Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow

“I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.”                                 -Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”

 

After Hammock’s song.

Littered across the idea of the existence of Universe in the plural sense (the more-than-one, more-than-a-few, more-than-many sense), I have alternative stories with every person I’ve loved:

I. The one where we were childhood friends and we grew up learning how to love each other in different languages, how to care for one another, how to be a companion and cultivate withness. But you find the love of your life in the middle of our story and I’m left wondering, hoping.

II. The one where you always loved yourself and demanded those around you to love you well. I lived five states and two timezones away and never even knew your name.

III. The one where I longed for you after seeing you in a coffeeshop. I never walked up to you; we only shared glances and the same space 20 feet away from each other. The next time I went for coffee, I didn’t see you. And the time after that, and the one after that. Maybe you moved or maybe our schedules never allowed for us to be there at the same time. Maybe you didn’t like the coffee anymore. Eventually, I stopped looking for you. I stopped going. Maybe we weren’t meant to be more than a few glances.

IV. The one where we met at a high school pep rally the second week of school. I carried your books for you and you came to all of my baseball games. The one where I asked you to prom by spending hours on surprising you in the parking lot. Nobody was around to see it. We loved each other until we couldn’t, until college, until our separate ways meant different paths and fading from one another’s existence.

V. The one where we met at an Open Mic night. You sang a song after mustering the courage to get up in front of friends and strangers. I read poetry in front of people for the first time. The bravery enveloped us. Seven years later, we found each other again. Ran into each other in the market. You’re engaged and I’m working on my Master’s degree. We exchange numbers to keep in contact, walking in different directions from the cereal aisle, never seeing each other again.

VI. The one where we were forbidden to see each other but still chose to. “I’m going to a friend’s,” you’d say to your parents. You were really seeing me. We loved in whispers and quiet footsteps. Until the whispers hushed. Until the steps ceased. 

VII. The one where we had been together for a year before people actually knew. The one where we found love in places we hadn’t thought to look yet—right in front of us. 

I still get goosebumps thinking of the time when we first met. You, a self-identifying epiphany waiting to be seen and heard by someone who would knock the wind right out of your lungs. Me, a doubting-but-hopeful meaning-maker drunk on the feeling that I have never been loved the right way. There are stories in the universe about the time we spent a snow day on campus. Sitting. Waiting. Seeing one another without being seen by others.

There are stories being read about how you’d keep me company because it meant I was keeping you company, too, or about the oversized crew necks that I’d eventually accumulate at my apartment.

Somewhere in the ether, people are enjoying the story of us coming together. It wasn’t always easy. Is it ever? 

I still feel the small thorn on the soft spot in me when I know your mouth is trembling, when you’re holding tears in, when your throat becomes a home for that thing everyone feels right before the levees break. I still get to a place of immense vulnerability when you ask me why we can’t just be together, when you tell me that it shouldn’t be this hard to make this choice, when you tell me you love me, even after all that we’ve been through. Even after all the small moments where I hurt you inadvertently, but with such a depth. I imagine that’s the darkness in me reminding me of its presence. Reminding me about the hurt we will inevitably share for the foreseeable future.

Foreseeable as in predictable. As in to be expected. As in we are to be expected, to be measurably weighted when someone asks us how the other is doing, knowing very well that we are gravitating around who we used to be to one another. How we used to know each other. How we used to know. And love. And loved.

I still don’t know what it means to lose something well. Or how to find the good in goodbyes. I don’t know what kind of love there is that can be held and the holder won’t feel guilty about it, won’t feel deeply about how they maybe don’t deserve it, won’t ever wonder how it is that they can ever be given something so delicate. These hands know the beauty and fragility in this. They have built great big things. Never without love but never knowing it when they see it.

For however brief our infinity was, we were delicate with each other and we found a way to minimize miles between us. Even when we couldn’t—when the miles were heavy and beneath sheets of snow—we loved each other gently. That’s something that I will carry with me wherever I go.

Even with the storm rolling in from the sea, these words will be a light. Let them pull and bend you through every hard day you’ve piled into your existence; life is not short. As Hanif would say, it’s longer than we ever expect it to be.  Everything we’ve ever loved will double in size the moment it’s no longer in the same space as we are.

This is what love is. To know and be known, to see and be seen, to extend and be extended by something that is invisible when the light is shone in every direction it sits.

