Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nora Ephron is my new hero.

 It's the verge of Valentine's and you know what that means, right?

No, it does not mean that I am writing romantic love notes to tuck under my sweetie's pillow nor does it mean I am hand-stamping 25 Valentines for Vivi's class or wrapping little Valentine's goodies to tuck in the kids' lunch bags tomorrow.  It also does not mean that I have just successfully helmed Vivi's Butterfly Birthday Bash for her 4th birthday but still have her family birthday on the actual day later this week to tend to.  And it certainly doesn't mean I'm focused on a huge volunteer event at Cooper's school that requires 2 months of preparation, coordination, and a mob of dedicated parents to pull off come the second week of March.

Oh, I'm doing all of those things, alright, but as Nora Ephron would say, "Those are just the facts.  What's the lead?"  Meaning, what's the point of all those facts?  What is germane to my diatribe, is that I am currently in my own, personal, writer's Pit of Despair.  You see, I seem to have a semi-annual schedule to my writing, or at least my serious writing.  I don't mean my usual journaling or my idea flashes that I jot down when they strike.  I mean my Writing, with a Capital W, when I spend 2 or more hours at the computer most days/nights (usually when 1 or all of my family is sleeping), and actually make some notable progress, not to mention post a blog here or there.  Unfortunately, I only seem to be able to manage that six months of the year.  From late September to mid-March, the real world, my non-writing world takes over starting with Halloween preparation, then both Rand's and my birthdays, and too many hours of Christmas projects to enumerate here, in addition to your usual, normal shopping/wrapping/decorating tasks.  Nipping at the heels of the holidays, is Will's birthday followed by his sister's, all the while, I temporarily become a permanent enough fixture at the school that occasionally I'm asked if I work there.  The insanity (maybe I should say my insanity given that some [much?] of it is technically self-induced) wraps up around mid-March when Cooper's birthday ties a neat little bow around this overstuffed bundle of events.

So, back to the Story Lead.  (If you don't know much about Nora Ephron, before writing movies like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally and writing/directing movies like Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia, she was a journalist; she wrote for the New York Post and Esquire Magazine just to name a couple.) My lead might sound something like this:  Over-committed Mother of three pines for the Spring and Summer, when she can dig out her Writer hat, rumpled and musty though it may be, air it out, fluff it up, and set it squarely on her head, pulled down snugly, hopefully to remain there despite the Texas heat, until at least September 15th.

Okay, so clearly I'm not a journalist.  Succinct is not in my vocabulary, I know.  But still, I'm hoping you get my point.  All you have to do is graph my blog postings to see the truth in this.  I have 9 postings in the Oct-March range versus 12 in April-September.  But really that should be 8-13 as the sole March post I have is last year's Oscar Countdown which is an anomaly.  Besides, that's a fast-and-furious-I-must-write-and-complete-this-now-in-order-to-maintain-any-sense-of-timeliness essay so I had to get that out.  And, of those remaining eight, not even one is a West Coast Trail blog which are by far my longest posts.  "I could explain it better but I'd need charts and graphs and an easel." (If you give up and don't know the movie this is quoted from I encourage you to [re]watch it.)  Maybe a simple word count comparison of my combined posts over the past 3+ years would illustrate my point better:
  •  April-September: 32,422 words
  •  October-March: 13,358 words
That's almost a 3:1 ration.  Just think if I could improve my Fall/Winter numbers!  Nora would probably just tell me to download and install Freedom on my computer, to restrict my access to the internet for a set period of time and keep me focused on my writing.  Unfortunately, Freedom doesn't deny my family access to me so at this point I may just have to sleep less, at least until my little Vivianna starts Kindergarten in a couple years.  Besides which, I find accessing the internet is usually integral to my final editing.  If I'm not double-checking the spelling of a word I really think I should know from memory [that would be "germane" today], I invariably need to cross-reference something, or in this instance, suddenly search for a word count tool.  And if I had a nickel for every time I have linked to, I would quite possibly be a billionaire. Okay, well for sure a millionaire, then.

I guess I should talk about Nora a bit more if I don't want the BPTP (Blog Post Title Police) breathing down my neck.  The thing is, I actually am talking about her in my own painfully circuitous way.  I belong to the Austin Film Society which is how I heard about Nora Ephron coming to speak at Austin's historic Paramount Theater.  I knew instantly I wanted to attend but wasn't sure anyone else I knew (besides my sister, Janie, living 1500 miles away) would be interested in a writer's talk besides me which, of course, I now realize was silly.  You see, although I love her films, I had never read any of Nora's books.  (Yes, in the past 3 days I have since rectified that dreadful gap in my mental bookshelf.)  Anyway, I did my usual theme-immersion to get myself in the mood by watching a number of her films leading up to last Thursday night's event including Sleepless in Seattle, Hanging Up, and Julie & Julia.

