MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

1,000 Monkeys: The Real Things

Ronni Chasen’s untimely death this week reminded me of a post I’d intended to write last week before I got waylaid by walking pneumonia and spent most of the week in bed. I wasn’t feeling up to watching a screener, even though I really needed to, and since I could barely lift my head off a pillow, I felt even less like putting enough coherent thoughts together to write anything, even though I really needed to do that too. So I was idly flipping through my local newspaper (yes, printed on real paper!), and toward the back of the issue an obituary caught my eye.

Now, I am not yet old enough or morbid enough to be interested in reading the daily obits like my grandmother did when she reached a certain stage of her own life, but I do remember clearly both her and my great-grandmother reading obits out loud to each other with I was a little girl. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the obits were one of the highlights of every day for them.

It didn’t matter if they knew the person or not (though they often did, especially if the obits were from the Catholic paper because all the Catholics knew each other), what mattered was how well written the obits were, how well they conveyed what had been important about the person’s life. Young people’s deaths were always termed “tragic,” while older people were generally deemed to have had a long and satisfactory life. If they’d gotten at least 70 years in, my grandmother figured, they didn’t have any reason to complain about being dead.

So this guy’s obit caught my eye, at first because in his picture he looked so much like a guy I went to college with that I did a double-take, and then because of how sweetly it was written. This man, who died suddenly in his sleep at 54, was a mechanic. And these are the things I learned about who he was, from the words written about him by those who loved him: He was the kind of man who would stop and help strangers stalled on the side of the road in pouring rain, who would change a flat tire for a mom on the road alone with her kids, or jump start a battery in a parking lot if he saw you needed help. If friends or relatives had car troubles, they could count on him to help them out in a heartbeat, and he never took any money for helping you. He married his childhood sweetheart and they had three daughters. Odds are, he never shook hands with a celebrity, or knew anyone rich, or famous, or “important,” and probably he didn’t care. He was loved by those he loved, and he is missed.

Something about this particular obituary — the details that his family worked into it that told you what was important about this man and why he was loved — really struck me, gave me pause, and made me think about my own life. What are the most important things about me, about the way in which I live my life, that I would want people to say about me when I die? And am I living my life now in a way that reflects that? I thought a lot about this last year when I was sick and the future was uncertain, and my kids and I weren’t sure what the outcome of my surgery would be.

When people ask what I do for a living, I tell them: I am a film writer and editor. And that is what I DO, but it is not who I am, it does not define me. Who I am is, first and foremost, the mother to my kids … five of my own and now two fine stepsons.

I want my children to look back on their childhoods and know that I always put their needs first, especially when they were small. They were nurtured and held when they needed it, they were never left alone in the dark to cry themselves to sleep. I have homeschooled them, even though it sometimes takes a lot out of me, in the belief that the best education they can have is one which takes into account their individual learning styles and needs and interests.

So far, this belief has been well borne out, and they are self-motivated, smart learners who glean lessons from everything they experience in life. They know that learning is not something confined to worksheets and homework. And if it’s true, as Lucy Maud Montgomery said in her Anne of Green Gables books, that the foundation and direction of our moral character is formed, for better or worse, by the time we’re 20, I hope that I have helped to guide my chicklets toward having a solid foundation of responsibility and spirituality on which to build their own adult lives, and good moral compasses with which to guide their own decisions.

I want my family and friends to look back and think of me, in spite of my numerous flaws of temperament and character, as being a thoughtful, kind and considerate person. It cannot be said of me that I’ve never said anything which I regret, but I hope it can be said that, when it’s pointed out to me that I’ve hurt or wronged someone, I was humble enough and brave enough to admit it and apologize. I hope that, when the ledger of my life is tallied up, I will have given to others more than I’ve taken, in time, in friendship, in support and in love.

