Nora Ephron

Where’s the TMI Line with Health Information? by Anne Kreamer

Dear Anne,

Nora Ephron wrote about how everything changes when you head into your sixties.  So a question that is on my mind is how does one deal with poor health, illness, and the bad diagnosis with grace?  There must be something between whiny self-absorption and lock-jawed denial, but sometimes it seems hard to identify.  Where and how does one locate the humor, wit, limited acceptance, a bit of self-pity but not too much, a sense of realism, courage, and whatever other qualities are in demand at such times?

In need of guidance,  Alison

Dear Alison:

Boy, have you lobbed a tough one.  I think this is one of the most difficult balancing acts we face.  I have a dear friend with whom I’ve vowed that I will not become one of those old people who does nothing but compare notes with her friends about what’s our new illness of the week.  I genuinely think that if we dwell on our deteriorating condition(s) we’ll end up focusing only on the grim and wind up chronically depressed.  But beyond that I’m also convinced that even family members find too much detail about one’s personal physical condition b-o-r-i-n-g. No one really cares about anyone else’s travails until one has walked in similar steps.  And even then there’s a healthy limit.

That being said, there are definitely times to reach out for help.  Good friends do want and need to know when we’re dealing with something big.  I’d suggest letting them know and then be specific about what you need or expect from them so that they don’t have to feel the burden of asking each time.  You can say, “I promise, I’ll let you know when I need you to do something for me.”

I also think that one of the best ways one can deal with the inevitable health challenges we’re all going to face is to try to find ways to nourish yourself.  If you’re able to, walk, dance, sing.  Go to afternoon matinees.  Get out of the house and surround yourself with people doing good things.  Volunteer.  We’ve all read the data about how helping other people is the best possible tool for lifting our spirits.

And hold your friends tight.


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Women As Heroines of Their Own Lives by Anne Kreamer

This month, Anne exchanges email with Nora Ephron, film director and author of the recent play Imaginary Friends.

Anne Before you became a world-famous director of film comedies like Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, but after you graduated from being the most famous female journalist of your generation, you were a screenwriter. You wrote the movie Silkwood about a real-life corporate whistle-blower. So when Time named three women Persons of the Year for their whistle-blowing, I thought of Karen Silkwood. What attracted you to that story?

Nora What made Karen Silkwood a movie was that she was such an unexpected sort of whistle-blower. She was a real piece of work: complicated, difficult, and a bad candidate for industrial espionage, which is what she was engaged in at the time of her death. Sometimes the most unlikely people turn out to be heroes. That's Karen's story, in one of those one-sentence nutshells that studios love so much, and it's what made me want to write about her.

Anne Would any of the recent real-life whistle-blowing stories make a good film?

Nora So far, I haven't read anything that would make me think that their stories were movies as opposed to television movies, which are, of course, different things. Compare Karen Silkwood with Coleen Rowley [of the FBI], for in-stance, whose whistle-blowing is consistent with the way that she has lived her entire life. From a screenwriter's point of view, you don't have the sort of character development that you've got with Karen Silkwood.

Anne In 1996, when you gave the commencement address at Wellesley College, you admonished the young women to be the heroines of their lives. What did you mean?

Nora I didn't mean "heroines" in an epic sense. I meant heroines as protagonists, not supporting actors in the story of their own lives -- women who understand that they have choices and who have enough advantages that there's no one but themselves to blame if things don't turn out the way that they'd hoped. Someone very smart once wrote that the hardest thing for women to give up when they begin to achieve equality will be the habit of an alibi.

Anne We're not postfeminist -- we're post-alibi! You've worked in male-dominated professional worlds: journalism during the 1960s and 1970s and Hollywood during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. How did those fields and eras differ in allowing women to be heroines?

Nora Journalism today is very different for women. When I started out at the New York Post in 1963, there were only two women reporters at the New York Times -- well, maybe three, but the point is that there were hardly any. The movie business has also changed dramatically in the past 10 years. There are many, many more women executives, producers, and agents. And while the number of women directors is small on a percentage basis, there are many more women directing.

Anne Given that you don't make "big" movies, is it more difficult than it was a decade ago for you to make the films that you want to make?

Nora It was hard 10 years ago, and it's even harder now. A studio would much rather make a $110 million action movie with a big star than a $10 million movie with a little one. I wish this weren't also true for the theater -- but it is. Bigger and dumber is better. And it's even true for publishing.

Anne Because big profits in blockbuster-sized tranches of cash are the obsession of the entertainment conglomerates.

Nora The dirty little secret of the movie business is that there are no profits. In fact, italicize that: There are no profits. The entire movie business is a Ponzi scheme that's set up to allow a small number of people to live lavishly. And those people -- many of whom went into the business because they wanted to make good movies -- after a few years, they just want to keep their jobs. They're sort of like Al Gore: They want to stay in office so badly that they've forgotten why they wanted the job in the first place.

Anne Al Gore syndrome: Preventing that chronic illness is something that we all need to do in our professional lives.