Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Reel Adventures" by Juliana Guimarães

When I was a kid I wanted to be an explorer because of The Goonies, believed I would meet an alien because of E.T., and wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up because of Indiana JonesWhen I was seven-years-old, The Goonies was on TV practically every month. At the time, I was living in a building where all of the kids would get together to play. I have really good memories from my childhood there, and the best is when we formed a secret club- we had code names and hats and would meet up on the stairs to go explore the underground (a.k.a. the garage.) A lot of our adventures were inspired by The Goonies... of course, we had to imagine and create most of it, but we actually found some pretty cool stuff (people lose lots of great things in garages).  

The first movie that influenced me as an adult to go out and explore in a more realistic way was Into the Wild. This film follows the journey of Christopher McCandless from Atlanta to Alaska. He graduates from college, donates his savings to charity, and leaves it all behind to go on this journey. He doesn’t tell anyone what he’s doing, he just goes. Right at the beginning he abandons his car and most of his possessions and gives himself a new name: Alexander Supertramp. On his journey he meets some normal but amazing people, each in their own particular way, who always have something to add to his experience. We see the ups and downs of what he’s doing, feeling excited, happy, mad, and sad with him (sometimes all at once). This is an amazing story with great characters and images that will make you want to get out of your comfort zone. The film's soundtrack is by Eddie Vedder and, of course, it’s pretty great.

Into the Wild is based on the real history of McCandless, based on the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer, which was written through meticulous research based on interviews, letters, and journal entries. I saw this film when I was nineteen-years-old. I had already dropped out of college twice and left everything in Brazil to go live in New York for a while. I had no clue of what I wanted to do with my life, but when I watched this movie I realized that the path I chose wasn’t wrong. It encouraged me to go out and explore as many places and meet as many different people as I could.   

A recent movie I watched that made me want to go out and be adventurous again was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Walter Mitty is a dreamer who works at Life magazine and fancies a woman whom he doesn’t have the courage to approach (who can’t relate to that?) He doesn’t exactly have an exciting life, so he daydreams about traveling the world and being adventurous. He zones out quite frequently and his imagination always gets the best of him. Life magazine will have their final printed issue and the negative of the last cover photo is lost. He needs to find it, and it's when he goes after the photographer that the adventure of his life begins. The daydream scenes start to disappear as he starts living. The movie's soundtrack is so good (Kristen Wiig sings 'Space Oddity'!) and the images are captivating. 

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a feel good movie and made me reflect on the life I'm currently living. For a while, Iceland has been my number one place to visit and (maybe I’m too influenced by movies) watching this film has given me that itch again, to go out and explore. I’ve been back home for a few years, finally graduated from college and have a steady job... but I’m willing to leave it all behind to go and have that kind of experience.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Such Stuff as Dreams are Made On" by Kara Sotakoun

Have you ever been at the tail end of a twelve-hour shift at an ice cream shop, pushing your thick-framed glasses up your sweaty nose, only to look up and see a man whose day looks like it was filled with more laughter, tears, and adventure than your entire life?  No?  Then I would like to propose that you haven't lived at all.  Being twenty-one and working minimum wage with single-digit-a-day tips really isn't all that bad, as far as adventures go.  Sure, pioneering the first manned mission to Mars sounds like a blast (minimal pun intended), but for those of us who can't quite make it there yet, we have to create our own excitement. And the ice cream shop isn't even required!

I'm a firm believer in life being what you make of it, as clichéd as that is.  But clichés exist for a reason.  If you've never tried people-watching, not only am I judging you a little bit, you've been leaving yourself out of a great adventure that is begging to be embarked upon daily.  Sit on a bench in a mall and watch passersby for just half an hour and you'll see what I'm talking about.  There can certainly be great thrill in the seemingly mundane parts of life.  You'll see a hunched-over elderly woman walk by, preceded by her tennis ball-bottomed walker, and you'll wonder what great things she's seen.  Did she have a volatile romance in southern Spain in her late twenties?  Was she an integral part of the mythic psychedelic seventies?  Has she lived in the same small farmhouse her whole life, caring for her sick mother and now her aging husband?  The best part about watching people is that each person can be full of thousands of different stories, if you're willing to go there and take them with you.

