Saturday, December 29, 2012

24 Years

   Shelton High School looks much the same as it did the first time I saw it in August of 1988.  At least superficially.  But nothing escapes change.  Everything evolves, and my old school is no exception.  
   I walked on the track, recalling the many times I ran after school at the direction of my coaches.  The cold air echoed the memory of the crowd's roar during football games.  I'm a little part of the field's past, a fact that puts a smile on my face.
   I just finished doing the first set of edits and revisions on a novel that's been 24 years in the making.  The very first few words that marked the beginning of this story were written right on the bleachers of the school's stadium.  Those words were also written in Spanish, my first language.  Through the years, the translations have been compiled into impressions, observations, events, and an endless stream of anecdotes since that first page.  As it turns out, I never finished writing it.  It's a body of work that has undergone as many evolutions as I have in real life.  It is after all based on much of my experience as a teenager starting his life anew in a different country with a much different culture.
   It's been my most difficult piece to commit to the page.
 Personal experience is a writer's fuel.  Everything we write demands a piece of ourselves, and this novel demanded entire parts of my heart and soul, some that I didn't even know I had.
  Even now, two decades later, the trophy cases at the main lobby evoked a series of emotions, and conjured an array of memories that I once thought lost.
   To say that the first book of the My Two Flags series is dear to my heart would be a severe understatement.  Although much of the novel exposes facets of the life I lived, I've gained enough experience to infuse a proper amount of fiction in order to give the story a unique tone; perhaps even a life of its own.  Each character is a conglomeration of people who touched my life, and in many ways, shaped me into who I am today. 
  It took 24 years, not to write this novel in its present form, but to muster the courage to share it.  I'm sure that once it's out there, in the hands of someone else, who may see themselves or someone they knew in the scenes, I may be more at peace with the fact that I willingly placed 24 years of work at the mercy of strangers.  
   In all honesty, I might have lost all perspective, for I'm too close to the story.  I know who in my life inspired whom within its pages, and I can only hope I did an adequate enough job in portraying what they meant in the life of the kid I once was.
   I've never been more torn over presenting something I wrote.  And yet, reliving some of the experiences has given me new levels of understanding about the better person I could be. I pray that 24 years of composing, creating, altering, remembering, and honoring the memories of a life I've been blessed to live, goes on to touch  the lives of those who take the journey with Tony Amaya, and if that person is you, perhaps you know someone like Tony.   
   Maybe one of your parents or grandparents left their countries to give their children a life in America.  Maybe you know a Chris Jawskowski.  Maybe you stood up to a Mrs. Erhoff.  Maybe you've been blessed with the friendship of a Patricia Paris.  Maybe you were a Rex, a Beth, a Derek, a Sean.  Maybe you forged a bond with someone different from you during a common struggle, be it sports, academics, or learning a new language.  
   Maybe you were able to find encouragement from a teacher like Mrs. Gennaro.  Maybe, just maybe, you look back on those four years of high school as the starting point of the person you are today.  

   Javier A. Robayo

Thursday, December 20, 2012


   This is one of those self-addressed posts that we all need once in a while.  I'm hoping to balance being my own worst critic with a small vote of confidence.  And so...

   Talk to any artist about their grand masterpieces and they'll point out all the flaws.  Ask any poet or author whether they've finalized their work, and they'll nod even as they recall that one or two phrases that could be more polished.  An artisan in any field is a perfectionist at heart.  It's just the way it is.
   This is why it only takes one slam into a writer's block, one less than kind review, and we bleed confidence like a sieve.
   But everything in life has two sides, doesn't it?  Life is constantly struggling with that balance, and it's us who ride these whimsical currents.
   Sometimes you're knocked down so far into a hole, you don't even bother looking up for that pinpoint of light that promises something better.  It's almost easier to curl up and become one with the darkness surrounding us.
   Get up!
   And if you don't, go back and focus on that one review that someone took the time to write.  Focus on the praise, focus on how much what you wrote touched that one person.
   Now that you believe in your writing once more, look up, and make your way out, slowly, steady, and patiently.
   Different obstacles will trip you up, like that job you hate to go to; the cell phone bill or any of those monthly fees we have no choice but to pay.  Some of those will inevitably knock you back down and leave you wondering whether what you write matters.
   It does.
   Get up!
   Perhaps there's someone out there who has it worse.  Perhaps tragic events will bring you a new perspective and you learn to appreciate your own situation, despite the bad.
   You're in full control of your ascent.  Know that.  Remember it.  Let your creativity conjure up new characters, give them a voice, give them a life, and believe in your story.  
   You might walk into a bookstore, probably the most intimidating setting for an Indie author.  Long to be there with the John Grishams and the Suzanne Collins's of the world.  It might be easier to ran back home, determined to delete your story, and it might be easier to fall and forget to write another word.
   Get up!
   What you write matters.  When characters take over the writing and use you to build their lives on the page, you need to believe in the story, and know that it will touch someone in some way.  It'll make them write praises and more than a few lines that will feel like the pats on the back we all want, but don't always know that we deserve them.  That review will make you believe.
   Javier A. Robayo

