My Grandma Died Frowning

But I Won’t

 

Smiling Takes Willpower

It was February 8, 1999.  I was just returning from helping with a church youth retreat when I got the call.  “Maria” by Blondie had just made #1 on the charts.  Her agent was calling to let me know so that I could update my playlist.   HA!  I am joking.  That was fun.  In reality, I was never a fan of Blondie, but I do agree that that The Tide is High, and you should really Call Me, One Way Or Another.  I will be Hanging on the Telephone, Maria.

No.  This time it was my older brother calling to let me know that my Grandma had died at 79 years old.  I was shocked and perplexed; mostly because I wondered how my brother had found my phone number.  But also, because the last conversation I had with Grandma was over the phone only a few days prior....and it was an argument.

I was never close with Grandma; perhaps as close as, say, The IRS and goodwill towards men.  But I regretted that last call: it haunts me to this day, in the same way that I still have not seen the finale of Obi-Wan Kenobi and need to make things right.

Grandma was a very stoic person who loved her grandchildren. All of them.  Every single one.  Except for me of course.  And actually all the rest of us too.  In fact I do not believe she really liked any of us.  I have proof of this, because all of us grandkids, to this day, have fond memories of being called “Horse’s Ass,” which is not generally regarded as a compliment.  I have never positioned my face next to a horse’s posterior to see if there is any resemblance that would have confused my Grandma, but still, that is what she liked to call us.  Fine, Grandma, you Frog’s Finger.

Grandma also had this nasty habit of picking the side of her face anytime she was annoyed, which thankfully only happened between the hours of midnight and 11:59pm.  You really should have seen it.  The entire left half of her face was missing and could either be found under her fingernail, or lying in a gruesome trail of scabs along the floor.  It was a grisly sight, and I do believe that is why all of us Horse’s Asses steered clear of her and went the long way around to the dinner table.  Also this is why whenever we were told “Kids!  We’re going to Grandma’s today!” we would pretend that we were in a coma.  We were in comas a lot.  Except of course when going meant that we would receive silver dollars from her, which she liked to hand out on occasion.  For whatever reason she eventually stopped doing that, but I have received counseling and am no longer bitter.

I think, in truth, I was terrified of my Grandma, which I would never tell her of course, because her response would probably terrify me.  Yes, she could smile for a picture, but overwhelmingly, her face had that near-constant expression of being-gassy-meets-I-will-kill-you-with-a-hammer look at any given moment.  It's why I can't even watch Tootsie without being afraid:

Heroines of Cinema: 'Tootsie' and Feminism the Hollywood Way | IndieWire

Don't even get me started on my Grandpa.

 

The Day Grandma Died

I was 25 when my Grandma died.  We all journeyed to her house and met my mom there.  Grandma had died in her sleep, and she was in her bed.  A few of my aunts and uncles who lived locally were also there.  And my Grandpa?  He was back in another room on the opposite end of the house.  I think he was crying, but the truth is he was probably smiling and playing his Scratchers.

I do not recall when or where the invitation was made, but at some point the opportunity was extended to me to “go in and say goodbye to Grandma,” which I was interested in doing about as much as receiving a barium enema.  Talk to a dead person?  Grandma was terrifying in life; Lord help the poor fool who dared interact with her in death.

But, I gathered my courage, heaved a sigh, and tip-toed back into Grandma’s room, half expecting her apparition to come veering at me from a far corner, broom in hand, screeching “GET OUT OF MY ROOM, YOU HORSE'S ASS!"

Transformation Ghostbusters GIF - Transformation Ghostbusters Library -  Discover & Share GIFs

But she was silent.  There she was, lying in her bed, facing me, eyes closed, fists clenched, perhaps because she was already beating someone to death in Heaven, or, ahem, elsewhere.  And that is when I noticed her expression.  Her eyebrows were down, and her mouth was drawn at the corners.  She looked spent and concerned.

Grandma had died frowning.

I went up to her, thanked her for her years of life, and lightly touched her wrist.  As I walked out of the room, I steered by her paisley purse and took a silver dollar out, since she owed me.

 

The Research Is In

Facial muscles do not naturally smile. It takes an effort to smile.

There are 43 muscles in the face, most of which are controlled by the seventh cranial nerve (also known as the facial nerve). This nerve exits the cerebral cortex and emerges from your skull just in front of your ears. It then splits into five primary branches: temporal, zygomatic, buccal, mandibular and cervical. These branches reach different areas of the face and enervate muscles that allow the face to twist and contort into a variety of expressions.  (From howstuffworks.com.)

There will be a quiz later.  That site says that it takes 43 muscles to frown, and only 17 to smile.  Doesn’t that tell you something about my Grandma?  In life, she frowned.  In death, she frowned.  I don’t want to die like Grandma.  So I am not planning on it. Look, these are crazy times that we live in.  We are far more apt to shake our heads and sigh, than to trustfully extend joy.  We are far more inclined to nervously F5 our own stock portfolios than to lovingly hand out a ten-spot to a street corner beggar.

