being urged yet again by his family and friends to walk away from it for his own safety, mirroring their earlier sentiments about his professional music goals. Even the event coordinator, a semi shady businessman after the almighty dollar, advises him to engage in some self-preservation and bow out of the final fight.

Only now, Art is resolved. His confidence in his beliefs and abilities is strong. His trust in his own voice is at its pinnacle, even though the voices of those around him are louder and of greater conviction than before. He defeated opponents, beat the odds, fixed his money problems, realized his dream, and wants to continue to go the distance and see it through.

He knew they were wrong and he was right in the first act, but before the final fight he is steel. Unwavering. He is more than tough. He is tough enough.

Dennis Quaid as “Art Long – The Country Western Warrior“, Tough Enough – 1983

Now, when I tell you that I “watched a lot of TV” as a kid, I mean it in a way that exceeds your average everyday boob-tuber of the 80s. I watched typical stuff, yes, but I also absorbed unusual programming. Movies that had more adult themes than a 6 yr old should understand, or even see. I didn’t just watch. I studied. I listened very closely and took in the finer details of every sort. I tried to understand every scene and its importance to the story. The rising tensions and uncertainties, the hero’s challenges, the comic relief. I could pick it all up quite naturally and easily despite being so young. I grew up on Rocky, Jaws, ET, Dr. Jones, the Skywalker tribe, the Autobots, The Cannonballers, and more. And it wasn’t just “fast forward to the fight scene!” or “skip to the shark part!”. I hung on the small lines and quiet dialog. The unspoken communications between characters through looks and reactions, and the acute awareness that these reactions and looks were being done by actors under direction. Watching great stories being well-told is at the core of what made me an artist and a performer.

I watched Tough Enough so many times that I can sing Art’s signature song from the film. I even remember the boxing monikers each fighter was given in the Toughman Contest. Art was “The Country Western Warrior”, and his final fight was against the very aptly and creatively named “The Mighty, The Terrible Truman Wall”.

Even his name had a symbolism I was able to understand at 7 years old. The mighty terrible “wall” that only a “true man” can and must overcome.

Art fights so hard and defeats his superior opponent in such a way that even his naysaying dad has nothing left to say or do but rise slowly in near-disbelief and give his son a powerful escalating slow clap, as if to say “Son, for the rest of my days I will Never. Doubt. You. Again!”.

The Country Western Warrior did not even wait for the count-out by the ref. He tore off his gloves and walked out of the ring with the swagger of a man who could easily say to everyone “I told you so.”, but doesn’t need to. They all know. Now.

As a kid I watched movies and TV shows knowing that there was an underlying message and meaning to them. There was something the filmmakers were trying to tell us. The message I got from this one was that knowing who are, listening to yourself, and not caving in to the skepticism and misinformation of others is a difficult yet essential task that one must fight like a warrior to succeed at. The bigger the wall, the more important it is to get up and over it, no matter what others say.

If they went through the trouble of making a whole entire movie just to tell me that, then it must be important. Some of my most fundamental core beliefs have come to me through such a channel. This story, and many others, are part of what makes me Me. Do you have any like that?

Collegial Inner Voice

Do you know and listen to your inner voice? Do you trust it and have you developed a collegial relationship with it? Are you even aware of its existence?

I spent an overwhelming majority of my formative years being a bullied fat kid who was too gentle, kind, afraid, and compassionate to speak his mind. I turned the other cheek endlessly and just took the brunt of it all head first, silently. Whether it was me getting picked on at school, or not having much of a voice at home as the youngest child, my own voice wasn’t being heard and eventually stopped being used. It was just where the chips fell back then. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

This continued into my teens and stayed with me into young adulthood too, unfortunately.
And when I finally had been through enough, hurt enough, been unheard enough and choked down on enough, a change was forced into play.

I certainly didn’t fight it, but I didn’t really ignite it either. It just sort of lit itself, for lack of a better analogy. A new characteristic and attribute was now on the daily menu of available tools for me. A perhaps once-dormant side of myself that was always there but long forgotten about after years of being stifled.

Something fanned a dim heat, which slowly turned cold wet ash back to warm, red coals before ultimately sparking a fire that continues to burn, glow, and grow even today.

I have since described this to people, this shift in my thinking and my reactions to things, as my “awakening”.
I have also referred to it as the discovery of my strength.
My ambition.
My true voice.
Despite how magnificent that always sounds, it was never totally accurate. It was more of a shorthand for something deeper.

I didn’t really discover anything. I dug it up, out of the deep dark hole in which it had been stuffed down. It was always there, that strength and ambition. That self awareness and that true voice. All it needed was for me to acknowledge it, understand it, and put it to use. My inner voice was there waiting for me to start listening to it and to allow it to steer me.

