Nora, you may remember nothing, but we remember you
When Nora Ephron was young, she wanted to be Dorothy Parker.
When I was young, I wanted to be Nora Ephron. I still do.
“All I wanted in this world was to come to New York and be Dorothy Parker. The funny lady. The only lady at the table. The woman who made her living by her wit. Who wrote for The New Yorker. Who always got off the perfect line at the perfect moment, who never went home and lay awake wondering what she ought to have said because she said exactly what she ought to have,” Nora writes in her witty, 1976 book Crazy Salad. You did just that, Nora! To me, you were that woman.
Though as Nora discovers that many of her “ambitions and fantasies—which [she] once thought of as totally unique—turn[ed] out to be clichés,” I on the other hand stand behind my original desire: There was no one like you, Nora; you were a force, an inspiration, a straight-shooter who deftly combined the personal and political, crossed (the often impenetrable lines between) journalism, essay, memoir, film, and theatre with the greatest of ease. And you were commercially successful! Perhaps it was because you wrote from a place of keen interest and curiosity.
In her introduction to Crazy Salad, Nora writes, “Month by month, I took what interested me most, and so I never wrote about a number of things that interested me somewhat: panty hose, tampons, comediennes, the Equal Rights Amendment, Fascinating Womanhood, Bella Abzug, The Story of O, the integration of the Little League—I could go on and on. The point here is simply to say that this book is not intended to be any sort of definitive history of women in the 1970’s; it’s just some things I wanted to write about.”
And what you wanted to write about is what we wanted to read, to watch, to ponder; to get angry about, get right about, laugh about, cry about. You definitely knew how to strike a cord, for the individual, for the collective.
You had great self-awareness and great courage. I suppose you have to when you can turn the personal inside out with a wink and a smile, making it universal. Whether you wrote about marriage; small breasts; The Pig; Dealing with, the, uh, Problem; Deep Throat; or later on when you wrote about your aging neck; parenting; death; and “Moving On” (sigh), you spoke my language, thought my thoughts, articulated what I felt but didn’t know how to express. Whether you wrote movies for real women, with real characters, for real actresses, with a real story, preceding Wendy Wasserstein and the many “uncommon women” who followed, Nora, you were a trailblazer, often the first women at the table who opened up the party to so many more.
You refused to fit yourself into a box, and just as important, if not more so, you refused to pigeonhole other women. The way you embraced your meshugas gave others permission to do the same.
“In most relationships, I tend to be the straight one, cautious, conservative, not crossing on the Don’t Walk, but whenever I was confronted with someone even squarer than I was, whenever I was confronted with a relationship where the role of the crazy person was up for grabs, I would leap in, say outrageous things, end the evening lying down in Times Square with a lampshade on my head.”
You were so colorful! So many hues, so many facets, so many diametrically opposed components in one woman. You embodied Walt Whitman’s line in “Song of Myself”: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” And you invited your readers, audiences, proponents, and even opponents to do the same. You were so smart, able to hold in that brain of yours conflicting perspectives, and you’d write about it, bringing humor to otherwise confusing phenomena, like the evolution of “parenting”:
“Suddenly, one day, there was this thing called parenting. Parenting was serious. Parenting was fierce. Parenting was solemn. Parenting was a participle, like going and doing and crusading and worrying; it was active, it was energetic, it was unrelenting . . . Parenting was not simply about raising a child, it was about transforming a child, force-feeding it like a foie gras goose, altering modifying, modulating, manipulating, smoothing out, improving.”
You were crazy and straight-laced, serious and playful, larger than life and . . . mortal. You wrote more recently in I Feel Bad About My Neck that “Death doesn’t really feel eventual or inevitable. It still feels . . . avoidable somehow. But it’s not. We know in one part of our brains that we are all going to die, but on some level we don’t quite believe it.”
Yes. And it’s hard to believe that the inevitable has reached you, a woman who defied so many expectations, transcended so many limits.
In your light-handed way, you shared towards the end of the book, instructions for your funeral:
“If there’s a reception afterward, I know what sort of food I would like served: those little finger sandwiches from this place on Lexington Avenue called William Poll. And champagne would be nice. I love champagne. It’s so festive. But otherwise I don’t have a clue. I haven’t even figured out whether I want to be buried or cremated—largely because I’ve always worried that cremation in some way lowers your chances of being reincarnated. (If there is such a thing.) (Which I know there isn’t.) (And yet).”
And yet. And yet, we will miss you so deeply, Nora. It seems like you had so much more writing and producing still left in you. I thank my lucky stars I still have your essay, books, and movies as keepsakes, as inspirations.
“In a few minutes I will be through with writing this piece, and I will go back to life itself,” writes Nora. She continues, “I need more bath oil . . . I use this bath oil I happen to love . . . The instructions say one capful per bath. But a capful gets you nowhere. A capful is not enough. I have known this for a long time. But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today. So I use quite a lot of bath oil. More than you could ever imagine . . . I am going out to buy more, right now. Goodbye.”