VO Atlanta and the Meaning of Life

Gravy for the Brain, what kind of name is that?” asked my friend with a puzzled look on his face. We were both at the VO Atlanta conference, and I wasn’t paying any attention to him.

I was staring at an email from a new client I had been grooming for weeks. He finally reached out to me with a project, just as I was ready for four days of professional schmoozing. I love my job, but I didn’t want to go back to work. Not in Atlanta.

Normally I’d be up for a challenge because I always saw myself as the invincible superman. I could do it all: socialize into the wee hours of the night, get up first thing in the morning for some fitness training, attend a few workshops and presentations, and do it all over again after lunch. Then I would step into a studio and knock out a few scripts. No biggie.

But this time was different. My cardiologist had advised against going to Atlanta because I just started a new medication and he wanted to monitor me closely. However, I knew I had to be at this gathering. It was the goal I had set myself when I began my recovery about a year ago. I’d committed to leading a workshop and a Breakout session. This was going to be my moment to return to the VO community and be there for them after they had been there for me when I had my stroke.

The only way I could possibly handle the conference was by vigorously pacing myself. This included not doing this rush job for a new client. I had to heed the advice I give my students: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you must.” That decision cost me seven hundred dollars, but it gave me the space and the energy I needed to take care of myself. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.

So, I turned to my friend to address his question.

TOO MUCH INFO

“You’re right: it is a bit of an odd name, Gravy for the Brain. It doesn’t sound like a resource for voice talent, does it? Someone once told me the expression comes from the movie Conspiracy Theory but that doesn’t explain anything.

“I just looked it up in the Urban Dictionary,” said my friend pointing at his mobile. “It’s defined as the way your head feels after a long night of drinking and/or doing drugs.”  “I’ve got to tell you,” I said, “last year when I came back from VO Atlanta, it felt like I had gravy brain. Not because I had had too much to drink, but because I was in information overload. It took a while for me to process the experience. And here we are again, ready for more.”

Kay Bess

Keynote speaker Kay Bess

We walked to the Grand Salon for the conference opening and keynote speech by Kay Bess. “We distinguish ourselves, by being ourselves,” she said. Profound words that moved me deeply. I feel that being ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give this world. There’s only one problem. It does require that we have a sense of who we are, authentically speaking. I don’t know about you, but I’m still figuring that one out.

WHO AM I?

I sometimes wish we would come with an instruction manual we could give to friends, family, and colleagues. “Look, this is who I am. This is what floats my boat. Here’s how I rock and roll.” Instead, we’ve been given a lifetime to work things out, and if you believe in reincarnation, it’s several lifetimes.

I see becoming who we are meant to be as one of the great endeavors of our time on earth. It’s challenging because all of us play many roles in life. For instance, I am Paul the father, the husband, the patient, the son, and brother. I’m also the voice actor, the blogger, and punster. In different contexts I feel like a different person and act accordingly, so will the real authentic Paul please stand up?

On the subject of authenticity, here’s some free advice. If you’ve been to VO Atlanta, please don’t use anything you have learned in all the sessions you attended. Just don’t. Every other talent is already going to do that. If you wish to be authentic, do something out of the ordinary that no one else would possibly try.

Surprise the world. Be an original. Create. Don’t imitate. The field of people being and doing more of the same is growing by the day. That’s not your field. People who play it safe by taking the beaten path are blending in with the masses. You want to stand out, don’t you? As far as I could tell I was still the only person wearing clogs in Atlanta. Even though I didn’t socialize as much this year to conserve my energy, I think most people knew I was there. Total cost $19.99.

WHAT ELSE DID I NOTICE?

A few more random observations, some positive, others not so much:

– When you stick your head into a workshop for five minutes and decide it’s not for you, please don’t mock your fellow-presenter in public. It’s unfair and unkind to judge someone based on a snippet of info taken out of context.

– On the other hand, calling the CEO of a competing and highly unethical Pay to Play “That Idiot from the North” is allowed. The man is fair game.

– If you’re a prominent member of a worldwide organization of voice talent that’s dedicated to ethical conduct and fair rates, why would you have a profile on Fiverr and be proud of it?

– Doing voice-overs is sexy! Next year we should have a few after-hour X-rated sessions for narrators of erotica. Pseudonyms required.

– If you’re looking for the guy who used a sharpie to draw a mustache on J. Michael Collins in one of the elevators, look no further.

– I wish Voice123 CEO and spin doctor Rolf Veldman would have taken part in the karaoke. I had the perfect song for him: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.”

