That caviar is a garnish! (and other things I learned from Nora Ephron)

You are daring to imagine that you could have a different life. Oh, I know it doesn’t feel like that. You feel like a big fat failure now. But you’re not. You are marching into the unknown armed with... Nothing. Have a sandwich.
— Nora Ephron, You've Got Mail

I was just thinking last week that I should write a post on my obsession with the You’ve Got Mail apartment.

You know the one: Kathleen Kelly’s shabby chic brownstone walk-up, home to the lone reed and upright piano, walls covered in books and mementos, and open window overlooking a beautiful autumn New York City morning.

I’ve laid awake at night, trying to figure out this apartment’s dimensions (Is it a studio? U-shaped? Does the kitchen lead into the bathroom?), imagining where I would put my mother’s secretary or the wall shelf my husband built me six Christmases ago.

I love that apartment. I would be happy in that apartment. I belong in that apartment, in the city, in the Autumn, with a bookshop around the corner.

So yes, I had formatted in my mind this beautiful ode to the You’ve Got Mail apartment.

And then Nora Ephron died.

Nora Ephron, to quote the younguns, was a beast. She was a writer, in every sense of the word. Journalist, essayist, playwright, author and screenwriter. She nearly literally did it all. And then she started directing movies, where she created girls like me - independent, quirky, proud, loud, naïve, flawed, sensitive - and a world girls like me could inhabit.

Her genre was “romantic comedy,” but her stories were so much more than that. They were about messing up, and someone loving you anyway. They were about taking a chance, and getting let down. They were about discovering your true self, and falling all over yourself in the process. At least, these are the ones I remember.

I’m too young (yes, I get to use this phrase!) to know about Silkwood, and maybe a bit too young to really appreciate When Harry Met Sally, but I remember crying along with Annie in Sleepless in Seattle as she first heard Sam’s voice on the radio. And I remember the first birthday after we were married when my husband gifted me with a VHS of You’ve Got Mail hidden inside a brand new grey felt messenger bag.

Oh, I so wanted to be Kathleen Kelly. I even worked in a book shop (on the corner of Oak Park and Lake Street), wore black tights and black skirts, and sadly, experimented with an ill-advised short haircut.

(Side note: no one, in the history of the world, will ever have Meg Ryan’s hair in that movie. I don’t care who you are.)

But back to Nora. Her movies made me feel like it was ok to be weird. In fact, I could be weird and smart. Weird and smart and loved. Weird and smart and loved and imperfect. I could lose my temper, make a mistake, try again and conquer the world.

And now, at 33 and a mother of three and in the midst of so many life changes I can hardly stand it, I’m realizing that loving her stories doesn’t mean recreating the Meg Ryan look or working in a book shop. Loving her stories means I’m embracing my own.

Loving her stories means I go forward bravely, confident in who God made me, believing that my loudness or weirdness or sensitiveness isn’t a mistake. Loving her stories means acknowledging that the world is messy and we are messy, but still, somewhere, there’s a place for us in it.

Oh, I love the You’ve Got Mail apartment, but no matter how I try to bend it, I’m not sure it’s possible for the pictures on the screen to match the dimensions in my head. Still, I’ll take solace in the world Nora Ephron created.

In her stories, it’s not about the apartment, anyway.