I hate top 10 lists. Top 10 favorite books, top 10 favorite bands—these, to me, are a lazy person’s way of expediting the get-to-know-you process and grounds for instant judgment.
The one list I don’t mind making and sharing—or being judged by, because I know you will—is my top 10 movies list. It is dominated by the writing of a woman I consider an inspiration. She’s an inspiration to me as a woman, as an independent thinker, as a free spirit, and, most importantly, as a writer with ambitions so big most people simply smile politely and turn away to roll their eyes when they hear me proclaim them. (And you thought I didn’t notice.)
That woman was Nora Ephron. Her movies—When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Julie and Julia—are often considered chick flicks; too fluffy and cute to be taken seriously. To those of you with that opinion, I challenge you to take another look. Each of Ephron’s movies speaks to audiences in a specific, formulaic way. Her one-liners are funny because they’re truthful and insightful. She didn’t resort to cheap physical stunts to get a laugh—you laughed because you related. And that’s the mark of a good writer: connecting with an audience—any audience—in such a way that they become immersed in a story without realizing they’ve jumped in. Ephron was the master of this.
When I opened my paper this morning and saw that Ephron had passed away, my heart hurt. I had to reread the obituary to make sure I wasn’t mistaken; to doublecheck this wasn’t some stupid joke a la The Onion. I didn’t know Ephron; never had the chance to meet her, although it was on my bucket list. The closest I’d gotten was two winters ago when Ephron came to St. Paul to talk with Kerri Miller about her new book, I Remember Nothing, as part of Miller’s “Talking Volumes” series.
I’d stumbled into the opportunity (well, “pounced on” might be more accurate a phrase) when my boss of two months announced he had an extra ticket for that night’s discussion. The speed and eagerness of my response should have been embarrassing (and probably terrified my then-new coworkers, who still thought I was the polite, quiet new girl—hah!), but I didn’t care. This was a chance to see my idol; to hear her speak of how she managed to wade through bad marriages and smoky newsrooms, crowded press tours and mean editors, and arrive at the height of success at which she now sat. Embarrassment was the last thing on my mind.
The night did not disappoint, just as Ephron’s movies never disappoint. Forever will When Harry Met Sally be my go-to “I’m feeling sad-happy-confused-bored-anythinginbetween” movie. Forever will Sleepless in Seattle make me want to learn to peel an apple with one long, smooth stroke; grow my hair to my butt like Meg Ryan; and chime in every time the line “It was like…magic” is said. Forever will You’ve Got Mail put me in a state of nostalgia so thick that I’ll forget dialtone is no longer a thing and long for those late nights I would stay up on AIM chatting with my crush-of-the-moment, writing and rewriting a clever quip that turned out to be more cheesy than cute.
And forever will I be grateful to Nora Ephron for paving the way for us female journalists. Thank you, Nora, for showing me that I can—and should—keep writing, rewriting, and forging new paths toward my dreams; that being an independent, hot-headed, quick-to-speak woman can be a good thing; and that with every failure comes a chance at redemption.
In memory of Nora Ephron, May 19, 1941–June 26, 2012