Poet finds inspiration in job, free time

Monday, December 1, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:44 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chris Spivey is still unsure about what he wants to do with his life, but that indecision is not for lack of trying. Spivey, 28, can speak five languages, is a published poet, knows how to fence and has spent the last couple of months working as a site manager for the Columbia Housing Authority.

“I liked what they had to say,” he said of the people at CHA. “I like that they’re more interested in helping people than the almighty dollar.”

Spivey does his part to help by sifting through Housing and Urban Development laws to secure resources for his tenants.

“The hardest part is navigating the bureaucracy,” Spivey said. “Everyone that comes through has a different cause. Once you find what they need, though, that’s a great feeling.”

Spivey’s desire to aid others stems from his own life experiences.

“I came from a bad family in a bad community. I know what it’s like,” he said. “I want to help people not to face those same situations. So it’s not selfless why I’m doing it. I feel like I’m making an impact.”

Rick Hess, contract administrator for the Columbia Housing Authority, doesn’t work directly with Spivey, but has seen some of his contributions there.

“I know he’s been a real asset to his department,” Hess said. “He really keeps up with what he needs to do. He has great energy and attitude that he brings to the housing authority. He’s really into doing the right thing for people.”

Fred Williams III, a friend who Spivey met while in college and who now lives with him in Columbia, believes that Spivey’s job fits his personality.

“He is generally very benevolent to people,” Williams said. “He wants to do what he can to help other people. It doesn’t surprise me at all. It seems like a common part of his personality.”

Spivey said he overcame his less-than-ideal childhood through strong determination.

“I didn’t really have a role model for myself that I saw,” he said. “I merely saw how things were, and I made a decision.”

One of those decisions was to attend college at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., where he got a degree with two majors — criminology and

psychology — and two minors — anthropology and literature. Although he enjoyed all of these pursuits, literature was his passion.

“I’m a voracious reader, from the classics to science fiction,” he said. He doesn’t just read, though. His poetry has been published, both by the Amherst Society and the Iliad Society. He describes his work as T.S. Eliot meets Edgar Allan Poe meets Langston Hughes.

“(Writing) is a good focus for me,” he said. “If it were profitable, that would be great, but that’s not the main reason for it.” Writing continues to be a large part of his life, although his focus has shifted to short stories.

Williams often reads Spivey’s writing and short stories.

“We have an ongoing situation where he starts to write things and he doesn’t have time to finish them. I read them and get very excited for him to finish, but then he moves on to do something else,” Williams said. He added that, “He’s got a very vivid and clear imagination — a very fine eye for detail.”

Jack Floyd, a friend who met Spivey when he was first considering moving to Columbia, sees some of Spivey’s creativity not in writing but in role playing.

Role-playing is acting, but not for an audience. Spivey and his friends get together about once a week for games of improvisation, based on character descriptions. Through the characterization, the group creates plots, and each person plays the same character every week. Games can last from several months up to three years.

“He’s fairly creative,” Floyd said of Spivey’s knack for the games. “He comes up with interesting ideas with little notice. He’s pretty good at figuring out what it is other people are looking for, how to keep other people interested.”

Spivey has kept up with his writing through several jobs and moves. Before coming to Columbia, Spivey trained to become an officer with the Auburn, Ala., police department until his aunt became sick. He quit to take care of her, and after she recovered, he moved to Huntsville, Ala., where he worked security for the Marshall Space Flight Center. Eventually, Williams convinced him to move to Columbia.

“I knew that he didn’t really enjoy what he was doing in Alabama,” Williams said. “The college atmosphere here is more conducive to intellectual thinkers, which is the kind of environment he was looking for.”

Spivey said he made the right decision. “I don’t miss Auburn in the least.”

Spivey’s current mission is to strengthen some of his language skills in Russian, German, Spanish and Japanese — most of which he picked up outside of the classroom, either through friends or studying on his own. He’s also considering getting a law degree from MU.

“I see myself studying criminal law,” he said. “I would want to work as a defender.”

Either way, he’s in no rush to get to his next project. “I’m going to wait and see,” he said. “I’m enjoying right now.”

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