Change for a Year

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Roger Ebert – In His Own Words

There may be no single author I’ve enjoyed reading more than Roger Ebert. When I was younger I’d wait by my computer every Thursday night for his reviews to go live. I’d read of upcoming movies and the art of film and the poetry of his words made me want to become a writer. When I learned he had a blog I quickly devoured every post I could find.

His nonfiction was lyrical and poignant and changed my mind of what an essay could be — from a boring high school assignment to words that could make one laugh, think or examine their life. It was no wonder he ran one of the most popular and respected blogs on the internet. It was no wonder he won a Pulitzer Prize.

A few years back he lost his ability to speak, and words became something more to him. What great and prolific words they were. On April 2nd he wrote, “Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I’m taking what I like to call “a leave of presence.”

It’s two days later and he is dead, and those words will no longer flow.

Quotes from Roger Ebert

On life:
“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”

On technology:
“All of this has happened in the blink of an eye. It is unimaginable what will happen next. It makes me incredibly fortunate to live at this moment in history. Indeed, I am lucky to live in history at all, because without intelligence and memory there is no history. For billions of years, the universe evolved completely without notice. Now we live in the age of the Internet, which seems to be creating a form of global consciousness. And because of it, I can communicate as well as I ever could. We are born into a box of time and space. We use words and communication to break out of it and to reach out to others.”

On humor:
A depressing number of people seem to process everything literally. They are to wit as a blind man is to a forest, able to find every tree, but each one coming as a surprise.

On universities:
Our professors were like gods. They were learned and wise and they valued poets we learned to think of in groups: The Romantics, the Metaphysicals. They saw things we couldn’t see, not yet. Two of my fellow undergraduates, Larry Woiwode and Paul Tyner, actually sold short stories to The New Yorker, which we read in awe . . . Authors like Updike and Roth used to be celebrities. The New York Times fiction best sellers used to be reputable. The well-dressed undergraduate might have a good paperback secreted somewhere about his person. Now there is no longer a pocket not occupied by something electronic. In coffee shops, students who once leaned intently over novels now lean hypnotized over cell phones.”

On entertainment:
“Because we are human, because we are bound by gravity and the limitations of our bodies, because we live in a world where the news is often bad and the prospects disturbing, there is a need for another world somewhere, a world where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers live.”

On reading:
“At the end of the day, some authors will endure and most, including some very good ones, will not. Why do I think reading is important? It is such an effective medium between mind and mind. We think largely in words. A medium made only of words doesn’t impose the barrier of any other medium. It is naked and unprotected communication. That’s how you get pregnant. May you always be so.”

On death:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

On faith:
Many readers have informed me that it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don’t feel that way. “Faith” is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me. I am 69, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

So we will, Mr. Ebert. But we will also find you in your books and your words, and your thoughts will live on and extend your life. Until we join you in the dirt beneath our feet.


  1. Jeff, what a beautiful tribute. I knew Roger from “At the Movies” with Gene Siskel. I loved their movie fights–so much passion and intelligence. He was a brave fighter these past years.

  2. He was an amazing guy and writer. Very insightful. Thanks for sharing some of his whit and insight with us.

  3. “A medium made only of words doesn’t impose the barrier of any other medium. It is naked and unprotected communication. That’s how you get pregnant. May you always be so.”

    He makes eternal pregnancy sound wonderful!

    Thanks for the post.

  4. Thank you, this is lovely.

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