Nora Ephron

Chinks In the Armour

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only lesbian who doesn’t fancy Ruby Rose. I know we’re all supposed to love a heavily tattooed, spikey-haired lezzer with a bit of talent and a lot of fame, but that’s never been my bag. This week though, I could have French-kissed the bejesus out of her. Talking about her battle with depression was a very courageous way to get my attention, certainly more effective than flashing her tits in FHM a few years ago.

I’m not normally a big fan of public emoting. I’m not even really a fan of writing about my emotions directly, I’d rather let them weave into my work organically than state implicitly ‘this is me’, yet in December last year I stood in line at my local Coles and burst into a very public bout of uncontrollable tears. Not the sort of tantrum brought about by long queues and a shortage of cranberry sauce that’s acceptable at Christmas time, but a silent overflow of tears that hurt my throat, and crushed my chest.

I had noticed the girl in front of me was covered with scars. Long, purple lines covered her forearms in a crosshatched mess of pain, and one angry, red one travelled from somewhere under her skirt, down to her knee. I’d seen similar scars before – on a friend, on the guy who works in the Night Owl – but I’d always been dismissive of them, waving them off with a reaction that was more ‘you hopeless emo’ than ‘you poor thing’. I never understood what would possess anyone to cut themselves up, why they’d want to do that to themselves. Recognising myself in her scars definitely wasn’t in the plan.

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I had been in a fog since morning, drifting from one task to the next, just getting done what needed doing. I was going through a very confusing break up at the time, one that had taken me so by surprise I simply couldn’t get past the shock to even deal with it. I was doing what I always do in those situations, which is to get up and get on with it and try to live around the hurt. I had to get up and get on with it. I run a business that employs people who are dependent on me for their livelihoods, so I did my best to ignore how I was feeling. I knew I was pretty drained emotionally, but it took a stranger with distressingly visible signs of pain to show me just how much I was hurting under my own skin.

Given my state of mind back then, my meltdown wasn’t a complete surprise. I hadn’t expected it to come to a head quite so spectacularly and in such a public location though. The strength of my reaction frightened me. I was so embarrassed by how pathetic I must have seemed that I went into hiding. I curled up on the couch and stayed there for two full days. I called in sick to work, and ignored phone calls. I replied to text messages only if I absolutely had to. And until last week, I didn’t tell anyone about it.

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It’s hard for me to write about this period without it sounding dramatic, which means it’s hard for me to write about it full stop. I don’t do drama, I prefer to keep things light. 2012 was a bust, horrible from beginning to end. It was like living through twelve months of sensationalist tabloid headlines – relationship breakdowns, financial dramas, family stresses, more relationship breakdowns, business and staffing problems, best friends dating exes, exes dating other exes, housing problems, health issues. I was New Idea, Woman’s Day and Who Weekly all rolled into one tattered publication. At the time I brushed everything off with “It could be worse, it’s not cancer” because I was trying to keep some perspective, but if the best you can say about a period of time is that at least no one you love died it’s not saying much, is it?

By the end of the year I was a mess. My hands shook all the time, I couldn’t sleep, I was drinking more than I ever had (which on this occasion IS saying much), I wasn’t eating, and I would cry at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t believe I’d become that person – the one with the continual dramas about nothing. I was under a lot of pressure to be okay, from myself and others. I was aware of friends going through far more traumatic events. Yet the truth was that, despite telling myself it could be worse, I couldn’t actually have felt any worse.

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The best indication that all was not well in my brain was that I couldn’t write. For the very first time in my life, I had no words. Deadlines came and went without me acknowledging them, story ideas dried up, I didn’t have a creative atom in my body. Writing is my outlet, but it’s only therapeutic when you can actually get the nonsense in your head out. And shitty heartbreak prose isn’t my style anyway. Thank god I can’t paint; my apartment would have been overflowing with huge canvases, painted black and pierced with stab marks. Nice, very postmodern. I was trapped inside myself.

I walked for hours every day trying to clear my head, but when I need to get away from my thoughts the very worst thing I can do is walk. Walking time is thinking time for me, and I was sending myself mad. Sleeping didn’t help either, because there was pressure for it to be a relief from the pain, and consequently gave no real rest. I would sleep knowing I was only going to wake up and feel awful again. I wanted it over. I know that my love for my parents meant I would never have thrown myself off the Story Bridge, but I honestly thought about it every single day.

I needed something to show for the pain I was feeling. That’s why the girl in the supermarket upset me. I could see that she once felt that way too, that her scars were something tangible, and that causing herself physical pain had given focus to her internal pain. That I understood even a fraction of what made her do that to herself scared the hell out of me.