What things make us frown in voiceovers?

  1. Not getting cast
  2. No one checking out our demos
  3. No web traffic
  4. No checks in the mail...or late payments
  5. Other depressing things that begin with “No” or “Not”
  6. Having to read a 6th bullet point.

My point is that we control our emotions.  All events are inherently neutral anyway.  We can control our responses.  So how do we do that as voice talent?

  • Smile when we audition, if its appropriate. I do not mean a saccharin syrupy sound of overdone sweetness; I mean genuine joy and approachability.
  • Smile when we conduct marketing. Double-check our own marketing emails and see if they are ones that we ourselves might respond to.
  • Smile when we are not booking jobs. You do not know what fortune tomorrow may bring.  Proceed in hope, trust and optimism.
  • Smile when you get cast, and even when you get UN-cast from a job.
  • Smile when our colleague gets the job that we wanted.
  • Smile when others celebrate their success, especially even if you are in a slump.
  • Smile when you get Covid-19. That is what I am currently doing.  Which brings us back to Blondie, because Covid, one way or another, is gonna find ya; is gonna gitcha gitcha gitcha gitcha.  I tested positive this past Wednesday.  By the time of this blog release I will be out of quarantine, hopefully.  After 2 years of skillfully dodging the virus, Covid got me.  Was I worried?  Sure.  Am I vaccinated and boosted?  Fully.  I was worried because I was out here in isolation for 5 days. I missed my family, and could not hold my kiddos.  But I could smile knowing that I work in isolation All. The. Freaking. Time.  And I knew I would get through this.  Five days is a blink.  I was able to work during this time as well.  Don't worry!  I advised all my clients to wear masks while reviewing my mp3's.

Covid test

The truth of the matter is that a smile is far more inviting than a frown. Check this out:

Smiling affects not just yourself, but also the people around you. In a 2002 study, Swedish researchers found that people tend to mirror the facial expressions they see. Participants found it easier to smile when exposed to images of smiles; the same effect was observed for frowns. Humans are wired to respond in kind because of mirror neurons, brain cells that fire both when we perform an action and observe the same action performed before us. This explains why smiles are indeed contagious. (From flipscience.ph.)

So let us turn that frown upside down, shall we?  Now, I am not about to go endorse the truly horrifying song “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin: it is one of those sing-songy feel-good encouragement tunes that tells you to shut the #@$& up and stop your blubbering.  No.  Instead, we can all stand to smile a bit more in our work and our lives, and keep the happiness meter red-lining.

Your assignment?  Today, walk up to anyone you don't even know, and sport the biggest spontaneous smile, and see what happens.  Do it.  I dare you.  Do call for help if they suckerpunch you.

You never know when your number will be up.  And in the words of The Joker, "If you're gonna go, go with a smile."

Sincerely,

Horse’s Ass

PS, if you do the dare, I'll give you a silver dollar.  I have plenty.

 

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  • This is a fourth bullet point.

 

AND HEY!  WAIT JUST A S.E.C.!

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  • E-NCOURAGE: Go encourage someone else today with a single, simple sentence of affirmation.  Tell them, “I like your earrings”, unless of course they are manly men, in which case you should compliment them on the size of their chainsaw.
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Joshua Alexander
Seattle Voice Actor & Voiceover Artist for hire
[email protected]
206.672.6200 / 360.339.1900

 

24 thoughts on “My Grandma Died Frowning”

  1. Your blogs – or is it a blog post, an article, an entry…I digress – ALWAYS put a smile on my face. Smart, silly, sincere, sarcastic, and a 5th “S”.

    1. There are always more “S’s” than you realize! Maybe that’s truly what I should be focusing on. Some kind of cryptograph, where every hidden S unlocks a primer to solving some great clue? Hey! I could help people find Jimmy Hoffa’s body finally! Hmmm. Now I just need to remember where I left it…

  2. A 6th bullet point – LOL
    I remember the first time I was caught in your genuine smile Josh – at VO Atlanta when you “crashed” the Ladies breakfast because you wanted to get to know us all better – your disarming sincerity endears you to all and I’m betting has great impact on your work too 🙂

    1. That was the nicest compliment I’ve received all day, and it’s only 5:57am here! 🙂 Thank you Kim. I appreciate it. I got in touch with my feminine side that morning; that’s the only way I was able to infiltrate your ranks and smile up the place! 🙂 Thank you for that breakfast – I remember it! Have a great breakf- er- week in voiceovers!

  3. sorry about your gramma josh – but it sounds like it was a while ago, so you probably healed by now 🙂 🙂 WJHAT a great recommendation though…gotta smile, it’s such a gift! thanks for always sharing it at the beginnings of each week…really look forward to reading and smiling . 🙂

  4. Happy 4th of July, Josh – I was wondering why we didn’t hear from you yesterday but you were probably busy writing your extra bullet points. *smile* Always enjoy the reads. My sincere condolences on the loss of your Apparition. I mean Grandma. PS can I have a silver dollar?

