Earlier this week, as I lounged on the beach in Cape May, New Jersey, I finished reading my fifth book of the summer, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by the late esteemed writer, Nora Ephron, credited with the screenplays of classic movies like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle.
I can’t say that I’ve completely read a memoir for pleasure before, but Ephron’s book was most certainly a pleasure. It might seem odd that a girl of almost 19 would be reading a book about aging as a woman, but it truly was an enlightening–and entertaining–read.
The book is comprised of 15 essays, mostly of short length, about the everyday plights and most prominent memories of a sixty-something woman: the evolution of parenting, a favorite strudel from a store no longer in business, and of course, the ever-present reminder that one is aging–the saggy neck.
Through the 137 pages of stories and ideas, Ephron had me laughing out loud and smiling stupidly at myself. Her wit is sparkling, her tales one-of-a-kind, and her wisdom unparalleled. (I can almost hear her voice in my ear saying, “Oh, come on. I’m not that great. Have you even read Norman Mailer?” To which I would respond, “Well, no.” “There you go,” she would say and roll her eyes. That’s how prominent her voice is in this book.)
Of course, as a young person, I didn’t find every story relatable; I haven’t been divorced twice, I’ve never had my own apartment, and I don’t have to deal with the daily maintenance that aging requires (though, some would argue that a great deal goes into appearance as a young person, perhaps under the name “enhancement” rather than “maintenance”). Still, I learned some valuable lessons from Ephron that made her memoir definitely worth a read.
The first is a personal epiphany she describes in the essay, “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less.” She describes going to a movie with a friend; all of the seats are filled and children are forced to share seats. She says to her friend that someone should just get some folding chairs so that everyone would have a place to sit. Her friend responds, “Nora, […] we can’t do everything” (111). Ephron responds with astonishment:
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. (111)
This part hit me like a ton of bricks. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in helping people that I have trouble fulfilling my own responsibilities; I’m one of those people who will only say “no” if I have a significant reason to do so. I’ve been thinking about the line, “Nora. We can’t do everything,” ever since I finished reading it. I can’t worry about things that are out of my control. I have to manage my tasks with tact. I can’t do everything.
A chapter that meant a lot to me on the whole is the final essay, “Considering the Alternative.” After a delightful 14 essays poking fun at her past self and her now-senior-citizen self, Ephron finally tackles the elephant in the room: death.
The tone shifts from that of a comedienne to that of an everyday person with genuine concerns: her best friends are dying one by one; she hasn’t planned out her “exit;” she is facing death’s inevitability. She seems to ask, “What now?”
Her reaction to her best friend, Judy’s death is touching and somber:
I want to talk to her. I want to have lunch with her. I want her to give me a book she just read and loved. She is my phantom limb, and I can’t believe I’m here without her (133).
It’s heart-wrenching; it made me think about the end– the end of my family members, my friends, myself. It was scary. But important.
Because, as Ephron says, it’s hard to believe that death will really happen, that it really is as inevitable as they say it is. Especially as a college student, it feels like I’ve got my whole life ahead of me (and I most likely do). But as she says in another chapter listing her life advice, “You never know.”
Enough with the morbidity, though. Ephron’s book was like reading the thoughts of a snarky aunt who’s had a little too much wine. She’s honest like a best friend, facetious like a sitcom, and curious at an age when some forget how to be curious. She’s a breath of fresh air, a crinkled smile. She’s a marvelous writer, and I wish she were still around to tell her stories.
Have you ever read Nora Ephron’s writing? What did you think about it? How do you view death in relation to your age and state of mind? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!!