That isn't to say that you can't have physical adventures, too.  At fourteen, I took a trip without my parents to France.  It was one of the best trips of my life - an entire summer in a foreign country whose customs I didn't understand and whose language I didn't speak.  It was the best summer of my life by far and there isn't a single thing I would change about that adventure.  But most of us can't just jet over to Paris whenever the mood strikes us.  A strong imagination and a passion for life are two of the most important things one can have when adventuring - whether that is abroad or just in the mind. 

So, to all the girls whose Instagram bios consist of nothing but the word "wanderlust" and a few emojis, to all of the OKCupid users who claim to love travel but don't have the money for it right now, pick up a book.  Leave your house for an hour and sit in a park.  Take your dog for a walk.  

Anything can be an adventure if you want it to be.  To quote the bard, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on..."  Life is nothing more than one big dream, so allowing your dreams and your imagination to grow can only make your life fuller and more fun.  Letting your mind wander is one of the best things you can do with a spare few minutes.  In seconds, you can be lost in the woods with nothing but "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen (remember the fourth grade? Because I remember the fourth grade.) as your guide to survival.  You only have to give yourself permission to imagine. You can create your own adventure anywhere, any time.  The only question is: where will you let your mind go today?

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Adventure... or something like that" by Emily Alexander

As a kid, my favorite movie in the world was Peter Pan. Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys were the first to teach me about adventure. I painted my face like an Indian and pretended to fend off pirates and the notorious Captain Hook at least three times a week. That was my idea of adventure, and it was extraordinary.

But when you’re twenty-five you can’t run around with your face painted like an Indian or you get accused of making some sort of racist political statement. Needless to say, my idea of “adventure” has morphed a bit over the years – though I still love a good battle with pirates every now and then.

As an adult(ish) person, my definition of adventure is much broader than that of my seven-year-old self. I’ve learned a lot about adventure, and since this is an official article about it, I’ll break it down into three bullet points as you would expect me to do:

1. Anything can be an adventure
From skiing the Swiss Alps (which I will be doing in August of this year) to making red beans and rice (which I attempted to do last night… it did not end well) anything can be an adventure. Our expectations for what an “adventure” is are set very high at a young age. We think that in order to have an adventure we have to jump out of an aircraft or swim with sharks that could tear our faces off. Maybe it’s more simple than that. I like to think of anything I’ve never done before as an adventure: a chance to learn something new – to have a major breakthrough or fall on my face trying. We need to rework our image of an adventure, because when we find excitement and thrill in the everyday mundane, I think that’s when we become adventurous.

2. Sometimes you have to make your own adventures
I am a news reporter. As a news reporter, I have covered some pretty crazy stories – from protests in the streets to a toddler saving her family from a house fire to a big rig spilling 10,000 pounds of raw chicken on the interstate. That being said, often times adventures just fall into my lap. But that’s not always the case. Before I was a reporter I was an unemployed college graduate. I had no clue what I was going to do, so one day I loaded down my car with everything that would fit and moved to Orlando. The next day I took a job at a chocolate factory. I ended up only staying a month, but in that month I auditioned and got a job at Universal Studios, adopted and returned a crazy puppy, and laughed at how ridiculous my life was. I ended up accepting a newsroom job back in Mississippi, and that’s how I got to where I am now. The point of all this is, I didn’t want to sit on my parents’ couch and apply for jobs day after day until something came along. I wanted to be out there in the chaos of adulthood, figuring it out, and making things happen. I wanted to create my own adventure. And while it was random and ultimately had nothing to do with my career, it was an adventure - and I don’t regret one second of it.

3. People need adventure
Everyone needs a little adventure in their life, even if they don’t realize it. Adventure makes us feel. It makes us take risks. It makes us try. It pushes us out of our comfort zones. Most people are comfortable in their comfort zones… funny how that works out. Sometimes they need a little nudge to venture out and try something new. Don’t be afraid to be a nudger – a mother nudger if you have to. My Mawmaw does not consider herself an adventurer. Last year when I found out she had never seen a meteor shower, I dragged her out of bed at 3 a.m. to go lie in the grass with me and watch. And as long as I live I will remember her saying as we watched stars zoom across the night sky, “You know… it’s been a long, long time since I’ve been on an adventure.” People want to be nudged – not pushed into a den of lions, but maybe nudged towards an adventure that could breathe new life into them. Be a friend. Be a nudger. 

