Wednesday, June 27, 2012
On Nora Ephron
An ex-boyfriend of mine used to tease me for being 'of the Nora Ephron school of thought'. Well, tease isn't the right word. He would shame me for it. It bothered me to no end (well, an incredibly finite end, actually) not only because I knew he meant it as a dig, but also because I realized that he didn't understand me--- or women like me--- at all. He thought that by enjoying films like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You've Got Mail, (not to mention books like Heartburn and Wallflower at the Orgy) it meant I was lacking a certain edge. He meant that I was unintelligent and flighty. Ditzy. Girly. Plonk. I remember my friend Annie jumping to my defense, sighting several other writers I favored, artists whom I understood, but I never had the words ready to defend Ephron's wit and intellect. I regret that. Ephron was a woman writer who spoke to women, and it's offensive to categorize such a thing as trite. Nora would have hated him.
We, the women of the Nora Ephron School of Thought, are a certain breed. We are girls who read The Bell Jar and only saw beauty. The ones who liked getting frightened by Joan Didion. We happily wept to Joni Mitchell's River and danced to Patti Smith's Gloria. We weren't scared and we aren't stupid. We liked party dresses and pumpkins and clanging kitchens and cappuccinos but it didn't make us dumb. We were the optimists.
I started giving walking tours of Ephron's You've Got Mail the summer I moved here to anyone who would attend. At that time, the summer of 2007, it meant mostly friends who were visiting me from the Midwest, but also to new coworkers, to my roommate, and often to myself. My tour (as directed by the YGM DVD's special features) began at the Cheese and Antique's shop on 69th and Columbus (although no longer in business, it served as the original storefront for The Shop Around the Corner), up to Fox Books (a discount clothing store, I believe), to Gray's Papaya, and Cafe Lalo, and Verdi Square. I made my way up to H&H Bagels, Zabars, and the 79th Street Boat Basin (Hello, New Jersey!) and finally the 91st Street Garden. It's a lovely little walking tour for visitors actually, but it started because I didn't know my way around any neighborhoods other than Ephron's Upper West Side. I was incredibly happy in those days wandering around the city alone, imagining the future I might live on those streets.
I heard of Ephron's death tonight through twitter while at a party at MoMA that I attended with my friend Tanna. Our hearts sank and our heads began to spin, trying to figure out how on earth she could have died. She was on NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell me just last week. I listened to the podcast version on my lunch hour while eating a sandwich on the benches outside the Gourmet Garage on Mercer and Broome. I listened to her play Not My Job, and talk about missing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I reminded myself, once again, to read I Feel Bad About My Neck, even though I've been afraid of it up to this point. I didn't realize that she was sick.
To quote Zadie Smith when Katherine Hepburn died (another story for another time, lordy), "When people truly feel for a popular artist - when they follow in their thousands behind Dickens' coffin or Valentino's - it is only the dues returned for pleasure given, and it never feels like enough." I would be hard pushed to think of another artist whose death has caused me this much pause. I guess I felt she was of my time. Someone I might run into someday at Fairway or in line for a movie. It gave me comfort to think of her still living here, in this New York, not one from another era. This week will be packed with tributes and outpourings and mourning for the loss of "the last of her kind." Ephron would be the first to laugh at such grandiose understandings, and it will take us a while to contemplate what exactly is lost. For me... for me it feels like I've lost a bit of my beginning.