Friends began to worry about me. I could tell they were discussing it whenever I wasn’t around. Eventually one suggested that it might be time to engage a professional. I listened, and made an appointment with my GP. She confirmed what I’d begun to suspect – that I was in the middle of a full emotional breakdown and diagnosed me with depression. Having no desire to become a totally mournful bitch, I got over my distrust of psychoanalysis, found a therapist I liked, and began to regain control of myself. I also went on a high dose of happy pills.

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Antidepressants have been my liberator. I don’t want to be on them forever, but at a time when I had little control over my behaviour, they acted like emotional Botox and gave me a break from the black emptiness I was feeling. I’d want to cry, but I just couldn’t. Eventually my brain gave up trying, and gave being happy a go instead. The clarity allowed me to focus on the real issues.

At this point, I really need to acknowledge how lucky I am to have amazing friends around me. And by lucky, I mean seriously lucky. I have an incredible pack of loyal and loving supporters who never once judged any of my behaviour during this period (well maybe they did, but they didn’t let on), and who made a point of being there for me without condition. I honestly don’t know how people get through life without a close posse around them. Streisand was right; people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. It might have been a miserable way to learn how loved I am, but I’m glad to know it now.

I also highly recommend removing whoever you need to from your life. Just tell them to fuck off. Seriously, use those words. You’ll feel better. Maybe that’s the best way to treat depression too. Get angry with it. I’m not saying it’s easy, but neither is removing people you care deeply about – even when you know it’s the right thing for yourself. The adage says that life wasn’t meant to be easy, but sometimes by doing what’s most difficult, life gets a whole lot less complicated.

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As for where I’m at now…I’m getting there. I still have days where I feel the emptiness coming back, but propelled forward by good friends, good drugs, tight family and a great therapist, I’ve started to see so much more ahead of me than the fog of sadness had hidden. I feel strong enough now to look beyond the protective wall those things have created. There are still a few chinks in my armour, but they’re being polished out. And I’m happy, albeit in a way that knows a price was paid for it. In fact, maybe it’s not happiness at all. Maybe relief is a better word – relief that I came through, that I can see I’ll be okay. Things are different now.

I felt so stupid for having such a seemingly irrational response to what was just another break up, and continuously asked myself the same question my mother did: “Why do you need therapy? Because you’ve let that <insert offensive description of my ex> make you feel bad?” But depression isn’t rational and it isn’t even so much about the catalyst for it. It’s about a genuine inability to lift out of feeling helpless and hopeless, and no one needs to feel stupid about that. We do though, and it stops us asking for help. That’s why I’ve chosen to write about the last five months. The more voices saying “me too”, the easier it will become.

One last thing. Nora Ephron once said the following:

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Print it out, stick it on your mirror. She knew her stuff.

By Caz.

Love, Loss, and What She Wrote

In September 2009, I went to one of the first Broadway performances of Love Loss and What I Wore. Being a Nora Ephron junkie, I’d bought my ticket weeks earlier in Australia, the only show I booked before leaving home. My eagerness scored me a front row seat.

The night I went, Rosie O’Donnell and Tyne Daly were in the cast. I remember thinking how nervous and shy Rosie seemed, that she should do more acting because she was really good; and being overwhelmed by sitting in such close proximity to the sexy cheek boned half of Cagney & Lacey.

I also remember that I was very late and desperately thirsty when I got to the theatre, and that I only just had time to grab a water from the concession stand before they closed the doors. As the lights went down, I discovered the bottle’s lid was screwed on so tightly no amount of palm shredding attempts to open it were going to work. I’d have to wait until intermission to swap it, and resigned myself to saving up what little saliva my mouth was producing.

Turned out there was no intermission, and this was an Ephron piece. Forget retaining moisture (the Ephron sister’s ability to make you do that unattractive laughing while crying thing is the stuff of legend), I had tears streaming down my face. It was hilarious, of course, and at times heart breaking. It was dramatic and wry, and ultimately very touching. It was, as I said already, an Ephron piece.

By show’s end, I was in a state of near panic that my death from dehydration was imminent, and the downside to being in the front row (other than distracting the actors by struggling to open your water bottle) is that you’re the last person out the door. I started picking out which audience members were going to be the slowest exiters, thereby delaying my run to the bar. No dice. The entire audience, although upstanding, were at a standstill. Minutes passed. I inched forward. I couldn’t see what the delay was and frankly, I didn’t care because Ijustwantedafuckingdrinkofwaterthankyouverymuch.

Finally I was in spitting distance of the exit (not that I had any spit to waste at that stage). I got ready to push through two old ladies in front of me. And then I realised. The obstruction was Nora Ephron herself.

