How Nora Ephron Ruined My Life


My ruination at the hands of Nora Ephron began in 1978, when as a high school senior in Oakland I was able to take classes at UC Berkeley. This was a tremendous boon not just educationally but recreationally, as there were security guards constantly patrolling our high school parking lot, looking for rebellious teens such as myself who might try to cut class and leave school early. Now, thanks to my special UCB privilege, I could leave anytime I wanted and they just waved me on. That was a huge improvement in my life thus far, and not anything Ms. Ephron should be faulted for.

I decided to take English 1A first, to get a required class out of the way, and strode into Wheeler Hall one afternoon to look at the print-out of all the TA’s who would be teaching different sections. I chose a cheerful-sounding woman who didn’t list any Shakespeare in her required reading list, because how bad could that be?

Beth, my TA, turned out to be 24 and cute as a button. She was like a 5’2″ Barbie doll, with gorgeous flouncy hair, a great smile, and sparkling blue eyes beneath very long lashes. She held her piece of chalk like it was a cigarette, which I thought tremendously sophisticated, and kept the class jocks in line by sassing them back. Beth was a bonafide liberated woman, as well as being a talented teacher, and she wasn’t going to teach from a standard-issue English text–she assigned us Nora Ephron’s recent book of essays, Crazy Salad.

Suddenly I entered a world in which women could not only sass back in person, but also in print. Ephron wrote about everything from Watergate to breasts, and even dared to title a chapter “Vaginal Politics.” Each week I sat in class, amazed that we were talking about Linda Lovelace and Martha Mitchell in the same breath. Each paper I wrote was a little gutsier, a little more humorous, than the last. Beth was very encouraging.

Of course it was not meant to last–anyone at the registrar’s office could have told me that–but the damage had been done. I had caught a glimpse of a world that didn’t actually exist, except for Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:30-4:30 pm. In this world Nora Ephron’s writing was something to admire and emulate, which left me completely unprepared for what came next: Robin, the bitter TA who taught English 1B.

Robin’s pathway to a PhD was littered with the trampled dreams of every young woman in her classes who dared imagine that they could write. She threw us into the viper pit of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and stomped on our fingers, laughing, as we tried to climb our way out. I learned two things in that class: one, that I would never be a serious writer, and two, that I couldn’t read worth a darn, either. It took me ten years after that to finally give creative writing another try.

I blame it all on Nora and the way she breezed across the cultural battlefields of the day, tossing jokes out of her bag like some irreverent, feminist, female, neurotic Johnny Appleseed. She made it seem easy, even fun, to be a successful woman writer, at a time when such a thing barely existed outside of small enclaves like New York City.

But that is not the only wrong I have suffered at the hands of Ms. Ephron. Just last week I was reading I Feel Bad About My Neck, and this line jumped right out at me: “Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” Damn you, Nora Ephron! Why didn’t you tell me that years ago? Couldn’t you have said that back when it might have done me some good, like before I married the guy who was a difficult boyfriend, an even more difficult spouse, and now that we are divorced is completely insufferable?

In Nora’s defense, I was probably too young at the time to have believed her even if she’d said it to my face. That’s just how it is sometimes with young love. Still, even though I was probably not going to take that bit of advice, it wouldn’t have hurt to hear it a few times before marrying someone I now have to be divorced from for the rest of my life.

Ironically, though, reading the divorce comment was also what convinced me to finally let go of my hurt and resentment towards Nora Ephron. She didn’t mean it personally, for one. Second, I figure that if Nora can still manage to be a funny, irreverent, feminist and neurotic writer all these many years later, she must be doing something right. Which means that Beth had it right after all, and Robin merely deserves our pity for ending up as a technical writer instead of poet laureate. She had so much potential, I am sure.

And third, maybe I should write my own relationship advice sooner rather than later, since I now have so very much of it to share. It might help the next woman unable to see clearly due to all the love-bugs squashed on her windshield. It could also prevent me from being attacked in the future for not sharing it soon enough. So I will leave you with my very first piece of advice: “Never marry anyone (updated!) you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” I hope you find it just as useful as I did, and even more timely.

This article was also published in the Huffington Post.


2 Comments on “How Nora Ephron Ruined My Life”

  1. Alas, again, too late! But it was fun to read about your journey toward adulthood with Nora Ephron on your shoulder.

    She’s an amazing woman! Very funny.

  2. Anne Hill says:

    I definitely agree with you on that, Paula! And I can’t wait to read her latest book, “I Remember Nothing.”


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