The Big Sick
Finds that laughter-through-tears sweet spot, often in the unlikeliest of places.
Dear Twitter Followers:
My husband Roger Ebert initially became a Twitter user quite reluctantly because he didn't think 140 characters gave one enough words to write a meaningful message. So when I encouraged him to give social media a try, he went kicking and screaming. "I refuse to be a Twit!," he said. Once he joined, however, he gradually discovered that if you were clever (as he was indeed), it could be fun to challenge yourself with tweets. He became the King of Twitter, tweeting in between writing his movie reviews, books and blogs and living life. I lived with him and so knew how he also loved going to the opera and spending time with our family and friends, reading and listening to music, so I don't know how he found time to tweet all day as well. I told him he tweeted more than a teenager. He amassed over 850,000 Twitter followers along the way @ebertchicago, and picked up accolades like The Webby Awards and Time Magazine's Top Twitter Influencers, scoring higher than Lady Gaga. Although it wasn't only about the numbers, I wanted him to reach his goal of his first million followers. But that was not to be.
Starting in about March of this year he began to give me the secret code to his Twitter and Facebook accounts and he told me to make sure I kept his Twitter account up-to-date. I thought this was strange, but I didn't pay much attention to it. We knew his cancer had recurred, and he had undergone radiation treatments. But he would blast the Temptations songs on Pandora and participate in his physical therapy sessions when his favorite therapist came around. We expected him to live for at least two more years if not longer. (Or at least I expected him to. He had defied the odds for so long that perhaps I was beginning to think of him as invincible.) He gave me instructions on many things, how to keep the messages personal, how to change the photo without losing all of the followers. How to trailblaze on social media. And then, he was gone.
The one thing I knew he would want me to do would be to thank everyone who followed him on Twitter and Facebook. And at first that's all I did. Because although I was the one who encouraged him to try social media, I really didn't use it myself. Yes, I had a Twitter account, and a Facebook account and even a WordPress account, but I was so much more private than Roger that I didn't use them often. Also, I didn't want to be one of those people who tweeted about what I had for breakfast. Roger was so curious about everything that he constantly found interesting things to tweet about. And he was so generous that he gladly passed along items and articles from others. When one of his social media pals committed suicide he was saddened and used the medium to speak kindly of her and her brilliance and humanity. He used the forum to defend people who were wrongly attacked, and to praise movies, ideas and people who deserved praise.
His Twitter column had a true voice. We all marveled that Roger's voice resonated even more strongly after he lost his physical voice. He began to reach even more people, all over the world, with his internet reviews at Rogerebert.com, and with his journal and Twitter and Facebook musings. So when he passed away and some suggested that we shut down his Twitter account, I remembered his admonishments against it. He knew that it could be disconcerting to some people to see his picture pop up if he was no longer here, so I changed the photo. At a lovely tribute to him in the south of France during the Cannes Film Festival, Julie Sisk at the American Pavilion got 250 people together on the beach and took a photo of them giving a "500 Thumbs Up Salute." That is the photo we switched to. (I have to admit that I still miss seeing the old photo of Roger.) When I tweeted anything on the account, I prefaced it with "Chaz here," so as not to freak anyone out. There was one tweet, however, that came from Roger, and it was uncanny that people knew the difference. It was more widely re-tweeted than any other tweet since his death. That was on May 15 when I posted something he had passed along to me. It was: "Even when the theater has gone dark, the story is still alive in you." Within minutes it was retweeted over 1200 times! And made a favorite over 800 times. My favorite response tweet came from James Timmer who tweeted: "How is @ebertchicago tweeting from the grave! I want this technology." That gave me a big laugh.
Roger wanted us to innovate. One year at the Toronto Film Festival he invented a Twitter game that was played in front of an audience, and then tweeted in real time. He was fortunate enough to get Rainn Wilson from "The Office" to play along. There were others who participated like David Poland of Movie City News. It was witty, played at breakneck speed, and was loads of fun. The live audience enjoyed it and so did the Twitter audience. Roger suggested variations of it that can be resurrected. We get good suggestions online as well. One follower, Christopher Bair had a great suggestion. He tweeted: "I still love hearing about what Roger enjoyed. I recommend that the acct also post "On this day" tweets from Roger's archives." Thank you Christopher, we will!
What we won't do is try to imitate Roger. He was an original. I want to keep this account personal, so I will communicate with the Twitter people about how to safeguard Roger's 31,000 tweets, and maintain the 256 people he followed. I will try to carry out his wishes to innovate and disrupt the normal rules of engagement and keep things interesting. For instance, he wanted us to have a Twitterchat, and we are working out the plans for it. But I also want to use @ebertchicago to talk about him, and about things that were more personal to him.
Therefore, we are today introducing a new Twitter account, called @ebertvoices. It will be the official Twitter account for Rogerebert.com, where we will tweet about movies and movie reviews, television and cable programs, interesting theaters and mobile devices, topical stories, books, politics, speaking engagements and anything that our editors and group of writers find interesting. We invite you to come along with us. In the design mosaic you will see a few representative faces of writers for our site, but the mosaic was not big enough to encompass all of our writers. So from time to time we may change it. We are fortunate to have some of the best editors and best film critics on the web. We also have a cadre of Far Flung Correspondents who Roger met when they wrote to him from all over the globe. All of our writers have their own distinct views and opinions, and we are proud to present them under the Twitter sobriquet @ebertvoices. We hope you come along.