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/

 

2921 days. +1

Tomorrow, Donald Trump will become the President of the United States.

Let that sink in for a moment.

For 2921 days, Barack Obama has served this nation’s people to the best of his ability. He has given his energy and expertise to the people looking to heal, to fight for what’s right, and to be better than who they were yesterday.

And tomorrow, that chapter ends. Dog-ears from saved pages unfolded, that book will be neatly closed and placed on a shelf of stories that have only been memories to us.

I don’t know where exactly to go from here, but what I can tell you is this: one foot forward, one step at a time, one stubborn staircase after another as we stumble for strength. Forward is the way of hope.



“Change only happens when ordinary people come together to demand it.”

 

Barack Obama taught me that behind policy decisions and speeches given at important dinners, behind debates and addresses at states of the union, behind politics and partisan leans, there exists a profoundly evident truth that no matter the spotlight or wreckage, the character of a person is greater than decisions made. The integrity of the love someone has for others is deeper than fear. The drive for excellence is rooted in being genuinely good.

He is proof of this.

With every step, he moved with such an awareness of human dignity. More than anything else, he embodied what we all look for at some point or another: the spirit of hope. The idea that we matter, that we’re important, that the work we do is important. The idea that our identities are valid and real and transforming. The idea that we can be the light for others without taking their shine away; we can be the flame to ignite others to think and do better, to take stubborn steps into love every day.

Many will remember him as someone who accomplished very little. If you are one of those people, I implore you to reconsider. I encourage you to extend yourself outside of party lines and think bigger. Dig a little deeper. Get uncomfortable with the fact that it’s possible to not staunchly disagree with every little thing that came out of Obama’s lungs.

To those who are losing hope with each passing day, I echo Obama in his farewell speech: “Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”

It’s not enough to sit idle and wish things were different. It’s not enough to fill the world with a pessimistic view that things will not get better. Use Obama’s legacy as a blueprint to creating your own framework. Find progress to build on top of the progress so many have already built.

Read often. Soak the words from the page into your mind’s eye and allow them to change you. Listen intently and with sincere curiosity. Allow yourself the gift of changing your mind sometimes. Allow yourself the humility to admit when you’re wrong, or to agree with people who are different from you. Write yourself into an existence that the world has no option but to smile at. Because at the end of the day, there is a beacon of hope in the distance that we are all begging lighthouses to find.

Be that light for others. Let others be that light for you.

This is what Obama is talking about when he talks about hope. Soon, we will hear less from Obama. Maybe not at all. So take this moment, breathe it in deeply. Close your eyes and look into yourself. If you’re looking for a reason to have hope, this is it.

Now let’s get to work.

JB39

I’ll never forget the day that I met you. Fall of 2009, freshman year. 7th floor of West Vandenberg Hall at Oakland University. Room 766. Derek and I had our door open as we usually did. You walked past our propped door, came back, walked right into our room, and introduced yourself to me. You had a class with Derek; he sat in the front, you in the back.

“Hi, I’m Joel!”

I had no idea why you walked in without knocking, and to be honest, I was annoyed that some stranger took it upon himself to walk in uninvited.

That’s what I get for keeping my door open, I thought.

“I’m Robbie. Nice to meet you.”

Seven years later, our first encounter replays through my memory like a skipping CD. Over and over again, your warm demeanor and loud personality would walk uninvited into a space that you would frequent in the weeks after. Had you not been the Joel that everyone knows you to be, maybe you would have kept walking past that door. Maybe we would have never met.

Over the course of the next few years, I would come to know you in an entirely different way. Here’s this incredibly shy and introverted kid who loves poetry and reading, and this other guy who carries a good energy with him wherever he went. We became the unlikeliest of friends.

We spent many nights throughout college watching football or playing video games, talking about the Illuminati (‘it’s real,’ you would say. ‘I’m skeptical,’ I would respond), or finding new places to eat around town. You eventually moved away from campus and that gave us a place to go when we wanted to get away.

We didn’t always see eye to eye. I can remember when we would get into debates about politics or sports, always on seemingly opposite ends but willing to hear each other out. Even when we frustrated one another, we found a way to not let it come between our friendship. At the end of each conversation, we resolved to love each other the best way we knew how.

As I graduated from OU and moved to Akron for grad school, you always talked about coming to visit me. And again when I moved to Muncie for my first professional job, you talked about making the trip out. You wanted to see how I was living, what my life was like, who I was surrounding myself with. You had a way about showing people that you cared about them even from hundred of miles away. I never had to wonder if you loved me.


The last time we saw each other was at Lauren and Billy’s wedding in August of 2016. As Derek and I were part of the wedding party, I can remember standing around waiting to be directed towards the ceremony and I was looking for you. I knew you were there; we had just seen you a couple hours prior at our hotel room but I wanted to make sure you were there. You were a familiar face amidst a sea of faces that I didn’t recognize. You were a friend that I looked up to.

We all danced that night. None of us had rhythm but we didn’t let that stop us from embracing the moment. We shuffled around the dance floor, we laughed, we sang, and in the end, we exhausted ourselves from our practice in withness–being present together and taking in every moment.

When we got back to the hotel, we dove right into talking about life. Everything from sports to politics to love, nothing was off limits. I can remember looking at the clock as it read 2:00am and wanting nothing more than to be asleep, but I stayed up talking with you anyways because who knew when we would see each other again? We go so many months between visits, how could I pass this moment up?

Who knew that would be the last time we would have a conversation?


I sat at your funeral in disbelief. It didn’t feel real, even after seeing you lay asleep–peaceful and in a better place. Your body was there but that wasn’t you. It couldn’t be, I thought. As so many people mourned the loss of your life, I sat shocked out of any words to comprehend the moment. There’s a reason why I’ve always avoided funerals. I don’t handle loss of life well.

Even now, I think about how you’re gone too soon. How you’re not taking any more breaths. How you aren’t experiencing joy or excitement or heartache, and how extraordinarily grateful I am that you were able to feel those things for the 27 years you were alive.

Amidst the hurting and healing that will inevitably come from this, your legacy remains. I resolve to live my life as myself unapologetically. I will not mutter the words “I’m sorry” for simply existing within a space. I will love deeply just as you would if you were here. Just as you would want me to.


“What are you going to do to keep on living?”

A friend muttered these words to me when she was telling me her story of loss, of hurt, of healing. And so I’ll resolve to hold these words close and allow them to guide me in my life each day.

Because isn’t it such a precious gift to be alive? Aren’t we all fragile miracles in our own sense? Isn’t it wonderful to realize the gallons of blood in our bodies that are in a constant state of motion just so that we can take more breaths?

Joel, I think about you every single day. Each time I write about you, I remember something new–something I often overlooked about you–and I come to a better understanding of the person that you were in this world. I know that you would want us all to be happy, and so that’s what I’ll continue to set out to do.

As I keep living, I’ll hold you dear to me and live a life that you would be proud of.

I love you, buddy. Sweet dreams forever.

jb39

2017: Into the New

“I fold the good days up and place them in my back pocket for safekeeping. Draw the match. Cremate the unnecessary. The light of the fire warms my toes. I pour myself a glass of hot water to cleanse myself for January. Here I go. Stronger and wiser into the new.” -Rupi Kaur



Dear 2016:

We didn’t really start off on good terms. On your first day, I woke up dizzy but surrounded by humans that I was sure would stay. Some of these folks stuck around. Others did not. I had no way of knowing then that this was a sign of things to come.

In retrospect, the dizziness never really subsided. You were tying my shoes before I had the chance to put them on. I rushed through parts of you and didn’t recognize the full gravity you carried each day, at least not until the day was deep into turning to the next. By the time I could see it, a fresh slate was before me and I was forced to move on. I’ve always lagged behind when it comes to letting go.

You brought heartbreak after heartbreak to some of my closest people, me included. So much hurting. So much healing. I don’t know if I should be fiercely abrasive and standoffish at the thought of you or grateful that you were able to bring such honest realizations to the people around me when they were least expecting it.

It often felt as if you tweeted my secrets to the world even after you swore to keep every last one of them to yourself. I should have known that sometimes secrets are meant to be told, even after promises are spoken into existence.

You were ripe with moments of conflict and clarity in my heart. Courage came and went (and came back). Love grew and dwindled (and grew again).

You brought a sea of change: a quarter of a century of life; a sustainable writing project; a Master’s degree; a new home; people coming and going and coming and going; a shift in perspective(s); growth that hasn’t yet been recognizable.

There’s magic in the things (read: people) you brought into my life. Several of these things (people) have taught me how to create a space for myself, how to allow grace in all moments, how to love despite reasons not to, how to choose myself.

Personal peace (“self-care”) became more prevalent of a practice. YouTube videos and Spotify have been mainstays. One-on-one meetings continued to give me life each week, not only with students, but with friends and colleagues. You’ve helped me realize that I prefer to skip the small talk and move right into the heart of things. The weather outside has never been as fascinating as the weather of our minds. Politics of the world isn’t as scintillating as politics of the heart. This life we live every single day deserves encouragement. Small talk is rarely the way.

In the span of your time, I realized that I’m giving away pieces of myself to every person that I love. I don’t give myself enough grace, or time, or space to be who I am and accept where I’m at. I sometimes want things to be perfect and so I’m trying to be patient and realize that one day at a time, while it’s slow, it’s worth the wait. It’s a journey that I need to be better about being grateful for, not just the end result of something.

Even when you persisted in the fight to tear my seams away from my skin, I worked to rise higher and learned how to sew stitch after stubborn stitch as I go. This isn’t a perfect practice for me–some of these stitches come loose, some fall apart, but some hold. I suppose this is a practice in healing.

