It’s been so crazy around here that, I am sad to say, I didn’t know until yesterday that writer Nora Ephron passed away on June 26.
Sigh. I love her words.
I really didn’t know that much about her. For example, I had no idea she was 71. In my mind, anyone older than me is 40, even though I am edging ever closer to it myself (4.5 years to go…) But since I spent the summer I was 14 watching Nora’s great masterpiece, the quite mature When Harry Met Sally, every single day, it should have dawned on me that she was a wee bit my elder.
When Harry Met Sally is one of those stories that not only shaped my romantic inclinations (let’s face it girls: Harry Burns was an a$$ until he wasn’t [a lovable, funny one, but nonetheless…), and how many of us dated guys like that, or guys who were good friends so we overlooked the fact that they made lousy boyfriends?), but my goals as a writer, too. In most of the stories I have written, it was all about the dialogue. Characters like Harry or Sally can be shaped entirely but what they say and how they say it. We don’t need to know what they look like or how they dress when we know how they order in restaurants:
or, how they feel about divorce and wagon-wheel coffee tables:
(li’l bit o’ ‘language’ here…)
I watched these scenes over and over again, laughing, crying, fantasizing, quoting. And as I grew as I writer, whether I realized it or not, I always tried to make my characters as witty, warm, and real as Nora made hers.
The fact that I pretty much only write non-fiction these days might indicate how well I succeeded.
Nora Ephron took the city of New York and gave it a heartbeat for those of us who have yet to or may never really experience its life. She showcased women who could – gasp!- simultaneously have big hearts, sharp tongues, exciting or at least successful careers, and not-quite-storybook romances. She showed us people who had faults and failures and we loved them because they were just like our friends or us.
I also greatly admired the short snippets she gave that truly showcased humanity… when Kathleen collapses in defeat on her bed and rolls herself up into her blankets fully clothed in You’ve Got Mail, when infertile Julia breaks into wordless tears after learning of her sister’s pregnancy in Julie and Julia, Sam’s matter-of-fact explanation “It was like coming home” in Sleepless in Seattle. If you’ve seen those movies (…read those scripts…), you remember those moments. It’s what made the stories into life, which is a writer’s ultimate goal.
Sometimes I look at my life as a writer and can’t help but feel disappointed. I have been doing this, telling stories, for, wow, 27 years…pretty much ever since I physically could write things down. And though I have accomplishments to list, none of them include a published novel or an Academy Award-winning screenplay. I have chosen, for the time, to concentrate on the only dream I have bigger than writing, and that is having a family. It’s not to say I can’t have both. And I do know that both JK Rowling and Suzanne Collins got ‘late starts’ and so can I. Maybe those things will still happen. But as I glance through tributes to Nora Ephron this morning, I am struck by one of the quotes showing up most. It’s a mantra I try to live by, and one so eloquently spoken by this late, great wordsmith:
Here’s to all the heroines of their own stories.