Showing posts tagged Nora Ephron

Wonder junkie

Three years ago, I read The Varieties of Scientific Experience, the Carl Sagan book I hold closest to my brain and soul. Edited by his widow Ann Druyan, this is a collection of the Gifford Lectures that he delivered at the University of Glasgow in 1985. Yes, it’s the same Gifford Lectures series that gave us The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. In her Introduction, Ms. Druyan confirms the link between those two titles: “Carl admired James’s definition of religion as a ‘feeling of being at home in the Universe.’”  

I admire Sagan’s prescience (warning us about global warming and nuclear war, discussing mind-altering substances that can trigger religious visions and treat mental illness). In The Varieties, he expounds on everything, from UFOs to LSD, from the Cold War to the Milky Way. I am in awe of his breadth of knowledge, his humor and humanity. He has turned me into a wonder junkie. Each time I go back to this book, it feels like coming home—to that childlike comfort and curiosity, asking questions no matter how silly, dangerous, or unanswerable they may be.

Sagan uses the phrase “wonder junkie” to describe Ellie Arroway, the protagonist of his novel Contact. She’s a scientist who gets high on awe. She’s the leader of a group on a search for extraterrestial intelligence (SETI). She’s a dreamer, an explorer of possibilities. In the movie version, she’s played by Jodie Foster—smart, feisty, deep, relentless, someone you don’t want to mess with. Someone who, like the Jessica Chastain character in Zero Dark Thirty (so goes Seth MacFarlane’s controversial joke  at the Oscars), exemplifies “every woman’s innate ability to never let anything go.”

And why dis her for that? There’s just so much out there—universes of constellations and wormholes and mysteries—to keep her mind hungry for more. Says Sagan: “[Ellie’s] romanticism had been a driving force in her life and a fount of delights.” Who would want to let go of that? (And please don’t hate MacFarlane too much. Last year, he “donated funds to the Library of Congress so it can acquire the personal papers of Carl Sagan,” including the astronomer’s letters to other scientists, drafts of academic articles, and screenplay drafts for Contact. Seth, you are so forgiven.)

It was International Women’s Day last week (March 8). There’s much to celebrate, yet there’s a sad irony to the fact that till now we have to be told to celebrate one day (or one month) in honor of women and girls. I’ve never thought of Sagan as a poster boy for feminism. But looking closer into his work, including The Demon-Haunted World, I find him breaking many stereotypes and often advocating women’s rights. I also realize that in describing the beautiful strength of Ellie (see Chapter 18) he could be referring to himself as well. A wonder junkie on the verge of “discovery and escape and an end to loneliness.” Someone whose heart would “sing in anticipation.” “An incurable romantic.”

It’s no secret that Sagan was one of the smartest creatures to have roamed this planet. He’s also one of the most eloquent to have romanced it. He was in love with science and the search for truth. He was in love with Earth, this pale blue dot, and the stars and everything else beyond. In Contact (the novel, not the movie), he gave the U.S. its first female president. (Isn’t that romantic?) He wrote passages (see Chapter 9) that can rival the cutest repartee in a Nora Ephron romcom. And he dedicated Cosmos to his wife, Ann Druyan: “In the vastness of space and the immensity of time, it is my joy to share a planet and epoch with Annie.”

In Billions and Billions, my favorite parts are (1) the final chapter, in which Sagan writes about his illness (myelodisplasia) and about hope, and (2) the Epilogue, written by Ms. Druyan on Valentine’s Day 1997, two months after her husband’s death. Her prose, like his, is lucid, tough-minded, heartbreaking:

Now Carl’s fever raged. I kept kissing him and rubbing my face against his burning, unshaven cheek. The heat of his skin was oddly reassuring. I wanted to do it enough so that his vibrant, physical self would become an indelibly etched sensory memory.

The Epilogue tells us about Sagan’s final days in 1996, then takes us back to that moment in 1974 when Carl met Annie “at a dinner party hosted by Nora Ephron in New York City.” (Bless you, Nora.) The man who felt at home in the Universe also basked in “the sustained incandescence” of love. Ms. Druyan ends the book with the reassurance that, in the hearts and minds of those he has inspired, “Carl lives.”

I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.
Nora Ephron, Heartburn
Nora Ephron (1941–2012)
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 any answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.
— Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron, written by Nora and Delia Ephron
(Photograph by William E. Sauro: “Nora Ephron at a party at the venerable Gotham Book Mart in 1976.” Source: nytimes.com)

Nora Ephron (1941–2012)

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 any answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.

— Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) in You’ve Got Mail, directed by Nora Ephron, written by Nora and Delia Ephron

(Photograph by William E. Sauro: Nora Ephron at a party at the venerable Gotham Book Mart in 1976.” Source: nytimes.com)

The Google moment
I am living in the Google years, no question of that. And there are advantages to it. When you forget something, you can whip out your iPhone and go to Google. The Senior Moment has become the Google moment, and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound, doesn’t it? By handling the obligations of the search mechanism, you almost prove you can keep up. You can delude yourself that no one at the table thinks of you as a geezer. And finding the missing bit is so quick. There’s none of the nightmare of the true Senior Moment—the long search for the answer, the guessing, the self- recrimination, the head-slapping mystification, the frustrated finger-snapping. You just go to Google and retrieve it. You can’t retrieve your life (unless you’re on Wikipedia, in which case you can retrieve an inaccurate version of it). But you can retrieve the name of that actor who was in that movie, the one about World War II. And the name of that writer who wrote that book, the one about her affair with that painter. Or the name of that song that was sung by that singer, the one about love. You know the one.
— from “I Remember Nothing” by Nora Ephron (in I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections)
(Photo: barnesandnoble.com. Excerpt: randomhouse.com)

The Google moment

I am living in the Google years, no question of that. And there are advantages to it. When you forget something, you can whip out your iPhone and go to Google. The Senior Moment has become the Google moment, and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound, doesn’t it? By handling the obligations of the search mechanism, you almost prove you can keep up. You can delude yourself that no one at the table thinks of you as a geezer. And finding the missing bit is so quick. There’s none of the nightmare of the true Senior Moment—the long search for the answer, the guessing, the self- recrimination, the head-slapping mystification, the frustrated finger-snapping. You just go to Google and retrieve it.

You can’t retrieve your life (unless you’re on Wikipedia, in which case you can retrieve an inaccurate version of it).

But you can retrieve the name of that actor who was in that movie, the one about World War II. And the name of that writer who wrote that book, the one about her affair with that painter. Or the name of that song that was sung by that singer, the one about love.

You know the one.

— from “I Remember Nothing” by Nora Ephron (in I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections)

(Photo: barnesandnoble.com. Excerpt: randomhouse.com)

My religion is ‘Get over it.’
Nora Ephron
Consider the alternative
I so admire Henry and the way he handled his death. And yet I can’t quite figure out how any of it applies. For one thing, I have managed to lose all my love letters. Not that there were that many. And if I ever found them and sent them back to the men who wrote them to me, I promise you they would be completely mystified. I haven’t heard from any of these men in years, and on the evidence, they all seem to have done an extremely good job of getting over me. As for instructions for my funeral, I suppose I could come up with a few. For example, if there’s a reception afterward, I know what sort of food I would like served: those little finger sandwiches from this place on Lexington Avenue called William Poll. And champagne would be nice. I love champagne. It’s so festive. But otherwise I don’t have a clue. I haven’t even figured out whether I want to be buried or cremated—largely because I’ve always worried that cremation in some way lowers your chances of being reincarnated. (If there is such a thing.) (Which I know there isn’t.) (And yet.)
“I don’t want to die,” Judy said.
“I believe in miracles,” she said.
“I love you,” she said.
“Can you believe this?” she said.
No, I can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.
But let’s not be morbid.
Let’s put little smiley faces on our faces.
LOL.
Eat, drink, and be merry.
Seize the day.
Life goes on.
It could be worse.
And the ever popular “Consider the alternative.”
And meanwhile, here we are.
I don’t know. I hope that’s clear. In a few minutes I will be through with writing this piece, and I will go back to life itself. Squirrels have made a hole in the roof, and we don’t quite know what to do about it. Soon it will rain; we should probably take the cushions inside. I need more bath oil. And that reminds me to say something about bath oil. I use this bath oil I happen to love. It’s called Dr. Hauschka’s lemon bath. It costs about twenty dollars a bottle, which is enough for about two weeks of baths if you follow the instructions. The instructions say one capful per bath. But a capful gets you nowhere. A capful is not enough. I have known this for a long time. But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today. So I use quite a lot of bath oil. More than you could ever imagine. After I take a bath, my bathtub is as dangerous as an oil slick. But thanks to the bath oil, I’m as smooth as silk. I am going out to buy more, right now. Goodbye.
— from “Considering the Alternative” by Nora Ephron (in I Feel Bad About My Neck)
(Photo: devouringtexts)

Consider the alternative

I so admire Henry and the way he handled his death. And yet I can’t quite figure out how any of it applies. For one thing, I have managed to lose all my love letters. Not that there were that many. And if I ever found them and sent them back to the men who wrote them to me, I promise you they would be completely mystified. I haven’t heard from any of these men in years, and on the evidence, they all seem to have done an extremely good job of getting over me. As for instructions for my funeral, I suppose I could come up with a few. For example, if there’s a reception afterward, I know what sort of food I would like served: those little finger sandwiches from this place on Lexington Avenue called William Poll. And champagne would be nice. I love champagne. It’s so festive. But otherwise I don’t have a clue. I haven’t even figured out whether I want to be buried or cremated—largely because I’ve always worried that cremation in some way lowers your chances of being reincarnated. (If there is such a thing.) (Which I know there isn’t.) (And yet.)

“I don’t want to die,” Judy said.

“I believe in miracles,” she said.

“I love you,” she said.

“Can you believe this?” she said.

