The Wisdom of Nora Ephron: 20 Invaluable Pieces of Advice


When Liz Smith prematurely (and opportunistically) reported yesterday afternoon that Nora Ephron had died, I didn’t want to believe it could be true. But when the writer and filmmaker’s passing was confirmed a few hours later, all I could think about was an evening I was fortunate enough to spend in her presence a few months ago, when Lena Dunham screened Ephron’s directorial debut, 1992’s terribly underrated This Is My Life, as part of a series of movies about female friendship at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Although the film held up beautifully, it was the Q&A session afterward that stuck with me, in which Ephron spoke boldly and candidly about her time in the industry, recalling the positive and negative aspects with intelligence and insight.

It’s that very intelligence and insight that will surely be her legacy, in movies and books and essays that get at both small and huge truths about life and love. So I can’t think of a better way to remember her than to compile some of her greatest revelations, which span from fashion advice to exhortations to get the most out of life to rapturous celebrations of food. Nora Ephron really loved food.

On clothing: “[B]lack makes your life so much simpler. Everything matches black, especially black.” — I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

On feminism: “What I’m saying is, don’t delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth. Don’t let the New York Times article about the brilliant success of Wellesley graduates in the business world fool you — there’s still a glass ceiling. Don’t let the number of women in the work force trick you — there are still lots of magazines devoted almost exclusively to making perfect casseroles and turning various things into tents.” — 1996 Wellesley commencement speech

On mental health: “Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.” — I Feel Bad About My Neck

On growing up: “[Y]ou are not going to be you, fixed and immutable you, forever.” — 1996 Wellesley commencement speech

On infatuation: “When you’re attracted to someone, it just means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious, subconsciously. So what we think of as fate is just two neuroses knowing that they are a perfect match.” — Sleepless in Seattle

On sensitive men: “Beware of men who cry. It’s true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own.” — Heartburn

On divorce: “Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.” — 2010 Newsweek interview

On parenting: “Here’s what a parent is: a parent is a person who has children. Here’s what’s involved in being a parent: you love your children, you hang out with them from time to time, you throw balls, you read stories, you make sure they know which utensil is the fork, you teach them to say please and thank you, you see that they have an occasional haircut, and you ask if they did their homework.” — I Feel Bad About My Neck

On kids vs. dogs: “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” — I Feel Bad About My Neck

On our own parents: “You always think that a bolt of lightning is going to strike and your parents will magically change into the people you wish they were or back into the people they used to be. But they’re never going to. And even though you know they’re never going to, you still hope they will.” — I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections

On theology: “You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it.” — 2009 NPR interview

On the future: “I don’t think any day is worth living without thinking about what you’re going to eat next at all times.” — Gourmet, 2009

On matters of taste: “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste.” — When Harry Met Sally

On enjoying life: “You should eat delicious things while you can still eat them, go to wonderful places while you still can … and not have evenings where you say to yourself, ‘What am I doing here? Why am I here? I am bored witless!'” — 2010 Reuters interview

On reading: “Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.” — I Feel Bad About My Neck

Some writing advice from Ephron’s own mother: “Take notes. Everything is copy.”

On youth: “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was twenty-six. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re thirty-four.” — I Feel Bad About My Neck

On last meals: “When you are actually going to have your last meal, you’ll either be too sick to have it or you aren’t gonna know it’s your last meal and you could squander it on something like a tuna melt and that would be ironic… I feel it’s important to have that last meal today, tomorrow, soon.” — 2010 Charlie Rose interview

On mortality: “Everybody dies. There’s nothing you can do about it. Whether you eat six almonds a day. Whether or not you believe in God.” — I Remember Nothing

On living life: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” — 1996 Wellesley commencement speech