There is a very funny video making the rounds, a celebration of a superhuman but all-too-plausible Mother of Year. After you watch the clip, you discover it is actually a fund-raiser for a women's organization that offers to insert your own mother's name at appropriate places if you make a donation. The name in the original pre-personalized version is Jane Smith.
That would be me, though you probably want some evidence to support the claim. Like all the other Jane Smiths out there, I am accustomed to providing multiple forms of identification, furnishing my full date of birth and social security number at every doctor's appointment and border crossing, and enduring endless bad jokes assailing my honesty whenever I try to make a reservation or pay a bill.
I'm also used to finding my name on sample credit cards, checks, driver's licenses, and other forms of identification. I am resigned to the fact that when you are Jane Smith, every new attempt at on-line engagement will include several extra minutes of fruitlessly trying to find a user name that has not already been taken.
When I tried to get a reader's card at the Berkeley Public Library, the librarian sent me to the on-line registration form. "Fill in your name," it said at the top. "For example (imagine a little blue box here) Jane Smith." So I filled in my name, which by some bizarre coincidence happened to be the same as the one provided on the screen, but the program would not accept my entry.
I asked for help, and the librarian abandoned her rather brusque tone as soon as she saw the problem. Suddenly she was exhibiting a degree of affection I do not usually inspire in strangers. "No, dear," she said, patting my hand and speaking in a very slow and soothing voice. "That's just an example. We need to put your name here."
As a writer, I'm sometimes tempted to come up with a more memorable moniker to put on the spine of a book. There is ample precedent for such a move. Mary O'Connor took to using her middle name, Flannery. Carson McCullers started life as Lulu Smith. The name Consuelo Vanderbilt appeals to me greatly, as does the name Elmo Zumwalt, although I understand both have been taken.
But so has the name Jane Smith, many times over. Usually, this doesn't bother me at all. In fact, the banality of my name provides a certain sense of protection. Writers tend to be observers, and I enjoy the idea that I can watch the world while retaining my own anonymity. And when it's time to come out from undercover, I have my own achievements, of which I am suitably proud, including a new book that has been described in glowing terms by people who are not even blood relatives.
If ever I'm feeling just a wee bit under-celebrated, though, it is fun to consider my other lives. My secret sharers, the legion of Jane Smith avatars, have expertise in many fields, including early childhood education, Islamic studies, wildfires, the selling of women's clothing, and the complicated art of being a professional assassin. In the film version of this last career, you may recall, I was played by Angelina Jolie, and the resemblance was uncanny--kudos to casting!
And now I am Mother of the Year. This is humbling, though not entirely undeserved (ask my children). I only hope they didn't use my sample credit card to pay the production costs of making my tribute video.