Dear Nora,

Nora Ephron. Photo by Elena Seibert on tumblr

I will miss you.

In today’s New York Times obit, Meryl Streep is quoted as calling you “stalwart.” Stalwart is something I’ve never been.

You weren’t a whiner.

I am.

I don’t like that about myself, but obviously not enough to make great inroads into changing. Husbot bears the brunt of it. But this is not a whiny post. This is about how you affected–and still affect–my life.

I remember when Mbot was six months old and I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, that I came upon a profile of you in The New Yorker. For a couple of months after reading the profile, I sucked it up. I kept my mouth shut when I wanted to whine. I looked on the bright side. I had more confidence in myself. I didn’t mind making enemies for the sake of saying something I believed. Yet at the same time I attempted to be more diplomatic.

Then we moved (down twenty-one stairs, without professional movers, in the summer in Pheonix, eight months pregnant with a fifteen month-old on my hip–sorry, am I whining?), and the article got buried in a pile of other New Yorker articles I’d ripped out and put in a folder to take with us, and I forgot about it. I gave birth again, lost sleep in a box-filled apartment to not only a hungry infant but to a howling one year-old; I forgot to not whine, to look on the bright side, to have confidence, to be diplomatic. I had my sense of humor, but it works better somehow in the company of those other things.

It is time–past time–to read that profile again.

But since it is not at my fingertips, and since quiet time in my house has failed to result in a nap for the two year-old (the almost four year-old finally fell asleep, in spite of the midget Cirque du Soleil on the next bed), my blogging time allowance may end at any moment, shifting you to stage left and the weebots to front and center. In fact I am right now typing to the chant, “Please give me a cookie,” which, however polite, is distracting. And so I will just briefly mention three points in the profile that stayed with me.

# 1

You were married three times, divorced twice. You obviously weren’t afraid to try, and fail. You turned your divorce into a best-selling novel (Heartburn)–and not only a best-seller but a funny, self-deprecating, insightful, vivid story about womanhood, marriage, pregnancy, professional life, and motherhood. You felt like a failure, as a woman, and as a wife, but you wrote about it, bravely and with humor. I am not planning a divorce, but there are things other than my husband that aren’t working out so well, that I would like to walk away from.

Like my whining. Some might say it’s a symptom: a symptom of my need to communicate honestly; of my children who no longer nap regularly; or of the fact that I am living in Phoenix in the summertime. But that symptom is f**cking with my life.

Honest communication is great, but so is strength of character. And if I were a character in my own book, would I admire me?

Not when I was whining.

#2

You were taught by your alcoholic screenwriter parents that everything in your life is material for your writing. I always felt that was true about mine, but often lacked the conviction to jot things down on the spot. Although I was the first junior high student in Juneau, Alaska, to wear legwarmers, a bandana around my head, and a cropped t-shirt, when it came to real life, I was afraid of doing the unexpected. My floor might as well have been cold, hard, Mexican ceramic tile for all the times I made love on it. Reading that you and your writer sisters embraced this way of seeing your lives–as material–strengthened my courage to do the unexpected, even if it was only ignoring snickers when I whipped out my notebook or took notes on my arm during events or conversations that others deemed unremarkable. Being true to my need to document the ordinary has a temporary effect of whine-quelling.

#3

You have two grown sons whose absence in the tabloids leads me to suspect they are fairly well adjusted. As a mother of two sons myself, I know this is part their doing, part yours. I would like my own sons to grow up with a mother who can lead by example in the nonwhining department. But it is too late to send them to you. And so I will just have to buck up.

In an essay of yours that appeared in The New Yorker not long after I read the profile, titled “My Life as an Heiress,” you wrote about how you were working on a screeplay at the time you received an inheritance from some long lost relative. You mentioned that you remember the screenplay was “‘really, really hard.'” The sum of the inheritance was debated among family members, and estimated to be quite large. You had some expensive landscaping done to your house in the Hamptons. You fantasized about retiring to a life of leisure.

When the money finally came, it was something like $5,000. I think it barely paid for the landscaping. You finished the screenplay because you suddenly really needed the money. You pointed out that it was a good thing you didn’t retire right then and there, because the screenplay you were working on–the one that was “‘really, really hard,'” was When Harry Met Sally. Which, in spite of its lack of Oscars wins, is probably–among women between forty and fifty–the most quoted and widely referenced movie I know. Still, today, over twenty years later.

I shouldn’t whine, even when things are really, really hard. You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.

I want to just suck it up and turn it into material. I want to have the confidence in myself to leave behind what isn’t working and try something new. I want to have the confidence in myself to believe I am trying hard enough. Or if, in fact, I’m not, to recognize and remedy it: read more, write more, seek a mentor, seek an audience, seek the quiet time I need. I want the longterm perspective to see past this tired day and draw strength from knowing that I will not always be this tired, this constantly needed, emotionally and physically. And also to appreciate that as long as I am needed, I’ve got job security.

I want to be braver, more confident, more persistent, and more stalwart. Even if it’s really, really hard.

I want what you’re having. But with the dead part on the side.

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8 thoughts on “Dear Nora,

    • Thank you! I was so sad to hear she had passed. The book is fantastic–a funny, quick read, and I know it’s available on Amazon for pennies. Way ahead of it’s time–her character’s a cookbook author, and there’s a recipe in every chapter. Back in 1983!

  1. I’ve read that when we pretend to be happy, we actually become happier, so I’ll have what she’s having, even when I know it’s a fantasy. Even when I know I’m juggling reality and those compelling “what ifs’. Even as I recognize that I cannot possibly be all the characters I’ve ever imagined myself to be. I choose to dream.

  2. Wow. I want to have what YOU are having. I found you on Richard’s blog and think this is the best tribute I’ve read to Nora. I sent it on to my UT Austin grad school prof who challenged his readers to find the best tribute. Here’s a lived one.

    • Oh wow–thank you! What a great challenge. I just reread, and saw that I should have written “eight months pregnant with a fifteen month-old on my hip” instead of twenty four month-old. I’ll make that change. Although I still don’t think it justifies the whining. Thanks again!

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