“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”
I bet if the great film critic Roger Ebert and I met we would have about 2 things in common. We disagreed on religion, morality, philosophy and definitely politics. Why then do I admire him so much? I love Roger because of the way he got me to think. My parents are big on thinking and not just doing, but they don’t watch movies or television.
Let’s face it- being a kid in the post Star Wars world, means movies are a huge part of most of our lives. So, when Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were teaching me how to think about movies, they were kind of teaching me how to think about life. It was a building block to add on to what my parents demonstrated at home.
From 1975 to Siskel’s death in 1998 Gene and Roger reviewed movies on their PBS and then syndicated show under various titles, the longest being At the Movies. They of course were famous for their thumbs up and thumbs down and their constant on air debates over the movies. Here’s one of their best
I have never seen Full Metal Jacket but I still find the review fascinating (and entertaining). In fact, I probably didn’t see 90% of the movies reviewed on Siskel and Ebert and yet I still loved watching the show.
Anyway, with that preface a new movie has come out about the life of Roger Ebert who died in 2013 after a long and painful battle with cancer. It is amazing to think one of the most verbose men in media became someone who could no longer speak. For the last 5 years of his life he communicated through a keyboard and laptop. His blogging and twitter posts became his new voice and he taught many of us how to use the medium to enrich the world not simply criticize.
The film Life Itself is directed by Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame and it is a lovely film about a man that lived a unique, fascinating life. He started filming as he was going into a final surgery several years before his death. They are unflinching (at one point insistently so by Roger) in showing the damage which had been done to Roger’s face and neck. Even his famous Esquire magazine shoot did not really show what had happened to his face.
They show him writing and then go through his life starting as a young journalism student who insisted on a page edit on his local paper the day Kennedy was shot. Then it moves on to his first job at the Chicago Sun Times, his alcoholism, his Pulitzer prize winning writing, his time on the show, relationship with Gene Siskel, his marriage and then his illness and last chapter.
I learned a lot about Roger Ebert from the movie but it also reminded me of all of the lessons I’d learned from Roger over the years. He taught me about movies but also subtely how to live. Roger and Gene were a reminder to all of us that to share your opinion is not something to be fearful of and to avoid but it is a gift of knowledge and discussion to the world. Through sharing we hopefully become better people. I suspect Siskel and Ebert did that for a lot of people. They made us better by sharing their perspective.
Life Itself is a loving piece but not a complete lovefest. It makes it clear Siskel and Ebert really did not care for each other for most of their careers. Roger was also an egotist and a perfectionist to a fault, but we all have our flaws don’t we?
I love learning about people’s lives and how they became who they are. If you enjoy those types of documentaries than you will like Life Itself- even if you disagreed with Roger Ebert most of the time. He had quite the life.
Getting back to the quote from above. Roger Ebert says the movies create ‘shared empathy’. I propose they do such a thing because he and Gene Siskel taught us to see that empathy. To look beyond the moment and think about the art whether it was a blockbuster, a silly comedy or a war movie:
Siskel and Ebert showed all of us how to watch the movies.
I’m grateful. Thumbs up!
Overall Grade A Content Grade C (There are a few photos briefly shown of naked women, and a few swears but not too bad)
This is perhaps their best reviews because they both hated it so much. Love it.
Feel like you are at war in the office? I have! Be like me and work from home.
Just a joke below…
Growing up I basically had 2 stay at home parents. My Mother was and is a homemaker (my family is 35, 33, 30, 23, 17, 14 so my Mom has always been an active mother of a variety of ages). She is also someone who made running her home a career. Her hobbies usually involved bettering family or home in some way. Countless dresses she sewed for us until her tailoring skills were good enough to make costume after costume for my sisters plays. She did a Midsummer’s Nights Dream set in the 20s I believe and the gowns and suits were stunning.
So my Mom has always worked from home. If there was part of home life she wanted to master it. Her gardens are always the best in the neighborhood, especially in our home in Utah there were flowers that wondered all around the front and back yard with a large patch of lily of the valley that I will never forget.
I could go on and on about my Mom but suffice it to say where some women see housekeeping as a necessary evil, my Mom see’s it as her calling and what she wasn’t good at, she became good at.
Then there is my Dad. My Dad has been an entrepreneur for his career. He is perhaps the only person on the planet that could go to law school, not finish 2 papers, and then 25 years later find out he had actually graduated. That’s just the kind of person he is. He pursues something 100%, gleans all the good he can out of it and then moves on to the next idea or spot he is needed with no regrets.
In my life he has been in paid employment as a photographer, framing store owner, computer program designer/manager, ESL computer lab installer, board member, various roles at JWA, Grabber, Impact, Grabber Construction, Kobayashi and Poler to name a few.
Probably the most influential time of my life was when he founded a company called Linguatronics. He had spent the years in the late 80s, early 90s working on a program to help Japanese people learn English. That’s what brought our family from Utah to Maryland. Being in the DC area meant we were close to so many other metropolitan cities and he could promote his new product, as well as other products.
Eventually this morphed into installing computer labs in colleges to help with ESL and other language courses (Linguatronics). There was a software that helped teachers to communicate with students while learning. They could take over the students screen, talk to them and help them in other ways. I’m not sure how many labs were installed but by the time we moved to California in 1998 (7 years) he had exhausted his leads and was needed to help with the family businesses. Things transitioned and changed once again.
But I was basically grown up by then so my greatest memories are the Linguatronics era. My Dad had co-opted the dining room into his office. This meant the french doors of the dining room had glass and we could see in and watch him work. I remember him being constantly frustrated when we would take his office supplies- particularly his scissors.
‘Where did you girls put my scissors?” he would ask in exasperation. We had no idea.
