Thursday, June 28, 2012

For Nora

There is a lineage. There is a genealogy of  taste which you follow if you want to be good.  Nora Ephron is not just a marker on that path back, she is whole chunks of it.  Where Lena Dunham, Elizabeth Merriweather, and countless others are, Nora Ephron was before.

She is frequently called our Dorothy Parker, but the truth is she both warmer and kinder than Parker. She is there when you want to learn to be as insightful as Didion, but without all the reedy anxiety. She is there when you want to be as funny as Fey but without the kookiness. She is there when you want to know how to make a cheesecake.

Nora wrote plays, books, essays and movies, but she started in journalism, with which she was “as deeply in love with as anything [she’d] ever been in love with.” Her advice to a clueless young writer about to find herself on a Presidential campaign ran as such:

1) Good for you. 
2) Whatever you think the article's about when you start, it's not. On the other hand, it's always good to have a point of view on whatever you're writing about even if it's going to change.  (Which is to say, don't take assignments about things you have no point of view about.)
          3) Leave yourself wide open to find out what it's about.
4) Interview, interview, interview. 
5) Interviewing fellow members of press corps doesn't count. 
6) Find a friend you can hang out with and pool info with who isn't in direct competition with you.
“Find a friend.” 

The first time I met Nora, I was around ten years-old, sitting on the bench of a houseboat in Seattle, frowning down at my thighs. I wish I hadn't been, but I was. I was frowning down at my thighs and Nora came over to me, introduced herself, and then told me everyone's thighs flare wider when you sit down. I shouldn't worry about it.

Over time, Nora would also tell me that the best cheeses are spreadable, that Studio 54 was really very boring, and that the funniest writers take their work seriously. 

There is an embarrassing amount of attention paid to young women having mentors -- it strikes me as a little unseemly. I’d like to think women have come far enough that we don’t need advice about how to be a woman working in any particular field -- we just need advice about how to work. Incidentally, Nora’s feminism was a sort I came to deeply admire: she seemed bored of panels of women talking about making movies -- she just wanted to make movies. So she did.

I would never have called her my mentor to her face, but the truth is, anything Nora Ephron said to me, I treated as gold standard. I suppose I knew her well enough to know that she would probably think that was just ridiculous, but what else could I do? She looked at my contracts, she took me to lunch, she found time when she probably didn’t have any.

These are all personal stories which mean the world to me, and while they might illuminate who she was to those who were not lucky enough to know her, for most, Nora’s legacy will be in the work.

We all know her breasts were too small, her second marriage gave her two sons she loved dearly, that her neck bothered her. We know we should marry an Italian. We know that she will miss pie. We know that, in the end, Harry and Sally get together.

We know all the lines.

We know we’ll miss her.