Wednesday, July 04, 2012

If You Knew Nora... I think there might be a column in that!

In Nora Ephron's signature movie, "Heartburn," the despicable "Mark," husband of "Rachel," the narrator, used to take friends' anecdotes and use them in his newspaper column. For example, when his friend Arthur said, "I'm no good with colors because I grew up with the small box of crayons," Mark would immediately be noting it down, saying, "I think there might be a column in that."

"Mark" was doing in the movie what of Nora's screenwriter mother advised her in real life: "Everything is copy! Write it all down!" Nora followed Mom's advice. She used a couple's fight over a wagon-wheel coffee table in one of her chick movies. She wrote down and published a friend's reaction when he first learned of his wife's infidelity. A classmate's confidences appeared in Esquire. Yes, to Nora everything and everybody was potential copy. And now that Nora has died all, I mean all, Nora's writer friends are saying, "Nora died? I think I coud get a column out of that."

Frank Bruni and others remember Nora's chopped-liver football.  Lynn Sherr recalls a day Nora appeared at the Wellesley News throwing purple gum to everyone. Dick Cavett gets a column out of the time Nora came on his talk show and had to stay longer than planned.  Some friends of hers moved, and Nora told them where to find the good restaurants. Or, one day Nora and a writer had lunch, and Nora said, "Oh, yeah."

Things that ordinary people do and say became publishable because they were done and said by Nora. And why not? She certainly worked hard enough to deserve her stardom. Plus, I noticed that in most of the writerly reminisces, the best parts were quotations from Nora's own books and movies.

I knew Nora too and even appreciated her work. "Heartburn" to me remains the most perfectly plotted and written movie I know. But Nora and I kind of stopped speaking because she used me as copy without really asking a by-your-leave. It was during that stage of life when I was learning you really can't trust journalists, even or perhaps especially, if they were your classmate. So in a way I could wish that I hadn't known Nora; then I could be a regular fan.

And now that Nora's dead, why do I still carry around this complicated attitude? I have forgiven so many other people for so many worse violations, that I am having quite the time of self-reflection wondering why I can't feel less harshly towards Nora for one thing so long ago. I certainly don't feel good to be such a grudge-retentive individual.

When I told the above to Sarah, who is a real and good friend, she said, "I was reading all the encomiums and actually felt relieved to know through your experience that she wasn't such a saint." Maybe reading all the writers who made a column out of knowing Nora, I could try to appreciate knowing Nora could be gracious and kind and generous--if you were important to her.

See, there I go again. Peace, Nora. I forgive you. Good-bye.


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