On the Anniversary of Roger Ebert’s Death

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Roger Ebert died one year ago yesterday.  To commemorate the day, Ebert Club members were asked to share anecdotes about how Roger influenced our lives.  Mine was quite long, and so it was edited down a bit before being placed on the Roger Ebert website: http://www.rogerebert.com/chazs-blog/ebert-club-members-mark-a-year-since-rogers-passing

While I believe the edit improves the remembrance, I thought I would also share the original message that I wrote.  If nothing else, it gives a lesson in how good editing can strengthen by exclusion.  I have copied it in its entirety below, and have put the cut portions in red, so as to be easier to spot:

How did Roger Ebert influence my life?  From the days when I first really started paying attention to movie reviews, he was the only movie critic I read, apart from local newspaper reviewers.  If I was on the fence about seeing a film, or if a really great film was coming out that I hadn’t heard of, Ebert’s review would help me decide whether to go or not.  And when I decided to start watching classic films on a more regular basis, he illuminated some that I would have missed, or might not have seen until much later.  Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, and Mizoguchi’s movies were all introduced to me through Roger Ebert.

A few months after I started my blog in May 2009, he influenced me in a more direct way.  I had come home from Japan roughly a year before, and had started the blog as a way to sell the last few copies of my self-published poetry book, as well as create a platform for my future writings.  Then Ebert wrote “The Blogs of My Blog.”  While my blog was not included in that post, he responded to my comment on that post in the following way:

“Dreams of Literary Grandeur” is one heck of a blog.  I see you came aboard here last summer but haven’t posted in three weeks.  If you’d been in the last two threads I’m sure you would have been included.

This was the first time he had responded to one of my comments.  He then responded to my protestations of humility by posting a link to one of my blog posts.

As a writer, I can’t tell you what this meant to me.  I still can’t.  A Pulitzer-Prize winning writer just called my writing good?  Over the next two years, I got a few retweets, a few shout-outs, and replies to some of my other comments from him.  He even started following me on Twitter.  After watching videos from Ebertfest 2010 and reading about the experience in blog posts by the Far-Flung Correspondents, I decided to go to Ebertfest 2011.

I should point out that, in October 2009, I had moved from the East to the West Coast, where I had initially stayed with two of my brother’s friends.  Other than them, I knew no one before the move, which is one reason why my Internet family became just as important to me as my actual family in the first few years out here.  Also, I bought my pass a few months after being let go from my job.  By the time Ebertfest rolled around, I had accepted a job offer, but as a sub, which meant I didn’t have guaranteed hours.  Besides unemployment, the only money I had coming in was from tutoring.  And yet, as my father told me, I had to meet Roger Ebert.  “This is an investment,” he said, “not an expense.”  And so I went.  Not only did I meet Roger Ebert, but I met people who I had connected with through my blog and through Twitter, including the Far-Flung Correspondents and Tom Dark (now also gone).  Even now, most of the people I follow on Twitter had some connection to the man.

Meeting Roger Ebert and getting to thank him for supporting me is one of the highlights of my life, and yet I wish there had been other meetings, meetings where I could have shown him some of my sketches (I had taken up sketching on his idea that it was a good way to meet women, after I posted a year after living in Seattle how hard it was to make friends out here) or at least shown him pictures of my nieces (I mean, I show EVERYONE those pictures).  During that first meeting, however, having gotten little sleep for two nights in a row, I babbled (though I did remember to congratulate him on his New Yorker caption contest win).  Still, when he retweeted my post on having met him, I was happy to see that he was, in fact, still reading my blog.  Sadly, that was the last post of mine that he retweeted, and the last time I had any sort of direct feedback from him.

I had a strange premonition the day before he died.  I had read his “A Leave of Presence” article where he had mentioned his resurgence of cancer, but as he didn’t seem concerned about it, no alarm bells went off in my mind, until I got a call from my landlord to tell me that one of our housemates, whom we hadn’t seen in about a month, had died of cancer.  That is the first time I felt worried that Ebert might die from his, yet I was still shocked when I saw the news the next day.  Appropriately, I found out on Twitter.

Somewhere I read that the impact people have on your life can be measured by the size of the hole they leave when they’re gone.  Despite the valiant efforts of those who continue to write on his website and create the Ebert Club newsletter and keep Ebertfest running, the hole has not been filled.  It may never be filled.  Sometimes, I go back to his reviews and Great Movie pieces and read them to remember what used to fill that hole, and for a time, I am content.  But then I go see a movie, one that he would have loved (or hated), and I wish he had lived long enough to see it, and to write about it.

All remembrances for Roger Ebert can be found here: http://www.rogerebert.com/balder-and-dash/remembering-roger-the-table-of-contents

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