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Victoria Peng

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My Postcard from Nora at Wellesley

Posted: 07/03/2012 11:18 am

I will never forget the day I received a postcard from Nora Ephron -- partly because I documented it after the giddiness wore off enough that I could sit still, but mostly because at first, I had no idea who the heck it was from. It was April of 2011 and I was in this midst of my last finals period before graduation at Wellesley College.

I opened my mailbox to retrieve two postcards that day. I immediately recognized my friend Oda's handwriting on the first one. She was from Norway, and we had met while studying abroad in London. Her squiggly writing resembles the effervescence of champagne and reflects the happiness levels of a Scandinavian. I didn't recognize the provenance of the second one at all. The cursive was long, lean and slightly italicized. It was signed "xo Nora E." but the "N" made a little X at the top, the "o" didn't have a donut hole and the "r" looked like a ski slope and didn't serve as a discernable letter, but a connector to the "a." It finally hit me that it was Nora Ephron thanking me for my "lovely and slightly overwhelming letter of fandom." I was completely beside myself with excitement -- this was my Nora moment.

I wrote to Nora after reading her essay on reading for rapture in which she disclosed that she often composed imaginary letters to the author that she never wrote or sent. Most of them were letters of gratitude. She also wrote that it was too bad that she could no longer write Anthony Trollope or Edith Wharton to tell them how contemporary their books have remained.

I told Nora in my letter of fandom that I had decided to take it upon myself to put in ink one of several imaginary letters to her that I had composed because I didn't want to have the same regrets she had with Trollope and Wharton. In my letter of gratitude, I told Nora I just wanted to say that because of her, I eat more bacon and eggs with the yolk. I catch myself laughing out loud or smiling idiotically at a page in her book in public. I thanked her for all of the imaginary conversations I had with her that frequently stemmed from the question, "What would Nora do?" I told her I was struggling to digest Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, which she often listed as one of her favorite books, and she responded, "I reread The Golden Notebook this year, btw [sic], and it is completely horrible and does not stand up. So do not bother with it." The exchange was completely down to earth. I thought I was being proactive in writing to her when she looked so fabulous for her age. Little did I know, she was approaching the last year of her life.

Lena Dunham, another voice of my generation, shared her Nora moment in a New Yorker piece titled, "Seeing Nora Everywhere." Her moment in March of 2011 came just a month before mine via a "short, perfect email from Ephron" asking her to lunch. Like Dunham, I was a fan of Ephron movies before connecting the artist with her craft. It wasn't until my second year at Wellesley that I discovered Ephron was an alumna, and even then, I hadn't jumped on the Nora fan wagon. The turning point came in the fall of 2010, when I Remember Nothing was published. I found her prose to be the most satisfyingly shrewd and substantially worth laughing for... she made everything I previously found worth laughing for suddenly seem cheap.

Young women my age are often fascinated by the lives of older women and this fascination is fueled by the fact that insight into the lives of these older women is cut off by generational lines. I've heard people say, "I'm not close enough in age to her for us to speak colloquially." Nora was a voice of her generation that cut across generational lines, and her prose reflects qualities that make her so admirable -- her quick wit, assuredness, wry sense of humor and protean self.

Dunham put it best, saying, "I devoured her prose, her other film offerings, and became a fangirl right along with my mother, aunt, grandmother, and every other intelligent woman in the tristate area." This is the Nora Effect -- it is highly contagious and precisely what made her so tremendously talented. When I spent days on end reading all of her books in reverse chronological order of publication, I would sometimes stop after a great line and put the book down face flat on my chest, just to recognize that I was in a state of rapture that I wanted prolong.

Now, I carry on with life as usual, cool as a cucumber... on the outside. On the inside, I am devastated, frequently finding myself on the verge of breaking into tears at the thought that I can no longer seek comfort in the thought that at any given moment, she was somewhere in Manhattan. A knot has since taken residence in my throat, making it difficult to swallow and sometimes breathe evenly. I miss her dearly, and I, too, see Nora everywhere.

She is the last person on my mind before I go to sleep and the first person on my mind when I wake up. I told Nora in my letter of gratitude that by coincidence, the early stages of my life have panned out like hers did. We both moved to Wellesley from Los Angeles, were editors of the Wellesley News, majored in Political Science and then moved to New York. Actually, she was the reason I moved to New York after Wellesley, and not just anywhere in Manhattan, but the Upper West Side. It took Nora a couple of apartments before landing on the Upper West Side, but when she did, she wrote of her love for Zabar's, Café Lalo, Levain Bakery, Gray's Papaya and the Apthorp. I read about all of these places prior to my arrival, so by the time I made my rounds, I felt at home because it was like Nora had already drawn a roadmap for me.

I trusted her judgment, her taste, her palate and her guidance, and soon realized that I couldn't go wrong playing by the Nora handbook. Last week, Wellesley released a lesser-known fact about Nora, which was that she wanted to be a writer ever since she saw Lois Lane on TV. I wanted to write because of Nora Ephron. And I will be forever grateful that someone whom I admire so much took a moment to thank me for my fandom.

 
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