All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.—Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC)
During the credits of Rob Reiner’s mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, the director asks the band what they would do if they weren’t rock icons. Derek Smalls (played by Harry Shearer) responds that he’d like to work with children. His answer comes as a surprise as, earlier in the film, he set off airport security with a foil-wrapped cucumber he put in his pants to enhance his manhood.
The question “What else would you do?” only comes up when you are already busy and stuck in a job. You may be unhappy at work or be simply thinking of alternate life paths, but even when the question is just diverting, it’s dangerous. Most days I love teaching, but I’m vulnerable to those devastating fantasies about what I might be doing. It’s an American thing, this Gatsbian infinite capacity for hope. It’s deadly.
Ideally, you would be well paid for doing a job you might do for free. Realistically, you can no more expect to be universally happy in your job than you might expect to be universally happy in your relationships. It’s natural to consider roads not taken.
I love reading aloud. Something about the rhythm and character of artful prose charms me, and I like to think I can find the author’s voice and communicate his or her intonation, pace, and emphasis. I love to read fiction, poetry, essays, textbooks, you name it… aloud.
When I told a friend, Derek Smalls style, that I’d like to a books-on-tapes reader, he poo-pooed the idea. “You don’t have that kind of voice,” he said, “my sister works with those people, and do you know how good you have to be?” He’s probably right, I don’t have a deep and resonant radio-voice. People mistake me for a woman on the phone. My voice is reedy and thin.
Still, for a week, I went around asking everyone, “Do you think I would be a good books-on-tapes reader?” Many said yes, and I reported every positive response back to my friend with an emphatic “See?”
Shouldn’t wanting to do the job be enough? Shouldn’t I be able to convince the world the conventional radio voice is all wrong, that it’s not the pitch, but the personality behind it that matters? Why can’t I embrace my belief in exceptions? Exceptions are more common than people think. Growing up, whenever I doubted the world needed another fill-in-the-blank, my parents said, “But it could always use another good fill-in-the-blank.” I’m sure I could be a books-on-tapes superstar. If I never try, I’ll never know.
The trouble is, I don’t know how to try. Even if I could work with my voice—maybe hormone therapy would help—I have no idea what path to take. I haven’t Googled it, but I’m not sure any schools cater to future books-on-tape readers. Nor do I know of any apprentice programs. No one has pitched becoming an oral reader as a reality show, yet. It’s the sort of thing you fall into, but the old Hollywood model of discovery is problematic. What drugstore should I hang out in?
Would it help to get a microphone and amp and station myself in subway tunnels and read aloud with an empty bucket in front of me?
The nearest proximity I’ve reached is writing as if I’m reading aloud. As “the author,” I am at last the only person for the job. In my fantasies, I branch out from there. Soon I’d be reading other authors’ work and then move into voiceover and replace the guy who once did every trailer of every movie.
Someone has to surmount his fame, right? Why not me?
You see how quickly I can get ahead of myself, flying off the fantasy handle and picturing myself with a mountainside home, a foundation for charitable donations, a personal trainer/chef/appointment assistant, a haircut every three weeks, and a new toothbrush every day.
In my dream life as a books-on-tapes reader, I can afford such luxuries.
Maybe we dreamers are chasing fluffy pink clouds no sane person should pursue seriously, and yet, and yet, and yet. Sid Madwed, a success speaker who touts the power of poetry to improve creativity, productivity, and everything else, says most people are afraid of losing jobs they hate so 90 to 95% of employees, “Work at jobs which are unfulfilling and which they dislike and would leave in a minute if they only knew what they really wanted to do.”
Which leads me back to a question: where can I get an amp and microphone cheap?