on writing every day and nora ephron

Heeey there, streusely cake!

I have started to write early in the mornings in hopes of getting into a habit of writing. That said, in the spirit of disclosure, today is the first such morning and I’ve squandered almost all of it. I say that I’ll start writing in the mornings quite often, but rarely do I actually follow through. I do it sporadically, but Anne Lamott encourages us to get into the habit, and that’s where I fall short – the habit.

I was supposed to wake up at 5:30 and now it’s 6:19 and in eleven minutes Andrew’s alarm will go off. It’ll sound like aliens are invading our apartment. He’ll let it go for a minute or two before turning it off and then another alarm, this time it will sound like someone is practicing playing scales, will go off again. He’ll finally, slowly, deliberately, get out of bed around 6:45 and shuffle into the living room. Forrest will greet him loudly, meowing indignantly. I think what he’s trying to say is, “I’ve been up for hours, why haven’t you gotten up yet? Man up!” And since Forrest doesn’t speak English (or human for that matter) I guess we’ll never know.

Anyway, Andrew will get up and shuffle around the kitchen bedroom area, which in our tiny Brooklyn apartment are RIGHT NEXT TO ONE ANOTHER because, hey, it’s logical to have your kitchen next to a bedroom. On weekend mornings, when I’m up early and before I take off for the farmer’s market, I sometimes like to bake a morning muffin or something. This isn’t to say I’m some superwoman who gets up early and does a dozen things before the rest of the normal, children-less world gets up. I blame my small bladder and the cat: a) I am too neurotic and anxious to go back to sleep once I have to pee the morning, and b) Forrest, as if knowing it’s the weekend, sits on me until I get up and feed him. I capitulate either way.

So I try to do something, you know, productive. I soften my butter and bring my eggs to room temperature. I measure out my flours and sugars and other dry ingredients. All that – quietly. But then the whir of the mixer (you’d think) is so loud, it can raise the dead. But not Andrew. Andrew sleeps through it all and doesn’t budge.

Once Andrew is up and shuffling, my writing hours are over. Then it’s breakfast and morning news and then, when he finally leaves for work, it’s work time for me. Or gym. I can’t work out immediately upon waking up because I feel like, and probably resemble, a zombie. Something about having very low blood pressure, I first need to have some coffee and time before I’m asked to do two hundred squats while rotating a kettle bell about my torso.

Writing, while I feel positively awful, seems to be the only thing I can do. I can do it sitting down; I don’t have to lift anything heavy; there’s no dance music blasting into my ears.

But I wonder what I should be writing about. Someone once said about Nabokov that he was a good writer but didn’t have anything to write about. And while Nabokov was a certain literary genius, having read most of his novels, I kind of know what that person meant when they said that. It’s all, strangely, substance-less. I’m excluding Lolita from the mix because that book, still, breaks my heart.

What happens, when you don’t have anything to write about? What does that mean? Do you stare at the computer screen and just type out a single letter until something comes to you?

I imagine it looking a little like this:


And then when you tire of one letter you can move on to the next:


Until you run out of letters. And then it starts all over again.

Until something comes to you. But what if nothing does? Haven’t you ever had a completely vacant brain, devoid of any thoughts?


Today, I am sufficiently rambly, which suits me just fine. Is rambly even a word? It is now.

But this morning, rambly as I may be, I am sad. I was sad last night when I went to bed, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I read about Nora Ephron passing away and it made me sad, but this morning I feel a different kind of sadness. A I-feel-like-I-lost-a-friend sad, even though we never met and didn’t even run in the same circles.

In a way, though, Nora Ephron has been in my life as long as I’ve been living in America. “When Harry Met Sally” came out the year we arrived in the United States, and that movie was a little bit like the cinema equivalent of the comfort of mac-n-cheese for me. I was always in the mood for it, and it always made me feel better. It made me fall madly in love with New York and decide that I was moving there after college.

Years ago, I had found the movie to be funny and witty, but as I got older I found it to be bittersweet. There was heartbreak and anxiety in it; the kinds of things you feel when you’ve lived through a few of those experiences. And it was laugh-out-loud funny and spot on. And I’m not even talking about everyone’s favorite orgasm scene.

In my favorite scene from the movie, Harry asks Sally about the story of her life. She replies that the story of her life won’t even get them out of Chicago because her life hasn’t started yet. She’s moving to New York so things can happen to her. A few minutes later, Sally tells Harry that she plans on being a journalist. And in a line only Nora Ephron could have written he responds, “So you can write about things that happen to other people.” Game. Set. Match.

I loved “Sleepless in Seattle” and defended my right to like it to movie snobs. I’d also like to point out that no one writes good romantic comedies anymore. And no, it’s not a contradiction in terms. Why can’t you watch a feel-good movie and like it? But Nora Ephron got it. She wrote funny, human, and ultimately happily-ending scripts, something a lot of movie buffs scoff at. But isn’t definition of comedy (in the literary traditional sense) – is that of wish fulfillment?

