What I learned in school today

Comments about my return classroom training.


Nose to the Grindstone

Lots of good stuff happening here.  Haven’t been posting because I’ve been busy. Excuses, excuses, excuses!!

Knee-deep, no make that vocal chord-deep in getting my Voiceover plans in play.    I’m just dedicating every second to that now.  My voiceover blog development is time-consuming… but once it’s done then I can enjoy the fruits of that particular labor.  I’ve also signed on with Voice123.com, and busy getting new demos created.  I’ve got a profile page there, but every resource out there, including Vince, my VO instructor, recommends having your own site.

Term Paper Galore

Finished up another writing class.  Got some practice in on writing travel guides and people profiles.  My Creative Nonfiction workshop is going great!!  As fate would have it, I had papers due for both classes at the same time, and I did my best to prevent that from happening.  It ended up where I couldn’t get my interview done until the same week my other paper was due, so…BOOM.  Flashback to college term paper marathon sessions, caffeine fueled courtesy Coke Zero.

My attempts to get pictures of the super moon a few weeks ago was a disaster!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Total disasters!   Took two cameras with me.  I drove around about a half hour before moonrise to find the best view of the east.  I never realized there were that many damn trees around here.  I did find a good spot, and when the moon came up it was as impressive as advertised.  HOWEVER, through the lenses…another story.  I found a second spot, and about a half hour after rising it was still pretty huge, but the camera view was totally different.  I know there were probably some techniques I could have used, if I knew them, but I had forgotten to look them up, and was lucky to remember the whole thing was going to happen that night.

I couldn’t and won’t let another week past without a post.  Hell, I worked just as hard to get this set up as I’m doing now on the other projects.  Keeping this plate spinning, and now  I’m getting the other two plates balanced!

Dancer with spinning plates - Kandy, Sri Lanka...

See, it can be done!!!  Just takes practice!


“So Dennis, what did you learn in school today?” Episode 3

Paper Earned!!!!

Black and white photograph of a Neumann U87 mi...

This week I completed my Voice-Over program at Clayton State.  I am now a




As I mentioned on the “About Me”  page I’m going after my heart’s desires, the things I always want do, to do for real what I did for fun!  After years of trying to get on board with the media side of my old employer I can now pursue things on my own.  Did the DJ thing at house parties.  Did my little stint at WIGO radio’s “Community Broadcast Network”, pre-recorded and broadcasted at 2 in the morning one day a week for about a couple of months.  Did voice-over for company’s benefit program during my second year on the job, thanks to Barbara Russell, the Admin who liked my voice.

And yep, did the writing thing also.  Did a stint writing for the  long-defunct Lovely Atlanta magazine, although I fell down on  that job.  Remember, I’m my own “Renaissance Man.” Not that I’m trying to be the 21st Century da Vinci or be the next “most interesting man in the world.”  It’s just simply doing what I love!  Nothing deeper than that.  So my writing classes and my journey with the  written word continues along with the pursuit of this.

The Spoken Word:  Grab the Microphone!

In the meantime it’s on to implementing the voiceover part of my life.  Now that I’ve been trained (by one of the best, Mr. Vince Bailey) it’s time to follow through on  the many, many things  to do.

I have my hardware, my sound booth is set up, and my software is loaded:

  • Porta-Booth Pro sound booth w/stand
  • Perception 120 USB microphone w/shockmount ( for real work)
  • Blue “Yeti” microphone (using it so far just to practice at my desk)
  • Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro Studio headphones
  • Audacity recording software
  • Adobe Audition CS5.5 recording software

With all of this it’s going to be quality in = quality out. I’m combining practice with learning Audition, so I’m just using at my desk for that.  Of course, you can throw my voice in the list also, seeing as how it’s the necessary item.  Speaking of which…

Adobe Audition Screenshot

What I learned: being told “you have a nice voice” isn’t enough!

If having the equipment is all that’s needed for success then I’m set.  HOWEVER… there is a special skill to doing commercials, audiobooks, voicemail greetings, etc., and hopefully I’ll put what I’ve learned to good use.  Vince did a good job of not only training us in the actual work of voice-overs, but he also covered the  business side of it as well.  The class was fun, with lots of good people in it, and all of them with incredible talent.  I fully expect to hear them on the radio or TV soon.

Among the many post-graduate tasks on my list is setting up a web site strictly for VO business purpose.   That won’t be a separate blog, strictly business.  My voice-over adventures will still be chronicled here, as it’s all part of my personal renaissance.

That’s my number two task, number one being getting my first demo clip out to the world ASAP.  There are many networks to utilize, including friends as well as the voice-over internet sites. Since I’ve already established a  web presence here, I’m adding my voiceover demo.  CHECK OUT MY DEMO IN THE SIDEBAR ——->>>

According to one of the web sites, the “official” spelling is now recognized as voice-over.  Right now the spelling is all over the place – voiceover, voice over, voice-over, VoiceOver, Voice-Over, etc.  So now it’s supposedly settled, per the good and wise folks who update the various dictionaries out there.

So here we are.  My next set of writing classes starts next week.  One of the courses I’ve really wanted to take, Freelance Writing, is up on Monday.  Having done the magazine stint a long time ago is still a pleasant memory and another current goal, so let’s see what happens!!

“So Dennis, what did you learn in school today?” Episode 2

Two Classes Down

Creative writing class-fine arts center (40269...

“Praise De Lawd!”

The journey continues.  I have just completed the 2nd course of my Certificate  in Creative Writing program: Introduction to Creative Nonfiction, or CNF if you please.

Much praise goes out to the instructor.  I think she did an excellent job, especially in dealing with my whining about the nature of the stories we had to read. I originally was going rate the course an A-, with points taken off for the nature of the stories.  Honestly, some of them were just plain depressing. Visits to graveyards.  Abortions.  Observations on an organ donor’s dead body being kept “alive” while prepping the parts for removal. Unwanted pregnancies. Loved ones dying of cancer.  A teen swimmer drowning. Loved ones dying of Aids. I think it was the third class where I asked her if it was ok if we just read essays by Poe for the rest of the course.

Now I admit, I am unfair here, because I penalized the course for  the negative.  I guess that’s because it seemed like I was reading one “downer” story after another.  Did anybody live happily ever after?    At first I felt  that the ten percent “bummer”  stories stole something from the total enjoyment, and that bothered me.  No A+ from my red pencil. I’m a predominantly positive person, so reading those stories really left me feeling kind of bummed out.  However, I also gained some knowledge about this form of writing, and gained a bit more knowledge of the writing style that’s closer to my heart  as well… as undeveloped as my style  is!  Also, my instructor correctly pointed me to look beyond the content and detect the structure.  But an even more compelling reason to give it my full A rating is that it’s totally unfair and absolutely wrong of me to brush off someone else’s pain and sadness.  This genre contains stories that are open wounds laid out for public consumption, and the authors should at least get an encouraging pat on the back.  Key word here: nonfiction.  Real pain.  Real suffering.  Real impact on the authors’ life.  Life is not always happily ever after.

On the other hand, the 90% was GREAT!!!  My concentration is in Creative Nonfiction Writing.  So, exactly what is this form of writing?  Lots of definitions given by lots of writers and critics, often in lengthy, no make that very lengthy  discourse.  Allow me to give my version, in shorter form.

“My Humble Attempt to Define Creative Nonfiction”

First look at the “nonfiction” part of the name.  It’s exactly what it means.  It’s based on something that is or was real… it really happened, it really existed, you really were scared by this, you really were scarred by this.  If I’m writing a memoir or a personal essay it’s a real event from my life.  Note: it’s just centered on one event, one experience, one memory.   Creative Nonfiction is not an autobiography, it’s examining one event, a slice of one’s life, and in particular a life-changing/affecting moment.  The concept is couched in “self-discovery” – I take you, the reader, along with me on my personal journey of discovery about this story, and if we end up in a different frame of mind or a different place from where we started, fine!  I should write to make you enjoy the ride.

The “Nonfiction” Part:  Discovering You Through An Event, or Person, in Your Life

The stories I’ve read covered the gamut of topics in this genre: stories of the time spent in a clinic with a loved one dying of cancer.  Reminiscing about going for the first time to your ancestral German city with your Jewish father, who fled there as a child as Hitler began his insanity, and discovering how it shaped your father and subsequently your relationship with him.  Growing up in a Puerto Rican community in New York, condensed into a simple story of watching an old home movie of a family party, remembering the faces there and then spinning out to episodes about each member, and then spinning back into the party with the sights and sound and smells of the meals and the music and joy in that gathering.  Taking your one year old son hiking up to a mountaintop in a baby backpack, moving through the clouds and fog, and sharing the joy in that experience.