No, I can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.

But let’s not be morbid.

Let’s put little smiley faces on our faces.

LOL.

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Seize the day.

Life goes on.

It could be worse.

And the ever popular “Consider the alternative.”

And meanwhile, here we are.

I don’t know. I hope that’s clear. In a few minutes I will be through with writing this piece, and I will go back to life itself. Squirrels have made a hole in the roof, and we don’t quite know what to do about it. Soon it will rain; we should probably take the cushions inside. I need more bath oil. And that reminds me to say something about bath oil. I use this bath oil I happen to love. It’s called Dr. Hauschka’s lemon bath. It costs about twenty dollars a bottle, which is enough for about two weeks of baths if you follow the instructions. The instructions say one capful per bath. But a capful gets you nowhere. A capful is not enough. I have known this for a long time. But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today. So I use quite a lot of bath oil. More than you could ever imagine. After I take a bath, my bathtub is as dangerous as an oil slick. But thanks to the bath oil, I’m as smooth as silk. I am going out to buy more, right now. Goodbye.

— from “Considering the Alternative” by Nora Ephron (in I Feel Bad About My Neck)

(Photo: devouringtexts)

I don’t stop missing Nora Ephron



I don’t stop missing Nora Ephron. I keep reading the beautiful remembrances, and, as the days go by, I just want to join the chorus of voices paying tribute and tell you why I admired her so much. Nora and I first met, back in 1999, when she took me to lunch at Barney Greengrass to talk about a play she wanted me to write based on one of my stories. I did write that play for Nora—a process that spanned the next twelve years, though I now wish it had been twenty. I never stopped learning from her. Every step she took in this life is one in which it would be wise to follow.
[…]



Nora once had me and my wife over for a birthday dinner where she served an almond cake. The best I’ve ever had. I asked for the recipe (not because I’m much of a baker, but because seeing Nora bake made me think baking was the greatest thing around). The point is, Nora gave me the recipe. And she also gave me some advice. You’ve got to sift the flour. (She’d sift three times.) And if the almond cake sinks in the middle, as it sometimes does (hers hadn’t, but she surely knew that mine would—and it did) she told me to cover it with powdered sugar, and then put some fresh strawberries on top. Then it would be perfect. And that to me is a good way to sum up what being a working artist is all about. It’s about being a person who makes real things in a real world. You set out to do something, and to do it right. And if it doesn’t come out exactly as planned—you don’t just live with it, you find a way to make it even better than it would have been before. And who isn’t going to be happier with a strawberry on her plate?

— from “Still-Life of Nora, with Almond Cake” by Nathan Englander (The New Yorker)
The full text is here.
(Photo: oandmco.com)

I don’t stop missing Nora Ephron

I don’t stop missing Nora Ephron. I keep reading the beautiful remembrances, and, as the days go by, I just want to join the chorus of voices paying tribute and tell you why I admired her so much. Nora and I first met, back in 1999, when she took me to lunch at Barney Greengrass to talk about a play she wanted me to write based on one of my stories. I did write that play for Nora—a process that spanned the next twelve years, though I now wish it had been twenty. I never stopped learning from her. Every step she took in this life is one in which it would be wise to follow.

[…]

Nora once had me and my wife over for a birthday dinner where she served an almond cake. The best I’ve ever had. I asked for the recipe (not because I’m much of a baker, but because seeing Nora bake made me think baking was the greatest thing around). The point is, Nora gave me the recipe. And she also gave me some advice. You’ve got to sift the flour. (She’d sift three times.) And if the almond cake sinks in the middle, as it sometimes does (hers hadn’t, but she surely knew that mine would—and it did) she told me to cover it with powdered sugar, and then put some fresh strawberries on top. Then it would be perfect. And that to me is a good way to sum up what being a working artist is all about. It’s about being a person who makes real things in a real world. You set out to do something, and to do it right. And if it doesn’t come out exactly as planned—you don’t just live with it, you find a way to make it even better than it would have been before. And who isn’t going to be happier with a strawberry on her plate?

— from “Still-Life of Nora, with Almond Cake” by Nathan Englander (The New Yorker)

The full text is here.

(Photo: oandmco.com)

We can’t do everything

By Nora Ephron

I’m sitting in a small screening room waiting for a movie to begin. The room fills up. There aren’t enough seats. People are bunching up in the aisles and looking around helplessly. I’m next to my friend Bob Gottlieb, watching all this. The director of the movie decides to solve the problem by asking all the children at the screening to share seats. I watch in mounting frustration. Finally, I say to Bob, “It’s really very simple. Someone should go get some folding chairs and set them up in the aisles.”

Bob looks at me. “Nora,” he says, “we can’t do everything.”

My brain clears in an amazing way.

Nora. We can’t do everything.

I have been given the secret of life.

Although it’s probably a little late.

— from “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less” (in I Feel Bad About My Neck)

Meryl and Nora

Two of my favorite women. 

(Photograph by Annie Leibovitz. Thanks to Vanity Fair.)