During a discussion following his poetry reading Hirsch observed that all writers have their phantom vitae. They fantasize about writing books, how many copies have been sold, and when they won the Pulitzer Prize. What a grand idea! I can create a narrative that allows me to be whoever I want to be. It was not the first time I entertained the notion of creating false facts. A few years ago I attended a non-profit organization’s fundraising luncheon. The speaker, who was also the founder of the cause, held the audience spellbound with her story.
We were touched by the unfortunate road she’d travelled. Many tears were shed. Almost everyone pulled out their checkbook. With a response that felt inspired at the time but seems cynical in hindsight, I muttered to my tablemates, “I need a better back story.”
I also ran a non-profit organization and thought I’d discovered a way to loosen contributors’ purse strings — fictionalize my life and add heart-tugging hardships. Integrity and my daughter’s embarrassment at the idea nixed the plan, even if it meant securing more donations. But the notion made me think. I took a moment to be grateful that I didn’t face struggles or dysfunctions growing up.
After hearing Hirsch I needed to decide what information my phantom vitae would contain. This was an opportunity to reflect on unrealized dreams and conduct an exercise in self- motivation. Was there something I wanted to accomplish but hadn’t? If so, what was I going to do about it?
Shining a spotlight on unfinished business can yield results if I take an honest inventory of my life and then take action.I always desired a beautiful rose garden. When we bought our first home I planted rose bushes and gave them the required care, fertilizing, pruning and waging war on disgusting Japanese beetles. Like any hobby, it consumed a lot of time. Two quick births presented a choice: well-raised children or beautiful roses. The flora lost.
I love stringed instruments and took years of piano and violin lessons. It was my dream to play a harp but the size made it difficult to access. That aspiration went unfulfilled.
When I was a teenager one of my heroes was Red Adair. I was impressed by his success at the dangerous job of fighting erupting oil well fires. It was tough work, he knew how to get the job done, and he achieved global fame. To be an innovator called on to do work no one else could do, and to do it well is what I wanted out of life.
I still want to find the thing I can do better than anyone else. Meanwhile, I’ll list on my phantom vitae that I perform with the local community orchestra as a harpist, grow award-winning roses, and covet my Nobel Prize for achieving world peace. We should all challenge ourselves to make up a phantom vitae, then make it a reality.
If I’m going to fabricate stuff, it’s time to adopt a pseudonym. Maybe I’ll use the formula for a stripper name: the name of my first pet paired with the street I grew up on. That would make me “Spanky Westminster.” What do you think, does it fit me? The address is listed below to register your opinion or suggest another nom de plume. Cast your vote and you might see future columns under my new name.
In the early days of outsourcing I got a call from my credit card company. The representative was selling services. I told her to leave her name and telephone number, I’d think about it, and call her back. Foreign telemarketers are trained to assume American names so they can relate to customers. Without hesitation and in a thick accent she replied, “My name is Harriet Tubman.”
It’s that easy to be whoever you want to be.
Murphy is a member of the Carrollton Creative Writers Club. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.