Nora Ephron was my literary Miyagi. “I want to be Nora Ephron,” I would say, when people asked me what sort of writing I did. I never said I wished to write like her, but that I wanted to be her. As if she was something one could ever be. I could think of no other way, though, to define my dream. Nora Ephron’s name is synonymous with a genre, a way of infusing oneself so inextricably into the writing that one’s experiences, one’s values and voice become the writing itself. I want to be Nora Ephron. Saying this, for me, legitimizes my life’s pursuit.
I had this vague notion growing up that I wanted to be a writer and yet couldn’t imagine myself as any of the writers I knew. Despite its humanity and universality, Ephron’s work is not the kind typically studied in school. In high-school English, we never compared Nora’s views on intransigence and loss with Margaret Lawrence’s in The Stone Angel, though I think Heartburn and later, Love, Loss and What I Wore, speak of these topics just as well. In discussing the portrayal of love and sex in art, my university professors discussed Milton’s Paradise Lost and Elliot’s The Wasteland, though I think we would all agree that Harry and Sally are a much more immediate representation than Adam and Eve.
Ephron gave me something tangible to aspire to. It wasn’t just the manner in which she broke down artistic barriers at a time when movies lacked female writers s and subject-matter that inspires me, but the sheer force of her down-to-earth genius. Whereas I never felt capable of writing anything that didn’t arise from my own circumstances or feelings, I was never compelled to weave my imagination into delicate prose, she showed me the value of leaching art from life. Her ability to be so completely immersed in pain so as to tap into its rawness and yet come to observe it from a distance so that’s its recording becomes meaningful and relatable is a gift that I long for. It takes strength and humility to turn life’s tragic chapters into comedy, to recast suffering for the amusing benefit of others. She was able to do this so effortlessly, time and again, teaching me how I want to live, how I want to relate to myself and how I want to grow old. A woman who made a career out of divorce, taught me how I want to fall in love.
I find it strange how someone I have never met, have had no physical connection to, could inform my life so deeply. Out of all the people who have loved me, all those who believed in me, supported me and urged me to keep going, it is a woman I don’t know who has nurtured my spirit and most cultivated my creativity. Of course my mother and father deserve credit, as a “successful parent,” wrote Nora, “is one who raises a child who grows up and is able to pay for her own psychoanalysis.” I want to congratulate my parents on this notable accomplishment. Though I do hope to eventually pay these bills with my writing instead of legal work, in the meantime, I am going to keep trying to embrace the joys and sorrows of my everyday life, observe them, consider them and write them down, just as Nora did.
In I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora urges young women to put on a bikini and not take it off until they turn thirty-four. I am going home to change right this very minute. I hope this will start to help me become a heroine worthy of an Ephron story.