The “Creative” Part:  Painting Word Pictures, Evoking Feelings With Words

The story, “Cloud Crossing” by Scott Russell Sanders, who wrote the story of taking his one year old son up to the mountains, contains one of the best lines I’ve ever read that paints a picture and an emotion with words.

Once I carried Eva outside, in the first spring of her life, and a gust of wind caught her full in the face.  She blinked, and then gazed at the invisible breath as if it were a flight of angels streaming past. Holding her in the crook of my arm that day, I rediscovered wind.”

That, to me, is where the “Creative” part comes in.  The incident, the feeling, really happened.  The creativity is in the telling!  Much classroom discussion on using the words to color:  do you stay inside the lines, or can you go outside them?  After all it’s your story!

The “Nonfiction” Part:  Discovering Others Through You

I mentioned the memoir and personal essay as sub genres of CNF, but they are also joined by two others: what’s called Literary Journalism and Cultural Criticism.  Once again, based on  fact here, in this case it’s not directly about you, but how you see something as you’re involved in it.  The subject is not you, directly.  It’s about a specific public event, a person or a group of people, an occurrence of public interest, a common mood…you get the picture. Think of a story written, by you,  about a 9/11 survivor’s first return to Ground Zero.   That moment should be 75% of your story.  The remaining words are spun out of that moment to cover other things that touch upon the  event (how was America before and after 9/11, how did that person fit into that, etc.)  but they should spin back to that moment.  You either write about the escape from the disaster, or you write about the return to the scene, but only one of these two is the star of the story.  In my mind, if you write about the escape it’s a “report.”  The return is a story. This is the type of writing that appeals to me the most.

Now, This is What I’m Talking About!

Gay Talese has been dubbed the father of this new form of literature, and his article for Esquire Magazine “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” has been cited as the definitive example of CNF writing in just about every thing I read or researched in this course.  It has all of the elements I’ve described.  It’s not a biography about Sinatra, it’s an essay, a profile if you will, of him.  From the introduction in Esquire Magazine:

In the winter of 7965, writer Gay Talese arrived in LosAngeles with an assignment from Esquire to profile Frank Sinatra. The legendary singer was approaching fifty, under the weather, out of softs, and unwilling to be interviewed. So Talese remained in L.A., hoping Sinatra might recover and reconsider, and he began talking to many of the people around Sinatra — his friends, his associates,his family, his countless hangers-on– and observing the man himself wherever he could. The result, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” ran in April 1966 and becameone of the most celebrated magazine sfories ever published, a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism– a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction. The piece conjures a deeply rich portrait of one of the era’s most guarded figures and tells a larger story about entertainment, celebrity, and America itself.

It’s a damn good article that I thoroughly enjoyed  reading and writing my final class essay about, due in no small part to my interest in the “Rat Pack” already in place.  Then we also read another Talese piece, “High Notes.”  In this one he profiles Tony Bennett  through  observing him in a recording session with Lady Gaga.  That’s right, Lady Gaga.  Talese runs with the stars!  That ain’t a bad way to make a living!  Seriously though, it’s good writing.  It’s detailed, and he goes to great lengths to paint the scene.  You see what he sees.  He describes mannerisms, expressions, clothes, people, how they look, how they act.  Sinatra pulls out a “thick, but clean” wad of bills, and then calmly proceeds to lose six hundred dollars at blackjack.  Notice this difference: I simply said Sinatra calmly lost six hundred dollars.  Talese breaks it down…it was lost over several bets, and Talese details  eachbet, taking you a little deeper into the event.  That’s how I’d like to write.Writer Gay Talese at the Strand Bookstore, New...

So at this time I want to grow up to be like Talese.  I asked my instructor if she can assign me to write a profile on Beyonce and Jay-Z, and I can get to hang  around with them.  One of my classmates pointed out the potential problem with Jay-Z coming downstairs in the middle of the night to get something out of the fridge, and there I  am sitting on the couch jotting down whether he’s wearing Sean Jean label pajamas or his own label, and also asking him what Beyonce’s wearing in bed ’cause that’s all part of  the profile too, you see.

“You can’t call security on me!  I’m writing an essay on ya’ll for my homework!”  he shouted as a  very disturbed Jay-Z activated the alarm system.

