I Remember Nothing

My best friend in the entire world handed her copy of this book to me and said, quite casually, “I think you might like this.” (There’s a reason why she’s my best friend. She knows.)

Nora Ephron is one of those people I’d been meaning to read, meaning to know, for quite some time. I’m not sure why I never got around to it before. Plenty of people have recommended her to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve strayed from my rom-com ways over the last several years, and her movies, wonderful as they are, fall squarely in that genre. Actually, yeah, that’s probably mostly why I wasn’t jumping to read her books. I should have known better.

I Remember Nothing was the last book she published before her out-of-the-blue death in 2012. She was 69 when she wrote it, and probably suffering through chemotherapy while the rest of us continued to live our lives unaware. The book reads like it was written by someone half her age, who just happens to be approaching 70. She writes about aging not from a monotonous, complaining standpoint, but from a relatable one. Aging is inconvenient, and it changed the way she lived certain aspects of her life, but she most certainly didn’t let it alter her fundamental being. And this is not one of those situations where she remained a “feisty old lady up until the last moment.” No. She was a person with a certain irrelevant number attached to her. “Feisty old lady” implies your brain goes. Hers never did. This, my second-favorite quote, from p. 20:

Recently I saw a movie in which people were eating take-out pizza in 1948 and it drove me nuts. There was no take-out pizza in 1948. There was barely any pizza, and barely any takeout. These are some of the things I know, and they’re entirely useless, and take up way too much space in my brain.

Her brain was, is incredible. It gives me hope, in fact, because I like to think that mine works similarly, at least some of the time. The title of this book, alone, I found comforting. Of course, I hope I have many, many more years ahead of me to make memories I’ll forget promptly, but Nora lived a full, rich, at times glamorous life, and her memories faded not because she had Alzheimer’s or anything, but just because she didn’t find everything that memorable all the time. On p. 9, she says, “I was not at Woodstock, but I might as well have been because I wouldn’t remember it anyway.” I feel the same way. (Though I’m sure I would have enjoyed the hell out of Woodstock, at least until I had to confront the bathroom situation.)

I also think I feel the same as she did when she was growing up. She mentions, on p. 49, that “My parents were really not into family.” And, god, I get that. She’s not talking about being the child of lone wolves. She’s just referring to a certain noticeable distance that her parents kept from everyone else, brought closer most of the time by obligation, that I think my parents keep as well. It’s the kind of distance that causes you (me, her) to make very close friendships, and for those friendships to be on par with familial relationships. QED, my friends are my family. And it’s connections like this, connections with her, that make me feel more and more comfortable with the idea of sharing my own little stories. She makes me think, perhaps delusionally, that they’re worth telling. Maybe they are. I hope they are.

She evokes this immediate sympathy, this universal likability, that I think is especially near-impossible as a female. There’s a certain default embedded in us, socially, stereotypically, howeverially, in which we complain, and which causes the recipients of our complaints to tune us out. We can’t help it, and they can’t help it. We feel more, generally speaking, and they (men? dogs? fish?) don’t. It’s not sexism, it’s just a generalization that I’ve found to be true most of the time. But when Nora complains, she finds a nugget of truth, and shares it, and makes you feel why her complaint is valid. See here, when she talks about splitting up with her husband on p. 120: “Another good thing about divorce is that it makes clear something that marriage obscures, which is that you’re on your own. There’s no power struggle over which of you is going to get up in the middle of the night; you are.” I only hope that, if I ever write a book, I can evoke a fraction of that sympathy, and find a kernel of that truth. Here’s a little more of it, in the form of my favorite quote, a heartbreaker from p. 126:

People always say that once it goes away, you forget the pain… I don’t happen to agree. I remember the pain. What you really forget is love.

It’s hard to be more uniquely effusive about a person so nearly-universally loved. But really, what an accomplishment, to be so fine-tuned to your emotions, to pick and choose your anecdotes with such care, and to build such a loyal fan base over a storied career. Here’s to you, Nora, and to all of us trying to emulate your honesty.

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