My first 2013 summary post had my list of the year’s villains, so it got kind of negative. Let’s balance that out with my top seven heroes of the year!
They’re in reverse order this time, because #1 would be kind of a sad note to end a blog post on.
1. Edward Snowden. Already covered this issue in like three previous blog posts. But my thought here is: if I knew about all the things Snowden knew about, and knew that somebody needed to speak about it, could I? Leaving friends and family and home for a probably permanent exile, making an enemy of the world’s best spies, being falsely accused of treason, living out of a suitcase, for a political cause? And then if I did make all those sacrifices, could I live quietly and modestly rather than becoming an attention-hogging prima donna like Julian Assange?
Nope. That takes real heroism.
In a televised statement, Snowden said, “A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded unanalyzed thought.”
Today’s New York Times suggested that Snowden be given a pardon. That’s a good start. Next he should be given a medal.
2. Patricia Ladd. I was telling a friend about my plan for this list and she said, “It’s going to be weird jumbling up things from your personal life and things from the news.” Yup! None weirder than my friend Patricia beating out [SPOILER ALERT] the pope. But hey, she finished the first two novels in a four-part series this year, after a decade (a decade!) of work and multiple complete rough drafts. She’s been living with her characters for so long that her parents threw one of them a birthday party. And the results (I’m relieved to say) are awesome. I can’t wait for the rest of the series, and can’t wait to see people buying copies.
I’ve finished writing projects, too, but none as ambitious (arguably), or with as much time and effort put in (definitely), or with such a clear purpose and dedication (probably). I’ve also learned from her example in style; like the real Patricia, her writing is imaginative, adventurous, and uninhibited. If you want to see it at its least inhibited, actually, you could try playing one of her choose-your-own-adventure novels online.
3. Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. How many barriers has this pope busted? He rejects the fancy fineries of the title; he lives in a guesthouse rather than the official residence; he calls people directly; he sneaks out at night to help the poor in an ordinary priest’s clothes; he has no problem with gays; he tells people to follow their own moral compasses; annoys rich people by complaining about income inequality; he thinks priestly celibacy requirements “can change.” He’s not perfect, of course; in September he excommunicated a priest who spoke in favor of ordaining women. But how much more exciting, invigorating, and just plain good can a pope get? Francis sets a model of charity, humility, approachability, and kindness which all his successors ought to emulate (or exceed).
4. An anonymous Brazilian man. According to the funniest news story of 2013, a Brazilian woman decided to murder her husband and have fun doing it. So she covered her privates with poison and asked him to give her oral sex.
You may have already noticed a few flaws in this plan. So did the husband, who gamely set about pleasuring her before realizing that something smelled awry (literally). Recognizing that she was seeping poison, he took her to the hospital and saved her life. Now that, people, is chivalry. He’s pressing charges, but let’s face it: this guy is pure class.
5. Wendy Davis. Her pink shoes represent an Alamo for Texas women, both in the tragic defeat sense and in the symbolic motivation to spur an eventual victory sense. For one night, at least, Davis, Kirk Watson, Leticia van de Putte, and a gallery of protestors helped democracy speak in Texas. They remade Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in Austin, and the remake was better.
6. Paul F. Tompkins. It feels like I spent most of the year in the company of one of America’s most gifted improv comedians. Paul F. Tompkins won’t stop appearing on comedy podcasts and inventing bizarre, wonderful characters with a gentle human touch. When you listen to a lot of comedy, you notice how many “funny” people are just swearing or talking about sex to kill time. Tompkins (“Comedy’s One True Gentleman!” and a lover of very fine hats) offers English-major wordplay (a vampire conducts “Dracularic activities”), has a gigantic vocabulary, and holds himself to a consistent but (obviously) very silly logic.
Example: Tompkins often appears on Comedy Bang! Bang! impersonating TLC’s Buddy “Cake Boss” Velastro. Never seen it? Me either, but that’s okay, because in Tompkins’ hands, Cake Boss is a mystic with the ability to see the future, speak to dead fictional characters, and confer with an intergalactic Cake Council. I wish all entertainment was as consistently joy-giving.
7. Roger Ebert. The film critic passed away on April 4. Here’s what I posted as a comment on the AV Club:
The words I string together in real life, for my two jobs and writing purely for pleasure, reflect a lot of Ebert’s philosophy of style:
1. say what you think and feel
2. say it clearly
3. don’t pass yourself off as an all-knowing arbiter of truth; let the reader decide how they feel
Ebert’s technique of reviewing movies based on whether they succeed in their goals, rather than whether they succeed in his eyes, might have resulted in “grade inflation,” but it also resulted in far greater wisdom, helpfulness, and clarity. He was at his best not when he said “this movie is great and here’s why,” but when he said “I love this movie and here’s why.” In Roger Ebert’s reviews we learned not just about whether the movie was good: we learned about Ebert, we learned about humanity, we learned about the nature of art, we learned about ourselves.
So yeah. My hero’s gone. Physically he was a wreck. As an author and as an artist, he was at the zenith of his powers.
One wonders if he knew. These are the final lines of his final blog post:
“So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”
Ebert may or may not appear again on my next post–the best books I read in 2013. That’s not a hint; I genuinely haven’t decided.
Coming up next: books of the year! I read 85 books this year so I know what I’m talking about!