Okay, can we please talk about Nora Ephron for a little bit?
Feel however you want to about romantic comedies – and we all know you secretly love them anyway – she wrote and directed (sometimes both at the same time) some of the most memorable romcoms in the history of the genre that you KNOW you spend your Sundays watching on TBS.
“When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first – that way in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.”– Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally
Movies aside (by the way, they include When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia), her life was kind of amazing. I’m not here to copy and paste the Wikipedia article, but it’s worth mentioning. She was an intern in JFK’s White House, a mail girl at Newsweek, a journalist, a playwright, and essayist. Few people know all that. In fact, I didn’t know all that until I read this New York Times article. In whatever field she decided to dabble in, she excelled. She made a name for herself. And she was good. That is more than any of us can ever hope for.
“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don’t have the alibi my class had — this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: unlike us, you can’t say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead. Twenty-five years from now, you won’t have as easy a time making excuses as my class did. You won’t be able to blame the deans, or the culture, or anyone else: you will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa.
…And this is something else I want to tell you, one of the hundreds of things I didn’t know when I was sitting here so many years ago: you are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever. We have a game we play when we’re waiting for tables in restaurants, where you have to write the five things that describe yourself on a piece of paper. When I was your age, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy. Whatever those five things are for you today, they won’t make the list in ten years — not that you still won’t be some of those things, but they won’t be the five most important things about you. Which is one of the most delicious things available to women, and more particularly to women than to men. I think. It’s slightly easier for us to shift, to change our minds, to take another path. Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee who made a specialty of saying things that were famously maladroit, quoted himself at a recent commencement speech he gave. “When you see a fork in the road,” he said, “take it.” Yes, it’s supposed to be a joke, but as someone said in a movie I made, don’t laugh this is my life, this is the life many women lead: two paths diverge in a wood, and we get to take them both. It’s another of the nicest things about being women; we can do that. Did I say it was hard? Yes, but let me say it again so that none of you can ever say the words, nobody said it was so hard. But it’s also incredibly interesting. You are so lucky to have that life as an option.”
— Nora Ephron, Wellesley Commencement Address, 1996
And while part of me doesn’t want to make this an entry that boils down to “LOOK WHAT SHE DID FOR WOMEN, LOOK WHAT WOMEN CAN DO”… it’s hard to avoid. She graduated college at a time where women got married, had children, and watched their husbands accomplish the things they dreamed about in school. She watched both of her screenwriter parents succumb to alcoholism. She’s living proof that human beings, women or men, are capable of so much more than what is expected of them.
“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
– Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally
I know that some Sunday in the near future I will be in my pajamas on the couch forcing Roddy to watch one of her movies that TBS will air twice in a row, just in case we miss the beginning. (Though he’ll secretly enjoy it). I’ll be crying when Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly discover they’ve been chatting together on the internet, when Harry and Sally finally get together, or when Sam Baldwin describes his wife on a national radio show. All the while wondering if I, too, could cook my way through Julia Child’s cookbook. Because if Julie Powell can, why can’t I?
“Sam Baldwin: Well, I’m gonna get out of bed every morning… breath in and out all day long. Then, after a while I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breath in and out… and, then after a while, I won’t have to think about how I had it great and perfect for a while.
Doctor Marcia Fieldstone: Tell me what was so special about your wife?
Sam Baldwin: Well, how long is your program? Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were suppose to be together… and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic.”
– Sam Baldwin, Sleepless in Seattle
I hope to have lived a life half that full and satisfying. I hope to do what I love and make a mark on the world in the process. I hope to try new things, I hope to not be afraid to fail. Oh, and also, this may go without saying… but… I’ll have what she’s having.
Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.
-Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail