Creative Reflux: Me and Heartburn

Last weekend, to honor Nora Ephron, my wife and I and our youngest daughter (not so young--18 and heading off to college in September) watched “Sleepless in Seattle,” and found it once again utterly charming, though our awareness that there will be no more screenplays by Ms. Ephron dulled the cheery gleam of the ending. So last night, I decided to re-read her novel, Heartburn, obliquely based on her own life and her divorce from Watergate hero Carl Bernstein. I first read it soon after it was published, in 1983. 1983. Good lord--that was 29 years ago.

The year was fraught with angst and doubt. I met my wife-to-be on a blind date, though I had no idea that we’d eventually get married and that we’d endure three broken engagements--to each other--before we did. I was on the cusp of a decision to give up daily journalism and try my hand at other kinds of writing, which meant I'd have to quit my job at The Wall Street Journal, where I worked in the paper’s San Francisco bureau. At a party at a prospective agent's house, while talking to a very attractive woman, I leaned back against the controls of a gas range and set my tweed jacket on fire. “You’re smoking,” she said. Damn straight, I thought, until I realized she meant it literally. It was that kind of year.

I loved Heartburn, and deeply envied its gentle humor and its author’s seeming ability to soar above the landscape of writerly travail with a wink and a smile. Though I never met Ms. Ephron, I adored her--especially her eyes, those gleaming crescents (much like my wife’s, in fact; I’m a sucker for crescent eyes). And, I hated her. Not really, of course. Metaphorically. At the time, I bled ambition and envy. I loved her book, I hated her book. And now, I’m reading it again, and loving it, and wishing that more Ephron books, more Ephron screenplays, more Ephron everything, lay on the horizon.

Before starting this new reading of Heartburn, I did some thumbing ahead. There’s a point toward the end of the book where the heroine’s best friend asks her with annoyance why she has to turn everything into a story.

“Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
“Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
“Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
“Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”

And so, on with it we get, without Ms. Ephron. But we can tell the story and maybe it won’t hurt as much.
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 Reading Reindeer Thank you so much for posting this! The quote from "Heartburn" made me cry, laugh, and nod my head in agreement. Writing indeed is catharsis, and probably the only method we have for controlling life. Bless Ms. Nora-wherever she might be.

message 2: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Ridge I also picked up Heartburn to read again after learning of Ms. Ephron's death. what a talent and a gift to us as she shared her heartbreak - I am making her vinegarette dressing as a tribute.

message 3: by Jessica (new)

Jessica My book club just picked a Ephron book for this month's reading I Remember Nothing. This will be my first reading of Ephron and I am looking forward to it. I Love the quote that you shared from Heartburn. I feel inspired to read it! Thanks for sharing! I am so glad that you kept your writing style! I am a huge fan!

message 4: by Candace (last edited Jul 12, 2012 12:46PM) (new)

Candace Dempsey I wish she'd told the story of her cancer. At the end, she wasn't able to find anything to laugh about, I suppose. That is unbearably sad.

message 5: by Holly (new)

Holly It's heartening to know that one of my favorite authors (you) envied the work another of my favorite authors (Ephron). Gives all us envying, aspiring authors HOPE.

message 6: by Kathy (new)

Kathy Pedersen Beautiful. Thank you.

message 7: by Hailey (new)

Hailey Why am I just now reading this post? You're writing is exquisite! I think you should write your history. I love the story about the tweed jacket. More please! :-)

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