I Feel Bad About My Neck by the late Nora Ephron, writer of probably every notable romantic comedy I’ve ever seen, is a later-in-life memoir focused on Ephron’s experience as a (very well-off but pretty congenial) woman growing older in New York City. I wasn’t aware of just who Nora Ephron was until I asked my mom if she’d read the book, but I was excited to begin a memoir that wasn’t written by a twentysomething. I thought it might be a good indicator of what’s to come or at least provide some insight into the life of a woman whose experience was very different from mine.
When I began reading, I expected to feel overwhelmed and frightened by the unavoidable process of aging, but I honestly wasn’t too fazed. Aside from generally feeling like shit and experiencing the eventual deaths of friends and family, which I already figured would happen, getting older seemed like something I could be kind of good at. Throughout each chapter, I felt like I was listening to my hip, rich, city ‘aunt’ complain about pretty typical things like the pains of carrying a purse, dealing with asshole children, and the expensive and arduous process of maintaining her body.
Drawing from all of her concerns about keeping her body and life together, her book really just made me hope all the self-love work I’m learning to do pays off. I want to be able to accept myself, body and all, as I grow old and let that bleed into other parts of my life. I feel like purposeful and radical self-love is something that hasn’t been a point of high priority for some older generations, and I have a hunch that it will help with the aging process. I understand that I have no clue what it’s like to be any older than twenty three, but I’m hoping that if I can learn to really love myself now, I’ll be able to keep it going as a real grown-up.
I Feel Bad About My Neck didn’t strike a huge chord with me, but my mother who just turned fifty absolutely loved it. She texted me from the gym on several occasions to say she was reading it on the elliptical and couldn’t stop laughing. I think this difference in impact and interpretation between people in different stages of life is part of why reading about the lives of a lot of different kinds of people is so important. My mother is a beautiful, confident woman who looks pretty damn young for her age (not that that should be important), but she really related to Ephron’s grievances. I know she gets self-conscious, but my mom seems pretty happy to me. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that she connected to Ephron so deeply, but it kind of freaked me out. It made me worry about how much time she may spend wistfully reminiscing about who and how she used to be even though she’s really freaking awesome right at this very moment.
If there’s any fear I actually have about getting older, it’s the idea of regretting the choices I’m making in my early twenties or feeling like I didn’t make the best of all the resources at my disposal. I know I’m projecting my own values and worries onto her life, but I sometimes worry that at some level, my mom feels like I sucked the life force out of her during the twenty hours it took for me to be born. I don’t want her to feel like she’s old or unappreciated or bored and if she is, as selfish as it might be, I don’t want it to be a result of the timing of my existence. I want her to love herself and her life as much as I’m trying to love myself and my life. She deserves it.
I think a lot of things in our culture tell women that once they reproduce or pass a certain age, some part of their natural self, part of their value, is just gone. I think that’s a really crappy way to treat an enormous part of the world population and what’s even worse is that the sentiment is widely internalized. I don’t want to go through the rest of my life feeling like my age and experiences are weighing me down or making me less than anybody else and I don’t think anybody should have to.
I’m going to make a point to return to I Feel Bad About My Neck (or at least reread this essay) once I’ve lived a bit more of my life. I imagine I’ll begin feeling a little worse about getting older as it actually starts happening, but if I can write about it with as much levity as Ephron did, I’ll probably be okay.