This week we lost one of my favorite critics, Roger Ebert. I remember watching him as a kid, loving his humor and warmth, his verbal and corporeal excesses, as they stood out against poor Gene Siskel's comparative austerity.
I fell in love with Roger Ebert again when he wrote his odd rice cooker cookbook, and I started reading about how he'd become a food writer (and cookbook author) after losing his tongue and jaw to cancer, how he wrote about the memory of food once he could no longer taste or digest it.
When I lived in Japan, where there were no ovens in home kitchens, there was a "banana bread in the rice cooker" recipe that circulated among expats hungering for western food and the particular pleasure of baking. It was very moist, a steamed cake, but I don't think I would have made it if I hadn't been forced to by reduced circumstances.
Ebert wrote beautifully (he was always a beautiful writer) about how food remained in the present tense for him, even though eating shifted to the past tense.
“When I am writing, my problems become invisible, and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be."
Recently, Matt and I were talking about what we'd do if we had a year left to live, and I found myself wondering if I would continue writing or give it up and enjoy myself--my glib phrasing. Matt immediately said that he'd keep writing music, but I wasn't so sure. This was a week when writing hadn't been going especially well, I had too little time for it, and I was nurturing the fantasy of what it would be like to have a life where the weekend was really a weekend, and there wasn't always that feeling of homework hanging over your head. But reading over interviews with and articles about Roger Ebert made me reconsider. It's clear that he used writing to stay in the present tense even as he was dying. It's also clear how much pleasure he got from the writing itself, even as he was giving it back to others with his words.
"Vincent Gallo has put a curse on my colon and a hex on my prostate. He called me a 'fat pig' in the New York Post and told the New York Observer I have 'the physique of a slave-trader.' He is angry at me because I said his 'The Brown Bunny' was the worst movie in the history of the Cannes Film Festival... it is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of 'The Brown Bunny.'"
Thank you, Roger Ebert, for reminding me what really matters. I have no idea where you are, but if you'll indulge a moment of schmaltz, I like to imagine that you've got an unobstructed and panoramic view of this world you loved so much, and something good and spicy (maybe Indian) with a frosty rootbeer to wash it down.