MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

The Greatest Adventure of All

I celebrated my 41st birthday on Monday and, as many of us do when the clock makes another tick toward the inevitability of our own demise, I’ve been thinking about growing older, and things undone that I wanted to do (or thought I wanted to do) by now. When I was younger, I imagined many things for my future. For awhile I was going to be a nun, and eventually a saint (yes, you may commence chuckling over that one), and then I wanted to be writer, and a world traveler, and an inventor, and an adventurer and perhaps also a doctor who travels to third world countries and saves the lives of people who might otherwise not have access to medical care.

There are so many things I was going to do that I haven’t yet, and so many things I’ve done that I never imagined I would.  This isn’t the first time I’ve pondered all this; like most people, there have been milestone points in my life when I’ve stopped to consider where I am in my life and what I’m doing, and whether I’m on the “right” track, if there even is such a thing.  And a lot of this came back to me this weekend, when we took the kids to see Up, a film that is, under its adventurous skin, really a story about an aging man learning to view life itself as an adventure.

Years ago, when my great-grandmother was nearing the end of her life, I drove back to Oklahoma with my kids and my mom to see her. The day before she died, I sat with her in the nursing home and just listened as she talked and reminisced about her life.

After she married (at a young age, as girls did back then) she had one child, my grandmother, and nearly died in the process. She and my great-grandfather never had more kids, because of that. Times were hard. For a while, they had to leave their baby with her grandparents because the only work my great-grandfather could find was working in an oilfield, and they had to live out in a tent amongst rough men, and it wasn’t a safe place for a baby to be. Later in life, my great-grandparents made way for my grandmother and her three young children to live with them, after my grandmother’s marriage fell apart during the war, while she was raising a toddler and pregnant with twins.

My great-grandmother worked outside the home for years, helping to support the family, but I never realized what an important part of her life that was until a man who’d known her through her work showed up at her funeral and talked about what an impact she’d made on him during the years they worked together. It was an eye-opening moment; I’d always viewed my great-grandmother through the narrow, narcissistic perception of a child: she belonged only to me, she’d been created specially to care for me.  Her scent, her cookies, her hugs, her many kindnesses … I never stopped to consider that, lovely, kind and generous person that she was, she might have affected the lives of others as she had those of us in her family to whom she was, simply, Mama Mae.

As she lay on her bed near the end of her life, and I sat by her side holding her hand and feeding her sips of vanilla milkshake, what she saw when she closed her eyes was herself as a girl, long black curls streaming behind her as she galloped across a field on her black pony. She rode horses like a bat out of hell, my great-grandmother did, and was so reckless of her own life in doing so that her husband forbade her from ever learning to drive a car, out of fear she’d kill herself or someone else. But at the end of her life, it wasn’t the regrets she might have had over things she never did that she chose to dwell on; her mind, her heart, was filled with the freedom she felt flying on the back of her beloved pony across an empty prairie.

A few years later, it was my grandmother who was dying, felled at last by the breast cancer she’d fought off years earlier, returned again in the form of a tumor in her lung that the doctors missed for over a year, attributing her declining health to “old lady-itis.” Once again, I made the long trip back to Oklahoma, this time to stay at my grandmother’s house to care for her in her last days. We thought then that she might have months; I imagined I’d have time to sit with her and perhaps record her talking about her life as a record of family history for my own children and grandchildren to have someday. It was something I’d always meant to do, but never made time for.

I knew when I walked into her bedroom-turned-sickroom that I was too late for that. She was already so weak and frail, and I berated myself for not taking seriously my uncle’s increasingly frequent and frantic phone calls about her declining condition. She wasn’t in any condition to record anything. She could barely speak, this woman who had so cared for me my entire life. So instead, I sat with her and pulled out all her old photo albums, and together we looked at the moments of her life captured in time on those pages, and we talked about them. When she couldn’t talk herself, I’d talk for her, reminding her of the stories of her life. Her children, of course, and her youth, and the many handsome suitors she had back in the day.

She was a beautiful woman, my grandmother, and when she was a 15-year-old dancer, she was invited to join the Rockettes. Her parents wouldn’t let her go off to New York, so in Oklahoma she stayed. If she hadn’t, it’s likely I wouldn’t be here to write this now, but throughout my childhood, the pictures of my grandmother in her dancing days were the ones that she most liked to look at and talk about. I hope that at the end of her life, she found the adventures she did have as fulfilling as those might-have-beens that slipped through her fingers. And I like to believe that, if she’d had to choose, in retrospect, between whatever future life in New York might have offered her and the life she had instead, she wouldn’t have changed a thing.

The beauty of Up lies in what’s at it the heart of its story: this idea that life, itself, is the adventure, no matter how many adventures we might think we’ve missed out on along the way.

The opening scenes of Up are some of the most beautifully conceived and written movie moments I’ve seen in any film, animated or otherwise. Compressed into a few minutes, we see the course of the relationship between shy, clumsy Carl and adventurous Ellie, from their childhood through their marriage and long life together, as they plan a grand adventure that never happens.

Life, as it so often does to all of us, gets in the way of Carl and Ellie’s grand plans. It gets in the way of their plans to embark on the great adventure of parenthood, and a baby mural is replaced by another painting of the other great adventure Carl and Ellie plan together — to go to South America and live at Paradise Falls. Life gets in the way of that adventure, too, in the form of injuries, repairs and other such mundane things, and before you can say, “Hey, life is short!” Ellie ages, grows weaker, and dies, leaving Carl alone to embark — alone — on the adventure waiting for him in this story.

My kids loved Up — they haven’t enjoyed a film this much since perhaps The Incredibles. They liked the story, the stunning animation and the characters. I loved it too, at least in part because I know that someday I will be like Carl: old, and feeling frail and alone, perhaps pondering all the adventures I never embarked on.

When I’m at the end of my own time in this life, I hope to find myself looking back on it with no regrets, going gently into the twilight accompanied by own adventure book of memories: my mother singing me to sleep at night; my great-grandmother brushing and braiding my hair; snuggling with my grandmother in bed and telling her stories; the special dinner dates my dad took me on when I was a young girl; the way my soul thrills and eyes tear up every time I see my brother on stage with his band, while in my mind’s eye I picture him as a four-year-old towhead running around in his Underoos with his KISS guitar, singing “Love Gun” at the top of his lungs; yelling with joy as I learned to ride a bike for the first time; the freedom of flying on the back of my horse, hair streaming in the wind; the bittersweetness of falling in love; holding each of my babies for the first time, marveling at their tiny fingers, tiny toes, sweet baby scent. And I hope that, like Carl, I’ll realize when I’m old and gray that the life I’ve had was the greatest adventure of all.

– by Kim Voynar

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One Response to “The Greatest Adventure of All”

  1. Oma Machamer says:

    Only time we don’t speak is during jersey shore .

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon