Friday, April 05, 2013

My Last important chat with Rodge

(Me to Roger:) This year two brief dreams made me think I’d better spill the dream-beans, in case it might help. One, just plain “Roger may die on us this spring” – from needless exhaustion – the other, you may not show up at Ebertfest.

I dunno. But I know writing. Your energy has been flagging on your personal blog lately. Your reviews, if not as wonderful as ever, then moreso; but where you’re winging it, I see this. I don’t doubt you’ve been overextending yourself, stubbornly.

I don’t know if who’d all advise you to shut some things down for awhile, but I’m recommending it. If you get through this one, can deflect it, there’s yet a new [literary] ballgame you’ll incite just because you’re Roger Ebert, son of his good old dad.

And so, Dear Rodge, there you are. I don’t know what else. Maybe I’ll use some of this for the missing part of “Epilogue II” of my book, which I wrote at a coffeeshop in Champagne-Urbana. A copy of it may still be in Carol’s handbag. My handwriting is easy to read.

(Here it is: )

(Rodge to me:) From: Roger Ebert (rebert@com)This sender is in your contact list. Sent: Thu 1/05/12 4:30 PM

To: Tom Dark (

Well sir, I was fascinated by your letter and your accounts of your dreams, although as you know I don't take truck in no woo-woo. But you made some observations about my writing that would be just as valid in a waking state.

I, too, have felt an occasional flagging of energy in my blog. I think that's because the blog came out of nowhere, evolved into a memoir, and energized me with recapturing the past. This was happening during years when I was learning how to deal with the loss of speech, and the blog became a way for me to talk. I clung to it like a life preserver.

"Life Itself" was an enormous project for me. After it was published, I felt a sort of postpartum letdown. I think blogs have a certain rhythm. I expect that with an election year coming up, my energy will also ramp up.

I think my reviews read about the same. The majority of movies are pretty routine. I try to make every review entertaining in itself, on the grounds that the vast majority of my readers will never see the vast majority of the movies I review. In a sense, a review is like a column. Sometimes I will use a review as the occasion for a more general discussion. Take the new documentary "Paul Goodman Changed My Life." Here is a movie few people will ever see. Nor have most of them ever heard of Paul Goodman. My piece isn't a formal "film review," but more about who Paul Goodman was and how he changed my own life. To the degree it has an influence, it may cause a few people to read Goodman's "Growing Up Absurd."

When a movie comes along that inflames me, I'm plenty passionate and there's no lack of energy. These days I'm reviewing more movies that I would have passed on in previous years. The paper has now discontinued using all freelancers. If a movie doesn't get reviewed by me, it doesn't get reviewed. Last year I wrote 292 reviews, a personal record since 1967. There was a time when the annual average was around 160.

One big inspiration for me is the explosion of On Demand. For the first time in my career, I know that most of my readers will eventually have the opportunity to see most of what I review, through the many forms of On Demand. They may have to pay something, but at least no matter where they live they can see "Kinyarwanda," "The Mill and the Cross" or "Silent Light." For many years most it was true that most art films played only in the largest cities. Now I am writing reviews of potential interest to every reader. This is an inspiration.

Newspapers are laying off movie critics right and left. The Village Voice just fired Jim Hoberman, which is unthinkable. What they don't take into account is that their readers are watching more movies than ever before. Netflix by itself accounts for 30% of all internet traffic during the evening hours. That's a lot of moviegoing. And those viewers are casting their nets wide. They're watching films that wouldn't have played in their towns.

You dreamed that I would "collapse," perhaps onstage at Ebertfest. As you observe, your dreams do not literally predict events, but seem more in the nature of general symbolism. I have not collapsed onstage anywhere just yet, and in any event would probably describe it as "falling over." After going through four rehabilitations to learn to walk again, after as many surgeries, walking is no longer the routine process it once was. My balance is okay, my endurance is reduced, but I keep on with the physical therapy and only a week ago my therapist told me I had set new personal records on the treadmill for speed, distance, and walking without holding on to the bar.

When I do fall, it is a considerable blow to my self-confidence. I am not a child anymore. My most recent fall was a few months ago. I fell on my butt. Chaz and my care-giver Millie hauled me upright, I went to bed, seemed fine, and in the morning was in excruciating pain and had to be hauled out of bed. X-rays showed that I had sustained a "compression fracture" to two lower vertebrae. It's been slower going recently, but my treadmill records show I'm recovering.

In a more general sense "collapse" means death. Some readers have noted a preoccupation with that subject in my blog lately. I think it's a kind of mental process to prepare me for what Henry James on his deathbed called the Distinguished Thing. But there is no reason to believe I will die anytime soon. My blood numbers and blood pressure are better than even before in my life. I appear to be cancer free since 2006. I have no current health problems.

I supply you with this information because your words contained real concern. I go into such detail because at some point during this reply, I realized it could do double duty as a blog entry. Shameless, eh? I know a writer of whom it was said, "He's never had an unpublished thought." I must say that your dreams strike me as a sort of psychic invasion of privacy, but we have no control over our dreams and I can only hope I go on to inspire some more entertaining ones. We could go walking around London, for example, and I wouldn't fall over hardly at all.

(Me back to Rodge:)

Beautiful. Hell yes, blog it. Damned good seeing you write about it; it'll be valuable for a lot of readers aspiring to write, and the "I jez' write whut cums out" was getting a tad sleepy anyhow. How do you know it ain't de Lawd dictating what to say?

As to taking truck in woo-woo, I say booga booga. Dreams are thoughts set loose in associative 3D, or 4D, if that's the combination of the three plus time/space. You pare them down into words for people to understand. You learn it when you're little. I still learn it every time I'm searching for a word. I don't know why it never gets any easier, tho' it's never too terribly hard.

Yes, for instance, what are you s'posed to do when you dream your old pal Rob has had a crooked penis all his life? Well, one is not surprised when his young new wife blabs that he's going to have an operation so they can fuck, but... wasn't there anything else to dream about? Like, the winning lottery numbers or something?

There are High Certain Reasons for all of it, I'm sure, just to say so. As Johnson said in my favorite quote, applicable to nearly anything, "...[it may seem strange to some by way of ratiocination, but] testimony bears great weight, and casts the balance."

So what's wrong with working out an Ebert's Thanatopsis? As good as anything to write about, and maybe something there that will click "on." Yeah I already knew your memoirs wouldn't hit the Big Spot. I knew that before you finished. That IS what I do for a living and Holy Calling.

You know how in quantum physics they say that observing an item alters it. That's what I hope telling you these dreams did.

That's the thing and I hate being concerned about anything where it seems all I can do is wring my hands over something that isn't my business. We're kin because of writing. It doesn't matter what, it's that writing, whereas, not all writers are kin.

You know how bad it made me feel when you wrote you couldn't take those beloved walks. Come out here any time and we'll walk. I don't care if you say anything.

All Richard Savage ever did was walk around, then stop into a stationery store and borrow some foolscap and a goosequill and ink. Here is a relative from heaven, provided there's somebody to write to.


(Me: Next letter, noticing all these previous dreams about coming disaster in Chicago seem to reflect what the military is doing now, re the big g-7 conference)


Good gravy. I'll just die. It'll be easiest that way.

(Me: )

…you, old man, need to stay with us a good while longer. Your writing is that important. If Beethoven could compose increasingly greater stuff deaf, you can do it despite having been banged up.

Added now, April 2013: dreamed last spring that Rodge would choose to die after reaching age seventy, even though he could keep writing into his eighties, which I usually tried to pep-talk him into doing. So yeah old buddy, dreams do indeed "predict" things, insomuch as one finds himself listening in to somebody's decisions. I was hoping you wouldn't make that one.


Blogger KathyB said...

Hi, Tom, linked through from your Ebert Club comment.
Vonnegut lived a lot longer than he wanted to. Convinced of that. I have a letter from him.Cherished possession. August 1982. I had read Jailbird and written to him with some concern for his state of mind. Also talked about other stuff. He graciously wrote back.

You tickled the shit out of Roger, judging by repartee on the blog and his glee about your travel to Ebertfest. Did he listen to you about extending his life? Doubt it. I believe that seventy was his goal and anything more was gravy. When he admitted to the leg bone issue I knew he was softening his exit.In the end he managed some privacy for Chaz and close loved ones.

The minister at my maternal grandmother's funeral almost thirty-five years ago put some biblical spin on living three score and ten years. Church of Christ. Pretty strict people. Mammy made it to 83.

Thank you for sharing those emails. Most appreciated. Take care.

5:47 PM  
Blogger mysterious man said...

This was touching, for someone as busy as Roger to have responded so fully to your post after reading it. I wish I had the courage or the idea itself to talk to Roger, and now that he is gone I cannot show my appreciation for him. Thank you for doing it while he was alive.

8:38 AM  
Blogger mysterious man said...

That was so very touching, how Roger took his time to respond to you so fully and lengthy after reading your email when he is so busy, it makes me wish I had told him how great he was that he would have given me a nice response. Thank you for doing it while he was alive.

8:43 AM  
Blogger mysterious man said...

That was so very touching, how Roger took his time to respond to you so fully and lengthy after reading your email when he is so busy, it makes me wish I had told him how great he was that he would have given me a nice response. Thank you for doing it while he was alive.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Tom Dark said...

Roger and I were about equally busy, mysterious man. I s'pect he's still that way up in Ebert Heaven. I didn't tell him how great he was. I told him to watch out, he was gonna kill himself if he didn't back off.

For some reason I can't delete your two first posts.

8:11 AM  

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