Isolation with Nora

It started with Heartburn. The novel, you understand, by Nora Ephron.

It had come my way as a recommendation from a friend, as a book perfect for These Times. And it was. For three glorious days I was transported out of myself and lockdown London and into the life of Rachel (Nora) and the 1970s on the East Coast.

I really did, for the first time, forget about The Situation.

I finished the book and moved on. I read other things. But nothing else compared, nothing had the wit and style and compulsive energy of Nora’s writing. I was hooked.

So I sought her out and, deep in a writerly love affair, ordered the full collection of her writings. I liked that it is called The Most – not the best – of Nora Ephron. It is a tome, and the description fits her: she writes effusively. The most, she is.

I’m aware that it would be more proper to refer to her, as one does with writers, by her last name. But her nonfiction – she was a journalist and essayist much more than a novelist – is intensely relatable. Reading her this week, she has kept me company, has been my friend. She isn’t Ephron, she’s Nora.

And here’s the thing: I’d quite like to be Nora, too. Minus the divorces.

She is smart, witty, pithy. She digresses from her point. She is acerbic. With a phrase, she has conjured an entire personality.

She is honest, wise. She does not shy away from the hard topics: divorce, feminism, family, death. On love, she is mercifully quiet.

Wouldn’t it be something, to be as gutsy as Nora? I thought she must have acquired wisdom with age, but many of the essays in the book date from the 70s, when she was in her 30s. I guess I have about a decade to learn to put it all out on the field. We’ll see.

She writes about journalism, and you can tell how she despises much of the news industry. But she loves it, too, perhaps even better for knowing its flaws. I don’t know a single journalist who doesn’t feel the same way.

Her description of a mid-century newsroom is enough to make me nostalgic for things I never knew. It’s also enough to make me very glad I missed it, too. But it reminds me of why I do what I do: the excitement of a break, the thrill of holding people to account. I have much to learn.

And then there’s New York. It’s the backdrop to her writing, seeping through all her stories. She is, unarguably, part of the Manhattan elite. She hangs out with New York Times food critics and artists from the Village. It’s glamorous and creative and gossipy.

No doubt it’s also unattainable. But Nora’s New York chimes with my long-harboured desire to disappear to the Big Apple – for, I don’t know, six months, a year – and just write and meet interesting people and in some way live outside myself. Just for a little bit, just to see.

Of course you cannot, in fact, live outside yourself. If I were to disappear as above, I would still be chronically anxious – and being several thousand miles away I would likely be acutely anxious too. And yet I can’t help but feel the shock would force me to write, and cope, and be more gutsy. To be a little more like Nora, but without her inexplicable antipathy towards the New Yorker, my one true love and another cause of my ridiculous obsession with the place.

Just as Nora can’t let go of the ideal of being married, I can’t get over the ideal of the city, or rather, myself in the city. She is, like I say, very relatable.

And like all writers, she writes about writing. We can’t help ourselves. It makes me like her even more.

I often worry that while writing comes naturally I don’t really have anything to say. It should, I fear, be the other way round.

So I am going to try to remember Nora’s maxim, learned from her mother, that ‘everything is copy’.

Everything is copy. Even, it seems for me, Nora herself.

With love

Despite all the important things I have wanted to write about over these past few weeks, I haven’t been able to face blogging about the thing I most needed to write about: leaving Warwick. I have opened and closed this post many times, and never have I found the words. But today, my wonderful friend Tessa wrote a fantastic blog post which almost made me cry, but has also hopefully helped me to find those words. Deep breath, here goes.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but I went to Warwick a little bit broken. I’d always been lonely and scared of the future, and I thought that that would be how I would always feel. I was hopeful of improvement, but also scared of that hope – so many times it had proved to be misguided.

How wrong I was. Within a few weeks at the start of a heady freshers’ term, I had found a new family in my beloved flat 19. People were friendly and chatty in a way I had never experienced before – and no one seemed at all bothered by my disability. By the second term, I had met the friends on my course who, with wonderful hindsight, I now know will be friends for life. This week, we celebrated graduation together. I have rarely been so proud.

The last three years have truly been the best of my life. Between them the extended flat 19 crew, Warwick Labour and the PAIS Class of 2016 provided more love and laughter than I could have imagined possible. Whether nights at our terrible-yet-loved SU nights and pub, a quick coffee, pub crawls in Leamington, Kasbah in Coventry – even a trip to Ibiza – or just hanging out, they’ve made every new experience brilliant and every memory worth treasuring. In always including me, they’ve made me happy and confident – and changed my view of people, society and myself.

My course was great too; even when the readings were tough lectures were always interesting, and while I still can’t handle the intricacies of political theory I do know quite a bit about international relations and security. I think at LSE next year I may miss the non-pressurised nature of work at Warwick and the sharing the suffering of essays with friends. So many of the lecturers I have had were simply brilliant; extremely academic and yet extremely kind when I didn’t understand – which was often. Leaving such a wonderful place of learning is made better by exceeding my own expectations and getting a First.

There are too many people to thank, but a few must be mentioned by virtue of being extra special. To my friends, especially Becky, Becky and Denning, I cannot tell you how wonderful you are – thank you for everything. I cannot wait for more good times to come and to share the future with you. And of course to my girls, Fran, Fran, Hayley, Gisela and Em, I love you all so much. You have given me everything and I will never let you forget it.

With that, Warwick, and with love always, goodbye.

 

Lessons from the year

My second year at university saw success on three fronts: more work, more reading and more writing. Somewhere along the way, I learnt quite a bit; about myself, journalism and politics. And so, having, like a lot of journalists, bemoaned the advent of the ‘listicle’ (which I still maintain should not be a word), I present you with the highlights of these lessons.

  • There is absolutely no point in reading an entire book that you don’t understand just because it’s required reading (in my case, political theory from the 18th and 19th centuries). Find one that explains the core text in intelligible English and save time, boredom and exam season stress
  • On a related note, John Rawls is god’s gift to politics students
  • Planning essays is the best way to revise
  • My academic interests lie in security studies, human rights, justice and feminism. I am probably a constructivist but I believe in moral imperatives
  • It’s probably high time I transferred my essay-planning skills to pitching articles (by which I mean: knowing what my point is before I start)
  • There is nothing as gratifying as reward for hard work
  • There is nothing as uplifting as well-loved friends making you laugh on a bad day
  • No matter how inconveniently-timed the urge to read a novel or write something is, do it and don’t feel guilty for not doing other things. You’re probably learning more than if you were writing an essay and the inspiration is fleeting
  • My heart lies with 20th century American novels, the Guardian, New Yorker and New York Times, and inexplicably compelling internet think-pieces
  • I am not an aspiring journalist. I am a journalist
  • Not to overdo things. Take a break if your brain is no longer absorbing information. Lie in if you know that extra hour will help you function at your best
  • Coffee is wonderful
  • I write best between 11pm and 1am. I do not know if this is a blessing or a curse but count me in for the night shift
  • Old friends are precious. So are new ones
  • General elections are simultaneously banal, depressing and riveting
  • Being open about my disability is, with the right people, very freeing
  • I do and don’t need a plan. I wish I knew what I wanted to do after university and what the best course of action would be, but I’m happy to take the time to work these things out – as I am always being told, I have plenty of time

Not bad for a single academic year. And at least I spared you the GIFs.