I first experienced Ms. Ephron with her film “Heartburn” in 1986, based on her semi-autobiographical book by the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. Although, I confess, at the time, I was struck more by the credit music by Carly Simon, prompting me to buy one more of her albums just so I could listen to “Coming Around Again” again and again.
I had seen “Silkwood” with Meryl Streep and Cher (1983). Then came Nora’s “Sleepless in Seattle” (’93), “You’ve Got Mail” (’98), “Julie and Julia” (’09), and a score of others interspersed throughout those years. But, for me, the definitive “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) is the best of her films, and is still arguably one of the most sincere and realistic films about friendships between men and women ever produced, not to mention just all-out fall-down funny and touching and real. One of my all-time favorite movies, period. That movie, that point in time, is when Nora Ephron really hit my radar.
But it wasn’t until mid-July last year when I finally sat down with a book by Nora. I was trying to understand this form of writing I stumbled upon — and apparently had been doing — for over a year at that time. The week before we left for a long-weekend trip to northern Michigan, I Googled “personal essay writers” and was hit with list upon list and more lists and “next pages” of lists. I wanted a woman’s perspective. So naturally, it was Nora Ephron.
I was at Barnes and Noble for over an hour in the small, hidden-in-the-back, out of the way “Essays” section (I didn’t even know there was such a section until then; did you?).
With a lot to do before the trip, I decided I’d wait to read my chosen coursework until we were “officially” on the trip. Which means, once we get on the road or to the airport. Mostly because at that point, there is nothing else I can do to get myself/child/partner/pets/house/car in order. In this instance, we had decided to fly since it was just T and me; and, because in the previous five weeks, between the two of us, we had already made the driving trek to Michigan five times (various business trips intermingled with family visits), with one more to go (our summer family vacation; and no, we don’t normally get to spend so much time in our home state. It’s just worked out that way this summer). So with great anticipation, I cracked the spine on my primer when we arrived at our gate.
I Feel Bad About My Neck is the book I chose to begin my education. And it was a post-doc level course.
When we landed, I reluctantly put the book away for later. We were there for reasons other than relaxation, and it wasn’t until bedtime that I had an opportunity to extract the book from my carry on. While T finished up some work on his laptop, I lay in bed, laughing; folding over page corners for reliving later; thinking “me too!” more times than I could count; and wondering how in the world this woman had exactly the right words in exactly the right order to recount periods in her life with such exquisite perspective.
I sighed when I finished — much like after a wonderful meal that fills you, not only with food, but with gratitude that you had a seat at that particular table.
“I may as well just stop writing now,” I said to T.
“I will never write like Nora Ephron,” I said.
“Well maybe it’s something to strive for,” he replied.
“No, you don’t understand,” I replied earnestly. “I will never write like Nora Ephron.”
At that point, he decided to just nod vaguely in agreement and leave me pondering this slim volume of wonderment. (He’s a wise man.)
I decided to do a little background research on my new-found teacher, and that’s when I discovered I have the same birthday as Nora Ephron. That must be some cosmic sign she is to be my muse, right? (Of course, there are lots of other people who were born on that day in May. Including one of my ex’s much younger girlfriends. Some people think I must be offended by that in some way. Not really. I had that birthday first.) I was on a first-name basis with Nora by then, so it was an OMG moment for certain. I posted it on Facebook. I tweeted on Twitter. I shouted it to my family (“Who?” said my teen). Ok, I was getting carried away. I can see that now.
But it’s NORA FREAKIN’ EPHRON! And she’s one of the most brilliant writers ever, whether it’s for print or movies — geez, she could write directions for an oil change and it would be awesome.
“Much of my life goes irrelevantly on, in spite of larger events,” she wrote. As the song goes, “I know nothing stays the same…”
And yet she still believed strongly that “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Hell to the yes!
At the same time I was voraciously reading Nora’s essays, I picked up a copy of a book T’s mom had told me about regarding the history of the feminist movement. This happened to coincide with Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the first woman to head an election ticket by a major party. AND, guess who was quoted throughout the book? Nora.
Nora would have been 76 this last birthday of ours. But the world lost her marvelous voice in June of 2012, to stupid leukemia. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but I do regret not having discovered this remarkable woman earlier. I would have written a letter to her, in the most fan-girl of ways, saying all these things I’ve learned with help from her.
In retrospect, however, I do believe I came across Nora Ephron exactly when I should have. Any sooner, I may have just chuckled and moved on. In that time period, from when she left us to my discovering her on that bookshelf at Barnes and Noble, I have changed in so many ways — I think for the better. Nora has given me so many master-classes in not just writing, but in how to look at the world through a different lens; finding humor in places I didn’t know I could; accepting myself fully for who I am in every way; looking back through the history of the Women’s Movement and learning things I never even guessed at growing up in the 70s.
I know nothing stays the same, but it’s ok, she assures me. Because if things don’t change, we’re actually all the worse for it. So the changes I’ve weathered, the changes I invited, the changes I made willingly and excitedly, even the ones I didn’t — they’ve all made me who I am now, and have led me to discover my writing anew and shown me where I can fit in to the literary world.
Thank you, Nora. I needed that.
Until next Friday, Friends. Cheers!