I dreamed of being a voice actor for many years. You see, I left my job as a stage actor for a small regional children’s theater in the mid-90s – I toured around the Midwest for eight years, and then moved to Milwaukee, WI to hang out with my best friends and find some direction. Or something that resembled direction. I knew it would be a while before I could get back into the arts and become a voice actor, for a couple of reasons:
1) I decided to earn my undergrad and graduate degrees during my 30s, and I was working in the non-profit and corporate worlds to gain some traction educationally and financially;
2) I smoked cigarettes. For many years. Like, a lot. During my theater days, it was two to three packs a day. (Ugh!) In my 30s and 40s, it was a pack a day – and it was beginning to feel embarrassing to be seen smoking – so I would chain smoke when I was alone. Or, I’d smoke ‘em up when I was with my friends who still smoked.
I got itchy about becoming a Voice Actor when I was in my early 40s. I was convinced I could do great voiceover work. Unfortunately, my voice was horseshit from years of mistreating it. I never was formally trained to sing on stage – so I not only sounded like gravel because of smoking, but I also shredded it when I was younger by not knowing how to treat my voice.
So I created a goal: To invest in becoming a for real, full-fledged, trained, and studio-equipped Voice Actor by the time I turned 50.
Under one condition: I could do it only if I quit smoking.
When I turned 48, I knew I was in a now or never place with this goal. My Midlife Voiceover Dream just HAD to come to life. I could not waste this existence sucking on cigarettes anymore. I’d envisioned being a voice actor for so long, that I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing myself. So, I created a plan that would allow me six months to mentally and physically prepare for it. And follow that plan, I did.
The day before putting my plan in motion, I was happily prancing up some freshly rained-upon marble stairs to get to the currency exchange before it closed, and fell so hard my jeans ripped and I skinned my knee worse than I thought I could. I should have reminded myself stupid shit like that happens in threes…
I missed my flight to Amsterdam by a minute (seriously – one. stinking. minute.) after an anxiety-inducing, delayed and stormy flight from Chicago to Minneapolis.
“Are you fu*#ing kidding me?!” I choked out through tears as the gate attendant (let’s call him “Derp”) told me they just closed the boarding door. I felt bad for dropping that big, ugly F-bomb right up in Derp’s face, but I was having an out-of-body midlife meltdown after running as fast as I could to catch that flight, dragging my carry-on with a wine buzz and one badly skinned and arthritic knee.
“You guys knew my flight landed late! Why couldn’t you wait another minute?!?!” Derp just shrugged and said they had to close it at the ten minute mark. “Oh, that is such BULLSHIT!” I cried, as I looked over his shoulder and saw the pilots preparing to depart. I threw my backpack down on the ground and sobbed like a three-year-old who just found out she can’t wear her mom’s bra on her head to daycare.
Eighteen hours, three travel itinerary adjustments, and 15 cigarettes later – after finding a hotel at 11pm, crying myself to sleep, and waking up and wandering the Mall of America for countless hours on the greyest, coldest, rainiest day ever – I boarded my new flight to Amsterdam. This was it. I was on my way to leaving my cigarette habit behind in one of my favorite places on Earth. And I would come home ready to be trained as a voice actor. I settled into my first class flatbed pod (I treated myself on the way there), sipped my champagne, ate my dinner and drank my wine, and slept for the six hours remaining before touching down in my most magical happy place.
The thing about Amsterdam is that you really can just roll with it and figure it out. I traveled there with my best friend pre-smart phones, so I was somewhat prepared. Many Dutch people speak English, and it is really quite safe and very friendly. I rented an apartment for the week and took the tram everywhere. I spent days walking the streets in different parts of the city. Did a few walking tours and a boat tour with local guides. It was glorious. The weather was perfection. I people-watched from tables at outdoor cafes. I ate wonderful food, I drank beer, and I smoked. And smoked. Because one can still smoke just about anywhere there. I walked through shops and galleries and went back to Anne Frank’s house to spend hours re-reading stories about her experience.
I was away from my awesome little apartment morning to night, barely stopping in to change for dinner some days. I thought about my life, and how I needed to go home with a renewed sense of self and purpose. I had to commit to trusting that when I returned, I really could do this.
Two days before I was to come home, I set out to visit a couple of tattoo parlors I researched online. I worked with a guy named Geg – he was the guest artist at the parlor on which I landed. I asked him whether he could create a cool-looking “Wise Owl” for me. “Why a wise owl?” he asked. “Because I want to always remember why I made the decision to quit smoking – I’m going to bring her back with me to be my spirit guide and keep me on track.” He drew the most brilliantly colored sketches – all of the owls wearing eyeglasses just like me – and we landed on the one I have today.
The next day, I lay on my side for three hours while Geg inked it onto my left shoulder. I walked out of that tattoo parlor feeling like I could do anything after enduring that searing needle pain for three. straight. hours. I felt like such a badass as I walked to grab a beer (and a smoke) afterward. My wise owl was going to help me through this. When I got home, my partner Becky named her Luna.
And in the blink of an eye, it was my last evening in Amsterdam. Five days of the most intense and wonderful time by myself, coming to an end. (It should have been six days, damnit. I still can’t talk about it without feeling upset.)
My Crazy Cigarette Show, closing that night for good. I cried on the phone with Becky and texted my best friends, worried because I had not worked out a plan to leave my cigarettes somewhere. “What am I going to do? I wanted to have a magical moment all plotted out – to bury them somewhere with a note…to place them in a box behind an old butcher shop…to sprinkle the tobacco from my last cigarette somewhere meaningful. And now, here I am – I’m on my way to dinner somewhere at a restaurant I have yet to choose and I haven’t a clue what I’m going to do…” I felt that middle-aged meltdown brewing again.
I am eternally grateful my people are so freaking amazing. We talked and texted it out, I calmed down. I decided I would just let the night guide me…
… and what happened next couldn’t have been scripted better.
(Come back next Monday for part two. It’s a pretty fun story.)