What I now know is that, even when things seem to get really hard and it feels like I can’t possibly keep going, there will still be work to do. There will still be people to encourage. Still piles of love to give away to flight attendants, gas station cashiers, tire changers, brothers and sisters and fathers that we haven’t talked to in years, even ourselves.

Gosh, I’m really glad you’re ending.

But more than that, I’m grateful for the things you illuminated for me, the things you moved out of my purview, and how much you’ve allowed my heart to grow. I’ll take what you’ve given me into the new and continue to build this thing called life with hope on my fingertips and love at every step.

With love,
RFW



Greetings, 2017.

We haven’t met yet. I have a strange feeling that we’ll have a good opportunity to get to know one another in the coming days. Although I’m nervous for the mysteriousness you carry with you, I’m slowly learning that having faith, even with the unknown, is to walk confidently into every piece of darkness while never letting go of the light. Light expands when you give it the space to.

I hope you turn me away from any lack of love. In a world spinning a web of intention to grab at everyone’s throat, I’m coming straight for the heart. You will pass me by and will, at times, render me feeling hopeless, worthless, or questioning my ability to love. I’m here to tell you I’ll observe it. Like clouds in the sky, I’ll watch you pass through. And because of you, I’ll know what it means to love without an agenda.

If you bruise me, I will give myself grace in healing. I’ll allow the mess to show me how to come home to myself. I will embrace the vulnerability that discoloring presents.

I will sit in the joys you bring and I will cry harder when the tears come. In peeling back the layers of myself, I’ll learn how important it will be for my future children to see a father who is constantly working to understand his emotions, and the emotions of those he loves deeply. Even when others are intimidated by this, I’ll take it in stride. We are emotional beings; pushing that away from me will only make it more difficult to love deeper, I’ll remind myself.

I will build stillness into the thick of the chaos that you’ll surely bring me. Stillness looks a lot like walks. Meditation. Reading when I feel I don’t have the time and writing when it’s the last thing I want to do, and daydreaming. So much daydreaming.

I’ll carry every year before this into you with a clear heart. Though I don’t yet know what’s in store for me, I will work to understand you and your relation to me with every step. I’ll remind myself how important it is to shift, to give thanks, to transform, and to let go of the heavy things I carry.

With love,
RFW

kogan painting.jpg
Courtesy of: Nataly Kogan

November.

My life is a series of self-realizations sewn together. There’s so much going on at any given moment: work, learning, healing, connecting with those around me, retreating, recharging, loving with my heart and bones, listening, dreaming, remembering, and writing.

How exhausting? How fulfilling?

I’ve been reflecting on the video below for the last month so I can better understand what it means to be human.

 

What’s your take?


What a whirlwind of a month, eh?

Most of what prolonged November’s words was me not wanting to add my voice to the sea of noises that occurred once Donald Trump won the election. People from left, right, in-between, and not on the political spectrum at all have been adding their two cents. It goes without saying: we have a full piggy bank at this point.

Now, to rest. Then work.

I’ve had many thoughtful conversations regarding Trump and Hillary and America moving forward from this season of life. People from all across the spectrum of thoughts and values. Some heated debates, some head-nodding and silent agreement in one another.

The sun came out, just as I imagined it would, and reminded us what it means to live. To do this hard-to-quantify work on days when there is a deep void for some and a heart filled to the brim for others, this is what it means to serve. There is much work to be done and I’ve grown apathetic towards the chatter. It’s not that I’m unwilling to have thoughtful discussion, it’s that I’m positioning myself to do the work that is necessary for healing.

The chatter will continue. Tweets and timeline posts and phone calls will all exist next to one another. We will have the ability to connect via fingertips and glowing screens. Let us not forget the humanity behind putting down our devices, moving away from screens, and working together to stand for those who need it the most.


fullsizerender-1
From “The Madness Vase” by Andrea Gibson

The more I grow into myself, the more I’m realizing that the wellness of my headspace often dictates the wellness of every other part of my life. If I’ve got a clear handle on something mentally, I’m more confident in my ability to move it forward, to watch it progress.

Two months ago, I began meditating in the morning before the day begins as a way of committing to the creation of an environment where my headspace is valued. 15 minutes a day, I sit cross-legged on a pillow and learn more about myself. I explore how my thoughts move from one to another, how to observe that as it’s happening, and how to let it go. I have in opportunity in each second to center myself–my body, my thoughts, my emotions, the spirit inside of me–with my own self.

I equate it to looking into the sky and watching the clouds pass by. My thoughts (clouds) move through my mind (the sky) and I have the opportunity to simply notice the thoughts intersect with one another before they slip out of view.

I still haven’t been able to sit without getting distracted. I imagine it’s due to how chaotic life can be, and the thoughts or reflections that are associated with that. I fidget, I think about what I have to get done, I panic, I observe it, I let it go. I breathe in and out and count each breath as blessings I didn’t know I always needed.

