Humans of Interest: Abby

Holy shitballs, Batman!

I am so excited to tell you about one of the few people in the world who knows dark things about me and seems to like me anyway! She is my sister in my heart, a companion to me as a writer, and one of the coolest/dorkiest people I know.

Back in 2004, on our first day of Texts in Context, I was sitting at a table by a window in the classroom waiting for the professor, when Abby busted in, took one look at me, and charged over to commandeer my window. She was hot and sweaty from the workout she’d just finished and from (I imagine) Terminator-style running from where she’d parked on a side street on the other end of campus. She needed air, and I was the only one looking up and making eye contact. It was a meet cute for the ages.

We skipped a lot of the traditional friendship-building things in favor of behaving as though we had been friends for our entire lives; before the quarter was out, Abby had invited me to her wedding. Having now (many years since then) had a wedding of my own, I can’t fathom why she invited me, someone she had known for a few months, to such an important occasion. Obviously I went! I had never been to a peer’s wedding (I was 20) and Abby didn’t have a registry or anything, so I called my mom about what to get her as a gift; because no one else bought them a frame, Abby and her husband’s wedding portrait now rests in the 8×10 I gave them.

With a decade and a half of history to choose from, I could regale you with tidbits about my friendship with Abby forever, but let me tell you why she’s so great, besides being my best pal.

Like me, Abby earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Writing from Seattle University. Unlike me, she knew (or seemed to know) what she was going to do with her education, and she charged straight for it. Not long after we graduated, Abby started her Master of Fine Arts program at Pacific University in Oregon. I blinked, and Abby had earned her MFA in Poetry and was on to her PhD in upstate New York. She successfully earned her doctorate in 2016, despite the physical, emotional, and mental slog of birthing and raising another human.

Oh yeah, and she did all of that while teaching, volunteering, writing (and publishing), and starting up writing groups wherever she went. So basically, I’m over here with my measly Certificate in Web Publishing and my Master of Communications degree and decade of assorted job history, while she’s getting shit done. (And I know my accomplishments are not insignificant, y’all, it’s just that my journey is twisted and meandering, while hers is a more direct route.) I’m floored by her energy and dedication.

I visited Abby wherever she moved, and in each place—Vancouver, Anchorage, Atlanta, Colorado Springs, Binghamton—she had made a space for herself. In Alaska, it was a small group of amateur writers who got together to workshop their poetry. In Colorado Springs, she ran an open mic night for students and non-student writers. Each move, with the benefit of experience, she made that space a little bigger, a little more impactful. In New York, she created a whole literary outreach program through the university, complete with community workshops and readings. Since moving to Tacoma, she’s started a literary journal, Collateral, which focuses on the experiences of those touched by violent conflict. She teaches poetry to youth in detention centers, to war veterans, to anyone who is willing.

Did I mention that Abby is the 2019-2021 Poet Laureate of Tacoma? Yeah, that’s right, she’s a municipally endorsed artist. As she describes it, a poet laureate is a cheerleader for poetry. She’s out there showing people that poetry is accessible, that it’s for them, and that it’s worth everyone’s time. Of course, she was doing all that work before receiving the honor, which heavily influenced the city’s selection. I’m personally not surprised, and I think Tacoma made an excellent choice.

Abby is the sort of person who lives by example. She quietly (sometimes loudly) encourages everyone to do better (or at least try), because she firmly believes in their capacity to succeed. Her approach is accommodating and nonthreatening: she will try to meet you wherever you are, metaphorically speaking. Ever the observant poet, she is always examining people and trying to understand, or at least identify, their motivations. Don’t get me wrong, she’s no infallible optimist or anything, she’s as pragmatic and bitingly cynical as they come. We remain friends in large part because we both look at the world and think, “Really? What the fuck.” But she chooses to call our attention to the good things, even while she asks us to confront hard truths and think critically.

That, my friends, is talent.

If you’re wondering why Abby has moved so much, it’s because her husband is an active duty Army Ranger. Our senior year of college, Abby lived with her sister in Seattle, because her husband was in training elsewhere. During his first deployment, she lived with a different sister in Vancouver. For a brief moment, they lived a more typical married life in his hometown of Anchorage, and then she lived there while he traveled for work. I made a point of visiting Abby while he was deployed, which means my vacations generally happened near (but not on!) an Army base, not at exotic locales. When I visited Abby in Atlanta, her husband was actually not deployed for a change, but I still didn’t see him because he was on a camping trip.

In Colorado Springs, I lucked out and got to attend one of Abby’s open mic nights. During the event, she read a poem which has since been published in Quick Draw: Poems from a Soldier’s Wife, her second chapbook. The poem is called “Deployment: Day One” and it broke my usually collected friend into tears. Even now, just reading it conjures up the feeling of helplessness I sat with as I listened to Abby dispassionately list the mundanities of life that must happen during deployment, knowing that her husband could be dead that very moment. It’s one of my favorite poems of hers, because I see so much of her struggle in it.

Abby writes war poetry. She writes other stuff too, but in large part, her poetry centers around war. I said in my post the other day that her poetry “dances around” war, but she’s more deliberate and focused than that. Abby writes about the secondary experiences of war, from the perspective of a military spouse. She’s a pacifist poet married to an Army man, and her poetry, which is one of her outlets for coping with life, I see as an act of resistance against the very system that sustains her family (financially speaking). Abby works to call attention to the world’s absurdities and curiosities, because HOW DID WE NOT ALL NOTICE THEM?

In my (completely unbiased) opinion, Abby’s poetry is some of the most important stuff you could be reading right now.

I wish I had a clever way to end this piece. If this were an essay, I would review the reasons Abby is amazing (my bestie, incredible poet, influential teacher, driven and goal-oriented) and summarize my thesis: Abby is one of the people I hold up as an example of how to live life, and I hope to share the next several decades with her, growing and learning and navigating the world through words. I wanted to tell everyone a bit about her, because I am so grateful to know and love her.