Drawing as a Pastime

When I had been in Seattle a year, I wrote a post lamenting my then-unemployed state.  It remains one of my most commented-on blog posts, but the comment that surprised me the most was the following:

Take a drawing class. Everyone can draw. Everyone. Then as you walk about the city, you can sketch. Sketch over a cup of something in a coffee shop, or on a park bench. This will imprint moments on your mind forever.

Also, when people see someone sketching it is almost impossible for them to resist sneaking a peek. If you like the looks of someone you see peeking, play the role of generous person who doesn’t mind being bothered even in the midst of such serious art. Now you have made the first approach and the other person doesn’t realize it.

The comment itself isn’t what’s surprising.  What’s surprising is that it was sent by Roger Ebert (and as if to prove the validity of the author,  Ebert posted this entry on his blog four months later).

When I met with him for the first (and only) time in April 2011, I wish I’d shown him two things: pictures of my nieces and the two drawings I had sketched since receiving his advice.  I’ve finished several other drawings since that time, and while I didn’t meet anyone during those drawing sessions, I still find it an enjoyable pursuit when the weather gets nice.

I sketched my first drawing when it was still raw outside, which is why I drew it in a rush. I like to think that the wind is captured in the pencil strokes.

Windy Day, 3-6-2011
Windy Day, Greenlake, 3-6-2011

I waited until it was warmer for my next drawing, which was of cherry blossom trees. As I’m no good at realism (or perspective), and grew impatient with drawing how the bark and the branches actually looked, my drawing took this form, instead.

Cherry tree in the quad, UW, 3-19-2011
Cherry tree in the quad, UW, 3-19-2011

After Ebertfest, I sketched five more drawings. I finished one in the summer of 2011, two the following year, and then one each in 2013 and 2014. The 2011 drawing is my favorite of the bunch, mainly for the girl sitting on the rocks, her back to the viewer, which adds poignancy to this drawing in a way I can’t describe in words.

Watching the boats go by , Puget Sound, 7-23-2011
Watching the boats go by , Puget Sound, 7-23-2011

The next two sketches were drawn, as was the first one, at Greenlake. This time, however, I waited until spring and summer, respectively, before I stood outside with my sketchpad.

Tree at Greenlake, 4-13-2012
Tree at Greenlake, 4-13-2012
Swimming at Greenlake, 9-8-2012
Swimming at Greenlake, 9-8-2012

My drawing from the summer of 2013 is of the most iconic landmark in Seattle. While I made the Space Needle too fat and the International Fountain too unrecognizable, I’m proud of the plane flying by and the couple on the blanket.

The Space Needle, 8-21-2013
The Space Needle, 8-21-2013

My final sketch led me to Kubota Gardens, which I believe to be the best Japanese gardens in Seattle. It’s also a great place for taking photos, particularly if you wish to try out a roll of black-and-white film.

Relaxing in the Tom Kubota Stroll Garden, 8-23-2014
Relaxing in the Tom Kubota Stroll Garden, 8-23-2014

In looking again at Ebert’s advice, I realize I didn’t take all of it. I didn’t take a drawing class. But that’s okay. The task itself, not the execution, is what’s important to me. And he’s right. Drawing imprinted these moments on my mind. Decades from now, I’ll probably remember the circumstances surrounding these drawings better than I will those surrounding my photos.

On the Anniversary of Roger Ebert’s Death

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

Remembering Roger Ebert

This is one post I wish I didn’t have to write.  Roger Ebert — film critic, friend, and mentor — is gone at age 70.

People who didn’t meet him might think that calling him a friend — when we only met once in person — might be a bit strong, but Roger was one of those people who you feel you’ve met, even before you’ve met them.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading his movie reviews since I was in high school (maybe even since middle school).  Maybe it’s because I read almost every post on his blog.  Maybe because he had a way, whether sending a tweet or posting a comment, of making you feel as if you were his friend, and had been for years.

When I met Roger Ebert for the first (and now, sadly, only) time, the one thing that impressed me the most was the strength of his handshake.  This was a man who was full of life.  He may have shuffled when he walked, he may have been missing his jaw, but his handshake belied the fact that he was anything but a healthy, vivacious human being.  And, indeed, once in conversation with him (he kept a notepad with him), you forgot all about these things.  Heck, you even forgot you were talking to Roger Ebert.  He had that gift.

The other gift he had was writing about movies.  Not just what the movies were about, not just how the movies were about, but what the experience of watching them felt like.  And then he would go beyond the movie.  Life Itself may have been the title of his memoirs, but it could also be the title of his movie reviews.  All of his reviews brim with life.  Later, when he started his online journal, those journal entries overflowed with life, as well.

As I sit here writing, I find myself thinking about a few things.  One is this year’s Ebertfest, which will be a somber affair.  Another is his wife, Chaz, who I was too shy to introduce myself to when I traveled to Ebertfest two years ago, and the Far Flung Correspondents, whom he introduced to each other, the world, and me.  In fact, most of the blogs I follow, and many of the people I follow on Twitter, have some connection to Roger Ebert.

This has been a bad two days.  Yesterday I found out that one of my housemates had died from cancer.  Today I find out that one of my idols has died from the same.  I often wonder what my life would be like had Roger Ebert not responded to my comment on “The Blogs of My Blog.”  His was the first and so far only praise of my writing by a well-known writer.  This blog (and my other blog) is what it is because he took the time to read and praise it, as he did for countless other bloggers and tweeters on the web.

No more.  Now there are only reviews I will never read, movies he will never see, and conversations we will never have.