Finally, Remember:  Nonfiction = THE TRUTH

While Talese represents the pinnacle of Creative Nonfiction, there exists the Ultimate Bad Example.  Does a  memoir titled “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey ring a bell?  The name Oprah Winfrey familiar?  Yep, he’s the guy that was busted for falsely claiming his material was a true story.  It’s either a memoir (truth) or it’s fiction, and unfortunately it was promoted as the former.  From what I’ve learned, assuming I learned it correctly, the CNF writers and critics are still doing some serious debating on the structure of the genre, particularly  in the area of how memory affects truth.  You can remember your  grandfather telling you about his first prom, but can you  remember the words verbatim, or just the gist of them?  Is it important to remember what he said, and not worry about what he was wearing?  Maybe it matters if you want to convey  his  being a sharp dresser, but if you can’t remember that detail should it stop you?  That’s the debate that’s left, as far as I can tell.  Just don’t make it up  it if he NEVER talked to you about his first prom. Other than that I hope I hope I’ve succeeded in sharing what I’ve learned.

“So Dennis, what did you learn in school today?”…Part 2

Putting the Starbucks thing to rest!  Finding the Good Vibe Spot

Ok, I think I have this thing settled about working away from my desk.  Despite my early skepticism I’ve come to like it!  Coming to you live now from the Student University Center at Clayton State University.  I just completed my second week of classes.  What I decided to do was spend the day on each school’s campus, avoiding  the hassle of traveling into drive time traffic to get to school, while also enjoying the secondary benefit of exploring.

Books-a-Million and Barnes and Nobles’ major drawback was the lack of power outlets.  Somehow for me, this Mac is giving just about  three hours of juice.  Of course I’m running iTunes at the same time but that shouldn’t have that much impact.  Maybe it’s all in my mind,  but last week I posted from B&N, and it seemed like I was using almost a third of the power per hour.  I ended up switching over to my iPad to complete the draft, synced it, and then go back to the Mac to post, with about 18% power showing as I start posting.

So two major goals for campus trip: a lot of power outlets and seats with good views.   My first out of office experience at Books found me  sitting damn near behind the coffee counter.  There was only one outlet that had a simple power strip plugged into the bottom socket and I had to stretch my cord to the max to use it.  B&N had a nice table I commandeered near a window, but no power.  With those two requirements in mind I was hoping for a good experience.

Student 2.0

First up was Clayton State, home of my voiceover course, and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a much nicer campus than I expected.  Confession time: I had a negative pre-conceived notion based on the county it was in.  Whenever I’ve been proven wrong about a negative assumption or statement I’ve always responded with “Glad to be wrong!”  I  don’t have to aways be right, especially on a negative thing.  Why would I not want a good thing to happen?  In this case, I have to give the school it props!!!

As I was walking around the campus I kept looking for “the spot”, a seat with power and a good view.  Discovering all the good ones taken, I ended up in a cubicle in the library.  NEVER AGAIN.  I write in bursts, lots of words flowing fast and furious (and mis-spelled) for a few minutes.  Then I’ll sit back, think about what I wrote, take in what’s happening around me,  and  then dive in again.  No scenery in the cubicle, and what I could see in the library was boring!  This visit today finds me sitting upstairs in the student center,  a good spot that meets my requirements.

Yesterday was Emory’s turn, where I’m taking my writing classes.  I had a negative preconception  blown away at CSU, and my positive expectations for Emory didn’t even come close to matching what I encountered!  Everything I expected and more.  As I did at CSU, my first task was to cruise the campus.  One of the things that never crossed my mind till just now, I never gave a thought about my age, being n the midst of all of these students.  And as I think about it now, I decide it’s nothing to think further about.  It’s not striking me as something to dwell on. What’s foremost  in my mind is just absorbing the fact that here I am again learning!  Student 2.0  Not my old corporate training, but training for MY goals!  Here’s  tangible, physical proof that everything I planned to do in Dennis 2.0 is now in play… and yesterday was the day I really, truly felt so good about it.  I’ve got books, homework, and a student ID number. The Christian in me gave many Thanks to God for this and for the wife’s support.

So it was another Good Vibe Spot search in Emory’s Woodruff library,  where I found a seat on the third floor bridge level.  Before getting there  I ran into a scene that stuck into my mind.   On the first floor there is a whiteboard along an entire length of wall, with several tables and chairs arranged a log it.  There were students at a few of them, and I watched one table where a young lady began drawing  what I think were molecular diagrams, or something of that type. I decided I would find out what it was, and as I’m thinking the,  the feelings I described started to pop up.  A few tables away a group of students had just left, and based on what they boarded they must have been the med students.

