I do not have an essay today.
It is not often that I post when I do not have an essay, which explains the lack of updates on this site. Words are much better read when they tell a story, or, barring that, lead to a point. My stories and points of late are something of a jumbled mess; I just can’t seem to shape what I want to say into something I want people to read. This is, to some extent, the fault of Roger Ebert.
His death was one of the few that affected me on a personal level. For many, he was a film critic with relatable opinions, a man who loved cinema and shared his passion with the world. And to be sure, he was all that. But to me, Roger Ebert was, above all else, a writer.
Ernest Hemingway – another literary hero to me – was quite clear on his thoughts about other writers. This would not make him popular, or, for that matter, happy today, when a keyboard and internet connection is all someone needs to adopt the “writer” moniker. My own opinion of other writers – and by other, I mean most anyone but me – was formed in the sixth grade. Writing then was done on sheets of loose leaf paper and in spiral bound notebooks, usually in pencil, and for most of my classmates only when required for school.
I wrote often and incessantly then: Diary entries, short stories, sparkly poems about the seasons, long-winded responses to exam questions. And when I had stories to share, I created a newspaper for my class. Book reviews, horoscopes, and a few blurbs about school events did not make this a masterpiece, but it was my own creation, mimeographed after school for me by the nice lady in the administration office.
The paper was not a regular publication, but every so often my classmates would discover it tucked in their desks like a love note. They would occasionally read the paper. Most would just leave it crumpled on their desk to later launch into the trash bin. It was my first lesson in being a writer: Most people don’t read.
My next lesson? There’s always someone who thinks they can do better.
She was a skinny blonde girl. Our friendship never extended beyond casual interaction at places we both just happened to be – no hatred, but no real interest either. Until the day she decided to release her own newspaper.
Where mine was mostly handwritten, hers was typed. Where mine had illustrations drawn by a friend, hers had real pictures. Of course, every single page of her newspaper had also been plagiarized from the recent issue of Seventeen magazine.
And suddenly, my classmates got interested in reading. They adored her photocopied regurgitation. It wasn’t the competition that bothered me, it was the fact that every word my classmates were eating up had been stolen from someone else. So I did what any budding writer would do: I took a copy of Seventeen, cut out the pages that had been borrowed, and posted them to the class bulletin board with the headline “If you don’t steal gum, why would you steal words?”
Teachers had to get involved then, mostly because my blonde competitor went berserk when she saw students snickering at the board and ripped it all down in a blazing rage. Class newspapers, not surprisingly, were banned from that point on.
Writing is a solitary occupation. Like Hemingway, I do it alone and avoid other writers. But every so often, one writer will break through my tough exterior. One who will challenge my craft while also reminding me of my passion for it. Roger Ebert wrote often, he wrote well, and he wrote with humanity.
Of those traits, I occasionally have one. I would like to have two. I do not know if my voice will ever be as strong or informed or even as likeable as Roger Ebert’s, but I know I will miss having him here to remind me of what a good writer can accomplish.