Be an adventurer.

Friday, January 9, 2015

"The Allure of the Unknown" by Richlan Dyar

As Andre Gide once said, “It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves- in finding themselves.” New experiences and different ideas can be a catharsis for realization and change, helping us to discover facets of who we are and who we want to be. Being willing to take adventures can also reveal aspects of the complicated and nearly endless universe we live in. We are surrounded by glorious signs of the world’s size and diversity and all of the wondrous things it has to offer us, and if we choose to adventure and learn what it has to tell us, we can garner knowledge about both ourselves and the world. 

All over the cosmos are scattered tastes of the allure of the unknown. Existence is full of so many wonders that we can’t hope to come anywhere close to knowing them all. The desire to know, to experience, is ingrained in the human condition, although that desire is often overshadowed by fear. It is evoked by the wonder of the billions of stars in a dark night sky, or the stark, cold mountains you can see just over the horizon, or the unfamiliar places passed on a long journey that evoke nostalgia in someone you don’t know. Our capacity for knowledge is so much smaller than all that exists. We are hungry for knowledge. Our appetite is insatiable. The little tastes we are given are only enough to pique our curiosity. Unless we let ourselves become enshrouded in an blissfully ignorant and dull safety, we want to adventure. Some explore on a greater scale; some are content to take a small piece and learn that bit more deeply. At some point, we all must experience it.

There are ambitious adventures and, likewise, there are more unassuming adventures. An adventure is not about the grandiosity; it is about experience, learning, and risks, however great or small they may be. You could be traveling across Japan or just chopping off your hair as long as it’s something you haven’t done before. (I have done one of those myself before and am hoping to one day accomplish the other.) In the process, you discover aspects of yourself that had been lying latent, and other aspects develop and transform and sometimes are totally remade. Cutting off my hair wasn’t a drastic change to my life, but it did make me feel freer and allow me to begin the process of self-discovery that everyone undergoes. It was a gateway for a succession of decisions and risks that shaped my personality; I began to lose my indecisiveness and fear. It was a minor but liberating adventure. 

Adventures impart knowledge to us on a much grander scale than just ourselves. We begin to grasp the intricate symbiosis of many separate processes and creatures and the small but important role we play in the scope of human history. We discern how to cope and sympathize with other people and see that, since we are so small, we cannot possibly be the center of the universe. One word that I love that encompasses this concept is “sonder”- “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own…an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk” (The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows). That is the beauty in branching out and diving into the world- there is always so much more to experience and encounter and understand. Every adventure has something to teach, no matter how small.

Our universe is magnificent. We were meant to explore it. There is no possible way to absorb everything, but the best we can do is to consume as much as we can while we are here. Seek, inspect, question, traverse, analyze, scrutinize, imbibe… that is the way to truly live and to “suck out all the marrow of life”, in the words of Henry Thoreau. Everywhere, lessons abound, if we can just open our eyes and hearts to them. There is always a new adventure to take. As long as we never stop exploring, we will never cease to learn about ourselves and the miracle of existence, and we will truly be alive. That is what it truly means to take adventures.

- Richlan Dyar

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Importance of Being Ernest: A Conversation with Justin Lloyd about the Life of Actor Jim Varney

"KnoWhutImean" entered my vocabulary as a kid in 1988 when I first encountered Ernest P. Worrell via my parent's television set during a Saturday morning show called "Hey Vern, It's Ernest!"  I found myself asking questions like: Who is this Vern?  Am I Vern?  And what is a Wall Street tycoon?  After a few viewings I was able to sing along with the chaotic and bizarre theme song as I watched the unforgettably unique names of John Cherry and Coke Sams flash by onscreen.  The experience I had with Jim Varney's creation was probably similar to that of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse", but in some ways Ernest's world was even more wonderfully weird.  I mean, how many shows out there included a weekly segment where we journey inside the main character's mouth to have a conversation with their tongue?  This new obsession would quickly snowball into a collection of Ernest toys, books and hours spent in the cinema with my family watching Ernest save Christmas, go to jail and be scared stupid by a lactose-intolerant demonic troll empowered with the ability to turn children into wooden dolls.