When we moved to Maryland I started middle school and my sister Anna was a year old, so we had 1, 9,11 and 13 year old. My Dad has always had different sleep needs than most people so we didn’t see him a lot when it was late and we were home from activities or in the morning (now he is a great early riser but not back then). I think back to looking through the glass and always being able to see my Dad. What a blessing that was. He was working 70+ hours a week to make that business work and they had a small toddler to deal with (although Anna was the dream sleeper. She will moan and groan about sleeping in the laundry room but I think that noise made her sleep like a rock to this day!).
When my Mother got pregnant she had to go on full bedrest meaning my father would become Mom and Dad for the entire pregnancy. My roommate just asked me if my Mom got up for church or other small things and the answer is no. I remember one time when my brothers mice turned out to be pregnant and he woke everyone up in the middle of the night that she got up. She was up for my sister Megan’s baptism and to go to the doctor but I don’t recall any other times.
When I was 15 my mother got pregnant again and so my freshman year was spent, family-wise, on survival mode. I was probably not as helpful as I should have been because I found the whole situation to be incredibly stressful and worrying.
If I felt that way imagine how my Dad must have felt. Here he has 4 children including a 5 year old in kindergarten, 3 teenagers at different spiritual and emotional levels and working 70+ hours as a self-employed businessman. The amount of pressure must have been enormous. (And he was young men’s president during this whole time!)
I remember as soon as we found out my Mom was expecting we would transition to paper plates and all of the kids would be assigned days to cook and chores. My Dad at one point had a complicated chart he called ‘The New Order’ which was just overcomplicated and a little crazy to actually work for a while. Then he tried a ‘New Order 2’ which was less effective… 😉
My Dad also was determined to not let the massive garden my parents had worked on go to pot with my Mother on bedrest. One day he saw a farm stand and was convinced it would be a great idea for his kids to sell tomatoes on the side of the road. Remind you- I was 15 and somewhat surly. There was no way I was going to be selling tomatoes to all my friends unless we were starving.
My father was undeterred and proceeded to plant 36 tomato plants. From what I read 1 tomato plant can produce as many as 25 tomatoes so we had nearly 1000 tomatoes at the end of the summer! And of course, we never did the tomato stand, but we did learn how to can tomatoes from Sister Saunders at the ward, and my sister Megan sat Anna in the red wagon loaded with tomatoes and went door-to-door giving them to our neighbors.
I wasn’t going to share that story but I think it displays well how intimately my father has always been involved in our family. This is not the aloof businessman that some of my friends had. I can’t think of a single time in my life when my mother said ‘wait till your father comes home’ because he already was home. And despite being insanely busy we never felt like my father was busy. In fact, if you had asked us at the time we would have said he did very little (shows how much kids know!)
He has always had the ability to merge life and work and friends and anything else in his life pretty seamlessly. Just today he was writing an email, helping someone at the house and hear about my upcoming date on the phone.
That has been a great example to me as I have chosen to work from home for my career. I guess that was very natural given the example of my Dad. I would never have thought it but 3 years in corporate America was enough to convince me the dreams of my youth were really nightmares. I think of working in a cubicle and having some horrible boss and I feel ill. I wonder if my Dad felt that way too?
He has an office now but it is very close to my folks home and it is next door to the kids school (now they are all in high school or beyond).
My Dad used to take us on business trips (Boston, New York, even Europe) and we had great experiences on a small budget. I went to see The King and I with my Dad and went to the Statue of Liberty and Plymouth Rock. I also took my first and only trip to Germany, Czech Republic and a little bit of France when I was 14.
But the work trip I remember most was in Maryland. I had helped him at a school in Montgomery County (next county over) and he asked me if I wanted to drive home. Being a kid with unmatched confidence I said sure. I am not a great driver even now and then-yikes! The belt loop is a massive freeway in DC with about 6 lanes (I’m guessing!). I was terrified and I remember weaving in and out of traffic and at one point my Dad said ‘keep your hands on the wheel…’. It was pretty funny.
Another story I wasn’t planning on telling. Basically my Dad has a way of working without making his children feel like he is burdened or worried. I have worked with him since 2005 on an almost daily basis and have rarely seen him come unglued or ‘stress out’. I’ve done plenty of it but he is just a strong guy and a true multi-tasker.
I guess I’ve been thinking about my Dad these last few weeks as I’ve had a career change. I remember all the one’s he had and looking through that glass door his eyes focused on the computer, and nearly always on a phone call with someone who inevitably became a friend, and we would see at dinner eventually.
My Dad is the type of person who went to Czech Republic and invited a total stranger to come live with us, and when that didn’t pan out said his cousin could come. He’s just a great guy that believes in people and I think that makes him a great man of business even if every enterprise has not been ‘successful’ it was to him.
People ask me how I can work from home. Don’t I get distracted? Well, sometimes I can but I saw my Dad do it every day of my life and he had much more to distract him, but the distraction was and is his happiness. That’s his light and the work is just trappings for helping people. So, yes I get distracted on occasion, but I know how to use that energy to get my work done and be my best self.
They say that those who telecommute actually get more work done than their corporate counterparts and that is probably because we are always working. You can be called or emailed at anytime, which can be a drag but again I have the example of my Dad to help me come close to balancing it all out.
I wasn’t even planning on talking about my Dad that much in this post but he is such a great example to me on how to work, and how to work from home. He is an example to anyone on how to keep a balanced life. He’s certainly had his tough periods but in general he is a happy, hopeful person. When I get in my funks it is almost always because I become obsessed with one part of my life over another.
Luckily I have my Dad to tap me on the shoulder and help me figure it all out. I really do love him and my Mom.
What lessons about work have you learned from your parents or mentors? How has that helped you in your career? Or perhaps you learned what not to do?