~tune in to radio spectre~

January 11th, 2007

I rearrange all the furniture in the house, creating a lovely little office for myself. I make French Onion soup from scratch. I shoot cheesecake photographs of myself for my beau for Valentine’s Day a whole month early. I am having trouble writing.

Since I have been back from MacDowell I have been struggling to find my rhythm and every time I do I skip the record to go earn money. Then I come back to my desk and it’s like starting all over, reacquainting myself with feelings of being overwhelmed. How-do-you-do?

Tonight I was desperately talking with Ali about this as he lay in bed, his eyes drooping from a twelve-hour work day as I hamster-wheeled around my very own Wall of Death. I think he said something like “You know everything about her, you just gotta write, Kat!”–a response likely to get yourself left soupless around my house.

My largest concern (aside from the crushing quantity of research and details I am currently trying to shape, or simply swim through) is finding Lilly’s voice. I am just rooting around, or on bad days, making soup.

Tonight as I was talking at Ali I realized I faced this same problem of Lilly’s voice when I made Advice to Adventurous Girls. Somehow it made me feel better, just knowing I solved the problem once and will again.

Three people read Lilly including my grandpa’s sister Dottie, my Mother, and a professional voice actress. The actress was first and worst. She was a friend of the family and was helping me out of the kindness of her heart. I spose it’s rather like the difference between theater and film acting. In radio–at least to sell cars on the radio–you gotta be BIG, but she chewed the scenery in a Lil’ Ol’ Hayseed from Kansas kind of way that was not at all working for me. Not at all. I was a greenhorn director and hadn’t figured out how to say “Bring it down a hundred notches and give me some pathos, dammit!” nicely, so I did my time, thanked her, and I think later recorded some Smiths over the tape.

My Aunt Dot was next and she sounded perfect because she is a charming, flirty shit-kicker from Tennessee and nearly Lilly’s contemporary. The problem with Dottie was she just couldn’t act. We perched on the edge of her bathtub (good acoustics) and I held the mic and smiled encouragingly as she read Lilly’s memoir like it was a phonebook. “That’s better, Aunt Dot”, I said, “But can you try it more like this?—You have given away the best years of your life and your declining years are spent without one true friend.” “How come when you do it you sound so perfect? I am no good at this, Hon! How about some champagne and fruit salad?”

My mom came to visit in San Francisco and I dragged her to my grad school sound room. Mom was good–her only better performance was as Peppermint Pattie in college, which I saw while sitting on the shoulders of our family friend–but she couldn’t stop giggling. As she read a particularly ennui-filled passage about walking shoeless to school a little snicker escaped her. She took a deep breath and began again, reading a list of injustices experienced by Lilly and her siblings. It wasn’t the sorrows, but the name of Lilly’s cousins that tripped her tongue:The Dozbaba Girls. Dozbaba was the maiden name of Lilly’s mother and every time my mother tried to say it–in her most morose voice–she fumbled and then her laughter could not be stifled:

Then as all girls do, we compared ourselves to the Dozbaba Girls.

If we could make it through that line–which took quiet some doing–we were dead in the water by this one:

They all got a full high school education and didn’t have to walk through three miles of deep snow. I think Agnes Dozbaba became a doctor, or a surgeons assistant. We are not proud to talk about it, having lost and been deprived in our youth of our basic education to better our lives…

Not exactly the text you want to be giggling over in your private art school graduate program’s sound studio. Then a mysterious whiffle sound–sort of like a cartoon dwarf snoring–in the supposedly air-tight space was the final wrench in the works. We were ready for champagne, hold the fruit salad.

Finally I broke down and let the whole damn film be a me show—I had started by trying not to be in it at all–now I would simply play all the characters. I read Lilly in my own bathroom and then called myself from my neighbor’s apartment and played the tape back to my phone, which was recording via a cheap stick-on mic the Radio Shack guy said was used by reporters.

It was perfect, the sound ghostly and thin, like tuning in a frequency on a spirit radio. This is how I think of writing someone else’s voice, it’s like grasping at vapor wisps.
I pray to the ghosts to grant me audience. I have so many questions.

my old “office” aka the kitchen. new office pics soon. no cheesecake for you!


2 Responses to “~tune in to radio spectre~”

  1. Habib says:

    Maybe Lilly’s writing isn’t supposed to be spoken aloud, which is why she’s throwing you for a loop. She was writing the way she thought a writer should write, but she didn’t have your style. Why don’t you find her voice in the things she would say off the page? Take everything she wrote and translate it into real dialogue.

  2. J says:

    really no cheesecake?

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