I hope to one day be able to write about the progress I’ve experienced. Until then, I’ll sit with my heart open and observe the world passing through me.


let-it-go
Photo by Brian Andreas

I often think of the scope of learning. To learn is to think, listen, respond, reflect, read, write, and by the end of the day, have something new cultivated through it all. Even old concepts deserve a second or third or fourth look. Even the loved ones in our lives have stories we can work to understand better.

Central to learning is the practice of rest. We live in a world that enables us to spend our energy on grinding days out, one after another, until we collapse from exhaustion. This isn’t bad, but it also isn’t something to romanticize. Being exhausted is not a badge of honor. We are not competing with one another to see who can elude sleep the longest.

Yes, there is work to be done. We’ve got a million and five things to do and places to be and people to see. Our work is cut out for us; we have the power to bring people together, to educate each other, to grow into the people we’ve dreamed of becoming for so long.

Rest.

Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m not trying to make ideas come to me. Some of the best moments of understanding occur when I’m taking a step backwards and away from the crowd. It’s in these moments of solitude that I’ve found the quiet, which continues to breed inside of me the confidence to let go.

What have I learned? Give yourself space to disconnect from the world for a few moments. The work will still be there tomorrow. Your friends will understand if you need to take a step away. You won’t need to explain personal peace to anyone. Your energy is important, too. Your headspace deserves good things, too.

Allow yourself the opportunity to give your mind some color. You’ve held it in a chokehold for too long; let loose your grip, practice restraint. Bring some clarity to your heart.

U n w i n d.

Watch the answers slowly emerge and begin again.

October.

Mallory Bower recently wrote something that describes my thought process on writing these days:

“I’ve been blocking my shots before I even had the chance to take them. I want to write a book, but I want it to be perfect, so I don’t bother with the words. I want to go to Europe, but I want to see ALL THE THINGS, so I don’t plan it out. I want to be spontaneous, but the thought of endless possibilities is paralyzing.”

For me, a blank page and many avenues to take terrifies me into stagnation. I open my computer, click for a new tab, type in Medium, open anew draft, and sit. Staring at the page for 15 minutes, thinking of ways to start something, but nothing. Not a word. I close my computer.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s why I’ve been missing my own deadlines. It’s why I’ve taken every easy way out of it. “I’m too tired.” “I don’t have enough time.” “I’m not going to write anything good.” “None of my words impact others.”

These recycled excuses pile up and here I am trying to shake out the rugs that they’ve collected themselves under.

I’m reminded that I can’t edit a blank page. I can’t publish a clean slate. The muddy and messy and stubborn parts of me are turning themselves over as I begin to dissect them.

Here goes nothing. Here goes something.


At the beginning of the month, I found myself frustrated with some of the student leaders I work with. The reasons aren’t worth noting, but the aftermath is.

We had a staff meeting and many of them were at the height of their stresses right before a four-day weekend. Basically I was attempting to use this staff meeting as a learning opportunity. There were some areas that weren’t up to expectations and I wanted to show them that it’s not acceptable.

My intention was to be firm but still supportive. What ended up happening is a passionate and pointed lecture that only filled those students with feelings of letting me down. Deflated. Not worthy. Unsupported.

The impact I made didn’t match the intentions that I set for myself. I missed the mark completely.

The next day, I had multiple conversations with some of them about how that meeting went. They wore honesty on their sleeves and expressed how it made them feel. I was controlling the damage as best I could but by the end of the day, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of not being a good supervisor or mentor for them.

Just as the work day was ending, a student knocked on my door.

Student: “I know you’re probably tired of talking to people today but can we chat?”

Me: “Sure.”

After some processing of the meeting the night previous, this student says, “I appreciate that you want the best for us. But I think you’re pushing too hard.”

Sitting back, I realized that maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Maybe I see their potential and am pushing them to get there faster than they want to go.

I don’t tell you this story for you to tell me otherwise. I tell you this to make a point: having a standard of excellence that you expect and meeting students where they are is not always synonymous. Sometimes it’s messy. It takes patience and work. It drains you of energy and sometimes leaves others feeling the same. Finding the balance of love and respect but also honesty and discipline is challenging. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the tough conversation. It may move us back a few steps, yes. But maybe that’s exactly what we need to understand where we need to go next.

A friend’s reminder to me after processing with him.

I took a surprise trip to Akron and didn’t tell anyone I was coming. I wanted see people but I didn’t want it to be a big deal. I left on a Friday afternoon and just kind of showed up unannounced.

It’s refreshing to leave a place that I once called home and to come back as a visitor. Even more refreshing is coming back and being met with a smile by those that I love. It’s like a hug that you don’t want to end but has to eventually. It’s the warm embrace; an opportunity to show people love them without offering up words.

I imagine this is what healing looks like for some; to leave and to come back, to know that you’ve grown, to be okay with it and to embrace every step forward.