For the record, I also loved “You’ve Got Mail”. You want to judge me? Go ahead.

Eerily enough, we had just read “I Feel Bad About My Neck” with my book club ladies, and even though, according to Ephron, I’m about ten years away from feeling badly about my neck, I knew a bit of what she meant. I’m thirty-four and you know your body starts to change, inexplicably, around thirty. My old boss warned me about it. She said, something happens, you’ll see.

In the last two years, I’ve been finding this odd jiggle in the back of my arms. I work out and I do all those tricep things they talk about in fitness magazines, but the jiggle persists. When my arm is squished close to my body, you see an odd dimple in the center of it: where did it come from? And what can I do to make it leave?

I say this because my whole life I had those rail thin arms that looks like twigs. Not anymore. Things change as we age and it is what it is. I loved Ephron’s humor about it: No matter the potion, no matter the frequency of your facials, no matter how much you spend time at the gym – you will age. It will happen. There’s degeneration.

As for Ephron’s prose, I loved it. It was simple. It was uncomplicated. It was to the point. And it had heart. She said once that she learned the lean prose from her days at the New York Post, where you had to write short, succinct sentences. Whatever it was – it worked to her favor.

I read her obituary this morning and cried into my coffee. Cried. Over a person I never met, but felt like I had. I suppose many of us feel this way about Ephron – she wrote and made it sound like she was your close friend and confidante. She knew you, and for us, New Yorkers, she knew, and loved, New York, to an almost crazy you-can’t-live-anywhere-else extent. Those of us who live her and are, in some way, afraid to leave, know what she meant. Our attachment to our neighborhood where everything is just perfectly so, borders on fanatical.

Take where I live, for example. There’s a Trader Joe’s across the street. Less than half a block away, there are a handful of Middle Eastern stores where I can get the most amazing lavash, hummus, and baklava, among just a few. There’s a vegetable store that sells house-made kimchi that is to die for. There are two farmers’ markets within walking distance. There’s just about every subway line, a view of Manhattan ten-minute walk away. My favorite (and cheap) nail salon where I get a $60 quality pedicure for $30 (their regular pedicure is $22). There’s a amazing, independent bookstore a block away. There’s a movie theater and a Barnes and Noble across the street. There’s a frozen yogurt place in my building. There’s not one but two hardware stores, should I one day decide to build shelving in the apartment. There’s a great kitchenware store half a block down the street. I could go on, but you get the idea. Where else will I have all that within a two block radius?

But Ephron knew and she wrote about it.

She wrote about things we don’t really even think about, but after reading them you’d start thinking about them constantly. That whole thing with the neck? I now examine it every morning with morbid curiosity. I want to catch the exact moment when it goes.

And I know that when it does, I’ll look up and Ephron will be looking down at me (and other ladies doing the same), and possibly nod and shrug in the well-that-was-inevitable sort of way. And then I’ll go an buy a hundred black turtlenecks.

[That picture above is a cake I’m trying to develop a recipe for – stay tuned, I’m awfully close! Sorry to be such a tease.]


  • Brian @ A Thought For Food

    She will certainly be missed. I remember reading the New Yorker piece about her a few years ago when Julie and Julia came out. Had no idea she was into food until then… but knowing that made me feel a stronger connection to her. And I’ll always read your ramblings… keep them coming!

  • gina finocchiaro

    Olga, thanks for this one.
    I cried in my car on the way to work this morning, listening to the NPR story about Nora’s death. And while I haven’t met or known her personally either, there’s some emotion tie to her work — that hits me. Glad to know that I’m not alone.

  • merry jennifer

    The best thing about rambly blog posts is that it feels like we’re talking over coffee. Plus, I learned that you love the same movies I do. Personally, I think creating comedy takes the most talent a writer has. Comedy is so tough to pull off without it seeming contrived, crude, or artificial — and romantic comedy even more so.

    Keep writing. I’ll keep reading.

  • Karen @ superfinefeline

    Hi Olga,

    This is a lovely post. I hope you get around to writing more in the mornings and I know how you feel. It’s so hard to get going sometimes. All the same, I hope you will get going as you write well.

    I loved Nora Ephron’s movies. She had a magical way of articulating emotions and burning passion for food.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog posts and the cake recipe that you’re developing.

    Have a nice day!


  • IdaBaker

    I hadn’t heard, but I’m happy I heard it from you. The sentiments you express mirror many of my thoughts.

    I don’t know names of many people, and I had no idea she was actually responsible for the movies you’ve listed, but each one of them is a favorite of mine.

    I learned her name a few years ago when I went to see Love, Loss, and What I Wore in LA. It was amazing at how women of different generations, different backgrounds, and different lifestyles could all relate to what she was saying.