X———-> A) No Disease

Y————–> B) Disease

I was really impressed with how serious they all seemed.  “This,” I thought, “is where cures are going to be found.”

After I  settled in I wanted to get some shots for this post.  Regrettably, I had left my camera  home, so it was the phone camera to the rescue.  Emory has an exhibition going on in the gallery on the floor I was on: “Shadows of the Sun:  The Cosby’s, the Black Sun Press & the Lost Generation”   It focuses on the writers, artists, jazz musicians, and others who left America for Paris in the 1920’s, including people such as Josephine Baker and Paul Robeson.  The exhibit featured postcards written by many of them, and I thought I’d get  a few pictures for this post.  Ah, bad move.  AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT… that’s the moment an administrator happened to juuuust be exiting the elevator near where I was.  I have to give her credit, she was very nice about it, but I had committed a sin: NO pictures allowed.  So this one shot was it.  There were lots more to see on all four sides of the gallery.  Based on the quality of this shot, I’m glad I didn’t take any more pics.  Lesson learned:  go ahead and keep the camera a lot closer than where it was in the car trunk yesterday… a lesson applied today.

Unfortunately, that has led to anther lesson learned.  I’m carrying a laptop case with my Mac and iPad, and I’m also carrying  a camera messenger bag … and that stuff gets heavy!!! I need to look at maybe getting a backpack that can house both the camera and laptop and iPad and the 10,000 pencils, pens, highlighters, sheets of paper, paper clips, folders, mini-stapler, etc. that I insist on carrying around.  Never know when you might have to turn in a term paper on the spot!

“Oh, I see now. You’re a Continuing Ed student wanting internet access, huh?”

The only negative in my campus fun is the fact that the Continuing Education buildings are NOT on the main campus but close by, less than about 5 minutes away if no traffic.  Why is that???  What consigns us to the East Campus or the Briarcliff campus?  Is it our gray hairs??  I need to ask questions!  Getting a few administrative things done on the main campus has sometimes been a little frustrating.

Well, I’ve doubled the recommended word count for  a readable blog, so the next time I come back to this topic (you’ve been warned) I’ll talk about the classes.  I’ve learned a LOT in these two weeks, and one of those things prompts me to issue an apology.  I’ve avoided using a lot of adjectives and adverbs.  I didn’t drop in any prose about  “how the walls echoed with the laughter, frustrations, and aspirations of those young souls who, like me at their age, never gave a thought to the obligations beyond the world of their laughter, frustrations, and aspirations…”


I painted just a “dry” setting for “what I learned.”  I know now I should work a little harder to paint better word pictures, but I swear to you I won’t go “metaphysically deep!”  Remember, this a journal chronicling my growth repeat growth.  So please stick with me.  Not sure I can turn in a three page essay about a brick just yet.  If the brick talked to me, well then it’s on!

“So Dennis, what did you learn in school today?”

“Hello class, I’m Miss Flinglehogger-Smith and I’ll be your instructor for this course.”

Nothing is more fun than three ring binders.

Image via Wikipedia

Back to school!!  Tomorrow is orientation for my Certificate in Creative Writing Program.

I went through a lot  of years of required corporate training classes,  with completion deadlines, constant tracking,  and  emails reminding you that you’re only 60% complete when you should be 75% complete at this point.  Copied to your managers of course!   Corporate training became a world of web-based, interactive training.  Learning because you have to is not as much fun as learning what you want to.  (the big set-up here:  how embarrassing it would be to fail?)

Now it’s all for me!!!   Since retiring I’ve accumulated a lot of, repeat, a LOT of books, and some of the results of that will hopefully be reflected in this journal.  But I could use a  little more structure and guidance, and this will be great.  I also think I’m going to enjoy being back in a classroom atmosphere, interacting with folks.

Right now it’s like I’ve accumulated a bunch of books and videos on how to be a ninja, but I don’t think I’m ready to infiltrate the villain’s  nuclear facility, take on the guards,  and disable it yet.   (gee, hope I didn’t just trigger any NSA taps)

So I’m enrolled in four courses set for the first quarter of this year, starting with two Orientations this month.  First one starts tomorrow!  Can’t wait !

…and if there IS a Miss Flinglehogger-Smith out there, please, please, oh please, accept my apologies for using your name without your permission!  I made your name up!  There CAN’T be two of you!