It’s what got me out of a town and state in which I was miserable.
It’s what told me that I had to make plans to eventually separate myself from my old survival job.
It’s what sent me on the long and arduous path of entrepreneurship.
It’s what said to me over and over again, “This isn’t you. THAT’S you!”.
It’s what got me to yank the steering wheel away from the old life I was living and abruptly go off-roading, far away from a life of complacency.

I had finally heard my collegial inner voice, and put my trust in it as I developed a relationship with it.

Although life is better since then, it still isn’t perfect nor will it ever be. Whereas before, I would bite my tongue in moments and scenarios where I should have been vocal and firm, now my response is almost on autopilot. I rarely find myself in situations where I walk away thinking, “Man, I really should’ve said something back there. I really should’ve spoken up.” Now I just speak up. As you might imagine, it is not always well received.

I tend to speak strongly and from a place of genuine sincerity. I don’t like to mince words or tip toe around a point. I’ve seen way too many people’s time wasted by trying to find what to say without saying what you really think.

This is especially true in a corporate environment. Your real opinion is actually badly frowned upon, as is the act of expressing it (well, at least for the companies I’ve worked for and the teams I’ve been on throughout my many long years of survival job, anyway). I watched people chase their own and each other’s tails while trying hard to look and sound professional, all while completely failing to communicate clearly and effectively to make progress with their work.

Getting it right was never as important as “saying it right”. I just never got it, I guess. Seemed counter-productive to me. Same thing with the whole “too long, didn’t read” doctrine that essentially destroys that communication opportunity, even when it is definitely NOT too long at all.

“Too long, didn’t read” translates into “your message is not important enough to my extremely limited attention span”. And oh MAN do I hate that!

That being said, …if you have gotten this far and are still reading, well then I must say a very sincere Thank You!
You’ve made my day!

I’ll never claim to be the world’s highest authority on communication, because after all, I myself am on a learning journey till the end just like everyone else. But, it is important enough to me to make sure I listen close, speak clearly, be thorough yet concise, transparent, and forward-thinking. The way I see it, if you have something you wish to convey to me in any way, then I owe you at least that much. If you are giving me your time in order to communicate a message to me, and asking for reciprocation, then you will also receive my respect and courtesy as a full participant in the communication process. That’s simply just how it works.

For many people it can be the toughest thing in the world to hear their inner voice, listen to it, trust it, and use it. For others, it can be very tough NOT to do that same thing. Tough to trust in the knowledge that your voice is right and the voices of others are wrong. Are you tough enough to go forward with only your own voice as your guide? Are you tough enough to let your true voice be heard…by YOU?

I’ll give you the answer, don’t worry.
The answer is, Yes, you are.

How’d I get here?

About me.
…Okay, wow yeah, there’s actually a lot.
Allow me try to break it down into some chunks, that way it’ll be easier for us all in the long run.

I’m currently a full-time, work from home, professional voice-actor and studio operator.
I was not always this, though. It’s “new” compared to other facets of who and what I am.

As a child I always knew I was and wanted to continue to be an artist. I could draw fairly well and was taking advanced art classes before high school. Performance of all sorts held a lot of interest for me. Movies and TV shows. Theater. Grownup stuff as much as kid stuff.

Even back then I knew voiceover was something for me too. At that age I would watch cartoons but always be trying to imagine the person at the microphone. The illusion never tricked me, but rather it sparked my interest. I had strong desires to learn more, like playing an instrument, and even venturing into the acting world myself.

I had opportunities to do a lot of this back in the day, but I balked. I did. I lacked the level of support and understanding needed by artists. But more than that, I lacked internal ambition and confidence. I kind of always knew that I could rock anything I put my mind to. I just didn’t know how to put my mind to anything.

That was when I made some of my earliest ‘wrong turns’. I don’t assign blame to anyone else for this, but I know the reasons why I made those choices and took those turns. They were the wrong reasons, for sure. More on that later.

This wrong turn sent me into a high school athletic career of utter mediocrity. Football. Track & Field. Weightlifting. I worked very hard, yes, but not hard enough. My heart was never fully in it because I wasn’t doing these things with any purity of purpose. Like I said, I was doing it for the wrong reasons.

Don’t worry about those details now. They’ll make for a better individual blog post and podcast episode later. Like how I went to the first meeting of the Drama Club my 9th grade year but never went back because I got my chops busted for it at home.

And like the time my football coach looked to me to step up at a crucial moment….and I failed to do so out of fear. Now THAT was 2 seconds of eye contact I will never forget. We’ll cover that later too. Hahaha, yeah that’ll definitely get it’s own entry.

