I am still thinking about Nora Ephron dying. Charlie Rose did a nice montage of clips of her interviews, including her commencement speech at Wellesley, and I thought she seemed so alive, so young of mind, it came as a shock that she was gone seemingly so quick. At the end of that Wellesley speech, she says to the recent graduates: Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.
Like Nora, I was raised in a world of ladies, where white gloves were still worn to special occasions and men could only improve your life tremendously. Things are different now, and like Nora, I am thrilled at the choices young women have before them. Nora urged us to be the heroines of our own lives and while married (4 times), she always seemed to me like she spoke to the single girl inside us, urging us to pursue our own interests and passions and not fall back on dated models of what others wanted for our lives, but rather, encouraged us take the plunge into our own soupy mix of insecurity and angst and fumble through our necessary attempts at carving out our own passionate success (and failures).
I grew up with two female role models: One, my mother, a stay-at-home worker bee with 11 children, and two, my mother’s best friend, Margaret, a single working woman her entire life. I adored my mother but knew, as we shopped in Woodward’s together, she hunting for shoe bargains for my many siblings, and me, draping myself in boas in the lingerie department, that I likely would not be the daughter she dreamt of knitting her blankets for her as she got old. But to my mother’s credit, she supported my unconventional choice to do a theatre degree and didn’t blink an eye when I would put her to work on shows I was directing or designing for, sometimes racing up from the Arts Club with a ripped pair of pants screaming for her sewing skills which she obligingly, calmly, put to use during intermission.
I think we both knew I wasn’t going to wear white gloves and go to Church.
Yet, as you age, you suddenly start seeing your mother in the mirror more and more which is a little startling to say the least. She is long gone but I can easily see in my own face the beginnings of decline that I remember seeing in hers. The droop of one eyelid a little, the deepening lines on my neck, sore hips after a long drive or flight, the faintest of spots on the back of my hands; had I no mercy on my future self? Why did I have to fall asleep in Greece like that for hours on end with no sunscreen for god’s sake?
I don’t discuss any of this with anyone, but rather, head straight to the internet and look up where I want to travel to next, jot down an outline of a story, write a poem, do something, anything, to wrest the day from its merciless ticking clock and make it produce something of grace and creativity, with more inky permanence then the scrawling lines of wrinkles waiting to say hello to the next hapless stranger.
I know now I’m getting too old to hang on to certain things, like relationships that don’t suit me. I can give myself permission now to say, you know, I actually don’t like camping or sleeping on your couch. The fact is, I am a neurotic sleeper and I need a box spring and mattress with a closed door, my own bathroom and strong coffee in the morning. I can say things like, you know, your snoring, it’s gotta go. I can take a trip or not, work when I want and so on. I can firmly be myself without apologizing and tidying up the bits that might make someone uncomfortable. Like a well-built house, I stand behind my own architecture now. Don’t like my choice of art? Oh well, there’s the door. No feelings hurt. I’m not for everyone but quite content to be in my own company.
For years I let others be the hero or heroines in my story. I was an excellent second fiddle or thought I was. I wasn’t really. Because I’m not built for that. I now accept I like being the heroine of my own story and writing my own adventures and developing my own plot lines, however ill-advised they be. I like the life I have and will have (knock on wood).
In one of her appearances on Charlie Rose, Nora talked about what her last meal would be. I think maybe she knew of her illness, hard to say, but in her inimitable style her meal consisted of a simple hot dog from Beverley Hills Nate ‘n Al deli. She cautioned us to have our last meal before it was our last meal because “When you are actually going to have your last meal, you’ll either be too sick to have it or you aren’t gonna know it’s your last meal and you could squander it on something like a tuna melt and that would be ironic. So it’s important … I feel it’s important to have that last meal today, tomorrow, soon.”
I would add:
Don’t wait for the table to be set in a certain way, or that special someone to be with you for your last meal. Who knows, they might have run off on you or had an affair, or it’s raining, or you don’t have much money or your family can’t be bothered to show up, or you don’t have the right outfit. Don’t wait for the exact right time for your last meal. As Nora says, have it today, right now, just for you. Hers was a hot dog, held in her hand, with a joyous smile on her face.
Life is just too wonderful to waste on the future. Star in your own production right away, there’s really no time to lose. If we’re lucky, we’ll live long enough to have dozens and dozens of last meals alone or together, in good health, with joyous smiles and happy palates. Bon appetit mon ami, bon appetit!