TEARS AND MORE TEARS

VO Atlanta 2019 was an emotional experience for me. If you were there, you know that my eyeballs were leaking regularly. A big thanks to all of you who told me how relieved you were that I’m not dead. I must say I’m with you on that one. Thank you to all of my Guardian Angels who kept an eye on me throughout the conference. You know who you are, and so does my eternally grateful wife.

A special thanks to those who were at my workshop. One of you signed up at the very last minute after talking to me in the corridor. How sweet is that? One last thank you to those who came to play with my Stinky Sock and gave me a standing ovation. It’s gone straight to my head, and now I am impossible to live with. What else is new?

SURPRISING BONUS

Well, did I tell you I got to stay in Atlanta for one more day? Here’s what happened. My flight to Lehigh Valley International Airport was overbooked, and Delta offered those willing to give up their seat a hotel room and an $800 gift certificate. So, days ago I had lost $700 because I didn’t do the voice-over job I told you about. I ended up having eight hundred bucks to spend at Amazon. Life is fair after all!

As you can tell, the conference is over, but I am not over the conference. It’s been my second best experience of the past twelve months. What’s the very best experience, you ask? For that we have to go back to the night of my stroke. I was flown to the hospital in a helicopter, and a doctor was looking at a CAT-scan of the inside of my skull.

Things were serious. If the stroke had wiped out most of my brain, I would probably not survive. I can remember briefly regaining consciousness on the stretcher. I could hear my wife ask the surgeon about my chances. I’ll never forget what the doctor said:

“I think your husband isn’t going to die. Luckily, most of his grey matter is intact. In other words:

He is too brainy for the grave.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal, Promotion, VO Atlanta

36 Responses to VO Atlanta and the Meaning of Life

  1. Moe Rock

    Paul it was SO GOOD to see you!!!! And yes… especially glad you are still alive!

    Much love to you and Pamela. Muah!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I enjoyed seeing you too, Moe. It’s good to be alive and kicking! Pam says Hi to you.. big hugs from both of us!

    [Reply]

  2. Rob Marley

    I ended up attending your sweaty sock session both this year and last and it became one of the highlights of my trip both years.

    You’re one of the sweetest guys I know, Paul. Its an honor to continue to breathe the same air as you.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re a true fan, Rob! I so appreciate you coming two times in a row, and my stinky sock thanks you! You’re a breath of fresh air!

    [Reply]

  3. Lynda Kluck

    Paul, thank you for your beautiful and honest observations. It was an honor attending your X-session. I am still processing all that I learned in your session and others, and simultaneously still finding myself in some ways. It’s a process, and not always very comfortable or safe. I am so grateful to have had an opportunity to chat with you a bit and get to know you. You make the world a better place.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Likewise, Lynda. Living is learning. If we’re not learning, we’re not living. Be well!

    [Reply]

  4. Matt Forrest Esenwine

    Glad you’re doing well, my friend, and that the conference was a success. Lie is all about balance – and fortunately you have a better balance than many of us!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s one of the lessons I had to learn the hard way, but I think I’m finally starting to get it.

    [Reply]

  5. Rory Barnett

    Paul – PUNCHLINE OF THE CENTURY!!!
    Sheer genius and so great to see you at VO Atlanta.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Rory. I have a twisted mind that likes to twist words around.

    [Reply]

  6. Rosi Amador

    Brainy gravy awesomeness cooky and real! Loved seeing you, chatting, and being with you for only a few precious minutes but how exquisitely authentic they were. So grateful you continue to show up for yourself and for us all and counting on a meal together in the not so distant future. I’m visualizing it now. It will happen! Home cooked, of course. 🙂 Big hug!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    My mouth is starting the water, Rosie!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Our Atlanta meeting was way too short, but we have to make it up… hopefully soon. Safe travels to all of you!

    [Reply]

  7. Kent Ingram

    Always a joy to read your blogs, Paul! I probably won’t be doing any more voice-over work, unless I do some kind of podcast, again, but it’s fascinating to stay in touch with the VO industry and you, in particular. All the best for the future, sir!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    By all means, keep in touch (especially with the Dutch). I’ve always enjoyed your valuable input. The last time I looked you were still the number one commentator on this blog!

    [Reply]

  8. Richard Rieman

    Simply excellent writing from the heart, Paul. I wish I had been in Atlanta to meet you.
    Richard

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    VOA2020’s theme is “Envision,” so if you envision yourself being there, I will do the same, Richard!

    [Reply]

  9. Paul Garner

    How wonderful that you are continuing to heal and were able to go to the conference, Paul! I continue to keep you in my prayers.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I appreciate that very much, Paul. Every month I’m doing a bit better, and going to VOA2019 was a big step for me. I’ll keep on walking and hope to be back next year.

