Roger Ebert – American Man of Letters

A good many of us are familiar with Roger Ebert the film critic through his long-running PBS and syndicated TV show, partnered first with his fellow Chicago-area critic, the late Gene Siskel, and then with Richard Roeper. Others may be more familiar with Mr. Ebert through his recent medical struggles, including numerous cancer surgeries that have left him without a lower jaw and unable to eat, drink, or speak. His efforts to regain a “voice” through the use of a speech synthesizer were well-documented by Esquire Magazine and Oprah earlier this year.

Roger Ebert is much more than just a film critic. He is a highly skilled, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer on all manner of topics, well illustrated not just by his film website, but even more so by his award-winning blog. He has leveraged his understanding of electronic publishing into a sort of critical mass of the blogosphere, replete with his extraordinary writing and some of the most thoughtful reader comments you’re likely to find on a single blog site.

It was in Roger Ebert’s Journal that I found his latest post, something that spoke to me in ways that I’ve struggled to express about myself. His topic was loneliness, the desire to be alone, and the desire or need to connect with someone or something:

Lonely people have a natural affinity for the internet. It’s always there waiting, patient, flexible, suitable for every mood. But there are times when the net reminds me of the definition of a bore by Meyer the hairy economist, best friend of Travis McGee: “You know what a bore is, Travis. Someone who deprives you of solitude without providing you with companionship.”

What do lonely people desire? Companionship. Love. Recognition. Entertainment. Camaraderie. Distraction.Encouragement. Change. Feedback. Someone once said the fundamental reason we get married is because have a universal human need for a witness. All of these are possibilities. But what all lonely people share is a desire not to be — or at least not to feel — alone.

This snippet really doesn’t do the post justice. You have to read the whole thing. Go to All the Lonely People. I’ll just include one more paragraph that speaks about me as much as it does about him:

I’ve never understood this bittersweet narcissism within myself. I love to wander lonely streets in unknown cities. To find a cafe and order a coffee and think to myself — here I am, known to no one, drinking my coffee and reading my paper. To sit somewhere just barely out of the rain, and declare that my fortress. I think of myself in the third person: Who is he? What is his mystery? I have explained before how I’m attracted to anonymous formica restaurants where I can read my book and look forward to rice pudding for desert. To leave that warm place and enter the dark city is a strange pleasure. Nostalgia perhaps.”

Mr. Ebert’s blog, and the online community that flows through it, have gone so far as to cross the boundary from the online to the literary, with the publication of The Pot and How to Use It, a homage to the versatility of the rice cooker. The book originated from a single post, and the comments that came after it formed the foundation for a comprehensive treatise on sustaining oneself with an often underutilized kitchen appliance. I would probably get more use out a rice cooker than the food processor, blender, and slow cooker taking up space in my kitchen at present.

Mr. Ebert will hopefully be around a lot longer to defy the ravages of his cancer, and inform, delight, and enlighten the thousands who watch him on television or appreciate him in print.

Have a great weekend.

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