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Revelations: Lessons from Nora Ephron -- write it down, share it

By BY JENNIFER PREYSS
June 29, 2012 at 1:29 a.m.
Updated June 30, 2012 at 1:30 a.m.

Jennifer Preyss

Tuesday night, I was gliding and panting and sweating atop a Gold's Gym elliptical machine, when my blurred vision focused on a CNN headline: Nora Ephron dies at age 71.

In disbelief, I mouthed one word, "What?"

I poked my reporter friend, Dianna, who was gliding on the machine next to me, and pointed her attention to CNN - without moving my gaze from the minute-by-minute updates.

"Yeah, I saw that earlier," she said.

We both stared silently at the screen for several moments, paying homage to Ephron - a fellow writer, strong and successful woman, humorist and champion of great love stories. The CNN reports explained Ephron died of pneumonia, brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. But all I kept thinking was, "I didn't even know she was ill."

Apparently, neither did a lot of people.

We returned to our respective workouts and didn't discuss Ephron again until Thursday. By then, a few days had passed for writers and reporters and other Hollywood-types to flood the Internet and TV with sentiments and musings on Ephron's collective works.

What's important to know, I think, is that I haven't been a longtime Ephron enthusiast. There are thousands of decades-long fans who would mock my limited knowledge of the Ephron suite of screenplays, books, essays and other projects.

And I'd only recently discovered the greatness that is Nora Ephron about eight months ago - during a truly difficult time of emotional and spiritual depletion - that I began connecting the dots from her work to all the areas of my life where she'd had an influence.

Sure, like many of you, I'd seen (and favorited) her movies, "When Harry Met Sally," "You've Got Mail," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Julie and Julia," and yes, even "My Blue Heaven." And I'd heard her name tossed around in Hollywood and journalism circles in previous years, and knew tidbits of her public successes and personal relationship triumphs and tragedies (uh-hem, "Heartburn").

But it wasn't until that spiritually low time eight months ago that I joined the Ephron camp.

On a particularly low night, a friend of mine dropped by my house to bring me movies and books (and probably a bottle of wine). In the stack, was Ephron's 2006 copy of "I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman."

My friend's drop-by gesture was more about giving me a project to take my mind off my troubles, and maybe even find comfort in another strong woman who's had similar life struggles. And let's face it, Ephron is funny. That's why we love her. And I know I needed to laugh.

When I opened the pages, I found my friend had scattered colorful Post-it notes throughout the chapters: "You are Strong," followed by "You are Talented" followed by "You are Beautiful" followed by "You are Loved." Every chapter had a personal, uplifting message for me, brought to me courtesy of my friend (and Nora Ephron).

It was then, after reading the book, Ephron rooted herself in my periphery. Perhaps I felt connected with her because of the Post-it-filled chapters. Or perhaps I really did need a project to distract me. But immediately following reading her book, I began searching the Internet for any information about Ephron. It was consuming and slightly stalker-ish, I admit. Her personal biography and career were fascinating. Her relationship troubles with Carl Bernstein (who reported on the Watergate scandal), her longtime marriage to Nicholas Pileggi (who co-wrote two of my absolute favorite movies of all time, "Goodfellas" and "Casino"), her young entry into journalism, her Kennedy White House internship, and relatively late entry into screenwriting, which landed her three Academy Award nominations. So many moments of my life, memories of seeing her movies, and inside jokes with friends, were prompted, it seems, from Ephron's writings.

Her candor and transparency lived up to her professional philosophy that everything in life is a copy-contender; that the best stories are written from real life - even the embarrassing, twisted and heart-wrenching.

And later, it was "Heartburn" that encouraged me to dust off my own novel, and start writing it again with fearless Ephron-like vengeance.

Had we ever met, and had a chance to sit down and enjoy a conversation together (something I sort of hoped would happen one day in a "Win a date with Nora Ephron" kind of way), I would have told her what an inspiration her life has been for me. And had we ever met, I would have told her how many women she's likely encouraged and inspired simply from her own willingness to translate her real life moments into "copy."

But more than anything, I would have listened and absorbed any advice she might want to share about the capriciousness of life - and the fearlessness it takes to write it down.

That's what she lived to do. And for me, there's nothing more spiritual than encountering God's unbidden plans, and taking a moment write it down and share it with the world.

This copy is for you, Nora.

Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or jlpreyss@vicad.com or Twitter @jenniferpreyss.

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