    [Reply]

  10. Ramesh

    You mad and clever Dutchman, you! I love reading your blogs and my, I am so happy that you are too brainy for the grave. I guess I missed out on the conf…and worse, missed out in hanging out with you.

    I won’t forget your inspirational words in our last chat in Atlanta 2018. You are a champion. We still have our VO Island project to squeeze through the pipeline!

    Be well amigo.

    Ramesh

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I wanted to come to the Voice One Conference in London to see you win an award, but my doctors don’t want me to leave the country. You live on a beautiful voice-over island (Tenerife), and perhaps that’s where we should do our first gathering. I’ve always loved vacationing in the Canary Islands. I missed hanging out with you too. We must correct that this year or next!

    [Reply]

  11. Katie

    Paul, I saw you at the conference but you were always chatting with someone or
    Listening. I am so Inspired by you. I love your writing and I almost did a spit take when I read about the moustache and your song suggestion for Rolf. Weren’t we all just waiting for him to just say “sorry?” Omg. God
    Bless you!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Sorry is such a simple word, and yet so powerful. It would have meant a lot to have heard the word. Running a website like Voice123 is a complicated thing and mistakes were made that cost paying members jobs. The least Rolf could have done was apologize. It would have created some goodwill V123 really needs at the moment. PS I feel blessed!

    [Reply]

  12. Patricia Corkum

    Hi Paul!
    I know your heart threw you a curveball not so long ago. But when I see a post like this its pretty apparent – YOUR HEART is doing JUST FINE! 🙂 Thanks for being so human with your reflections. We may not all be “snowflakes” babies, but we can be true to ourselves. Have a lovely weekend and kind regards.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Being true to others and to ourselves. It’s the only way to live life to the fullest. My heart has a mind of its own. It likes to jump and run when I least expect it. It’s someting I’ve learned to live with, just like my parents did before me.

    [Reply]

  13. Joshua Alexander

    Once again, beautiful and moving. And somehow I just KNEW you’d be mentioning the XXX-Sessions, Paul! Thank Bob Glavin for that one. ?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Bob had the potty mouth which inspired me to come up with the idea for adult sessions. Bob’s a character, and he knows it.

    [Reply]

  14. David Gilbert

    Wonderful post, but not even in the vicinity of how great it was to see you in Atlanta up and about. It definitely was the most emotional conference I’ve ever been to. Until the next time we meet…

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    So glad you were there, David. I hope to come back with more energy next year, which will allow me to socialize a bit more. Let’s at least have breakfast together!

    [Reply]

    David A Gilbert Reply:

    Absolutely!! And I’m almost always available to chat on Zoom if you ever need to.
    Cheers,
    David

    [Reply]

  15. Natasha Marchewka

    Weepy…once again! I went into VOA2019 with great anticipation for your X-Session… and it was, indeed, one of the biggest highlights for me. I am honored to have been one of the lucky ones to workshop with you and reveal my secrets in your very safe space. You are a special one, Paul. I am grateful to know you.
    Natasha xo
    (Love how you crafted and tied up this post. You never cease to amuse and inspire…)

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You dared to be vulnerable and it takes a strong soul to do that in public in a group of new people. You also brought some lovely and very appropriate gifts which I cherish and devour. Thank you for being you!

    [Reply]

  16. Tracy Parsons

    Paul, I was one of those attending your session with the stinky sock. It wasn’t until you started talking about your stroke that I remembered it and it hit me like a ton of bricks. There you were, standing, speaking, after such a serious medical event. It made everything you had just said all the more impactful. Thank you for coming and for sharing in such a genuine way. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you for coming to my session, Tracy. As you could tell, at the end the situation hit me emotionally as well, as I realized how much this caring community means to me.

    [Reply]

  17. Catherine Campion

    I turned down a gig during VO Atlanta too, Paul. Forgot about the booth they had there, and didn’t want to lose precious conference time struggling with my portable set-up in my off-site AirBnB! No regrets – it was time, as you confirm, well spent.

    Now I’m curious to know who it was that mocked their fellow presenter in public. I shall boycott them! (Or, maybe the mockery was taken out-of-context? I’m generally one to give the Benefit of the Doubt.) And who is on Fiverr – someone from WoVo?? That one is unforgivable.

    I was the one who got (fellow Dutchman), Rolf Veldman (he’s not the CEO, is he??), into your session. I hope he behaved?

    I have so much to learn…

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I won’t spill any beans, but both people I mentioned are prominent and very supportive members of our community. Their behavior was very much out of character and greatly surprised me. Thanks for bringing Rolf to my session. His LinkedIn profile starts with: “I am the CEO of Voice123…”

    [Reply]

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