Roger Ebert was an inspiration to me in many ways. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, my alma mater as well. His PBS program with Gene Siskel showed me a new way to look at films and their thumbs up, thumbs down has become part of the vernacular of our lives. He was a chubby, intelligent guy who wore glasses and made it big in Chicago by writing and speaking. My idol!
But most of all, I remember Roger Ebert for winning the New Yorker Cartoon Caption contest in March of 2011 after years of losing. He had blogged about losing and the number of entries he had submitted before he won and even The New Yorker seemed relieved he had won. That kind of perseverance really resonated with the world, here was a genuinely nice guy, a Pulitzer prize winner who was very sick who none the less kept plugging away at it and finally won. Nice guys can finish first and hard work paid off, a victory for everyone! If you read his winning submission, it probably wasn't his best but it won! There is a certain perverse humor at The New Yorker and this caption tickled their eccentric fancy.
I was really impressed with this as I had started subscribing to The New Yorker after I retired in June of 2010. I finally had time to read the many issues which came week after week. Plus, I was secretly entering the contest myself every single week. I have an alert in my google calendar and every Monday it reminded me to enter. I had been entering for less than a year but was so ready to give up when Roger Ebert won. I decided if he could take that much rejection then I could too! And I continued to enter and lo and behold, I won The New Yorker Cartoon Contest #324 in April of 2012.
I have that cartoon framed and up on my bedroom wall. Each time I look at it I experience a frisson of delight, a tiny surge of pride and the satisfaction of having achieved a goal. But also, I think about Roger Ebert who kept on entering, who kept on trying and who evoked in me the same determination.
Since our wins, Roger and I continued to enter. Roger kept up trying and enjoying life until the day before he died. He's a role model for us all and I will continue to salute him as I pass by my framed cartoon hubris. Neither of us has won but once but we both still continued to submit entries because that is the way life is. You keep on trying and enjoying, seeing the humor in cartoons and every day.
I will enter again this Monday but with a certain sadness, knowing that Roger and I are not both entering hoping for a Thumbs Up from the cartoon editor. Hey, Roger, this next caption is for you!
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