Nora Ephron taught us to laugh about aging.
The screenwriter, director and best-selling author published two hilarious books on the topic: "I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman" in 2006 and "I Remember Nothing" in 2010. Her essays managed to find the humor in the vagaries of aging -- turning the taboo topics of physical decline, emotional regrets and mental challenges into wry comic fodder.
“If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini and don’t take it off until you’re 34,” she wrote in "I Feel Bad About My Neck." You have nine more years left on the nearly naked clock before it's all over, Ephron added. She advised readers to begin neck coverage by age 43, because makeup, Botox and other visual tricks can be easily betrayed by the sight of a bare neck: “Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth. You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t if it had a neck.”
In her witty, girlfriend-confidante tone, Ephron details the time and small fortune devoted to her monthly maintenance regime. Then she describes spotting a bag lady -- gray hair, mustache, dirty nails -- and realizing she's “only about eight hours a week away from looking exactly like that woman on the street.”
In "I Remember Nothing" Ephron describes a losing battle with her memory -- blanking on the identity of the person saying hello at a party, failing to recognize any of the celebrities in People magazine, noting that the "senior moment" has become "the Google moment." And entering her seventh decade, maintenance is no longer the issue:
Your cleavage looks like a peach pit. If your elbows faced forward, you would kill yourself. You’re two inches shorter than you used to be. You’re ten pounds fatter and you cannot lose a pound of it to save your soul. Your hands don’t work as well as they once did and you can’t open bottles, jars, wrappers. If you were stranded on a desert island and your food were sealed in plastic packaging, you would starve.
"I Remember Nothing" is also focused on what we remember. Ephron was honest about the travails of life -- willingly confronting the memories we would like most to shake: our failures. "[T]here are people who have positive things to say about flops," Ephron wrote. "They write books about success through failure and the power of failure. Failure, they say, is a growth experience. You learn from failure. I wish that were true. It seems to me that the main thing you learn from a failure is that it's entirely possible you will have another failure." (Ephron will always be part of one of my most vivid memories: Twenty years ago I danced with my husband at our wedding to Harry Connick Jr.'s version of "It Had To Be You" from "When Harry Met Sally..." -- our favorite film, written by Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner.)
Finally, in "I Remember Nothing" Ephron acknowledges that time is running out -- that melancholy and poignant realization that is back-of-mind for everyone who has crossed the half-century mark:
The realization that I may have only a few good years remaining has hit me with real force, and I have done a lot of thinking as a result. I would like to have come up with something profound, but I haven’t. I try to figure out what I really want to do every day, I try to say to myself, If this is one of the last days of my life, am I doing exactly what I want to be doing? I aim low. My idea of a perfect day is a frozen custard at Shake Shack and a walk in the park. (Followed by a Lactaid.) My idea of a perfect night is a good play and dinner at Orso. (But no garlic, or I won’t be able to sleep.)
This is what we loved about Ephron -- that she always spoke the truth, tackling the biggest, most challenging parts of life with warmth, sharp wit and a touch of whimsy. Nora Ephron made it a little easier to embrace aging in all its complexities, because she always managed to find the punchline.