In the same way that Chaplin gave us more than the Tramp, Varney gave us more than Ernest. Thanks to his nephew's new book, "The Importance of Being Ernest: The Life of Actor Jim Varney", Justin Lloyd shows us how much he actually gave and lets us in on stuff that even Vern doesn't know...   
Jason Anders:  So when did the idea to write a book about your uncle first spark, and how long did you toy with it before it became a serious endeavor?

Justin Lloyd:  My mother and aunt (Jim's older sisters) had talked about writing a book together shortly after Jim passed in 2000.  They had come up with an outline and written down a lot of their memories of Jim and their family that focused a good deal on his childhood.  Nothing came of any of this and it was not until 2007 that I noticed what wonderful comments were being left on various Ernest/ Jim Varney YouTube videos that inspired me to share more with his fans.  That led me to a moment in March of 2008 where I just made up my mind that a book needed to be written about Jim.

As silly as it may sound, it almost felt like a calling.  I realized that I was in a unique position as a relative to offer the family perspective but I was also aware of some other influential people in his life that very few others even knew about.  And the rest of my research was straightforward newspaper and magazine research that helped bring everything together.  My book was far more ambitious in scope than the one my mother and aunt had considered.  Of course "more ambitious" equals much more work to do!  I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it as comprehensive as possible and really give my subject the effort I felt his life and legacy deserved.  
JA:  What was it like growing up with Jim Varney as your uncle?

JL:  It was a bit surreal.  The first time I saw him on television was for some regional Convenient Food Mart commercials around 1983.  The Hey Vern, It's My Family Album special aired about a year later and that really blew me away.  All the characters and accents he could do were really amazing.  The Lloyd Worrell (meanest man in the world) sketch was just hilarious and I was soon reciting it verbatim along with my sister.

When he came to town to visit us, it really was an event.  It was obviously extra special to me as a kid because he was famous, but I think it would have been special anyway.  He was so entertaining and different from anyone else I was exposed to growing up.  He would imitate all these characters of his and also famous people such as Johnny Cash.  He always had some new knife or piece of jewelry he would talk at length about.  He just made everything seem cool.  It's so ironic how very "cool" he was and the fact that he was so well known for such a bumbling goofy character.   
JA:  Did you have any idea when you first began researching how much work it would be?

JL:  I really didn't know how much work it would be.  I think I imagined it taking about two years but honestly had no idea.  I just knew I was going to finish it no matter what it took.  I became intensely passionate about it.  I found out so many things I didn't know about him that any outline I would have started out with would have been scrapped almost entirely.  It was all quite bittersweet because I found myself wanting to talk to him so many times as I uncovered new information but obviously could not.  

JA:  What was the biggest challenge for you along the way of completing this book?

JL:  Keeping everything organized was definitely a challenge as I collected three huge binders full of articles.  I pored over them many times to make sure I didn't miss anything important that should be in the book.  Interviewing people was my biggest challenge however just because most of the people I talked to I didn't know and wasn't aware of the nature of their personal relationships with Jim beyond their professional ties.  Some of these people were not exactly fans of the other interviewees either so that made things interesting.  They were all quite welcoming and friendly with me and I felt that had a lot to do with the respect and affection they had for my uncle. 
JA:  What were you most surprised to discover about your uncle?

JL:  I would say our family connection to the Hatfields was most surprising.  The fact that no one in our family knew about it (only that my great-grandfather supposedly went hunting with some of the Hatfields) was really stunning.  But something relating more to Jim's life and career that was a surprise was the extent of his relationship with Johnny Cash.  He first worked with Cash in 1974 when he was cast as an extra on a TV special of Cash's.  The next year Cash saw Jim perform stand-up at a club called the Exit/In in Nashville.  That is when they really got to know each other.  Cash really enjoyed Jim's brand of comedy and eventually cast him on his 1976 summer variety show.  Jim managed to stay in touch with Cash throughout his life.  

