Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Things In My Cabinet: A Distant Voice in the Darkness

How awesome is this? Via Favim.
The Museum of Joy might one day be a place, and when it is, it ought to be the kind of place where a man can lose one voice and find another and a dream can turn into a book you can pull down from a shelf. Until I can find enough bits of green paper to buy a piece of land and build that place, however, this blog will have to do. And today this blog, at least, will have that man and that dream in it.

The man who lost one voice and found another is Roger Ebert. Now, I used to be a big movie buff; I wanted to be a director from the age of twelve until sometime in my first year of college when I realized that making movies involved working with other people, at which point I decided to be something else instead. (The jury is still out on what, exactly.) So I read a lot of film books. I had some book of Ebert's that included his rating for practically every movie ever made, and I went through and carefully starred every one I'd seen. I read screenplays, and reviews, and everything William Goldman had ever written. (That includes Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Princess Bride, for those of you not in the know. And if you don't know about those, there's something terribly terribly wrong with you and you should go away right now and watch them.) I decided the only film critic I "respected" was Ebert and the rest were hacks. (Gimme a break, I was 17.) Then I started studying nineteenth-century art history and basically stopped watching movies in the theater because I was too broke and stopped renting DVDs because our lovely local video store shut down and have pretty much just wandered around on my streaming Netflix for the last two years. Which is to say I didn't follow with any particular closeness the doings of Mr. Ebert. Until today somebody I'm friends with on Facebook posted this lovely, lovely quote: 

"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. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out." - Roger Ebert

A post-it note Ebert wrote. From the Esquire article.
Well, I just thought that was so wonderful. And I wondered: where did that come from? What's the context? Does he say stuff like that all the time and I've just been missing it? So I put "Roger Ebert on joy" into the Googles and what fell out was an absolutely incredible piece of biographical journalism by Chris Jones from Esquire. It is long, and dense, and I read the whole things and I was completely in tears by the end of it. Because Roger Ebert, utterly unbeknownst to me, completely lost his ability to speak and eat as a result of a combination of surgery and cancer. 

A man lost his voice. (I won't lie; the loss of the ability to eat might unhinge me more. Maybe not - I'm a chatty gal - but having food piped directly to my stomach, never again to taste - that smacks of hell to me. Ebert, on the other hand, bears it graciously: in the article, a story is told about a friend who apologizes for rhapsodizing over the taste of scallops and wine, and how Ebert reassures him, writing, no, no, you're eating for me. May God grant me such dignity.) And yet, Chris Jones says, something has happened: the man who cannot speak has become a prolific writer. Although he was a writer before he was a TV personality, now he has a blog with - not surprisingly - thousands of avid readers. Jones writes, 

The existence of an afterlife, the beauty of a full bookshelf, his liberalism and atheism and alcoholism, the health-care debate, Darwin, memories of departed friends and fights won and lost — more than five hundred thousand words of inner monologue have poured out of him, five hundred thousand words that probably wouldn't exist had he kept his other voice. Now some of his entries have thousands of comments, each of which he vets personally and to which he will often respond. It has become his life's work, building and maintaining this massive monument to written debate — argument is encouraged, so long as it's civil — and he spends several hours each night reclined in his chair, tending to his online oasis by lamplight. Out there, his voice is still his voice — not a reasonable facsimile of it, but his.

Also from the Esquire article. Look at those books!
"Five hundred thousand words of inner monologue have poured out of him, five hundred thousand words that probably wouldn't exist had he kept his other voice." I can't be alone in thinking that there is some kind of shocking beauty to that, some strange bowing of the universe to the forces of balance. Of course, not everyone who suffers pain and loss gets an equal measure of beauty or meaning in return. (I have a friend whose partner's father recently died. She told me that the thing she hates the most is the people who say there is something to learn from the pain, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, etc. They say it to be comforting, she knows, but it's just not true: sometimes pain is just pain. Even if it does make you stronger or whatever, the silver lining is not justification for the cloud, and it doesn't make the cloud go away. And it can be dark under the clouds, endlessly, awfully dark, and sometimes they don't go away at all.) But still, Ebert has found joy, a kind of joy that might have remained veiled to him if something being ripped from him had not torn that veil wide along with it.