 

And isn’t it convenient /

to never get it right / speaking different languages and never learning / our own / well enough to learn someone else’s / I am enthralled / truly in love with / the way you say you love me / without knowing my love / without knowing / without me loving you too / and isn’t it convenient / I said there that day we were giving the moon our best / sending our regards / chances to be full / I am lost in the spin / of ceiling fans that also shake / so as to say, wobbling is in / my bones, they shake / and we are here shaking together / never getting this right.

the year of undoing.

the year of learning how to forget / how to be and only be / whoever it is / i’ve been / trying to be / even with all of this undoing. there are mountains of grace waiting / for me / at the bottom of my heart / waiting to be given out / handed over / relinquished to the worst days / i’ve still yet to live.

i am threaded into the eye of a needle / every time i get this right. / i don’t always / get this right. / it’s true, in fact, that getting this right / has never been my forte. / i / still put my scars to the light / so i can see them better, / never wishing away the / long road that healing creates. / all of this stitching on top of flesh / reminds me of / every time I chose to / stay. / fight. / live. live. live

with all of the moments i watched / everyone else’s highlight reel / and never my own.

the year of stopping in my tracks and giving every moment—every tender part of me—a chance at life. the year of believing that i have more to give. even when i’m empty from all of this showing up i do for everyone else, still choosing to show up for me.

the year of stubbornness extracted from my bones so i can see the sun in a different light. so i can believe through the marrow that each day is not given and i am not guaranteed and we are not promised anything today or tomorrow or any day after that.

the year of showing up of undoing
all the rules of liking myself so
i can love myself

falling in love with every smile
i see around me including
my own.

 

Saying Goodbye

Each year is an adventure of learning to say goodbye in a new way. At least for those of us who work in a profession that is predicated on pushing people to their own finish line and into the next phase of their life.

Students graduate or move off-campus, peers accept jobs and leave, people uproot the lives they used to know for something greater, something grander, something full of wonder and inspiration.

Some are ready to go, some go quietly, some with a bang, and some feel it in their bones. This time around, I’m feeling some of each. The last ten months have been quite a journey. Each day, a new challenge. Each week, more growth surrounding me. There were definitely times when I wore my heart on my sleeve. Times when I struggled in my own skin. Times when the smile on my face felt as genuine as it has ever been.

Retrospect provides opportunities to see ourselves in new ways. As closing week drew closer, I began to think about the people who were a part of my first year as a full-time professional. Gratitude is an understatement. The students I had the opportunity to work with challenged me and changed me. This is what makes goodbyes so hard: even when the natural calendar of things requires people to move, to shift, to leave, and even though I see the end coming every time, I learn to accept their presence and decide how much they mean to me. I know there’s no stopping the leaving. Staying would mean complacency, comfort, and routine. Plans are made and life changes shape as the anticipation of being gone creeps up.

And then they leave. The physical presence ceases. A void grows and I’m left alone trying to figure out the best way to love them from farther away.

This is for the 14 Resident Assistants, the Academic Peer Mentor, the Administrative Assistant, and the Graduate Student of DeHority Complex this year.

This is for their hard work, their patience with my growth, and their willingness to allow me to challenge them.

This is for all the moments you wanted to let go and I convinced you to hang on for a little while longer. All the moments that I asked something of you and you had faith in me. All the happy or sad or stressed tears we may have shared together. All of the moments when there was a click at the office doors, footsteps towards my office, and a smile greeting me. All of the moments where I probably frustrated you beyond belief with processes, procedures, and to-do list items.

This is for my team, for my people, for the relationships I’ve built with each of you individually, for the small chapter I may have been in the book that each of you are writing, for each tough conversation we had over the months, each vent session, each lightbulb moment.

This is for you.

I hope that you chase the sun every single day.

I hope you find every reason to believe that you can reach the dreams you once thought were never attainable.

I hope you let love grow in every part of your life and that you never betray your heart.

I hope you surprise yourself every single day and that you build time for wonder instead of worry.

I hope you recognize how important you are, how beautiful you are, how much potential you harbor in your bones.

When we first met, I told you how invested in you I am. That won’t change. It may look different now that you’re writing a different story for your life. But I’ll still be around. I’ll still be here. I’ll still remind you to take time for yourself, to stop saying “Sorry” for existing, to keep living a life you’re proud of. I’ll still challenge you. I’ll still encourage you to do something worthwhile, to dig deeper, to love harder. I’ll still believe in you as I always believed in you.

Thank you. I love you. I miss you. I’m excited for you, for your journey, for the adventures that you’re about to have. I’m grateful for the time we’ve shared. Some of you will still be around next year and I can’t wait to see what new things you do. Some of you will be far, far away and I can’t wait to be able to see how you impact this world in your own ways.

I could keep writing but we all know this open letter has to come to an end. So this is goodbye (for now). Thanks for letting me love you.

Until next time,
Robbie

It’s National Poetry Month.

