Jones profile made me laugh, smile, tear up and sit mouth agape marveling at his manipulation of language. It's a fucking master class in English. This section is stunning perfection:
Ebert's dreams are happier. Never yet a dream where I can't talk, he writes on another Post-it note, peeling it off the top of the blue stack. Sometimes I discover — oh, I see! I CAN talk! I just forget to do it.
In his dreams, his voice has never left. In his dreams, he can get out everything he didn't get out during his waking hours: the thoughts that get trapped in paperless corners, the jokes he wanted to tell, the nuanced stories he can't quite relate. In his dreams, he yells and chatters and whispers and exclaims. In his dreams, he's never had cancer. In his dreams, he is whole.
These things come to us, they don't come from us, he writes about his cancer, about sickness, on another Post-it note. Dreams come from us.
We have a habit of turning sentimental about celebrities who are struck down — Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeve — transforming them into mystics; still, it's almost impossible to sit beside Roger Ebert, lifting blue Post-it notes from his silk fingertips, and not feel as though he's become something more than he was. He has those hands. And his wide and expressive eyes, despite everything, are almost always smiling.
There is no need to pity me, he writes on a scrap of paper one afternoon after someone parting looks at him a little sadly. Look how happy I am.
In fact, because he's missing sections of his jaw, and because he's lost some of the engineering behind his face, Ebert can't really do anything but smile. It really does take more muscles to frown, and he doesn't have those muscles anymore. His eyes will water and his face will go red — but if he opens his mouth, his bottom lip will sink most deeply in the middle, pulled down by the weight of his empty chin, and the corners of his upper lip will stay raised, frozen in place. Even when he's really angry, his open smile mutes it: The top half of his face won't match the bottom half, but his smile is what most people will see first, and by instinct they will smile back. The only way Ebert can show someone he's mad is by writing in all caps on a Post-it note or turning up the volume on his speakers. Anger isn't as easy for him as it used to be. Now his anger rarely lasts long enough for him to write it down.I love this story because it starts with an idea. Who would be interesting to write about? I don't know Chris Jones and don't know whether there's any reporter's notebook explaining how this profile emerged. But given the painstaking craft in writing, I have to believe that Jones's first question was actually "Who would I be interested in writing about?"
And then it follows most important rule No. 2 ... report. report. report.
• Ask a profile subject about his/her dreams.
• Learn about how the facial muscles work and the importance of the jaw in holding our face's shape and the expressions we make and what those expressions communicate. Then write it without any scientific or anatomical terms.
• Take note of every color and convey size without measurement. "Blue Post-it."
• Listen to your writing. This passage gains power as the sentences shorten and words lose syllables. In his dreams, he yells and chatters and whispers and exclaims. In his dreams, he's never had cancer. In his dreams, he is whole.
• And use common words in an uncommon way; I wish I could remember who is known for saying that. His eyes will water and his face will go red — but if he opens his mouth, his bottom lip will sink most deeply in the middle, pulled down by the weight of his empty chin, and the corners of his upper lip will stay raised, frozen in place. Do we typically ever use "empty" to describe our chins or "sink" to describe what our lips do? Perfection.
• My favorite device though is the use of "paperless." It's a form of paper, incredibly common, yet a word used almost never save for when people point out the folly of how computers will creat paperless offices. But in this case, something so common is missing paralleling how easily those of us who are able to speak take it for granted. Because Ebert's ideas could be lost save for a Post-it.