I first expanded on the idea of a "Pretend I'm Dead" website while at a graduation party. It was this same party, come to think of it, that I interrupted group conversation with a renowned philosopher to point out that, by golly, the bug in my palm was sashaying side to side like a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars." But in another conversation, and without any insects involved, I mentioned the idea that we should all have a place to hear our own eulogies. The current issue of Newsweek says that Ted Kennedy has been in that unique position since being diagnosed with brain cancer; and all personal opinions and lawsuits aside, surely Michael Jackson would have enjoyed reading some nice press about himself.
Back at the graduation party, I was getting that same look I get from Greg when he sees a book of Sylvia Plath's poetry on my bedside table. The look of someone who's rehearsing the conversation they'll have with the reporter: Yes, there were warning signs.
Death aside, it's a good idea, isn't it? I've tried exploring this idea in essays several times, but then I start talking about The Karate Kid, which is actually related but not enough to be in the same essay, and then I realize I've got about three essay topics going in the one piece, and finally I decide the essay will never be suitable for publication. Hence a blog, where all good ideas go to after they've died.
When Anthony Hopkins was in Pittsburgh to film Silence of the Lambs, which features my former professor getting his face eaten off, he had lunch at The Faculty Club, where I worked. The place was buzzing with the news that the actor was there. I was having a bad day, for who knows what reason, and this made me do something I now regret: I snubbed Sir Anthony.
The design of The Faculty Club hid the men's bathroom from any sensible person finding it easily, and Sir Anthony, like nearly every other man called by Mother Nature while dining there, was standing in the hallway looking around perplexed. I was at the far end of the hallway, at just the right distance to either help him or feign ignorance. I chose the latter, in my mind thinking, "Everybody's falling all over him, but not me. He thinks he so great, yeah, well, the knight can find the bathroom himself. Yeah."
Stupid, I know. And not really anything to feel strong remorse over. But I think about that moment every once in awhile; sometimes I call myself names for missing a chance to talk to the great man, and sometimes I think about the ways people assume that others are aware of their own talents, or have heard praise often enough, and how that's not really true at all.
I remember being introduced by a friend to her friend with something like, "Amy's a writer--a really good writer." I just kind of stared. This person had never told me what she thought of my writing, but she made it seem like her comment was a given. This is why you'll often find me writing to authors I like and telling them why.
BuildaBridge International, an arts organization in Philly that I work for on occasion, makes a point of "blessing" people at the culmination of workshops or events. They make sure that no one leaves without having a nice word said about them--publicly, even.
So do it. Blurt out a compliment to that least-suspecting talented person in your midst. I bet it won't be as obvious as you think.