    1. Funny story – my wife and I went out to Ocean Shores with our kiddos, and when we were done, I stopped at the Shell station to fill up, and my Apple Watch – which I had taken off at the beach and put in the van – inadvertently fell out. So we made it all 80 miles, 1.5 hours home…only to find out THEN that I didn’t have it. So I got to take TWO trips out to Ocean Shores yesterday. So, yes, no time for blog sharing. And of course! I’ll include it with a Susan B. Anthony coin I stole from my mother. On its way!

  5. “I do not recall when or where the invitation was made, but at some point the opportunity was extended to me to “go in and say goodbye to Grandma,” which I was interested in doing about as much as receiving a barium enema. Talk to a dead person? Grandma was terrifying in life; Lord help the poor fool who dared interact with her in death.”

    Boy did that give me a good laugh!

    On the topic of smiling while you read, I’ve had a few people say that you should do it even when the topic is somber or serious, not because you want to sound like you’re joyful, but because it lifts the palate and sounds better and more open. Is that true, or is it better for a more somber tone to not smile or only barely smile?

    P.S. A friend of mine rather enjoyed translating your Latin reply from last time. He said it was a fun little exercise. 😉

    1. She was a bit scary. Thanks for sharing my pain! 🙂 As far as any recommendations, boy, that’s so open to interpretation, Julia – go with your gut, always. If the tone of the read calls for a smile, smile…if it doesn’t call for a smile, don’t smile. Some reads would be wildly inappropriate to smile through: a PSA against child abuse, for example. I do agree there are “degrees” of a smile, and generally I would say maintain one, but shift gears if a smile would violate the intent of the script you’re sharing. Case-by-case basis.

  6. I love this blog! All women should aspire to be terrifying. Not all the time, of course, but it’s a good thing to be able to pull out of our purse when we are backed into a corner. Or surrounded by grandkids all demanding silver dollars when there’s not enough to go around. (By the way, my grandparents used to give us silver dollars, too! I still have my collection.)

    As for the affectionate nicknames? My grandmother was German and when she got on a roll, no one knew what the hell she was saying. But you could bet it sure wasn’t complimentary.

  7. I like Blondie! And I LOVED the song Maria. So I just had that playing pleasantly in the background while reading. And then the word syrupy got me. And that’s been stuck with me since. Syrupy. Syrupy. Syrupy. Syrupy. Syrupy. Syrupy. Syrupy.

    Wish me luck today! And thank you for the unexpected laughs as always. You’ve always had a way of catching me off guard with the things that crack me up.

    1. Hello my friend!

      My apologies for reading and responding in such a tardy fashion. My non-Covid sickness had left me frowning and I knew your writing would break the spell.

      I have some return advice for you.

      > This is advice I told my children while they grew which they then turned around and ignored like all of my sage wisdom: Never let someone else decide how you will feel. But then, your grandmother taught you this already.

      > Late at night when the house is quiet, don’t be afraid that those silver dollars are actually touchstones which create an entrance point for the evil dead to invade your dreams. That stuff only happens in the movies. I think.

      > Lastly, don’t piss off Laura Doman.

      You’re welcome.

      1. I am SO grateful for this, ahem, SAGE wisdom!! I shall cherish it and keep it in my rainbow-Skittles-adorned collection box right next to my evil silver dollars! I THANK YOU, Mr. Wisdom!

  8. I love this blog Josh!

    I used to think that song was sung by three people – Deborah, Harry and Blondie.

    I had a moment of saying goodbye to my dead Nan, too. She wasn’t terrifying, though she did only have one leg which was fascinating as a kid! We wondered if she got her leg back afterwards.

    1. Oh man I would have fainted on the spot! The apparition would have gotten me. EEEEK!!! I would have produced every single silver dollar I ever took from her, just to smelt it into a giant weapon laced with spells and magic in order to ward off the undead!

  9. I think we all have a relative like that – I’m also currently as good as a coma when around this person. I do ask that the LORD change them, but how do you do that when they always think everything they do is right and you just represent a useless do nothing – or horse’s ass, whichever you prefer, LOL. It’s gonna take bleemin’ miracle guv! hahaha.

    Glad you got what was owed you! LOL.

      1. I do – it was so bad, I actually had a case of what is now referred to as complex PTSD because of this person. Biggest trigger was sound (go figure, lol). May we be more like JESUS and less like them! My brother has two kids and I asked the LORD that I always be the fav (nothing against their other uncle, in fact he’s pretty cool too) and that I would always be the person that they can come to if they have any problems I can do something about or just listen. I haven’t heard of any traumatic screams at night or nightmares that I’m chasing them down in an abandoned theme park, so good progress! LOL.

        Thank you! You too, you know!

        1. Thanks my friend. Isn’t family dynamically…weird! It sure takes a lot of people to make a world. Gotta have a few vegetables and fruits in there with the good stuff, I guess. 🙂

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