 
One thing is certain: I’m exploring this world and myself, but I wouldn’t be who I am without these two.

Has anyone realized that it’s election season?

I’ve only been around for 25 years but I can’t remember there being a time where a nation has been this divided. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have brought out some kind of latent monsters that have been hiding in the most obvious of places.

Coffeeshops. Libraries. Living room couches. College campuses.

Every corner of this country has embraced some type of avenue: Trump’s hateful demeanor and lack of any real substance; Clinton’s flip-floppiness on big issues and her track record of bad decisions; third-party candidates who just want to be heard but are often drowned out by the stature of others running; a general apathy towards everything altogether.

I don’t see candidates that aren’t truly problematic based off of the things they’ve done outside of policies or platforms. Everyone has an opinion about one or the other or both giants running and it’s leaving America with a lack of hope for the future.

One thing is for certain: the world will not stop spinning after November 8th. We will wake up and go about our days and months just as we had before. We will rise each morning and carry ourselves throughout our lives while we grow and transform into older beings.

What we need more than anything is to come from a place of honesty, of understanding, of love, with ourselves and with others. No matter where we sit on the political spectrum, what unites us are the problems that we will continue to face as people and as a nation.

I hope that we don’t lose hope in the world and in one another. We need each other more than we realize.


I’m wondering lately about how much I’ve allowed myself to live in the shadows of others. There’s a certain sense of impact that those that came before me had. Their legacy continues to shine through in all that I do. It’s been there through graduate school and up to this point in my professional journey.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I wonder how much I allow it to be. Can you see this in me? Can you see how I compare myself to them? Can you understand why?

I’ve seen so many great things from my predecessors. I’ve also seen areas that can be improved from how they left it. All the construction they’ve done has brought me to this point; I get to build on top of it and have the opportunity to make it better than it’s ever been before.

Still though, living in the (sometimes self-imposed) shadows is exhausting. Taxing. Never-ending.


For most of my adult life, I have compartmentalized the different areas of my life. That is, I’ve worked hard to keep things separate. Work doesn’t usually intersect with play. Writing — at least the process of is — doesn’t intersect with family. Relationships don’t enter the work realm. And so on.

It’s safe. Comfortable. Easy. It leaves little room for a mess to be made.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that my respective identities have begun growing in d i f f e r e n t d i r e c t i o n s. While one aspect of my life grows, another sits idle. I bring a different self to work than the self that I am with my friends. As I shift through environments and groups of people each week, I recognize how much energy it requires to bring someone different to each compartment.

If there’s one thing that I’m working on the most, it’s allowing the various parts of my life to intersect a bit more. Realizing the gaps between who I am with different people will bring me closer to myself.

That’s what this season of life is about. One foot forward, one step closer to understanding who I was, who I am, and who I still have time to be.


My purpose board. Pictures, knick knacks, and words that inspire me to follow my purpose.
 
An example of the kindness that Ashley–the grad student I get to work with–carries with her. 
A reminder for you and me both: invite people into your life no matter how messy or unfinished.
Stolen from Brainpickings.org. A wonderful reminder of the power words have in our lives.

September.

This month’s writing was (is) scary. The words don’t always come out the right way — awkward, devoid of feeling or understanding, even rudimentary at times. They don’t come to me the way that they used to.

It’s a byproduct of growing up, of moving, of rooting for my insides to untwist themselves every time I feel like I should have it all together (but don’t). I have to keep reminding myself that the first draft of anything may not have good words or lines or sentences. It’s not going to make sense all the time. I may not produce anything that can be turned into something so my gut asks me, “why write at all?”

This isn’t what writers do. They write despite X, Y, and Z. They overcome. They have a constant thought in the back of their head that feels like there’s homework to do, even on the weekend, and it always gets done.

So am I a writer? Am I lacking discipline? Skill? Surely if I were a writer, I wouldn’t have these problems.

Am I a somebody?

Whether I am or whether I’m not, I’ll do the only thing I know how.

Write.


A few thoughts for September:

  • I turn to Sarah Kay’s work (of which I was feeling too in-the-moment to pay attention to the title) and was inspired to write these lines: “I ask my mom if life is just a collection of bruises on top of one another, each more colorful — and painful — than the last.”
  • My poems: a collection of bruises on top of one another, each unapologetic to the last for existing. Each a more colorful and painful depiction of what this life was, is, and can be.
  • A good friend said to me, “feelings we pretend to put away are still there” and I scribbled down every word to remember how those words felt around the edges of my heart. It made me think of every feeling I can remember feeling before I realized that feeling is wonderful and terrifying and necessary. I would tuck them between pages of books on the highest shelf of the coolest metaphor you can think of just so I didn’t have to come to terms with them. Now — 26 in a few months — I find myself rummaging through memories that I vowed would never see the light of day. These half-forgotten images flitting through my dusty memory are old Polaroid pictures that need shaking. I’m still learning to develop these. I’m still understanding their worth.
  • Every semblance of feeling in our hearts is owed an exploration. It’s vulnerability at its finest: being willing to turn something over, afraid of what’s on the other side, but turning it over nonetheless.
  • I don’t always take my own advice. Oftentimes I find myself wrapping words perfectly, with bright bows on top, only to give them away to people around me so as to say, “this is me showing up.” But I don’t show up for myself. On most days, I’ll fill everyone else’s cup first, oftentimes meaning I’m left with grounds of the best parts of myself. If there’s any learning that has been apparent these past couple of months, this is it.
  • I want to live a life that’s free and open to people and things and places. I want perspective. I want to be shaped by all of the things that I’ve gone through and all of the people I meet. I want to be coming and going, to be present and unlearn toxic habits. But I also realize that I can’t just want all of this and not actually practice it. Action is sometimes underrated and overshadowed by words. Here’s to more doing.

The bell tower on Ball State University’s campus. Muncie, IN.
Getting these reminders from a friend in the mail gives me hope.
The Rogers wedding. A great group of fellas.
Working on showing up anyways.

While attending a poetry event recently, I was in awe awe of the work of students. Their poetry examined all facets of life: body image, love, heartbreak, gender inequality, things in between that I’m not sure even have labels. To think that there are so many young individuals who are embracing this idea of observing areas of their lives and are willing to write them down gives me hope.

I left the room to process with a student of mine. As I was returning to the room, a young man was making his way across the back of the room towards the door. A poet was at the front of the room giving her words of hope and pain and images of her memory to the room, and this young man had tears in the corners of his eyes. He was holding his breath, doing his best to be “strong” and keep it in until he was in a safe place to be himself.

He made his way to the bathroom. I gave him a few moments to himself, then made my way to the bathroom where he was standing at the sink. As I walked in, his hands were running under the water and he looked up to see me, tears running down his face.

Me: “Are you okay?”

Him: *splashing water on his face* “Yeah.”

Me: *embracing his shoulder* “Let me know if you want someone to listen.”

Him: (his energy shifting) “Thank you.”


I didn’t get his name. I didn’t ask him where he lived in or what he was studying. I didn’t ask him his story or why he was at a poetry reading on a Thursday night when he could be anywhere else.

I didn’t ask because in that moment of vulnerability, this young man was struggling to feel okay inside his own skin, to embrace something inside of him.

I could feel his reluctant heart begin to awkwardly open. I wasn’t expecting him to spill everything to me — a stranger wearing professional clothes, someone he’s never seen before— but telling him that he’s not alone was important to me. I wanted to give him the time and space to feel like it’s okay to feel what he’s feeling, to explore what that means, and to let go of the idea that he doesn’t need to keep it in just because he’s a boy.

I think about him often, wondering how I could be better at embodying light for others. I wonder how I could be a safe harbor during the strong storm that this life can be.

We need each other more than we think. We all deserve grace.

Show up and give it.

the year of becoming.

the year of becoming.
of letting go of the let go, of loving myself
into an existence i can finally understand.
when they tell you that you feel too much, let them.
believe it.
you do.
you always will.
it’s not easy carrying all this weight; set it down, armor and all.
humans are not meant to love with an agenda.
arranging words like important dates: birthdays, anniversaries, deaths;
it’s a practice with which we are cutting out the best parts of ourselves for
people who will not understand how to stay.

the year of being where my feet are — every step, honest, real, with sincere love.
the year of technicolor sounds, a memory of people we once knew
who, now, we would cross the street to pass
but would regret it later.
the year of not regretting it later.
the year of saying hello, of asking them how they are
no matter the hurt we feel.
because healing is messy.
we humans, we are messy.

the year of bruising for people who aren’t around to see it.
the year of soul growing, of removing scar tissue
for skin and loving every second of it.

August.

The scary part about exploring the parts of yourself that aren’t necessarily uncovered is that you’re bound to find something that scrapes the image you have of yourself.

At least that’s how it’s been for me.

There are parts of me I’m proud of and there are other parts that I’ve never had a desire to look at. I don’t know what I’m looking for. It’s kind of a shot in the dark, but I’m familiar with the room I’m in. My memory should serve me as well as I allow it to. Whatever I find will be a surprise: shame, guilt, beauty, love, maybe something in between.


Lately I’ve been wondering what it takes to love without needing a reason why. A friend retweeted this picture (see left) and I thought to myself, “This makes sense to me.”

Because why shouldn’t we love people for the sole purpose of loving them? I subscribe to this:

Love people. Yep, all of ’em. Even the people who want to see you fail.

Love them unapologetically and without restrictions. I don’t have all of the answers, but one thing that I feel too be true in my core is that I need to be better about setting the bar too high when it comes to loving others.

Know that we are worth it all: every last ounce of energy and sweat and hustle inside of us, we are worth the love that comes before, after, and in-between.

