How Roger Ebert encouraged me | Bleader

Friday, April 5, 2013

How Roger Ebert encouraged me

Posted By on 04.05.13 at 10:13 AM

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Roger Ebert passed away yesterday at the age of 70.
  • Eileen Ryan
  • Roger Ebert passed away yesterday at the age of 70.
When I "came out" as bipolar in a blog post last summer, Roger Ebert was one of the first people to offer encouragement. He told his Facebook followers about my piece and referred to me as "courageous." Not only was I flattered that he'd do such a thing, I was surprised that he was familiar with my writing at all. When I sent him an e-mail to thank him, he responded within an hour, and he shared a story about his own experience of being in therapy. By the indication of the many appreciations that have appeared since his death, such generosity was characteristic of Ebert. He treated all of his peers with respect, particularly those first getting into the profession. Just how many critics have stories of receiving Ebert's support when they were starting to write? I've encountered dozens in the past day alone.

No matter how large his stature grew, Ebert rarely presented his opinions as authoritative. He saw himself as part of a larger conversation about movies. As a result, he was perhaps the only critic capable of entering into dialogue with academic film scholars, highbrow critics, and beat journalists. He seemed comfortable with all of them.

He was also supremely comfortable with himself. I envy his grace in writing about painful experiences, such as his struggle with alcoholism and the medical problems that plagued the last decade of his life. I think this grace enabled him to persevere through the trying times. Few people in their 60s would go back to work after being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing extensive treatment for it, but Ebert did—and the columns he wrote in his final years rank among his very best.

I admire his work ethic above all. Ebert wrote prolifically till the end because he had trained himself too well to stop. Everyone knows that he loved movies, but his love of working (the greatest evidence of his Chicago identity and the quality that so endeared him to Chicagoans) was just as strong. He embraced the routine of seeing a movie, writing notes, reflecting on his thoughts, and putting the column together. This is why his pans were often as entertaining as his rave reviews. It was the process that mattered to him, the conviction that with each review he was engaging with the world and possibly learning more about it as a result.

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