JA:  Do you have a favorite film of his?

JL:  Although it's not considered a "film", the Hey Vern, It's My Family Album special is my favorite. I really don't know all that much about the actual shooting of the special.  I know that "Verna" in the Rhetch Worrell sketch is John Cherry's wife.  Maybe one of the most interesting things I found out about this show was that a few years earlier when Jim was living in California, he and his manager were trying to pitch Jim Varney's Family Album.  Other than Jim portraying a variety of characters, this early concept had nothing in common with the Ernest special.  I am thinking that the simple concept of a "family album" came back to Jim when working with John Cherry as a way for him to play a lot of funny and interesting characters.  

I would probably have to say that my favorite Ernest film was Ernest Goes to Camp, which has a slight edge over Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Goes to Jail and Ernest Scared Stupid.
JA:  Do you know much about the production of "Hey Vern, It's Ernest!"?

:  Like so many of the Ernest projects, I can only imagine the fun they had behind-the-scenes and how Jim probably entertained the cast and crew for hours between takes.  I do know that much of the show was shot inside of Jim's actual residence in White House, Tennessee.  He won a Daytime Emmy Award for this show and I know he was extremely proud of that.

JA:  Did you spend any time on the sets of his productions?

JL:  Ultimately, very little.  The only Ernest set I ever visited was one of the Ernest Scared Stupid sets in the summer of 1991 in Nashville.  It was a large warehouse where they had converted it into the woods where Jim (as Ernest) is battling trolls on the back of a pickup truck.  My favorite experience with Jim involving any of his movies was attending a special premiere of the independent movie 100 Proof with my family in downtown Lexington, Kentucky.  I was actually sitting right beside him during the movie and it was so interesting to see people turn around in their seats and look at him and whisper to each other.  It gave me an interesting perspective on how it feels to be famous.
JA:  How did Gailard Sartain and Bill Byrge become involved with Ernest projects?

JL:  I am a huge fan of Gailard Sartain.  I would love to have met him while he was working with my uncle.  I have never met Bill Byrge either but have heard what a really wonderful person he is.  I am not sure how Sartain first became involved with John Cherry.  I know that he and Byrge had shot some "Chuck and Bobby" commercials together for Carden & Cherry before they appeared in any of the Ernest projects.  And of course the first character Sartain played in an Ernest film was the chef named "Jake" in Ernest Goes to Camp.  Sartain has been excellent in dramatic roles over the years from a small role in The Outsiders to the despicable sheriff in Mississippi Burning.  I know that Bill Byrge was working as a librarian in Nashville when he was discovered.    

JA:  Do you think Jim ever realized the true impact he had as an entertainer?

JL:  Because of the amount of people who showed up at his personal appearances for Ernest, I believe that he was quite aware of the impact he was having.  I know he received quite a bit of fan mail and would post artwork from children who would include it in their correspondence.  I think what may have surprised him is the legacy of the character and how so many adults today that were fans of his growing up want to share Ernest with their children.  And the fact that so many families watched Ernest movies together and how it became a part of some of their best memories of spending time together, it's really something special. 
JA:  Was it difficult to watch "Atlantis: The Lost Empire", being that is was released after his passing?

JL:  At that point it really wasn't.  It was more about being really excited to see something else he was connected to that I had never seen before.  I experienced that many times in writing my book where I was able to find quite a bit of old footage of him that kinda brought him back to life in a way. I would probably say, like before, it's a lot of bittersweet feelings where I am excited to see something new but then I want to talk to him about it as soon as I do.  

JA:  Have you considered turning the book into a feature-length documentary?

JL:  I have.  And that is probably what I would have done first because of my love for movies and documentaries.  There is a lot more cost involved and then there is dealing with all the rights and permissions for so much of the content.  I know I would have such an ambitious scope and would want a great variety of clips included.  I have had a few conversations with people about making one and as things begin to settle down in my life here I would like to revisit the possibility of pursuing that.
JA:  If you had to sum up your uncle with just three words, what would they be?

JL:  Born to entertain.

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