And, he says, when he dreams, he always has his voice. As Jones says,

In his dreams, his voice has never left. In his dreams, he can get out everything he didn't get out during his waking hours: the thoughts that get trapped in paperless corners, the jokes he wanted to tell, the nuanced stories he can't quite relate. In his dreams, he yells and chatters and whispers and exclaims. In his dreams, he's never had cancer. In his dreams, he is whole.

These things come to us, they don't come from us, he writes about his cancer, about sickness, on another Post-it note. Dreams come from us.

The quote I found on Facebook is from the end of the story, and it seems right and apt to me. What a man to admire! What a man to emulate. In the halls of the Museum, we will hear his footsteps echoing; he will be there with us, shouting.

Read the whole story, which is just phantasmagorically moving, here.
Guys, I tried really hard to find you a tasty peek at Caleb the
dream dude. I guess he looked a little like this. Or like Joseph
Fiennes if he didn't look bloody silly all the time. No, scratch
that. He didn't look anything like Joseph Fiennes. Or this guy.
But still. Not bad to look at right? Via Ollie's Scrapbook.
Dreams come from us, Mr. Ebert says. Well, I'm a weird dreamer, and an extravagant one, but most of my dreams make no sense or else feature fragmented apocalyptic scenarios in which I usually have to save the world from the Bad Guys, usually by either pretending to be friends with them or else actually becoming friends with them, although I went through a period in my late teens of defeating them via seduction. (My dream self is sneaky.) Except last night I dreamed the middle section of an enchantingly trashy novel. I mean I landed right in the middle of the plot, played out a good six or seven full-length, coherent scenes, and then woke up. Now, it wasn't exactly me in the dream; it was a character, a girl named Asha. (That wasn't my name in the dream, but I woke up and that was her name. That's how dreams work.) An extremely handsome and charming young man named Caleb was trying to kill me. He could run impossibly fast; I could fly. We were running around a perfectly normal-looking city. There were some other people involved, but it all seemed to be paired up: me and Caleb against each other, other pairs of people doing the same. (Not all male-female, I'm pretty sure). I was supposed to be trying to kill him too, but it wasn't working out that way; I was mostly running away because I'm not the killing type and also I had the gonzo hots for him. I mean, um, Asha did. Green eyes, the kind of black eyelashes that make a man look like he's wearing eyeliner, short black hair, a little prettier than I would usually go for, businesslike and matter of fact in his attempt to shoot me when I ran into him at a cafe, tried to drown me in a park pond, dangerously fast at dodging traffic when I ran into it to escape him, you know. The usual. Complicated by the fact that in the middle of all of this we are all dropped off at a "safe house" where there's an overnight respite for all of us from trying to off each other and we all hang out like we're at camp and then he kisses me in the den when everybody's gone to sleep. And he gets very hurt and upset the next time I see him with a gun in his hand and accuse him of faking interest to get me to let my guard down. This includes yelling "That was real!" in the middle of the street and pouting a lot. Whereupon I woke up.

Oh look, I found him. He looked exactly like this 
guy except with short black hair. I just had to
google "man with long eyelashes" and there he
was. You guys know this is just for research
purposes, right? Guys? Via a place I am 
embarrassed to admit
No, this is not a bloody Hunger Games ripoff. It wasn't about roots-and-berries sort of survival, for one thing. And I'm not entirely sure it was a game (although it might have been). There was some very good reason why he was trying to kill me, and I just didn't stay asleep long enough to figure out what it was. Look, this is not going to become a work of great literary merit. I'm in the middle of writing a novel with aspirations towards Meaningfulness and Beauty and I love it very much, and I am not blind to the fact that Asha-the-flying-girl and Caleb-the-very-fast-boy do not have it in them to be canonized. But they sort of want to finish the story. I mean, I've always secretly wanted to write a bodiceripper; at one point my talented writer-partner Kevin & I even discussed taking a month off work to go to Nantucket or something and write a nunspolitation novel that would make us, if not rich, at least mildly solvent for a couple months. But the truth is, I think I kinda want to write it. Some sort of sexy-and-ridiculous thing like an Anita Blake book from early in the series - you know, before she starts being a succubus and craving blood all the time. Listen, I don't even know if I would want to put my name on the thing, not if I want to get my other book taken seriously by anyone ever. But I'm interested in their story. What would you do if you happened to be caught in the unfortunate situation of needing to kill-or-be-killed by someone that you sort of fancied? You know, if there was a very good reason you shouldn't run screaming from the thought of getting intimately involved with someone who was honestly willing to see you dead? (Can I even come up with that reason? Eek. I'm not a fan of he's-trying-to-hurt-me-but-he's-sexy-anyway trains of thought, and this is a sort of hurtling-express-train version. It's just that in the dreeeeam, you guys, in the dreeeeeam it was okay.)

