Todd Harding’s Facebook message about me was, “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.” I thought it meant a girl at our school. Maggie was so beautiful and beautiful people always seem far off to me. And what is more far off than the pastoral? (At least, for someone born in upper Manhattan. I will believe anything wild about the parts of the country I can barely imagine: spooky things, like in True Detective or the scariest parts of Robert Frost.)
Part of you always feels excluded and is. By you, I mean me, and by excluded I mean, first, what you’d expect: that pathologically, people are having fun without you because they are better or prettier, less or more strange, they don’t do embarrassing things or can act drunk and fun and not sad at the same time, or any other reason. But also, maybe more. Like, for instance, those of us who take the time to fully flesh out other worlds in print or anywhere else, must recognize or invent, on some level, some lack of invitation in this one. Right?
In high school, I used to read books by the Beats, who I now hate, at the top of the stairs before class started. I never read Dharma Bums or Naked Lunch– I almost definitely looked at every word in each, I just did not process or comprehend them. I opened, looked, thought about myself, hoped Todd Harding or his friends would talk to me, since isn’t that how it is in movies? Slightly above-average looking girl saved from her own sadness after found reading countercultural novel in public. Etc. Here are some books I have read: Mrs. Dalloway. White Noise. Scar Tissue (the autobiography of Anthony Kiedis). Many of Keats’s letters. A few of Frost’s. Biographies of Ronald Reagan. The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box.
My parents are basically aging rock stars, so I should have recognized the lyrics to “Maggie’s Farm,” I guess. But that’s beside the point. It’s fine not to know things. Good, even. Had I instantly recognized the lyrics as those of an iconic Dylan song, my thoughts would probably just have been that I do not particularly enjoy its message or mode of delivery but am fond of numerous other Bob Dylan songs: even famous ones like “Just Like A Woman” or “Visions of Johanna”. I like familiarity in things.
Of course now I feel so different than that when the song comes on. Maybe part disgusted with myself for being quite so pandering on the inside, even a long time ago. For feeling so intensely low and compensating by aspiring to like things I didn’t care about, when, now, there are so many things I want to see and read and do. I want more time! Even more than I have, which is a ton.
It’s funny that I hadn’t heard “Maggie’s Farm,” but it’s not embarrassing to me now. I am embarrassed that I probably ended up pretending to have heard it or pretending many other, even dumber, things, and still do. Mostly, I am embarrassed that even now, I think of Todd Harding in his current form or life and think, “I won!” It still is important to me to feel better than those who may have, in some far-off past, wronged me (though in reality, they probably never thought of me at all). That I compete- albeit, only in my own imagination, with arbitrary people from “my past” who have no actual relevance to my current life. THAT I STILL WANT TO BE POPULAR. That I tell myself I am better, knowing it means nothing.
Once, someone told me the Dotty Lasky poem I liked was “an exercise in humiliation.” I was offended. At the risk of running very close to an epiphany Sex and The City voiceover: Now, I am thinking that maybe all writing, or at least all of mine, is something quite like that—some twisted attempt to compensate or atone by telling the truth so much at one time, so much that it will inevitably overexpose and embarrass the one who speaks it. Maybe we’re so scared of the lies we tell and lose track of that when we say something that feels formed and honest enough to call a poem, it is just that. An exercise in self-effacement.
I don’t know what Maggie is doing these days. I like the proximity of beautiful, unknowable women but I have to let them go. It is not my life. I am not totally proud of the way I am always. I mutter rudely when people stand still on the left side of the escalator (the escalator is not a ferris wheel.) In my head, I am often unkind to the obese. But I am trying to listen more and talk less. Not compare other people’s art to my own. Feel appreciation, which maybe requires as much distance as remorse. And sometimes, too, proximity is a kind of distance, like in cities, when there are so many stories you have no choice but to let yours be subsumed. I will probably always choose that kind of life, the same life I came from. Each time, I hope that I can atone a little more as I go. Small things too, like merging on the freeway or how you are with strangers in the supermarket or anything moving slower than you like.
In the song, he prays for rain because of the infallibly unjust conditions of labor, but I just like waking up to it. It is a relief that the world goes on without you, though maybe you shouldn’t need to be reminded. Our apartment growing up was on the second floor right next to a courtyard. You could see parts of the trees but not the top or bottom, so when it stormed it was like being in the rainforest.