RIP, Roger Ebert

Growing up, I wanted to be a film critic. Sitting at the foot of my parents’ bed, I marveled at the magic that appeared on screen. I was frightened, thrilled, and relished all the stories that were told. So easily and simply.

Despite being a movie lover (which may imply video lover), I never watched Ebert and Siskel. Instead, I devoured written movie reviews. Yet with Roger Ebert, his reviews read like poetry—taking me on a journey of his life and perspective. This is what movies…stories…are to me.

We will never understand the complete life of the storyteller. Yet in the middle of the story, we get a glimpse of their personal perspective. For a moment, we understand their pains, their fears, their disgust, their loves.

“What is your goal of your writing?” sometimes I am asked.

I always answer, “I write because I need to write. I write because I want to understand myself. I write because I want people to pause for a moment and think, “You know, I never thought about it that way.”

Writing in its truest form requires the writer to be honest. In writing, the reader must trust me that I will bring them to a safe place, while revealing moments of beauty, clarity, pain along the way.

In Roger Ebert’s reviews, which I read ferociously once the Internet boomed, helped me understand life. After watching a poignant film, I would read his review, wondering about his take. But most importantly, I was curious about how it related to his life. Even when I heavily disagreed, I could see clearly his point of view. That is the power of a great writer.

I was trying to search for the reviews that I would read over and over again, after experiencing a movie that tugged at my heartstrings or frightened my soul. I can’t pinpoint a single one. Was it the one on Before Sunset? Twin Falls Idaho? I don’t remember, but with his writing and his introspective blog posts and twitter commentary, I felt safe.

I will miss you, Roger.

On the outside…

You see that she’s Asian. You see the quiet demeanor. The eyes following your gestures and your speech. You see her hands flutter to her face, almost protectively shielding herself from incoming dust. Then you see her feet fidget…but sometimes at pauses, it dances slightly on the floor. She wears scuffed street sneakers with low-rising white socks. She bites her lips from time to time, almost checking to make sure that part of herself is there.

You wonder if she is nice. She smiles and laughs at the right places. But then you make your presentation. You think that she might glaze back like all her colleagues. Their eyes rolling back in boredom, but they’re too polite to admit their disinterest. You think that she might do that and fall into a quietness.

But it’s then she snaps. Her fiery, feisty side comes to life. You can tell that people regard her with respect—her silence often broken with a sharp, smart observation. Then she falls back into silence. But this silence only means that the gears are working in her brain—coming with an attack? coming with a sharp jab?

She hates the word “nice”.

As I looked downward…

…suddenly fear froze me.

This has happened repeatedly for the last 25 years. Ever since I first tried on skis (and the few years that I tried snowboarding). It has plagued me in nearly any physical sport. Cycling. Volleyball. Baseball. Soccer. Football. Swimming.

A few months ago, I accompanied friend with their 16 month old son for a day trip to Marin County. I asked casually what they spotted about their son, about how his personality is developing. “He’s very cautious. In comparison to other kids when he’s playing.”

Was I like that too? Afraid to step out of my comfort zone? Afraid to bend or break the boundaries to test the water? I have always blamed my social anxiety for the inability to perform, the desire that I had burning inside me. But this physical thing? I am not quite sure where it came from either. Did extreme caution come genetically? That I felt so safe, secured…that I was willing to sacrifice adventure and joy in order to be comfortable and safe?

Yet almost every year, I go to Tahoe. At first, it was my parents’ urging. I went every year. Always ending in tears when I tried to ski. It would happen in the rentals, trying on the boots, not quite grasping how to get my foot in and out. it would happen on the slopes, the bunny slopes with the instructor as I was the only one falling, the only one that didn’t quite understand “lean left, then lean right”. What does that even mean? Then my only defense came into play—the tantrums of not being able to listen, sulking as I was the one that failed over and over again.

Yet what’s amazing is that I have recognized it. So in the last few years, I improved in skiing, trusting that I can turn. I can really turn. I would do an intermediate a blue square trail. But then suddenly if I peer down and analyze, I am paralyzed. I see the skiers and snowboarders around me, whizzing down so effortlessly. The snow flies up as they move, like a ball moving down. No fear at all. I am jealous as I stand there frozen. Ironically, I always feel very hot then. My hands sweating. My body uncomfortable in the ski jacket. My foreshadow shining, bursting from my knit cap.

Sometimes the best thing to do is close my eyes and stop looking.