I mean, let's face it, I just want a cover
I can giggle about and an epic, epic title.
This one has assassins! See? 
Why does it matter? Who cares? I dunno, it probably doesn't, and likely nobody, which means that if I somehow failed to write the cheap'n'steamy romance-thriller based on a dream I had last night probably nobody would notice its absence as a gaping hole in the fabric of the universe. it's just that I've never had this happen before: woken up and thought, that wants to be a book. In all honesty, I was having a hard time imagining ever writing anything but A Fool For God, which fell out of me last NaNoWriMo to my complete surprise and without much thought, as if I'd picked up a pen and it had dripped ink in the form of a book. With pages. And words and a plot and stuff. So here's this book presenting itself to be written, and although it's what I think of as an airplane book (something you read when you can't use your brain for anything more intelligent), well, I might want to read it - after all, I read the Anita Blake books, usually on planes, and yes okay I enjoy them a lot please don't take away my library card I promise I'll take out War and Peace next time I swear. So, okay, I was browsing through romance novel covers to pick a suitable one to illustrate (because let's face it, I just want a totally silly very attractive cover for some sexy words I'm gonna pretend I didn't write, not because I'm a huge snob - I swear! - but because it's going to be so embarrassing when all the kids I went to school with between, oh, I dunno, 2002-2009 roll their eyes and go oh, god, everyone totally knew she was just going to end up writing trashy sex novels, gross) and I figure that every possible iteration of boy-meets-girl-with-some-guns-involved has probably been done...but I want to try it anyway! I do! And what good is joy and delight and beauty if you can't occasionally indulge in the literary equivalent of a Twinkie, huh? I mean you know I love fresh bread and the smell of oranges and the color of the sky at dawn but sometimes I just want a beer and some barbeque on a summer night with a stupid book. If for no other reason than to keep me from becoming an utter elitist snob, and because I need to make sure I never, never, take myself too seriously.

Oh, but before I go? The title of this post is a fragment of a quote, more commonly know for what it says about ships. I don't like Longfellow much, but I like this.

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing, only a signal shown, and a distant voice in the darkness; So on the ocean of life, we pass and speak one another, only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

Grim? Kinda. But also very beautiful: a reminder that voices resonate through the dark halls of the unknown that comes before us and the unknown that comes after us. So listen, that's all.  


  1. I love this post so much. At first glance it's all over the place, but I think writing your Trashy book (which I would NEVER FEATURE ON TT, I SWEAR) would bring you the same kind of joy Mr Ebert has found after losing his voice.

    He seems much happier now than he ever did before, which is both frightening and uplifting.

    Excellent post (as always). I would comment more, but y'know, blogger effing hates me.



    1. Aw, gee. I mean, let's be honest, it IS all over the place. That's because I am all over the place but also have a miraculous ability to tenuously connect totally unrelated things just because I want to talk about them in the same breath. And I don't know if the joy Roger Ebert finds in communicating his deepest thoughts could POSSIBLY be quite so MARVELOUSLY PROFOUND as the joy I would feel in making a trashy romance (which OMG I WOULD BE SO HONORED TO HAVE ON TT DEAR GOD PLEASE) out of a silly dream, BUT I do think that the joy of finding strange, miraculous, peculiar inspirations for writing is probably about as wild and wonderful for writers the world over, so maybe you're right.

      Bummer about Blogger, I always squee when I see your comments.

    2. I was super worried you'd have three comments waiting for you, because it kept telling me that my ID was not recognized or some stupid nonsense. Then I entered the same thing the third time and it went through, so I'm not entirely sure what's up with that.

      Anywaaaaaaaaaay -

      I generally only feature things I don't want other people to have to read on TT, and I have a feeling that something you'd write would be DELICIOUSLY trashy - to the point where I'd be all "ZOMG, EVERYONE READ THIS NAO!"