We have to practice our worthiness in the way we treat ourselves and others. We set that standard; if we love ourselves too little, we will love others too little.

If we go the rest of our lives being afraid to love someone because maybe they won’t love us back, we’ll never see our love grow.

Don’t hold it in.

There are people who are growing old and wishing they had loved a little harder, that they had opened up a little more, that they took every opportunity to match guilt and shame and despair with heaps and piles of love.

There are people who will never know what it means to be loved. That breaks my heart. It bruises me to know how people in every corner of this world won’t know how to love or be loved. Those people deserve the love you have to give away. Give it.

If we spent half as much time loving ourselves and others as we do finding ways to tear each other down, this world might just be 1% better. That 1% may not change the world. But it may change someone’s world. Imaging that being you. Imagine what you could do if someone told you every single day just how much you are loved.


All of this is a long way of saying I just want to wake up every day of my life and have more love in my heart for myself and the world around me than I did the day before. I want to know what it’s like to love others radically, without question. I want people to never have to wonder whether or not I loved them.

It’s all too short. How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Let’s spend more time piling up all the love we have in our hearts and give it all away.


A few thoughts on learning:

  • It’s scary. There. I said it. It’s terrifying. As new information turns into skill, we add responsibility and a sense of moral obligation to teach others this information. We become teachers by default. Others will call upon us to evoke a sense of understanding among those who are not privileged enough to know the same information or to know what to do with the information.
  • Knowingly or unknowingly, someone looks at me as an educator. Am I embracing that or running away from it?
  • It’s exhausting. We search for this, right? The opportunity to learn; to add things to our muscles or memories that allow us to bring value to people or places or things. But when we are constantly adding things without a reflection or deconstruction of each piece of information, learning becomes a practice of exhausting our mental capacity.
  • Still, I knock. I rattle. I shake things in hopes that I will be able to take something away from it and be a better person because of it. As exhausting as it can be, the practice of learning only stops when we let it. More on this soon.

Transitioning is a steep climb. It means leaving behind parts of yourself in order to move towards new understandings of the world around you. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t know how to ask for help when I need it the most. I don’t know how to tell someone that I’m struggling or that I need guidance. I’m not good at it because I’ve never thought it was necessary.

I don’t always ask questions when I should. If someone is teaching me something, I don’t know how to say, “I don’t understand” when they ask me if I get it. Maybe it’s a sort of insecurity with my own understanding of the world; I process things in solitude so that I can know what it means to experience it fully on my own before trying to experience it fully with others. This often leads to a sense of helplessness because I’ve decided in my mind that asking for help isn’t an option, and that even if it were, it’s too late. If I don’t get it at this point, I’ll never get it.

It’s a vicious circle I fall into. But entirely human of me.


I recently had the opportunity to hear Ashley C. Ford talk about her story. She brought with her anecdotes of who she used to be, what growing looks like, and how she gave up something comfortable to do something she’s always dreamed of doing: writing.

“Writing is like sculpting. You don’t create the marble. But you’re given a chunk of it and you find your voice in creating something with it.” -Ford

I knew that when she took the stage, she had something to say. As a friend put it, “[she’s] richly attuned to the world.” She was a beautiful reminder that there are great big things that I have the opportunity and privilege to create on my own. As Ford weaved through story after story, I thought to myself how grounded in grace she really was. And important part of her story is how she chose to give up “safe” for “scary.”

It wasn’t until this moment that I realized that’s what I should do, too.

By the end of her talk, I had pages of notes, quotes, and strings of thought that she helped churn out of me. A few that stood out:

  • “I’ve spent a lot of years half-doing things. It’s kind of my forte.” -Ford
  • “It’s not helpful to stay in the place you’ve already figured out.” -Ford
  • Being happy with something is not a reason to stay or become stagnant.
  • “It was scary. And so I went anyway.” -Ford
  • If I really want to help people, I have to be willing to let go of the idea that I need to be with them every step of the way. They’ll be able to do things without me. That’s important. And okay.
  • “There is no hero or villain in real life; nobody is completely good and nobody is completely bad.” -Ford

I feel closer to the person I can become because of the words another has given away freely. And I ask myself, “what kind of life do I want to live?”

I’m still figuring that part out.


A few pictures from July to August:

My wonderful, authentic, full-of-life students that I have the pleasure of working next to in the coming months.
My professional cohort of insightful and motivated peers. We came in together. Let’s see how much of an impact we can make.

Hello, September. It’s nice to see you again.

July.

Change.

That’s exactly what I’m doing with this monthly posting/article/blog/somethingorother.

I’m throwing out all of the rules I’ve set for myself.

There will still be pictures. There will still be words on a white screen. But no more links at the bottom to previous posts. If you wanted to read more, you’d find a way.

No more jargon to try and get you to bite. No more trying to reel you in with catchy words or sentences I don’t really know the meaning of.

