Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck

Tom Shipka

Author and director, Nora Ephron, who gave us When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood, and Sleepless in Seattle, has published a mini-autobiography entitled I Feel Bad About My Neck, in which she reflects with honesty and wit on the highs and lows in her life, the travails of aging, and the certainty of death.

The reader gets a picture of Ephron from her book as an obsessive person. One obsession is with her appearance. She admits that she spends long hours every week at "maintenance." (31) Part of the regimen involves a battery of moisturizers - cream for her face, lotions for her arms and legs, oil for her bath, and Vaseline for her feet. (47) She also dyes her hair and exercises in fits and spurts but with unwanted results. (35) "Every time I (try to) get into shape," she tells us, "something breaks." (44) "So far, in the breakage department, I have managed the following: I pulled my lower back doing sit-ups; I threw out my right hip on the treadmill; I got shin splits from jogging (and) frozen shoulders (from weight lifting)." (45-46) And what has all this attention to appearance produced? She estimates that at the age of sixty-six she looks "approximately one year younger" than she is. (139)

Another obsession is with her computer. She concedes that she is a "mouse potato." This is "someone who's as connected to her computer as couch potatoes are to their television sets." (95) Other obsessions are cooking, an apartment in the Apthorp Building on New York's upper west side, cabbage strudel, reading good books, purses, and psychoanalysis.

In a chapter entitled "What I Wish I'd Known," Ephron dispenses nuggets of wisdom culled from her own experience. Among them are these:
"Buy, don't rent." (123)
"The last four years of psychoanalysis are a waste of money." (124)
"At the age of fifty-five you will get a saggy roll just above your waist even if you are painfully thin." (124)
"The empty nest is underrated." (125)
"When your children are teenagers, it's important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you (when you come home)."(125)
And "There are no secrets." (126)

Ephron also engages the topics of suffering and death. She divulges that her father hastened her dying mother's death with an overdose of sleeping pills to end her suffering (103) but she doesn't tell us if she approved. She worries about her own future: "Is life too short, or is it going to be too long?" (132) She confesses that the death of Judy, her best friend and confidant, from cancer has riveted her attention on death. "Death," she writes, "is a sniper. It strikes people you love, people you like, people you know, it's everywhere. You could be next. Everybody dies." (131) Apparently a secular, Ephron finds none of the consolations in death which traditional religions provide.

Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck is entertaining but it is too short and too selective. She says next to nothing about her children, her three marriages, or the genesis of her screenplays. Hopefully a longer version is in the works that will fill in the huge gaps in this volume.

Copyright © 2006 by Tom Shipka