      Also, if you do write your trashy book and need an editor, let me know. I will work cheap for people I know.

    3. That's dumb. Stupid blogger. I use it because I can redirect from a custom subdomain for FREE, yo.

      Also, I do AIM for deliciously trashy. But you can't be TOTALLY honest about only putting things you don't want other people to read on TT after the whole ASSASSIN NUNS post. Like any of us were gonna be able to resist after that.

      And yes, yes yes, YES! I mean I haven't written the darn thing, although if the offer stands for my NOT-trashy book too that's actually something I might very well invest in. I think you'd be able to give preeeecisely the kind of feedback I'd want. I'm not done with the rewrite, and currently if you want to be paid in actual dollars (which editors, and especially good editors, deserve) I'm gonna have to refrain, but if I can bribe you with peanuts or hackwork or a mate for the Dodisharkicorn or epic poetry to give things a look, well, swell! Negotiations can be had.

    4. Weeeeeeeell, I would definitely be willing to take a look at it for you, but I am in the middle of a paid gig right now. When I am done with that, I would LOVE to give you some feedback. I should be done with this sometime around the middle of June and we can discuss then...or whenever you're done with the actual re-writes and whatnot.

      Because sometimes I get all excited to reply and forget what was said in the actual thing I'm replying to.

    5. I'm about halfway through the rewrite, so another month or six weeks if I'm sharp? i.e. end of Juneish?

      I'm fine with you being excited to reply. Like I said, squee.

    6. That works for me. If this move actually happens, it will probably be in the middle of July (that's when our lease here is up). Sad that I'm moving north and YOU'RE moving west at around the same time. :(

      Also, your friend Andrew mentioned the Dresden Files below. If you haven't read those already, you so totally should.

  2. Beautiful, Jericha! I know you as my bellydancing friend, and I've never read your writing...until now. I'm a fan. :)

    1. Aw, gee, thanks! Blogger won't tell me who you are, and I wish I knew so I could reply more personally, but I'm very touched!

    2. ...oh, I figured it out. Gosh, that means a lot, thank you!

  3. So just write it.
    But, before you do, go watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith, if you haven't already seen it.

    And I'm so disappointed. I read the first Anita Blake book (because it was supposed to be about -killing- vampires), and it was SO bad. I had the whole thing figured out before page 80 and wanted to just put it down, but I thought, "no, I can't be right, because what would be the point of this whole book if it's that easy. There must be some twist." But, no, I was right, and it was just so bad the whole time, and I can't figure out why anyone, after reading the first one, would ever read another one.
    But, then, I read the Dresden books... but they're -good!-

    I used to love watching Siskel and Ebert. I was sad when he had to quit his show even though I hadn't watched it in decades. Shut up. Yes, I did say decades.

    1. I did see Mr & Mrs Smith, and it was terrible, and I was totally not sad I watched it at all, although really the whole movie is a giant setup for the scene where they stalk each other through the house and then start doing it instead of killing each other. Which is fine by me.

      I didn't figure out anything, but I tend not to be a figure-it-outter generally, mostly because I'm too lazy to put the pieces together and I want it done for me. ESPECIALLY in the sort of books that have a sexy zombie-raiser as a main character. I read them to give my mind a break from functioning, so I miss hints unless they are WRITTEN IN BLOCK CAPITALS because I have turned my brain off. Also, I remember the plots of most of the Anita Blake books as being kind of incoherent. I just liked the characters.

  4. Well, I actually didn't mean to figure it out. I mean, I wasn't -trying- to. It more like slapped me in the face. At any rate, I couldn't go back for a second one. Maybe it's just me...

    And, um, you didn't like Mr&Mrs Smith but you -weren't- sad you watched it?

    I only brought it up because of the being in love and trying to kill each other thing.

    Write the book. Use a pen name if you think you need to.

    1. Hey, to each their own. I found them enjoyable, but I can't read trashy stuff that other people love. Even mental junk food is still a matter of taste.

      And no, I said Mr & Mrs Smith was a terrible movie. I didn't say I didn't LIKE it. Junk food, dude, junk food. It was awful and enjoyable ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

      I'm already planning the pen name...

  5. I was just making sure I read what you said correctly. I, also, really enjoyed that movie. I don't remember how good it was, though.

    You should read some Dresden and compare it to Anita Blake for me. Which you like better.


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