These are the things, now that I am 42 and on the other side of scary illness with life smelling sweet again, and with the days and months and years of my childrens’ childhoods slipping past me ever faster, that I ponder when I pause to consider where my life is now, and who I am and aspire to be. Frankly, they are not, generally, the kind of things you tend to think of in your lean and hungry 20s or 30s, when work seems to be all that matters. But at 42, I’ve learned the wisdom of the words Socrates wrote so long ago: “Beware the barrenness of the busy life.”

I write best, I’ve learned, when I feel passionately about what I write. Life, politics, philosophy, and the ways in which the best movies interweave all these things, thinking about a film and weaving together a review that expresses more what I thought about it than what it’s about, delving deeply into a particularly interesting or artistic filmmaker … these are the things that interest me much more these days than the business of Hollywood, or how many millions the latest blockbuster might make, or who just got promoted, or who’s blogging something that pissed someone off, or who’s the forerunner for this or that award.

I’ve come to terms with who I am and what I want to be as a writer. I will never be a fanboy. I will never be a hungry blogger willing to work a 60 or 70 workweek chasing the latest stories on every blog on the internet. I am no longer the person who used to obsess over page views and stats and traffic. I can work 18 hour days and cover the heck out of Sundance or Toronto for seven to nine days, but I can’t, and I won’t, work those kind of hours on a regular basis anymore.

Because I work from home and tend toward being a perfectionist with obsessive tendencies, I’ve had to learn by trial and many errors to carefully guard against allowing work to creep into time that should be spent on other things. Dinner with my family around the table most nights is a priority at our house. Time to play a board game with the kids, or snuggle up watching a movie with them, or to spend a weekend geeking out at a con … these are the things that, in the past year or so, I’ve come to treasure and value more than ever before.

At the end of the day, if I write a bunch of snarky blog posts regurgitating other people’s news, does that matter? Not so much. I review as many movies as I can, because critiquing film is still something that I enjoy and that I think I’m pretty good at, but I also do so knowing that, for the most part, my favorable or unfavorable review of the latest big blockbuster isn’t really likely to make a difference to the film’s bottom line, or the short or long term success of the filmmaker.

On the other hand, if I unearth a gem of a film at a festival, and I champion it and write about it a lot, and recommend it to friends who have connections, and at the end of all that effort that little film ends up getting some distribution, or the filmmaker gets a chance to keep making films, well, then maybe I’ve contributed something positive to the art form, and my work has actually meant something beyond the temporary high of page views.

What I’ve come to learn most over the last year is that the real things of life, the little moments with my family, the consistency of being there for them when it matters, of having the energy to help with costumes on my kids’ latest play, or to lead a middle school youth group at my church, or to snuggle on the couch with my husband and kids while we watch Harry Potter or ET or A Christmas Story for the 89,000th time, just mean more to me than obsessing about work anymore. Work is what I do for a living, and I certainly prefer doing work that I enjoy, and so long as I can get paid to write I will.

But work, folks, is not life, and the endless hamster wheel so many of us seem to be running on is not, in the end, going to get us anywhere that really matters. If you never have time to say “hi” to your friends anymore even on IM or Facebook, much less make time to sit down face-to-face with them over coffee — or better yet, dinner; if you’re rushing bedtime stories with your kids night after night because the siren song of work is beckoning; if you are spending all your spare time watching screener after screener and churning out endless blog posts and Tweets, I have this to say to you: You are working too hard and missing out on the things that really matter.

At the end of your life, no one is going to be tallying up how many blog posts a day you churned out, or how many times you Tweeted this or that thing the world needed to know urgently, or even (unless you are someone like Roger Ebert, whose reviews are actually compiled into books that people will buy and read again) how many films you reviewed in a year.

In terms of your job and getting your paycheck and deriving some satisfaction from your work, sure, these things are relatively important. But only relatively, and certainly they are not more important than your friends, your family, your kids, your husband, your wife. These are the real things, the things you don’t want to look back on with regret at the end of life. I hope I don’t regret anymore the choices I’m making with my own life. I hope that you don’t, either.

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “1,000 Monkeys: The Real Things”

  1. Tyler says:

    Well said.

Quote Unquotesee all »

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