True Grits

I saw True Grit this weekend and wasn’t disappointed. I also read Charles Portis’s book when it came out back in 1968 (and wasn’t disappointed). And the 1969 movie (ditto).
I loved the book; it was a great Western yarn à la Lonesome Dove, but with Portis’s sardonic journalistic wit underneath everything. Portis is said to have once declared that he “could be Cormac McCarthy if he wanted to, but he’d rather be funny.”

I still remember being captivated by the book’s contraction-less dialogue. It created a sort of prosaic ambience of the Old West.  In the real Old West, evidently they did use contractions more often, but Portis’s diction recreated a virtual, unique — and successful — authenticity.

Interestingly, in the 1969 movie, John Wayne and Kim Darby handled the no-contraction dialogue most comfortably, while Glen Campbell (who otherwise was dorkily perfect for his role) sounded a little more awkward — and in the current movie, their counterparts, Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld, also naturalize their lines a little better than Matt Damon. But don’t get me wrong — Damon does an exceptional job in this role, maybe the best performance I’ve ever seen from him, and that’s saying something. He gives a nuanced, emotionally committed depth to his Texas Ranger that is at times very moving. The scene in which he bids “a-dee-ose” to a tearful Hailee when he gives up the chase is unforgettable.

The inimitable Coen brothers do their usual directing magic in this film, coaxing remarkable performances out of even the most minor actors. But the story line in the original film ran more naturally.  The Coens’ plot sequence seems almost like an abridgement.

I want to confirm that feeling by revisiting the 1969 film, but not surprisingly, in my Netflix queue it says “Very Long Wait.” In the meantime, I might watch A Serious Man again — one of my favorite Coen brothers films ever.

Resolutions Fizzling? Fear Not.

It’s that time of year: the old New Year’s resolutions are starting to falter, and people are sliding back into the low self-esteem they felt during Christmas dinners with their families. (Note that I’m managing here to be both presumptuous and a buzz-kill. What can I say? It’s a gift.)

But I learned some encouraging things about the whole resolution thing when I read the book Succeed by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson. And by “read,” I mean “aloud,” as in: I narrated it for Blackstone Audio last month. (This is why I love narrating nonfiction: I learn such interesting things! Sometimes I even retain what I learn, but that’s a subject for a future blog.)

Halvorson, who’s a social psychologist specializing in motivation and goals, tells us that the government actually keeps track of New Year’s resolutions. I checked out the website she cited, and sure enough, there are the usual suspects in the Top Ten list (stop smoking, lose weight, etc.), with resource links for government pamphlets on how to drag your sorry butt toward achieving them. Halvorson notes that the failure rates for many of these resolutions are stunning (e.g., 85% of smokers fail to quit).

But here’s the encouraging part, and it has to do with radishes. In one study of self-control, hungry college students were presented with two bowls each, of chocolates and raw radishes, and asked (depending on the group) to eat no chocolates and a few radishes or vice-versa. The researchers then asked the students to work on a very difficult puzzle. They found that the group that had been made to eat radishes and avoid chocolate had the least patience and self-control with this new task.

It turns out that self-control is a kind of “muscle.” If you overuse it, you can fatigue it (as the radish-eaters did, which is why they couldn’t stick with the puzzle). But if you do a little every day to pump it up, it gets stronger: for instance, in another study, people who used their non-dominant hands for some tasks every day showed more self-control in general afterwards.

Halvorson’s advice for resolutions (New Year’s and otherwise) include:
• Don’t overload yourself with “willpower” demands, or you’ll fatigue your self-control muscle
• Use incentives (non-food rewards for eating less; money for smoking less)
• Practice a small daily self-control task unrelated to your main goal, and you’ll do better with all your goals

I recommend Halvorson’s fascinating book, and not just because I recorded it. Honestly, read it in print if you want; whatever. But if you opt not to read / listen to the book, you can always go the slacker’s route, as I do: don’t make New Year’s resolutions to begin with! Less failure that way! It defies many wise proverbs and parables, I know, but it sure cleans the slate after the holiday binge.

A Meditation on Marketing

I’m brave in many things in life, but marketing hasn’t always been one of them.  I’m more like the role I played when I was an extra in Animal House: an Emily Dickinson College student. (How did they know to cast me for that??)  I’m the girl who, if she goes to parties at all, hangs out in the corner thinking Deep Thoughts.  And as a voice talent, I’m way too happy to hide in my studio all day playing make-believe into the mic – a prerequisite for the job, but sometimes too much of a good thing.

A few years ago, I realized that I really had to take a serious look at my aversion to the marketing side of my business.  I knew I had to ramp up my relationships with clients — not just on the Internet, but on the phone and in person.  So I  decided that if I could overcome my Pro Tools phobia (and I did – now I’m a shortcuts junkie and even a borderline gear-head), I could Become More Outgoing.

Being Heather, I started not by dipping my toe in the water but by jumping off a cliff into the icy lake – in the form of going to the Audio Publishers Association conference without knowing a single person.  I took a deep breath (many deep breaths), walked up to people, stuck out my hand and my business card, and introduced myself.  The relationships I made at that first conference two years ago led (eventually, circuitously) to the audiobook narrations I do now.

And of course I realized that cold calls, personal follow-ups, and general schmoozing aren’t that hard, after all.  In fact, they’re as fun as Pro Tools!  I did a little attitude adjustment, reminding myself that it wasn’t about will they like me; it was about aren’t these folks interesting? I want to know more!

I have a voice talent pal, JoJo Jensen, who spends every Wednesday making cold calls, starting usually with the receptionist at a company and more often than not ending up talking to producers.  She has built most of her business this way.  Another friend, Matt Dragon, works so diligently on making and maintaining client connections that he doesn’t even need agents anymore.  Neither of them has a particularly big presence on the Web, and both of them make more money than I do.

Last week, I spent the day in Portland walking unannounced into studios, ad agencies, and talent agencies and introducing myself.  There wasn’t a cold shoulder the whole day: everyone I met welcomed me and was interested in my work.  And I had two gigs before I even got back home.

Next phobia to confront: flying on commuter jets.  (I wonder if my MBox would make a good security blanket?)


One of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve recorded recently is Leslie Kean’s UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record.

 Nut-job stuff, right?  Not at all.  Kean is a well-published investigative journalist who almost unwillingly got drawn into a fascination with this subject after a French colleague sent her a confidential French government report. 

 There’s nary a conspiracy theory or flying saucer in the whole book.  Instead, it consists of testimonials by commercial airline pilots, four-star generals, fighter pilots, and government officials (like, a former White House chief of staff, a NASA senior research scientist, and the former Deputy Chief of the Belgian Air Force) about their encounters with UFOs.  

 My husband is skeptical about everything – and he’s part Norwegian, which means he’s stubbornly skeptical.  But it’s even made him reconsider his opinions.