e-mail me at billdeg@umich.edu


Professional Accidents

I'm reading Roger Ebert's memoir LIFE ITSELF and enjoying the writing very much. I've long thought of Ebert not only as a good film critic but as a good writer. He's always personal and often funny. His readers know him and like him. After a bit of a false start in which Ebert lists extended family members (for a chapter or so it's like reading the genealogical passages from Genesis), LIFE ITSELF settles into a folksy, fond series of thematic recollections. A chapter on his dad. A chapter on Catholicism. More thoughts later, I'm sure.

In the meantime, a connection. Ebert points out that although he works hard, happenstance has played a significant role in much of his professional life. His boyhood pal's dad happened to be a newspaper editor. The Sun-Times happened to need somebody to review films soon after he became a "newspaper man." Is Ebert the exception or rule? Happy accidents and random events often conspire and affect our lives, sometimes in profound ways. When I started my master's program (1996), the new TA director happened to be an enthusiastic, recent graduate of Arizona's rhet/comp program who talked up his alma mater. More recently (2009), surfing the list of Fulbright host countries while racked with killer migraines, I came upon Lebanon and stopped surfing.

Here's a big one. At the end of my first year of undergraduate study (academic year 1992-1993), I was turning in some piece of paperwork (this was pre-internet) in the liberal arts dean's office. I hadn't declared a major but was thinking of either philosophy, Spanish, or both. The secretary, filing my papers, saw I was undecided and said, "Do you want to declare a major?" I was about to say no, when my Intro to Drama and Poetry professor peered around the copy machine and said, "Yeah, he wants to major in English." I had tested out of first-year comp (yes, it's the focus of my teaching life and I never actually took the class!) and instead took a literature class during Winter semester of freshman year. The secretary grabbed a major declaration form, wrote "English" on it, and handed it to me to sign. Which I did. Dr. Jim McDonald declared my major for me.

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