Part of me has always wanted to believe there’s an alternate universe where poetry is the universal language. Everyone speaks it to varying degrees. Writing is taught in couplets and tercets. We live in stanzas. Free form is the new novel. Sonnets are the only way to give people a reason to believe in life after death. There is an eternal repetition of people shouting from street corners how to exist. Can you imagine?

Can you imagine a world where poetry helps us understand where we have been? Where we are going? The space in-between the two are the margins–the blank spaces on the page where invisibility exists and becomes universal, too. We become something different when the text is on the inside and we are not.

Can you imagine a world where poetry is mostly what we use to understand ourselves and others? It’s a tool that is used to wrestle with our disagreements; a wrench for the tight bolts, a needle and a thread for what needs stitching afterwards, a shield for the protection we are looking for every time we meet someone new.

Can you imagine that you are as you are right now without changing at all? Thoughts and skin and abilities all the same. Habits and writing unequivocally unchanging. We change not; we move for the sake of moving as we always have, we adopt nothing for the sake of changing nothing. Can you imagine?


Late last year, Rainn Wilson (most notably, Dwight from the TV show The Office) tweeted this:

Considering it was almost Christmas, I felt it necessary to give him something that he doesn’t know is there. That hadn’t manifested itself until now.

National Poetry Month comes around every April. This month, I’ll give you some of my favorites. I hope you can get something from this art–some written, some spoken, all touching and heartbreaking and capable of making you, too, start to see something that you hadn’t known was there all along.

I will present you with an opportunity to engage with pieces written by writers who are doing the same thing that we’ve all been trying to do. To live–exist, perhaps–in a space that values our right to do so. To breathe. To hope. Feel, although faint at times, a sense of belonging in world that doesn’t seem to always be the softest.

Though I’ll have much to say, I’ll leave that to the voice inside your head.

Enjoy.

#NPM17
#NationalPoetryMonth

[No Subject]

Write

“Hey, are you not doing your monthly blog post anymore?”

I’ve gotten this question a handful of times and I’m unsure how to answer. On one hand, it was only meant to be a year-long adventure; it seemed sustainable (and in all reality, it is sustainable) but moving into 2017 with such uncertainty towards to state of things, I didn’t know how to make that commitment again. On the other hand, I learned more about myself in 2016 through the writing. How could I not continue on?

As writers do, I backed myself into a corner and resolved to not write at all. Bits and pieces of writing came out at times but nothing coherent. I wouldn’t label it “writer’s block” as much as I would label it purposeful lack of practice.

I thought maybe it would be good to not write. Maybe it would make sense, instead, to explore different things: human emotion, what we do when nobody is looking, art in times of chaos, and so on. These things that everybody experiences but nobody wants to talk about.

See, the truth is that everyone expects writers to have it all together. How could they not? How could we not? We carefully craft words in such an arrangement that makes people nod their heads and clutch their cups of coffee tighter. We string together sentences that make people feel things. To some, us writers have it all figured out.

We don’t.

There are days when the writing doesn’t come. When quiet takes over. When silence is louder than the taptaptapping of my keys.

There are times when the writing is pouring out of me, most of the time it’s a jumbled mess, and there are times when I’ve become inspired to explore wonder. Any given moment, I’m transitioning between feelings–from thought to a held feeling–and it’s typically something I’m trying to make more sense of. I compartmentalize different thoughts or emotions, placing them in neatly-organized boxes on this shelf of my mind so as to bookmark my place in each of them and come back later.

I laugh when I’m not supposed to. I cry when people are watching. I fidget when I don’t know what to say and I appreciate the silence that others give me when they are struggling to find words.

“I really enjoy your monthly articles. They give me hope.”

I’ve been struggling with what this means.

Hope.

In a time when this world is shifting so quickly into a place where hope cannot easily live, how do we become hopeful? How do we commit to making things better if we cannot fathom tomorrow being filled with hope and wonder?

With my writing, I’m often practicing my existence. I’m exploring areas of myself or my world that have come into focus in one way or another. These are usually things that I’ve felt deeply about but can’t always make meaning out of. More often than not, these are things that scare the shit out of me. And they should.

I’m not trying to live my life clutching tightly to the railings. I’m intending to fall a number of times, to fail, to disappoint people so that I can learn how to get back up again. Feeling deeply will likely always be a part of me and I intend to embrace that.

At the end of any given day, you can find me collapsing exhaustedly into my messily-made bed, pulling the covers up to my chin, checking my alarm, and clutching a book. Some days I don’t actually open the book. It’s there to motivate me to read a bit before bed but on the toughest days, just holding the book is enough. I’m holding a world in my hands. A story. The lives of characters, of people, of lives already lived that are trying to teach us something. I wake in the middle of the night and the book is usually beside me. The bookmark is nowhere to be found. I’ve lost my place.

