'I Remember Nothing': Nora Ephron's Senior Moment

Nora Ephron i i

Nora Ephron is the celebrated screenwriter of When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail and other films. She is a triple nominee for the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay). Charles Sykes hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Sykes
Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron is the celebrated screenwriter of When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail and other films. She is a triple nominee for the Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).

Charles Sykes

Four years after publishing I Feel Bad About My Neck, which included the memorable line, "You have to cut a redwood tree open to see how old it is, but you wouldn't have to if it had a neck," Nora Ephron, approaching 70, is more concerned than ever about aging.  In her new book, I Remember Nothing, she rues cleavage that "looks like a peach pit" and taking "so many pills in the morning you don't have room for breakfast." In the title essay, she flags life events of which she has retained nada  — including meeting Eleanor Roosevelt in 1961 and seeing the Beatles live on Ed Sullivan in 1964. She quips, "I was not at Woodstock, but I might as well have been because I wouldn't remember it anyway." She concludes, "On some level my life has been wasted on me.  After all, if I can't remember it, who can?"

I Remember Nothing
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections
By Nora Ephron
Hardcover, 141 pages
Knopf
List price: $22.95

Read An Excerpt

Since the early 1970s, when she wrote a column about women for Esquire magazine, Ephron has demonstrated a delightful ability to share her mundane woes — from small breasts to a growing wattle — and connect with her audience as if they were her new best friends. Like other engaging personal essayists, including Anne Lamott, David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley and the late Wendy Wasserstein, she has the common touch. Unlike them, she has also channeled her snappy repartee into hit movies, including When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail.

Ephron is obviously still sharp enough to joke about her memory hiccups.  She writes, "You can't retrieve your life (unless you're on Wikipedia, in which case you can retrieve an inaccurate version of it)," but reassures us that all is not lost because we're "living in the Google years. ... The Senior Moment has become the Google moment, and it has a much nicer, hipper, younger, more contemporary sound, doesn't it?"

Notice, in the passage above, how she slips in a little jab at Wikipedia?  That's classic Ephron: gloriously opinionated — and on target.  In fact, several essays in I Remember Nothing originated as op-eds for The New York Times. These express outrage over miserable moviegoing experiences at multiplexes, and peeves about intrusive waiters who constantly interrupt conversations to offer you freshly ground pepper.

Self-deprecation and bold, sweeping statements are key to Ephron's humor.  She loves coining phrases: the bare patch at the back of her head, another sign of aging, is an "aruba," after the windswept resort it resembles. She delineates six stages of e-mail (infatuation, disenchantment, etc.) and five of inherited wealth (glee, sloth ...).  Several of the 23 essays are, in fact, nothing more than lists — including what she'll miss (her kids, Central Park, pie) and what she won't (dry skin, critics, panels on Women in Film). Facile? Slight? Occasionally. But even her lists are hilarious and eloquent.

Of course, Ephron is capable of burrowing deeper than wrinkles, as she reminds us in three heartfelt pieces that look back: on her work ("Journalism: A Love Story"); her mother, a successful screenwriter who raised four daughters and seemed to have it all before succumbing to alcoholism ("The Legend"); and her short-lived infatuation with Lillian Hellman ("Pentimento"). While she may not have reached what she calls "the nadir of old age, the Land of Anecdote," Ephron sure does know how to tell a story and entertain.

Excerpt: 'I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections'

'I Remember Nothing' book cover
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections
By Nora Ephron
Hardcover, 160 pages
Knopf Publishers
List price: $22.95

The Six Stages of E-Mail

Stage One: Infatuation

I just got e-mail! I can't believe it! It's so great! Here's my handle. Write me. Who said letter-writing was dead? Were they ever wrong. I'm writing letters like crazy for the first time in years. I come home and ignore all my loved ones and go straight to the com­puter to make contact with total strangers. And how great is AOL? It's so easy. It's so friendly. It's a commu­nity. Wheeeee! I've got mail!

Stage Two: Clarification

Okay, I'm starting to understand — e-mail isn't letter-writing at all, it's something else entirely. It was just invented, it was just born, and overnight it turns out to have a form and a set of rules and a language all its own. Not since the printing press. Not since television. It's revolutionary. It's life-altering. It's shorthand. Cut to the chase. Get to the point. It saves so much time. It takes five seconds to accomplish in an e-mail something that takes five minutes on the telephone. The phone requires you to converse, to say things like hello and good-bye, to pretend to some semblance of interest in the person on the other end of the line. Worst of all, the phone occasionally forces you to make actual plans with the people you talk to — to suggest lunch or dinner — even if you have no desire whatsoever to see them. No danger of that with e-mail. E-mail is a whole new way of being friends with people: intimate but not, chatty but not, communicative but not; in short, friends but not. What a breakthrough. How did we ever live without it? I have more to say on this subject, but I have to answer an instant message from someone I almost know.

Stage Three: Confusion

I have done nothing to deserve any of this: Viagra!!!!! Best Web source for Vioxx. Spend a week in Cancún. Have a rich beautiful lawn. Astrid would like to be added as one of your friends. XXXXXXXVideos. Add three inches to the length of your penis. The Demo­cratic National Committee needs you. Virus Alert. FW: This will make you laugh. FW: This is funny. FW: This is hilarious. FW: Grapes and raisins toxic for dogs. FW: Gabriel García Márquez's Final Farewell. FW: Kurt Vonnegut's Commencement Address. FW: The Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. AOL Member: We value your opinion. A message from Barack Obama. Find low mortgage payments, Nora. Nora, it's your time to shine. Need to fight off bills, Nora? Yvette would like to be added as one of your friends. You have failed to establish a full connection to AOL.

Stage Four: Disenchantment

Help! I'm drowning. I have 112 unanswered e-mails. I'm a writer — imagine how many unanswered e-mails I would have if I had a real job. Imagine how much writ­ing I could do if I didn't have to answer all this e-mail. My eyes are dim. My wrist hurts. I can't focus. Every time I start to write something, the e-mail icon starts bobbing up and down and I'm compelled to check whether anything good or interesting has arrived. It hasn't. Still, it might, any second now. And yes, it's true — I can do in a few seconds with e-mail what would take much longer on the phone, but most of my e-mails are from people who don't have my phone number and would never call me in the first place. In the brief time it took me to write this paragraph, three more e-mails arrived. Now I have 115 unanswered e-mails. Strike that: 116. Glub glub glub glub glub.

Stage Five: Accommodation

Yes. No. Can't. No way. Maybe. Doubtful. Sorry. So sorry. Thanks. No thanks. Out of town. OOT. Try me in a month. Try me in the fall. Try me in a year. NoraE@aol.com can now be reached at NoraE81082@gmail.com.

Stage Six: Death

Call me.

Excerpted from I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections by Nora Ephron. Copyright 2010 by Nora Ephron. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Publishers.

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And Other Reflections

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