Roving thoughts and provocations

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Nora the Perfectionist

MGM
A still from Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally (1989)

My wife and I did not know Nora Ephron intimately, but we knew her, off and on, for a long time, when she was with each of her three husbands, Dan and Carl and Nick. Like all those who knew her, we loved and admired her, her talents, wit, and warmth; and above all her caring ways. Typically, when she heard that our daughter had been bitten by a dog, almost losing her eye and facing the threat of ugly scars, she immediately called her in the hospital. Our twelve-year-old, already what she herself called “a little feminist” because of Doonesbury’s Joanie Caucus and Nora’s Esquire articles, was surprised to hear from her.

Nora said that she herself had had a damaged eye all her life and she was able to get along with it just fine, and she knew that Lydia would do just as well. Lydia now says, “I wish I could remember just what she said, since it was perfect” for what she was feeling at the time. That is how Nora did things, perfectly.

To be a perfectionist is normally to be a pain. Nora was a picky person, who worried about all kinds of trivial things. This can make one completely unbearable. Nora actually made it attractive by mocking it in herself. Those impossibly detailed orders for lunch or a latte in When Harry Met Sally or You’ve Got Mail are Nora to a T. I remember once we were with her at the Greenbriar in West Virginia, which had a famous, and what seemed an endlessly extensive, brunch buffet.

She told us she had an art for dealing with such bewildering possibilities. We followed her as she went through picking up a tiny bit of everything that looked even plausibly digestible. Back at the table, she sampled a tiny bit of each tiny bit she had chosen. Then she knew. She discarded that whole dish and went back for generous portions of what she really wanted.

There is a lot of Nora in that. Sample everything. Do not get tied down with the inadequate. Make a firm commitment to the best. It is the story of Nora. It is how she found Nick.

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