    She will be missed.

  • cathi

    I feel exactly the same way about her that you did. My heart is hurting today over her loss, but she left us with priceless memories – her work. xxoo

  • Lisa

    Thanks so much for this. and hey, I’m 45, and still working on the battle with the arm thing. It is what it is.

  • Whitney

    Loved this post. Continue the rambling.

    And I’m a little younger than you but can you believe I’ve never seen when Harry Met Sally?!

    I will fix that soon.

  • Radish

    Everyone – thank you for your lovely thoughts. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone feeling this way. At times, I want to roll my eyes at people who lament celebrities’ deaths. Like, do you REALLY feel that heartbroken? Are you REALLY that sad? But here I sit, totally sad. It’s so incredibly weird and feels like it’s not genuine sorrow – but i know it is.

    Whitney – seriously, just buy this movie on DVD. Trust me, you’ll want to own this one. It’s brilliant. Not a single wasted word.

  • Sara M

    What a beautiful post! You’ve Got Mail is definitely one of my favorite movies (along with it’s “mother” Shop Around the Corner).

    I’ve felt sad all day too, and now I’ve realized why!

  • Omeletta

    What a great post. :) I kept nodding my head in agreement! I too struggle with writing every day (which I have been (mostly) dutifully attempting ever since Bird By Bird), and it’s always a fun challenge while sharing a tiny NYC apartment with my big, loud husband. I spend a lot of time staring at a blank Word document before “checking” pinterest for the next two hours.
    A customer told me about Nora Ephron last night and I was so sad that I then told everyone else, all of whom seemed not to care or even know who she is. What?

    And lastly, me too! That is, my arms. My arms piss me off on a daily basis and I have no idea how they got so weirdly flabby when everything else stayed the Exact Same. How does that happen??

    All in all an affirming read, so thank you! :)

  • Lesumz

    I have lived CA all my life (makes no difference which coast or non-coast you are on), and I too have cried over and will miss Nora Ephron. She spoke to several generations of women…..and showed us the way to find humor through our lives. I will miss her common sense and sense of humor as well as her love of food.

  • Erin

    This is beautiful. First of all–I get the writing. I always try to set a certain time each day to write (depending on my schedule) but sometimes I just squander it all not sure where to do.
    Second of all–Nora Ephron. This is lovely.

  • A Plum By Any Other Name

    I am still thinking about this post a day later. I read it last night and it was touching, funny, and made me want to become a better writer. Normally, I’d be sad not to have a recipe to go along with a post, but the cake is (pardon the pun) pure icing at this point.

  • Sue

    Love your writings. I have the same problem you do as far as squandering time. I try to set aside reading time in the early morning, but find myself doing this and that – then suddenly it’s time to do whatever I “have to” do that day.

    I, too, feel very sad about the passing of Nora Ephron. I’ve seen several interviews with her – all hilarious. She was unique for sure. I must read “I Feel Bad About My Neck” right away. Might need to watch all of her movies again too.

    Keep up the rambling – I love it.

  • Shelley

    I cried when I read about Nora. I saw you’ve got mail on video about12 times and as a foodie loved
    Julie and Julia. How sad to lose her.

  • Sasha

    Hi Olga.
    You were in my “who to follow” list on twitter and I’m so glad. Your blog is so beautiful and from reading this post alone I can tell you’re a talented writer (5:30 or not). Also, I love your cat’s name. I was going to name mine Don Draper, but the woman I adopted him from had already given him the name Fred. So now I call him Frederick Douglass to make him sound more sophisticated, although to be honest, I have no idea who that man was… :/

    Can’t wait to read more of this blog!

  • Radish

    Sasha – first of all, thank you! secondly, you must read Frederick Douglass’ narrative of life. It’s one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Douglas was a social reformer who spoke and wrote against slavery. He came to the White House to speak with Abraham Lincoln on the matter. He was an incredibly eloquent and passionate man. And I think it’s a very fitting name for a cat! Our cat’s full name, actually, is Forrest Whittaker William Cartwright. For the explanation of the last two names, google them together along with Tyler Perry ;-)

  • my page

    I just could not depart your website before suggesting that I extremely loved the usual info a person provide on your guests? Is going to be back continuously in order to inspect new posts

  • Katie

    My mother is forever complaining about her neck (she calls it her ‘scraggy’ neck), I’ll have to get her the book for her birthday this summer! I’m 33 and I’ve just started to get it, I look in the mirror and I’m like, wow, my neck isn’t up there anymore.

  • Radish

    Katie – your mom will love the book. It’s very funny and well written. I don’t have a neck thing yet. But I have an arm thing and a, “wait, if i eat all this food, i’m going to gain weight” thing these days. I want my old metabolism back!

Leave a Comment