Nora Ephron: a laugh at life's curveballs
When I met Nora Ephron, for the first, and, as it turned out to be, the last time, she had just written a book about her observations on aging, called I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections.
Being in your late 60s was not all it was cracked up to be, lamented Ephron. She was starting to forget things. She didn't feel like learning about new things as much as she once wanted to. And the mental stuff was just the tip of the iceberg of the physical dilapidation, she said.
There were clues in the book that there was something affecting her health beyond simply aging, but what, she did not reveal. (We now know Ephron had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2006, but only her closest friends knew about it).
And what she did reveal, she revealed in true Ephron style. Even when talking about life's bitterest pills -- aging and death -- she did so with an ample spoon of sugar. Her humour fizzed and bubbled throughout what would otherwise be a gloomy conversation.
She was very thin, dressed in black, her hair cut in a classic shaggy bob she'd sported for years -- a cool New York gal head-to-toe.
But sitting opposite her, it was easy to forget this woman ran with New York's intellectual elite for decades, that she was an accomplished journalist as well as a screenwriter, that one of her best friends was Arianna Huffington, that she was once married to Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. She was the warm, wise-cracking gal-pal you'd want her to be.
I was smitten. So smitten, in fact, that I stayed late after the interview, chatting with her, and had to sprint to make it to my next interview, my cameraman's microphone and clip still firmly attached to the back of my dress as I weaved through the subways.
I thought about her for weeks afterwards, about how much she added to the ongoing dialogue of what it meant to be a "modern woman." I thought about her when I turned 33 and thought "Oh God, then I'll just wake up and be 40!" (If I'd had Billy Crystal next to me at that point, he would've said..."When? In SEVEN YEARS!")
This 1962 yearbook image released by Wellesley College shows Nora Ephron, editor of the Wellesley News in the newsroom at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. (Associated Press)
But most of all I thought about how, while she'd be loathe to call herself a public intellectual (a la Christopher Hitchens), she was one. But she wielded that power gracefully, lightly.
She gave you the witticisms about men and women, and fake orgasms in delis, but that was just the confectionary glaze hiding the good stuff.
Few writers had her lightness of touch when handling life's Big Things: love, loss of love, motherhood, aging, death. And, of peculiar interest to my colleagues and me, journalism, too.
I present the evidence:
Nora Ephron, on journalism:
"I believed in journalism. I believed in truth. I believed that when political activists claimed that news organizations conspired against them, they had no idea that most journalistic enterprises were far too inept to harbor conspiracy... Now I know there's no such thing as the truth. That news organizations are full of conspiracy -- and that, in any case, ineptness is a kind of conspiracy."
Nora Ephron, on her divorce from Carl Bernstein:
"People always say that once it goes away, you forget the pain. It's a cliche of childbirth -- you forget the pain. I don't happen to agree. I remember the pain. What you really forget is love....For a long time, the fact that I was divorced was the most important thing about me. And now it's not. Now the most important thing about me is that I'm old."
I will always think of Nora Ephron as being summed up by the title of the play she co-wrote with her sister, Love, Loss and What I Wore. Talking about her, people focus on What I Wore, but it's the love and the loss she thought about deeply, brilliantly.
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