“Are you writing at all?”

I can make a case that I’m always writing. It just doesn’t always show up on the page or the screen. We all are writing. Every day, it’s something new, even if it’s not. It’s a new chapter or a new place to start, even if it’s the same place you always start in.

I have a place to keep fragmented thoughts or sentences. More often than not these fragments are poems. It’s just how my mind works; how can I tell a story or narrative using fewer words? How can I tell you all about a thing without mentioning that particular thing? It’s not that I want to do less work, it’s that my mind has been trained as a creative writer to evoke thought or emotion via enjambed lines, couplets of information, and rules thrown out the window.


To answer the questions, yes. I’m writing. It’s not a monthly post, but it’s writing. It’s not published routinely or on a schedule, but it’s writing. It jumbled and mixed up, but it’s writing. It doesn’t flow well or seems out of order, but it’s writing. It’s not published on a big platform or with strong following, it’s not the featured opinion piece, it’s not a string of researched-based thought.

But it’s writing.

Flint, Michigan

Greetings From FlintWhen I tell folks that I’m from Flint, Michigan, their heads turn sideways much like a dog’s head does at the sound of a high pitch. Eyes widen. This is what I’m used to, especially since moving out of Michigan in 2014 when I started my graduate work in Ohio. I try to imagine what it’s like to meet someone from somewhere I’ve never been–maybe a place that’s always in the news–and what my initial thoughts are. This typically helps me understand where people are coming from, although I will say that many have struggled to hide their reactions to the words “Flint” and “Michigan” coming from my voice.

 

“Are you really from Flint?”
“The same Flint that has the water problem?”
“What’s that like?”

Most people I’ve met haven’t been to Flint before. They’ve seen things in news articles and on some of the same screens that you’re probably reading this article now. Most people don’t know what they don’t know. I smile and politely answer their questions.

“Is your family affected?”
“Why do you tell people that’s where you’re from?”
“By Flint, do you mean a suburb?”

Some questions are honest. People are trying to understand where I come from. I’m more than happy to illuminate the dark spots for people’s understanding of what’s really happening in the city I hold close to my heart.

It’s hard to understand what a home is to people. A place where people are born, a place where much of one’s identity is shaped, where bonds are created and destroyed, memories of better days behind us–these intersect and create a definition unique to each of us. We are the culmination of everything we’ve been, how it has impacted us, and what we choose to see through the tall grass.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Some questions aren’t actually questions, but poor-intended jokes.  Jaw-clenching. Unnerving. A number of encounters begin with the pursing of lips to hold back what they’re actually thinking in favor of a more respectful response. Some go like this:

*Giggling*

“How’s the water?”

*Laughs at own joke*

*Turns to see if others are laughing*

*See me not laughing*

*Stops laughing*


Think back 500 days ago.

Since then, how many times have you turned on your faucet and clean water came out? How many times have you filled a cup with water to drink after a run or before bed? How many times have you bathed? Watered the plants? Made coffee? Brushed your teeth?

Now double the days.

How many times have you done all of that in the last 1000 days?

Now imagine having to do that with just bottled water.

***

Now imagine still getting a water bill–imagine having to pay for water that is unusable. Filled with lead that can cause serious harm to your bodies.

Poisoned.

Flint residents have lived this reality since April of 2014. Young bodies and old alike have been exposed to a reality that they didn’t want, and they’re paying for what they don’t deserve.

Officials have estimated that bottled water will be the way of life for Flint families until at least 2020. A thousand (+) more days of unbelievable hell. An unfathomable reality to those who don’t have the think twice; something these people are forced to live with on a daily basis.


If you can’t imagine this as a reality, I invite you to live the next 10 days without using the faucets in your home. 10 days. That’s it; a small sample of time for something to become normalized.

Buy bottled water. Use it for everything. Everything.

Visit Flint, Michigan. Talk with residents. Educate yourself on their experiences. Live in their shoes for a little while.

And when someone tells you they’re from Flint, let it serve as a reminder that a hometown is more than what you see in the news. Real people like you with honest stories like yours inhabit that space. And they’re fighting for a reality that’s different.

Though the focal point has shifted, know that there are still ways you can help make a difference. For more information on how you can help, visit www.helpforflint.com.

SOURCES & FURTHER READING

http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/04/us/flint-water-crisis-fast-facts/index.html

http://www.freep.com/pages/interactives/flint-water-crisis/a-visual-essay/