That wrong turn into sports was somewhat corrected in my senior year when I willfully returned to something creative that interested me. Video Club. This was the first real art I went after with any semblance of ambition since my freshman year. I had put it off long enough and decided that this was something I really wanted to do. And I loved it.

It sent me in a good direction in college where I was planning to major in Communications and Production. TV/Video. Graphics. Broadcasting. All that. It was the early 90s and an awesome time to enter that world.

As I was making my Fall schedule for my second year of college, I chose Acting 1 as an elective. This was like the Video Club decision in the sense that I had always had an unfulfilled curiosity, but it was even better. Better because I found out I was actually pretty damn good at it if i do say so my pretty damn self.

I took all the classes, played the lead in the Fall play, got the degree in performing arts, did more plays, impressed my teachers, classmates, and even myself a little. I was finally where I felt I belonged. More than that, I was finally where I really wanted to be. A very happy place. I began considering things like Julliard, AMDA, etc, and had an unfamiliar “sensation” that I could definitely pull it off. This sensation was the desire, confidence, and dormant ambition within me beginning to wake up.

Then my Dad died when I was 20. This rocked my world and threw me far of course. Don’t get me wrong. I made my next series of choices by myself. No one forced my hand. But this next handful of choices would become the ones that I am still unmaking today. Everything fell out of focus for me at that time and I struggled to bring it all back in for literally years and years.

I went the wrong way. That’s it. And now I’m fixing that.

I’m closer now than ever before, I really am. And there are those who say that I have already succeeded at unmaking these wrong turns. That I’ve made it through the woods and emerged back on the original main road. I thank them for that, sincerely, but I know what remains ahead of me still.

I have more to do. And more to tell you about.

The Journey, Man

Although this blog and related podcast will not be exclusively voiceover-centric, it’s safe to say it will come up from time to time. It is, after all, what I do for a living and occupies no small amount of my daily activities. So yeah, it’ll come up.

But I don’t want readers and listeners to assume this is the primary meat and potatoes of my content, nor the central focus of the discussion and pov between myself and my future guests. No.

This will be for anyone who wants to hear about the challenges and struggles of becoming whole, and complete. Taking the leap, whatever and wherever it may be.

It’s for anyone who has made mistakes in their life, wrong turns and bad decisions, and tried desperately to UNmake them. For anyone who has gone through a course correction and driven through the woods for years until they got back onto the correct path, or is struggling to do exactly that.

It will be for anyone who has heard some kind of message or signal from the universe and wanted desperately to follow it and see where it’s leading them.
Or maybe you’re already hearing it, don’t realize it and don’t think much of it, but still can’t turn it off.

It will be for anyone who is, or was, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Anyone who has had to, or wanted to, turn themselves to stone and steel in order to grow and achieve something. Anyone who is trying to unbecome who they are, and endeavors to become who they were always meant to be.

Anyone who wants to, or wanted to, break free.
You tell me.

Personally I have spent years breaking free from, …pfft, lots of things.
Negative thinking.
Demoralizing jobs.
Unhealthy lifestyle.
Morbid obesity.
Toxic relationships.
Arrested development (the personal kind, not the Banana Stand kind).
Abandoned dreams.
Unnurtured creativity.
Missed opportunities.

…Wow! I have been really busy. You’ll notice I never said that I “broke free”. It’s all still in-progress. I’m human, and I’ll be on this journey for a long time still, I’m sure. I have stories to tell, and I’ll be faithful. They’ll be told all in due time.
But I also will be asking questions too. Isn’t that how it should be? I mean, I want to get something out of this too. I want to learn.

My podcast guests will weigh in on their own experiences through and with some of these things. Whether it’s how they changed their careers, or lost tons of weight, or any other type of fire they’ve passed through – my goal will be to find out both how they did it…and why they did it. Where they were, who they are, …and where they’re going.

The how and the why are both important. I personally abide by a simple doctrine, and that is that we’re all students on some forever-learning curve. There is no Master, of anything. There is no all-wise, all-knowing being. There are only varied levels of Apprentice and Journeyman (…Journeyperson? Journeyfolk? I don’t know, but I’ll ask).

See what I mean? No matter how much you know or think you know, you don’t know it all. To believe you do is folly. Like Mr Miyagi says, “Someone always knows more!”. These blog posts and the podcast discussions will be about learning and growth. My guests and I will give and take from each other as we cover the territory together.

And hopefully as a reader and listener, you will find a benefit as well. Maybe it will be as simple as hearing people talk about how they did what you might be afraid to do. If you pick up a nugget of knowledge or an ounce of strength that helps you find a way to power through obstacles (or fear) by reading this blog or listening to the show, then it will be worth it.

Stay Tuned.