inspired by the newest review for The Gaze

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


     I drove to Newtown in the rain...     
   I'm a writer and so I must write.  I can't help it.  It's ingrained in every molecule of my being and tonight, I want to write, but this won't be just any piece of writing.  No book review or writing anecdote.  No simile or metaphor   I'm not writing tonight as a writer.  I'm just writing because it's the only way I can cope with the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
   Twenty beautiful children were killed on December 14th.  Six courageous women gave up their lives trying to protect them.  We were left in collective sorrow, and as President Obama said: "our hearts are broken..."
   My daughters are 5 and 8.  Before they were even born, I wondered what they would look like and be like at this age.  Now I daydream about a sweet sixteen, driving lessons, and a college graduation.  Never did I stop to consider the fragility of our lives.  I didn't allow any thoughts of losing them to enter my mind, just like virtually every parent out there.  
   Twenty-six candles flickering during a rainy night in Newtown have forced me to think differently, and I rage at the helplessness, the despondency, and the grief that's robbed me of that illusory sense of security.
   It's difficult to hear Christmas carols and think of smiling children opening gifts, knowing twenty children's bedrooms are forever  empty; knowing their gifts will remain beneath the tree, without small hands to claim them.  
   I don't want to read a joke, a book review, an event invitation, a political commentary or some sports bit online because it feels callous.  I don't want to read about prayers and how God was there for the victims.  I don't care to hear or engage in arguments about gun rights and gun control.  I don't want to hear some politician use the tragedy as a platform to advance his own agenda and rewrite our constitution.  I don't want to hear about some press jackal interviewing one of the survivors.
   I think of the moment Vicki Soto confronted the assassin, perhaps drawing comfort from the fact that her kids were hidden, and valiantly accepting her fate...
   What were the last seconds of each child before they were struck?  What kind of horror did they endure as they saw their friends go down?
   I'm so sorry...  
   It's all I've had in mind since Friday morning, and it won't go away.  
   Anxiety grips me while my kids are in school, and I don't breathe right until I know they're safe at home.  My fears abate only when I hold them in my arms.
   Back in September of 2001, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Butler Eagle.  I invoked patriotism and the unique resiliency of this place called America.  I had faith that we would move on.  We mourned thousands back then...
   But Newtown...  
   I'll mourn these twenty-six victims for the rest of my life.  No, I never met them, but somehow my heart knows what they each mean.  
   I pray I don't add another day in my lifetime where our flag flies at half staff.  
   Inevitably, life will go on.  The images might fade.  I hope we regain that sense of security surrounding our schools, frail as it may be.  I hope we change our direction, close the chasms between the ideologies that now separate us, and unite in the name of our kids.  They deserve a safer nation.  
   I hope we begin to recognize educators for the amazing people they are, for how much they care for and love our kids.
   I hope...
   I will not forget Principal Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Lauren Rousseau, Anne Marie Murphy, Rachel D'Avino, and Vicki Soto, heroes in the truest sense of the word.  I hope we keep that in mind before we throw the term around when glorifying professional athletes.  
   And for Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, Ana, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Jessica, Benjamin, Dylan, Avielle, Allison, Caroline, and Josephine, no words are remotely adequate to convey what their loss means.  No phrase exists that can lessen this sorrow.  My only expressions are the tears I desperately try to hide when I picture their smiles. 
   None of them will be forgotten.
   With a heavy heart, I drove away from Newtown in the rain.  I left a part of me there in the form of a candle.  I left some prayers and a lot of tears for whatever they're worth, and I rushed home to my little girls, a changed father, a changed person.

   Javier A. Robayo