If you want to read, you can read. This is a space to do that. It’s a space for my perspective, for you to agree or disagree, and for you to respond accordingly.

I want this to be enjoyable for you as much as it is for me, but I don’t want to force it. It should be natural. I have to let the words come as they are and I have to be kind to them. A few of them will only be visitors and aren’t meant to stay. Their journey is important to me, too. They deserve a good ride.


What a whirlwind this life has been these last four weeks. Packing up. Saying goodbye. Letting go of a place I called home and the people that mean so much to me. Driving away. Trying not to look back. Arriving. Arriving. I haven’t understood what that means until this time around.

Arriving.

Unloading.

Unfolding myself into a new space. Trying to find the words that can fill the spaces inside of me that I’ve become hyper-aware of. Something about moving to a new place with new people and a different community can change the way you look at yourself.

I’ve realized that overwhelm has taken over my life. More often than not, it’s a feeling that fills me. Recently it’s been the intake of information that is causing me to expand while having very little structure or time to reflect on the experience. This isn’t bad news; it means I’m in the middle of growing and won’t truly realize it until I take a step away.

I’m inviting the overwhelm in for a cup of coffee. S/he can stay. Learning to live with the things that are a part of me is an important practice in being myself.


What I’m listening to right now:

“Where You’re At” by Allen Stone

“I keep my dirt on the surface so you don’t gotta dig,
The people that make me nervous tried to hide all their sins.
And I’ve got no reason to cover my tracks
The best part of learning is just loving where you’re at.”

“Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart

“Been talking ‘bout the way things change,
And my family lives in a different state.
And if you don’t know what to make of this
Then we will not relate”

“A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

“There been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on.
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come”


In talking with a new friend, he asked me, “What has Ball State meant for you so far?” My answer: “Opportunity. A chance to become.”

I often ask myself questions to figure it all out: the knots, the kinks, the tangled mess that can sometimes describe my life. How do I be the best version of myself somewhere new where my identity hasn’t been fully explored? How do I choose in every moment to be myself and to be grateful for who I am? How do I add value to the people around me?

In everything I do, I ask, “What am I looking to feel?”

The answer is always, “fully alive.”


A few pictures about the last month of my life.

My beautiful niece, Charlotte Rose, whom of which I was asked to serve as the Godfather to. When I met her, my heart grew too big for my chest.
A message from Spice Hall where I spent the last two years becoming who I’ve become.
A new place to call home.
 
I’m a sucker for a beautiful sky. It reminds me to take in the moment. Not every day will be sunny; appreciating the days that are is an exercise in gratitude.
I, too, am creating myself. What a beautiful way to practice self-love.
A poem from Rupi Kaur’s “Milk and Honey.” Relevant today and every day.

Something to note: I cannot stand by and remain silent when there are people who are hurting and need love. The #BLACKLIVESMATTER movement should not be dismissed. To my friends who support #ALLLIVESMATTER, please work to unlearn the idea that the BLM movement is anti-police. It’s simply a movement that recognizes what has become an epidemic for African-American bodies throughout history; an opportunity to believe that black lives do matter. It does not work to minimize all other lives, but does work to call attention to what others are looking over. Black lives are not an afterthought. To state that All Lives Matter is greater than the BLM movement is to erase the work that is necessary for eventual healing.

If we want to be better, we all have to scan ourselves for the things that we are not cognizant of. As a white heterosexual male, I’m aware of a few apparent privileges that I carry with me on a daily basis. It is not my job to be silent and let others do the work. Just because I can hear the news and not have to worry about the things I carry with me doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. My whiteness doesn’t exempt me from being a change-agent for the work that is necessary. If I stay silent, I am a part of the problem. I didn’t choose the privileges that I carry. But I can choose to use my privileges to leverage equality for others.

This is a discussion that needs to keep happening. It’s going to take a lot of work. Empathy and general kindness for those who are hurt and in the middle of the mud trying to heal is so important. Have the courage to move past guilt and into a space of love for one another.

I don’t have all of the answers. Not even half. But what I do know is this: if you are hurting, if you are struggling to understand how people are treated differently due to the color of their skin, I am here. I will listen. I will support you.

And if you are still coming to understand what role you play and how you can help, I’m here for you too. Our enlightenment as humans is an ongoing experience. We are evolving. We are transforming. Let’s do it together.


This next month, I want to explore the parts of me that I have yet to uncover. I want to explore people and ideas I’m not familiar with. I want to organize myself in such a way that I have the space to explore the vulnerability that comes with being a human.

The reality of where I’m at in life is that I will have opportunities every single day of my life to learn, grow, and find personal peace. I will have the chance to serve others and to be myself with every step, every new experience, every ounce of love given to others. I want to recognize it as it’s happening and allow new discoveries to change me for the better.

This is what it means to be an observer of the human experience. That’s what I’m all about, change and all.