"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: nora ephron

an ordinary life . . .

twice pan-fried noodles with grilled teriyaki chicken

This morning, I read an article called, “Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary” in the New York Times. What a relief to find that there are others who point out how skewed our culture is towards defining personal success. All we seem to hear about are prizes or “wins”: the Olympic qualifying heats that are broadcast multiple times on TV; the Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prizes, Emmy Awards, Tony Awards, the Oscars, Facebook IPO, Guggenheim Fellowships and the Poet Laureate of the Library of Congress. An example cited in the article was a student who was a “straight-A, piano-playing quarterback.”

Sure, it’s okay to recognize achievement. But the emphasis by the press and our culture on landmark accolades can make the rest of us think, “What am I, chopped liver?” The answer is, nope, even if you aren’t Nora Ephron nor written books, articles, movies and directed movies that everyone recognizes, you can still say something witty and your husband will smile at you while eating dinner, just the two of you .

The NYTimes article focuses on having conversations with your children about success, so that everything doesn’t merit the overused “good job!” when all a kid does is get their fork into their mouth without spilling food. I also think these ideas are valuable for people like us who are baby boomers and beyond in age. For example, when someone retires from thirty-odd years of service in some public domain and is awarded a medal or a service award, that’s nice. But does that also include whether those individuals were generous people with themselves outside of work? You see where this could keep going, don’t you?

I’m not altogether sure of where I stand in all this either. If I were to start making a list of the ordinary things that make up my life, it might include:

a. being adventurous about cooking, and “cooking from scratch,” although last weekend, I had my fill of making homemade Peking Duck wrappers when the coffee cup I wanted to cut the dough rounds out with still had coffee in it and spilled on to the dough. I don’t think anyone noticed if there was the taste of coffee in them after putting on the hoisin sauce, scallions and roast duck, though.

b. being determined and curious: that’s what my husband says are some of my best qualities.

c. being willing to admit to my own mistakes even when it makes me feel bad for awhile. I am always taken aback when people are unable or unwilling to admit to their own mistakes, such as breaking a couple of eggs while carrying the groceries. But, whatever.

d. in the spirit of the article, I could describe myself as a “straight, piano-playing cook.”

Anyhow, I think the Fourth of July weekend is a good time to think about personal independence, and to consider whether it’s possible to release ourselves from cultural ideals that we have to be extraordinary in order to feel worthwhile. Or, as the tagline in the NYTimes article poses, “Isn’t living a life of integrity as praiseworthy as fame and money?”

What do you think?


later . . .

I don’t want to sound morbid but I’ve been reading David Rieff’s memoir about his mother’s death, “Swimming in a Sea of Death.” Susan Sontag died of leukemia contracted as a result of her chemotherapy treatments for both breast and uterine cancer. And now, overnight it seems, we hear about Nora Ephron’s death from pneumonia contracted as a result of leukemia also. They’re different kinds of leukemia though, (Myelodysplastic Syndrome in Sontag’s case and Acute Myeloid Leukemia in Ephron’s passing.) Both of these women were writers and both loved New York City.

What strikes me is the way that each of them lived and how each handled her dying. Sontag was determined not to believe (really) that she was in fact dying. Or in her son’s words, repeated over and over again in the memoir, that she was headed towards “extinction.” There’s a lot of writing about doctors who choose to maintain a patient’s wish for hope when there really is none. In Ephron’s case, it appears she hardly let it be known that she was seriously ill until the night before she took her last breath, surrounded by family and friends.

So, lest you think that this post is about dying, it’s actually about living. Ephron finished her last book. “I Remember Nothing” by making lists of what she’d like to forget and what she would rather remember. As usual, they were witty and poignant: she wanted to forget Clarence Thomas for one thing, and wanted to remember how it felt driving over the bridge back into Manhattan. Most of all, she exhorted us to do just what we want to do in each moment and not to wait until we get too sick to do something when it’s too late. Because, as even my own doctor said awhile back, “Everyone gets something.”

So this morning, I returned the garden hose for a better quality one that cost twice as much and paid for a foam knee pad and a beautiful pair of grass trimming shears. As I passed the Dunkin’Donuts, I impulsively pulled in for an iced black coffee and two honey dip donuts to share with G. as a mid-morning snack before heading out in the garden to plant the new hydrangeas and the crimson red daylilies.

After lunch, I drove to the library to return my books and took out Nora Ephron’s books to read again.

P.S. Click here for an article about Nora Ephron which appeared in the NYTimes the day after her death.

Click here for NYTimes coverage of Nora Ephron’s memorial service.

P.P.S. Thought you might like to see Nora Ephron’s Lists from (“I Remember Nothing,” Alfred Knopf, 2010):
What I Won’t Miss:
Dry skin
Bad dinners like the one we went to last night
Technology in general
My closet
Washing my hair
Illness everywhere
Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism
The collapse of the dollar
Joe Lieberman
Clarence Thomas
Bar mitzvahs
Dead flowers
The sound of the vacuum cleaner
E-mail. I know I already said it but I want to exmphasize it
Small print
Panels on Women in Film
Taking off makeup every night

What I Will Miss:
My kids
The concept of waffles
A walk in the park
The idea of a walk in the park
The park
Shakespeare in the Park
The bed
Reading in bed
The view out the window
Twinkle lights
Dinner at home just the two of us
Dinner with friends
Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives
Next year in Istanbul
Pride and Prejudice
The Christmas tree
Thanksgiving dinner
One for the table
The dogwood
Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan