There's a lovely movie that came out last year called "Julie & Julia", about one woman writing a cookbook, and another woman writing a blog about her 50 years later.
A movie about cooking AND blogging? How could I not love it?
The young blogger Julie develops a special bond with Julia Child, a writer she has never met but comes to know through her work and by reading about her life. One person suggests that Julia is her 'pretend friend', and Julie agrees. After all, she is the audience Julie is writing for and hopes to emulate. She fantasizes about meeting her idol, but in the end her husband observes that it isn't necessary for the two to meet because she already knows her, and that the Julia Child that lives in her head is perfect.
Roger Ebert is my imaginary friend. Roger Ebert lives in my head.
We have long conversations in there - about movies, about religion, about democracy, about the health care systems in our respective countries. We've attended numerous imaginary screenings together, and I've explained to him many times exactly why his criticism of Spielberg's 'Artificial Intelligence' is based on an assumption that completely ignores the facts presented in the first five minutes of the film and is therefore fundamentally flawed.
He reluctantly agrees.
The Roger in my head looks and sounds just like he did the last time I saw him on television, and when I read his blog, that's the voice I hear. Of course I know that he doesn't look or sound like that anymore - not since cancer surgery and a series of near fatal complications left him without a lower jaw and without a voice. I had seen a couple of more recent photos, but Roger has generally kept his physical self to the shadows these past four years, so the old photo that graces his website was still the one in my head.
That all changed this week when I read a profile of Roger from Esquire magazine, which opened with an uncompromising full page photo.
The article is wonderful, and discusses a lot of the issues Roger himself has talked about in his blog - the things he's lost, the things he misses, the surprising things he's gained or rediscovered in the process, including his newfound passion for blogging. It talks about his amazing wife Chaz, about the new routine of their lives, and it describes his physical state in unflinching detail. It's not sappy, or maudlin, or voyeuristic, and after reading it I got over the momentary shock of the photo and started to feel like the Roger in my head had gained another dimension or two.
The article was followed by an appearance on an Oprah Winfrey special the other night which I didn't like quite so much. I'm not sure why, but it all seemed a little condescending to me, a little too much like trotting out the crippled kid at a tent revival for a bit of pity and inspiration. Hallelujah!
The one moment that redeemed the whole episode was when Roger got to demonstrate his brand new computer voice to his wife. The voice, which replaces the generic Stephen Hawking-like one he's been using, was created by a company in Scotland and uses actual samples of his own voice culled from hours of his DVD commentary tracks.
The result was so startling, it brought Chaz to tears.
So now the Roger in my head has a voice again. A real voice - not one half remembered with the 'At the Movies' theme music playing under it. It's still not the real Roger, but that's just as well. If I ever did meet Roger Ebert in the flesh I would probably fall all over my own tongue and embarrass myself utterly.
When I started this blog three years ago (God it's been three years?!), my first full post was entitled "Just Call me Roger". At the time, I fantasized about becoming Canada's Roger Ebert, or at least some brand of Professional Journalist, waiting to be discovered sitting at my own virtual Schwab's lunch counter.
It didn't quite work out that way.
Instead, my little blog transformed from being a place to post my reviews and work on my writing skills into a reasonably well respected (albeit minor league) political blog. That in turn led to attending a couple of political events, meeting some of the local players in the Liberal Party, diving head first into a political campaign, and eventually getting in up to my neck in riding politics. Meanwhile, I started writing about other subjects, from environmental sustainability to foreign policy to local issues and politics.
And now I'm running for Town Council.
Like Roger, and like Julie, blogging opened up a whole world for me that I never imagined I would be walking in at this point in my life.
Like them, I found my voice.