960: I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)

960: I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)

960: I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Several years ago in Nashville, while unloading groceries from the rear of my car, the real estate agent who had sold me my home approached with potential buyers of the house next door. They looked to be a young family. “And here is your soon-to-be neighbor. Major this is…” The tall athletic-looking man beside her interrupted, “I’m Zack. This is my wife and daughter, Jude and Cassie.” He thrust out his hand. I placed at my feet two brown paper bags I’d been awkwardly balancing, then rose up: “Hi. I’m Major Jackson, pleasure to meet you.” 

I was startled when, still shaking my hand, he forcefully asked, “Why do you announce your first and last names?” “Why do you introduce your wife and child?” I countered. “I’m sure they have voices.” “Touché,” he laughed, “touché.” We chatted, good humoredly, for a few minutes more; Jude was a chiropractor. Cassie hoped to catch a sighting of Taylor Swift. Zack was completing his medical residency. They had arrived from Washington D.C. 

I thought about the encounter over the next several days. Am I that guy who needs everyone to know who he is when walking into a room? Why do I introduce myself…full Monty, so to speak? Do I secretly wish to be recognized? Does recognition even confer legitimacy as a poet? 

Early in my life, I observed the ways I overcompensated for social invisibility. So I consciously worked towards modesty in my life. I was troubled that a passing introduction could be perceived as a bigheaded display of self-importance. Also, I am genuinely curious about people. Announcing both of my names is me saying you should be curious about me. Plus, truly, how many Major Jackson’s are walking the earth? There’s no chance of being mistaken for anyone else. 

Having taught undergraduates for two decades, I observed many first-day introductions; many students feel alien or different. They wear it in their speech and their body language. They actively protect their intimate centers from judgment. Like them, I struggled in my early years to be seen and accepted. As a result, at the beginning of each semester, I try to create an inviting classroom by projecting warmth and modeling openness. And yet, here I was, throwing up my name in all of its gravitas like a shield. 

Today’s popular poem encourages a kind of disappearance from life rather than a need for attention. Cosmologically speaking, there’s a virtue in acknowledging one’s insignificance, maybe, too, in instigating others to enjoy the pause of anonymity and quietness of being.

I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)
by Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, edited by Thomas H. Johnson, Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © renewed 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1914, 1918, 1919, 1924, 1929, 1930, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1942, by Martha Dickinson Bianchi. Copyright © 1952, 1957, 1958, 1963, 1965, by Mary L. Hampson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.