When I heard the news that Nora Ephron had died, I felt as if I’d lost a close friend. I suspect it’s the same for many women of my generation, for whom Ephron has been a role model – and a stand-in for the smartest, funniest, most loyal and deliciously evil girlfriend we’ve ever had. In my case, Ephron’s death had an even greater resonance, because she is the reason I became a writer.
In the mid-sixties, I was a brainy, bookish teenage girl with a smartass sense of humour and a longing to be a writer – but no idea how to become one. Teaching and nursing were still the only career options for women like me. And even if I could have leapt that hurdle, I didn’t see anyone writing about the stuff I wanted to write about in a way that I wanted to write about it, especially in C anada.
Then along came Nora Ephron.
When I first began to read her pieces in Esquire and elsewhere – her few words about breasts and vaginal deodorants and the Pillsbury Bake-Off, it was as if a bomb had suddenly detonated in my consciousness. Here was this complicated, interesting writer with this singularly hilarious, trenchant, sophisticated New York Jewish voice, writing vulnerably and truthfully about subjects that nobody was writing about, subjects that nobody had even considered worth writing about, unless you counted the horrible “women’s sections” in newspapers (where they certainly didn’t write about those subjects the way Ephron did).
And yet, there she was, taking women’s issues as seriously as a war or a presidential election – and doing so with such wit and panache that she was knocking home runs right alongside heavy hitters such as Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese and Hunter S. Thompson.
But here’s something even more incredible: while Ephron never shied away from marshalling her considerable talents to show what women were like and what they could do, she also led by example. She played in every park. She played there at the highest level. And she never preached or whined.
It’s one of the reasons I love her so much. And I suspect why men do, too. She’s a woman’s woman, a man’s woman, and for all I know, she’s beloved by the TGLB community. I mean, really, how can you not love a woman who writes, “In my fantasies, nobody ever loves me for my mind.”
As it happens, my copy of Heartburn was sitting on my desk on Tuesday when my daughter Sara called to tell me that Ephron had died. (I was trying to figure out a story structure and had gone back to consult the master.) Sara’s the editor of the Huffington Post’s Divorce page, which Ephron conceived, and for the past two years, she’d worked closely with her.
I am divorced and I have written at length about divorce, but when Sara first told me that Ephron’s idea for the page arose from her view that “marriages come and go, but divorce is forever,” another Ephron bomb went off in my brain. Divorce is a major social issue. We’ve all been touched by it, whether we’re divorced or not. And yet, it took Nora Ephron to figure out that, as a subject, divorce deserved to come out of the margins and occupy centre stage – that it deserved to be graced with its own page.
I have no idea what we’re going to do without her.