Turned out she’d had an aisle seat in the back row (the perfect seat for a hyperventilating thirsty person, if you think about it) and once recognised, was graciously answering people’s questions and signing autographs. It seemed every woman there wanted to chat.

Now, Nora Ephron is my absolute idol. On paper she is everything I hope to be as a writer, and from what I’ve seen in interviews, a lot of what I’d like to be as a human. But I have never gone up to anyone famous and said hello. It’s always struck me as a bit suburban. So I kept walking.

I was in such a daze at having seen her in the flesh that I walked straight past the water seller behind her, out on the street before I decided I couldn’t just walk away. I needed to meet her. I got back inside as she was leaving through a side door.

“Excuse me, Ms Ephron?”

Awkwardly, it wasn’t until she turned around I realised I had absolutely no idea what to say to her. I was completely overwhelmed by her standing in front of me. I stood in silence, just staring. Happily for me, she must have experienced mute Australians before, because she took my hand, patted it and told me to breathe. Then she laughed. I made Nora Ephron laugh. Not the way I’d hoped, but it was a laugh nonetheless. I think I muttered something about being from Australia and that I was desperately in love with her and she’d made such an impact on me and I’m a writer and oh my gosh I can’t believe it’s really you and you’re the one person who’s work I can’t get enough of and you’re just amazing would you like to adopt me? (See why I don’t go up to famous people and say hello?) She was completely lovely, thanked me for coming to the show, and wished me a good night. Then she got the hell away from the crazy person.

I was ecstatic. It didn’t even matter that I’d made a complete dick of myself. I had met my hero. I ran down 42nd Street so elated that I even smiled at a creepy kid outside the Port Authority who held a huge rat in my face and said “Hello Blondie” despite my hair being undeniably auburn. I imagine I bought another water at some stage. I can’t recall.

God knows what she made of me. Nothing, I suspect. I doubt I’m the only fan to have accosted her – the 30 minute wait to get out the theatre proves that, and when you’ve met one rambling idiot you’ve met them all. But when I heard the news four days ago that Nora Ephron had died, I was glad I’d had the chance to thank her. I may not have made an impact on her, but the reverse does not apply.

It’s rare that a ‘behind the scenes’ person’s death gets as much air time as Nora Ephron’s premature passing has, but she was a rare talent. She knew for sure what the rest of us struggle to believe – that the human condition is universal. It’s incomprehensible that an Upper West Side, Jewish raised straight woman who loved to cook could describe exactly how it felt for a Catholic educated Australian girl with burgeoning lesbian tendencies and a fear of the kitchen to fall in love. And yet, she nailed it.

I no longer remember how I discovered Nora Ephron, she’s just kind of always been there, but I do know that being exposed to her made me feel less alone. She understood me. By the time I got round to reading Heartburn, with the line When I first met him, he had a recurrent nightmare that Henry Kissinger was chasing him with a knife, and I said it was really his father, and he said it was really Henry Kissinger, and I said it was his father and he said it was Henry Kissinger, and this went on for months until he started going to the Central American shrinkette, who said Henry Kissinger was really his younger sister”, I was obsessed with the Ephron view of the world.

My Desk

I forced my mother to watch her movies and read her books, knowing that she would relate to them from her own unique place too. I sat through When Harry Met Sally… with both my parents, my prepubescent cheeks flushing red during the Katz Deli scene. When I was sixteen, my aunt took me to see Sleepless in Seattle and spent the entire movie grabbing my arm and telling me to wear my hair just like Meg Ryan’s character because we were so alike (we’re nothing alike, and as I’d just cut all my hair off in a wave of stupidity, I certainly wasn’t going to be replicating Annie Reed’s braid any time soon). I sat in a cinema near Lincoln Centre, crowded with middle aged Americans, and watched Julie & Julia, never once feeling I enjoyed it any less than the people around me. She wrote about the absurdity of feminine hygiene spray and called bullshit on those who said having small breasts was a privilege. And she showed men that it wasn’t just okay to be romantic, but that girls actually liked that sort of thing. Watching an Ephron ‘chick flick’ with your girlfriend wasn’t merely a way to score brownie points, it was an emotional instruction video.

Nora Ephron’s ability to put into achingly simple words those indescribable life moments meant we all bonded over the shared experience of her films.

Now, as I am struggling to explain why I feel so acutely the loss of a woman I never knew, I can’t help thinking I’ll never understand without Nora herself to make sense of it. Perhaps I’m better off leaving it to the expert anyway. To paraphrase Sam Baldwin in Sleepless in Seattle, her writing was “like coming home…only to no home I’ve ever known.”

I should have known she’d already written the perfect sentiment.

Nora