Nora Ephron, Sticking Her 'Neck' Out on Age We should all look as good as Nora Ephron does at 65, but she's not crazy about getting older. The good news is that she expounds upon aging and other issues with trademark dry wit in a new book of essays: I Feel Bad About My Neck.
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Nora Ephron, Sticking Her 'Neck' Out on Age

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Nora Ephron, Sticking Her 'Neck' Out on Age

Nora Ephron, Sticking Her 'Neck' Out on Age

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.

The White House released an updated version of its strategy for fighting terrorists around the world. President Bush gave a speech today in which he described the terrorist's vision of the world if the U.S. retreats from its responsibilities in the fight.

And in a unanimous decision, a seven-judge tribunal in Mexico declared Felipe Calderon that country's president-elect. The ruling on the July 2nd election follows two months of legal challenges and protests with no sign that those protests will cease.

You can hear details on those stories and of course much more later today on ALL THING CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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In a few minutes our weekly read from your e-mails. But first, not many writers can claim to have had stunning success in print, film and theater, but Nora Ephron is an exception. Her Academy Award-nominated screenplays When Harry met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, defined romantic comedy in the ‘90s. Heavy emphasis on the comedy.

Nora Ephron is still the funniest of romantics. And in her latest book of essays she takes on that least romantic of subjects: aging. Titled, I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, she takes on the essentials of getting older. And she joined us here today in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for coming in.

Ms. NORA EPHRON (Author, I Feel Bad About My Neck): My pleasure.

CONAN: If you'd like to ask Nora Ephron about her body of work or about getting older…

Ms. EPHRON: About my body, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And I've always wondered, what is that age when a woman is at that certain age and how do you know when you see it?

Ms. EPHRON: Well, my dermatologist says that the neck starts to go at 42. And she's just pretty definitive about that and my guess is that she's probably right, you know.

CONAN: So when the neck starts to go, that's the telling sign?

Ms. EPHRON: Yes. And as I write in the book, you know, you need to cut open a red wood tree to find out how old it is, but you would not have to if it had a neck because necks are the give away. They are the thing. And when they start to go, you can kind of avert your eyes for a while.

You can sort of do the thing that a lot of my friends do, which is you sort of hold your hand up between yourself and the mirror or you sit with your hands under your chin at dinner or you kind of do the little mini-facelift thing where you sort of gently pull the skin up behind your ears.

But eventually someone is going to send you a picture of yourself and you're going to see it and you're going to go, oh, what's this? And I started thinking about it a few years ago as I started reading all this stuff that's written about getting older where people say oh it's so great to be older. And I'm thinking, don't they have necks? What are they talking about? And that's the least of it, of course.

CONAN: That's the least of it. You describe going to lunch with your girlfriends another term (unintelligible).

Ms. EPHRON: Yes. I actually wore a large scarf to this. You could see what I could do with the sort of Katharine Hepburn/On Golden Pond effect. But I did notice one day, there we all were at lunch and we still - you know, you get older, your brain doesn't get older, you don't feel older, you still feel sort of like girl in some pre-feminist way. And yet I looked around the table and I saw all the turtlenecks, all the scarves, all the little mandarin collars. It was like - you know, it was moving. It moved me to see how sweet and pathetic we all were about this thing.

CONAN: All I could imagine was all of you at a strip poker game and the last piece of clothing to be removed would be the scarf.

Ms. EPHRON: Yes. Yes. That's great. Actually, I was in a store the other day and I saw that they were just selling turtlenecks. Not the sweater to go with them, just the neck itself. And I thought well this is a breakthrough in clothing.

CONAN: One of the things you write a lot about is the increased demand on maintenance. Nails, for example. You used to be a writer who pounded out stories on your, you know, manual Underwood and never did your nails.

Ms. EPHRON: Never. In fact, I think I had about three manicures in my entire life until I was about 45, and they were on the occasion of my marriages. That's when you had a manicure. If you were getting married, you had a manicure. Now, of course, we've been overtaken by Korean manicure places and other manicure places.

And suddenly when there were so many, it suddenly became clear, oh, I guess I'm supposed to have a manicure. So now everyone has manicures. And that's just one of the onerous maintenance things that we've all loaded onto our schedules so that by the end of a year between the exercise and the manicures and the hair dye - which is a career - and having your hair cut and just taking moderate care of your skin - I'm not talking about the big, preemptive strikes. I'm not talking about the cosmetics of it. I'm just talking what you have to do to get through the week without looking as if you no longer care. And it is hours and hours - and at the end of the year, weeks of maintenance that you could be wasting doing something else, but you aren't.

CONAN: Reading glasses. You bought dozens of pairs, scattered them around, and you simply can't find them.

Ms. EPHRON: I can't find them. And, you know, now I need so many glasses because like most people my age, I need reading glasses. I need distance glasses, and I'm at a computer. Did you know there's also one for the computers?

CONAN: I didn't.

Ms. EPHRON: And so I have so many glasses now I can't see straight, and I can't find them. And when I find them, I don't know which one they are. I have no idea. But I think it's like a lot of things about getting older, is that you have absolutely no imagination that you're actually, this is actually going to happen to you. You sort of think for quite a while you're going to be the only person who doesn't need reading glasses or the only person who doesn't need -or the only person who doesn't go through menopause - not applicable to you, but still to me. And in the end, the only person who isn't going to die.

And then you suddenly are faced with whichever of those things it is, they are, and you can't believe how unimaginative you have been about what it actually consists of. Because one of the most shocking things about needing reading glasses - if you're a reader - is that you have spent your life seeing something you want to read and picking it up. There's no delay between those two things. And then suddenly you need reading glasses, and you have to find them.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. EPHRON: And it makes you feel terrible that there is an activity, that there is a reminder that there's thing between - a thing that feels…the impulse to read and the act of reading are so - are like breathing for some of us. It's sort of what we do when we're not doing all the other things we do. We probably do more of that than anything else. So that was a tremendous shock to me when I got older.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Eric. Eric's calling us from Elk Grove in California.

ERIC (Caller): Hello, this is Eric.

CONAN: Yes.

ERIC: Hi. I just want to thank you, Nora Ephron, for My Blue Heaven. It's I think one of the funniest movies ever made.

Ms. EPHRON: Thank you. Thank you. That movie has a cult following. Do you know it is the favorite mafia movie of Sammy the Bull Gravano?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I didn't know that.

Ms. EPHRON: I know. Not many people do. It's the sort of thing that only I would only know. But still, it's true.

CONAN: Steve Martin is on the witness protection list.

ERIC: I think it's like best Steve Martin movie ever made as well, and how did you ever come up with that idea?

Ms. EPHRON: Oh, you do know the answer to this?

ERIC: No.

Ms. EPHRON: No. Well, I'm married to Nick Pileggi, who wrote Goodfellas.

ERIC: Oh.

Ms. EPHRON: And Henry Hill, the man whom Goodfellas is about, went into the witness protection program and became probably the - you know, he was moved to Redmond, Washington - the bicycle capitol of America - and he started a crime wave there by basically jaywalking, because they had no crime there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. EPHRON: And he was arrested for breaking the window of a liquor store, which is a crime in Redmond. And he in fact married more than one person, and as I lived with my husband and watched Henry have his life in the federal witness program, I thought well, this is a comedy. So that's where it came from.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Eric, thanks very much for the call.

ERIC: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Your last chapter in this book, Consider the Alternative, you write about - you mentioned earlier all those books about getting older in which people say isn't it great to be older now that we're free from children and all those other responsibilities? In the same way, you write about Edith Piaf's great song, Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Ms. EPHRON: Well, I just - I think that all those people are leaving out the main thing, which is that when you get older, things are very much more complicated. And people get sick. You get sick. Your friends get sick. And you have to navigate a very, very difficult part of life, and it's not all isn't it great now that we're so wise. And we have so much free time to travel - which, by the way, you do have more time to travel and you are wiser, but of course you can't remember half the things you're wise about. And when you travel, your hip goes out from walking about three blocks.

But never mind that. The main thing is that there's a kind of - you know, the long shadows really are there. And I don't know why all these bright little books don't acknowledge how - what a difficult thing that is, and what a difficult thing it is to be so conscious of it and to be so conscious about how lucky we all are to still be here and still savor the things that are worth savoring - whatever you happen to think those are now that you're so much older and wiser. But you're also thinking, but I wish I didn't have spots on my hands. You are thinking all those things simultaneously.

CONAN: After all, writes Nora Ephron, most of my mistakes turned out to be things I survived or turned into funny stories, or on occasion even made money from. But the brutal truth is that je regrette beaucoup.

Ms. EPHRON: Oui. Je regrette beaucoup, and that's about the extent of my French.

CONAN: Nora Ephron, thanks very much for being with us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. EPHRON: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Nora Ephron's new book is I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman. She was kind enough to join us today here in Studio 3A.

(Soundbite of song, Je Ne Regrette Rien)

Ms. EDITH PIAF (Singer): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

CONAN: Edith Piaf. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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