In the end, I invited a friend that has Paramount contacts which turned out to be a major win as she hooked us up with "meet & greet" passes which allowed us access to a lovely little banquet room at Stephen F Austin Hotel around the corner from the theater immediately following the event.  There we were led to a swanky silver-service of coffee, tea, liquors, and tasty morsels laid out alongside a handful of small, round tables where we could chat and mingle with one another (we talked with an interesting pair of short-film-makers about what we thought of Nora's talk [Fabulous!] and why we were there [inspiration and entertainment mainly]) until Nora Ephron herself arrived soon after, flanked by a professional photographer and what I would call her Handler, whose job it was, apparently, to smoothly yet firmly encourage over-exuberant fans to move right along thank you very much.  I am pleased to inform you that we were not in that offending category.  We tried--or maybe it would be truer to say I tried--to be the cool fan, the one that isn't starry-eyed by the fame.  The one that isn't desperate to have you sign her book despite the previously announced "no autographs".  The one that puts her camera away when she hears Nora wants only professionally photographed photos with the fans.  The one that has something interesting and not simply gushing to say when it's her turn to shake Nora's hand.  I think I was successfully exuding a very convincing cool-fan vibe up until the point that I asked Nora (after the obvious and required "You were just wonderful, so inspiring to women!" introductory greeting) what she thought of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother that is causing such a brouhaha in the media, and coincidentally what we're reading for my Book Club right now.

[You see, Nora's topics that night included her experiences in journalism and film, writing, motherhood,  marriage and divorce, as well as her love of books and reading in general.  She joked (or maybe not) that she is extremely well-informed and well-read.  Ask her about anything; she's read it.]

So, I decided to test that assertion and ask her if she'd read the Tiger Mom book.  Which, of course, she had.  And she hated it.  Or at least she proceeded to expound at length about it in a very negative fashion, concerned I think, that we loved it.  (As yet I have no opinion since I have it on my Kindle but have not had time to read a word, being too preoccupied reading Nora's books.  Ask me in another week and I'll definitely have an opinion.)  By the end of her--dare I say rant?--my friend and I were wishing I'd said something else and feeling a tad guilty about holding Nora's attention for so long.  Not so guilty, however,  that I didn't ask if we could get a professional photo (which hopefully my friend can track down a copy of through those contacts of hers I mentioned.)

As expected, Nora was interesting and hilarious, but what took me by surprise was not that I was fascinated by her stories about her early writing career or anecdotes about working in the film industry which I was, utterly and completely. [In When Harry Met Sally, although Nora wrote the the famous orgasm scene very close to what it is in the film, it was Meg Ryan that suggested it be in a public setting and that she simulate having an orgasm.  Likewise, Billy Crystal came up with the "I'll have what she's having" line.  And to spread around the credit even more, it was the director, Rob Reiner, who cast the older woman who said the famous line:  his very own mother.]  No, the awe-inspiring part was that she seemed to be speaking directly to me, telling me what I needed to hear:   It's never too late.  Make it happen.  Reinvent yourself.  (and a whispering undercurrent of write, write, write.)  As it turned out, this sense of "now's your time" seemed to speak to most of the women in attendance.  She cited Julia Child, who not until age 50, published her famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Chatting after we agreed that most women we know would have loved her talk as well, we thought.  Not to mention a few men. 

Nora's parents were well-known stage & screenwriters, having penned numerous screenplays including Carousel and one of my very favorites: Tracy & Hepburn's Desk Set.  Growing up in a writing-focused environment, Nora's mother was apparently very fond of the phrase "Everything is Copy".  Which is true but not what Nora wanted to hear when her boyfriend just broke up with her.  [Or in my case, when my kids got lice from school and I spent Christmas at my parent's house, vigilantly checking heads and laundry, utterly mortified at bringing the infestation into their home.] 

"Everything is Copy".  I've known this truth but in a nameless sense.  I'm delighted to now be able to succinctly - succinctly!!! - convey that point,  much like one of my movie quotes where someone else's words say it perfectly.  Wait a minute, aren't my words supposed to be sublime?  Clearly, I have a long way to go.


  1. Very Magnificent! I really love it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love it! So what did you think of the Tiger Mom book....and did you ever get a picture? I need to read some of her stuff....I am truly beginning "to feel bad about my neck" too! Thank you for introducing me to the phrase, "everything is copy". I think it could be a bookfair theme. :)

  3. Had to reread after hearing about her passing yesterday. One of a kind. :(

  4. I know. I was shocked. Made me feel honored to have gotten to hear her speak in person! She will be missed...