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Matt Donnelly

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My Life With Nora

Posted: 06/27/2012 6:45 pm

As far as gay icons go, my pendulum stops predictably on that particular trajectory of divas and the disenfranchised. A resting place appropriate for a 27-year-old, standing somewhere on the manicured lawn of Beyonce with Goldie Hawn ahead in the distance and Carly Rae Jaspen tugging on my shirt behind me.

Figures like those, though, are often fleeting moments of culture with enough glitter on them to tweet about then carry on with life. Nora Ephron is so much more.

Nora wasn't a gay icon, conventionally or otherwise. A prolific journalist, screenwriter, director and essayist, she certainly wasn't invisible but perhaps more accessible as what she's always represented: a distinctly feminine, incurably curious surveyor of life and relationships (from husbands to meatloaf).

That's the Nora I fell in love with, somewhere around 15 (so she must be a bit iconic if a gay high school sophomore is reading Heartburn concealed by a math textbook, no?).

Being social has always come easy to me, but identity politics were harder as I got older. I grew up in a middle-class, Irish Catholic suburb of Philadelphia, where my peers could alienate easily, other gay people were scarce and I was outgrowing my family rapidly.

Nora became my de facto Auntie Mame. My co-conspirator in neurosis. The one who understood the pangs of living in the gray of the Id and intellect and wanted to talk about it over decent wine and dinner. Then complain about not getting her serving dish back and, god, do I really need to send a thank you note?

It was me, and Nora in my head, against the world for a while. I finished college when I Feel Bad About My Neck was released, and things had changed. I had a stronger sense of community, not just gay but with my changing and increasingly consistent circle of friends.

She challenged my vanity with her own views on aging, smacked my laziness with reflecting on her monumental career (and, I don't care if I'm name-dropping, her internship in the Kennedy White House). But she was as vital as ever. Aging, sure. But Nora and I were unstoppable as grown ups.

I moved to Los Angeles from the east coast, as Nora had frequently made the same schlep, to embark on my career. The neurosis didn't ebb, but my life came into focus. And Nora was there.

My best friend married almost three years ago, and I read from Nora in my toast. A beautiful sentiment that good friends are great, but best friends are historians -- the keepers of our lives. (If I transcribe it in full, I'll lose it.)

Her last collection of essays, I Remember Nothing, was so beautifully flip about the disappearance of her long memory that the May/December love I had created for us still felt like eternal summer. I don't think I was letting in her winding down.

The value she placed on love and enduring friendships has made my life infinitely better. Her struggle with jealously, indecision and self worth made me feel less alone. Her fearless (fearless!) dances with her past taught me never to be ashamed.

News of her leukemia, as imparted by Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, was not only abrupt but devastating. It was followed almost immediately with news of her death.

In I Feel Bad About My Neck, she mourned a close girlfriend named Judy (my mother's name, coincidentally). She writes: "I want to talk to her. I want to have lunch with her. I want her to give me a book she just read and loved. She is my phantom limb, and I can't believe I'm here without her."

I feel the same. I love you, Nora. I've never had the pleasure of your cooking, so I wouldn't have a serving dish. But this is my thank you note.

 
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