Over the course of this weekend, I found myself reading every article I could find on Roger Ebert, who passed away on Thursday.
I wasn’t previously aware of his work. This almost seems crazy, as I am a massive movie fan. Growing up, my go-to persons of expertise were Richard Corliss (in the earlier years of my life), and, more recently, David Edelstein. It’s still in my habit to google a movie title and “+ david edelstein nymag review” whenever I finish watching something**. I suppose if I had grown up on the Chicago Sun-Times, this would be different.
I learned that Ebert had struggled with cancer for many years, and that it had rendered him unable to speak or eat. His response to this was to start writing online, more prolifically and personally than he had ever done before. He wrote more movie reviews in a year than he ever had previously, and also started to write deeply about other topics important to him. Essentially, he turned a potential handicap into a means for deeper reflection and connectivity. He wrote about death, he wrote about his closest relationships, he wrote about his memories growing up, he wrote about mentorship and empathy and kindness.
I found myself completely drawn in – I dug into his blog archives like a hungry person. Lately I’ve been reading more non-fiction and memoirs from people who made a living writing about topics they loved (M.F.K Fisher, Anthony Bourdain), and the best part about this type of non-fiction is that it’s actually not about the subject – it’s about what the subject means. With Roger Ebert, it was the same thing.
I realized pretty quickly that we share the same values in life – to be genuine, to be kind, to write thoughtfully, to find thoughtfulness and substance even in things no one takes seriously, to eviscerate things that are an affront to what we love. I found myself realizing that I’d found a new hero, a new person that I want to be. I want to use empathy as a model for living my life, I want to be an amazing mentor to others, I want to write succinctly and wonderfully.
A part of me also went through his posts mining for answers – to success, to life, to happiness. He radiates such wiseness in his writing that I wished I had known him, wished he were a mentor/knowledgeable grandfather-figure. There are just so many questions. One thing rang clear, though, that I have taken to heart: