“When I was born, a pack of wolves was brought to its knees.”
He takes a deep breath.
“Frosted fur, whistling in the blizzard, they nosed at the mural painted by my mother’s blood and whimpered something beautiful … “
The words read like familiar friends — comfortable, worn, steady as they roll off his tongue.
“ … My mother claimed there is no mistaking song, but it seems the world would disagree … ”
His hazel eyes cling to every line on the page, his body frozen like stone, except his fingers, shaking as they rub his scruffy, softly freckled face and muss his short, brown hair.
Then, Aaron Rowley looks up, blushes and laughs, breaking the still and shattering the trance-like aura around him.
The biomedical engineering senior, it turns out, is a poet.
“It started my freshman year,” Rowley said. “For whatever reason, I just kind of started writing this story, and I just kept writing. It was never a plan, it was just an idea I thought up in a history class and I enjoyed writing in my journal so much that I kept doing it all the way until now. It just sort of happened. It’s going to be such a trip to hold a book.”
The first of a series, “Let There Be Care” is set to be published in the next few weeks. The book centers around a boy who finds a journal outside his work, decides to read it and falls in love with it. But, much like the many layers of Rowley’s mind, the story oversteps face value.
“As the story progresses, he realizes that there’s this group of people that need that journal back,” Rowley said. “And they’re confronting him in really weird scenarios, pressing him for answers, asking him where he’s hiding it, and he realizes that there’s something sort of mysterious and magical about these people, and some fantasy elements start coming in. The story follows how he and those people become intertwined.”
Though the story is one of fantasy and mystery, Rowley drew from his own changes of philosophy, observations of the world around him and personal struggles faced during his years at Cal Poly to craft the characters of “Let There Be Care.”
While no single story in the book is firmly rooted in a particular experience of Rowley’s life, he said his emotions and personal sentiments at the time he wrote the stories blended into each story he wrote and “have for sure manifested themselves and led the foundation in some regard in all of my stories.”
Growing up, Rowley felt he was shielded from a lot of the world, and coming to college marked a major transition for him.
Rowley called his first years in college “a big journey,” as he learned to adjust to new philosophical and religious beliefs, political standpoints and in finding his own sexual identity when he came out as bisexual during his sophomore year.
“College changed the way I saw politics, relationships, the world and the way I see my life,” said Rowley, who is also a Pride Center peer counselor and honors program student. “I never really thought of myself as someone who had changed a lot, but yeah, in a personal way, I did. I had grown up pretty conservative, Christian and Mormon, and had a lot of philosophical struggles with those.”
To escape all of these personal struggles, Rowley wrote. He did slam poetry; and then he wrote some more.
“It was a way to deal with myself, it was a release,” he said. “And then I started doing slam poetry, and that was less for me, and more for me wanting to put these thoughts out there that someone else might be going through the same thing as me. I never had a figure or someone I related to closely — and finally being able to share that — I don’t know why I chose that venue, but I could express those feelings in the form of slam poems.”
And those feelings and expansions of the way Rowley saw the world continued to emulate themselves in another way — as a character in “Let There Be Care.”
Rowley identifies with the lead female character, Namelia — a strong woman who abstractly represents the time of intense self-reflection and self-questioning in Rowley’s life.
“I’m in love with this character in the book,” Rowley said. “She has this story of who she is — and it’s not her own. That to me was so fun to imagine. She’s this interesting venue to express that.”
Rowley entrusted his roommate and friend of three years, architecture senior Kathy Kao, with bringing this character to life in a drawing.
“She’s super talented,” Rowley said. “It was cool because it was the first time someone’s taken the ideas and made them tangible. One of the most exciting parts of writing that book was seeing her brought to life in that image.”
Kao said instead of giving her the book to read and infer who the character was, Rowley instead described to her who the character wasn’t.
“He wanted to differentiate from the normal, strong female leads, who are kind of bitchy,” Kao said. “It’s a stereotype of women who are playing these lead roles, who have a type of masculinity to them without a softness. He described a female who had a balance. She didn’t have to have male characteristics, and yet she was still strong.”
Rowley also presented Kao with a crumpled image of a red-haired woman from a magazine shampoo advertisement — the same one that is taped to the wall above his desk, an image he has been carrying with him for years.
“He walked into my room one night and told me, ‘This is her,’” Kao said. “I immediately said yes. He has a really strong vision of what he wants, and it was definitely something I wanted to be a part of.”
Kao said since she met Rowley three years ago, she has never seen him not writing — short stories, poetry.
Over the past three years, Rowley’s stories took the top three awards in the Al Landwehr Creative Writing Contest and were consequently published in Cal Poly’s literary magazine “Byzantium” each year.
“He exudes this passion when he talks about his writing,” Kao said. “He’s always had an aura about him, a pure personality that is excited and ecstatic about everything. It wasn’t hard to see his ambition for his written work.”
His writings — and his deep connection to the stories themselves — have grown to be a part of Rowley himself.
Click to hear an exclusive excerpt from “Let There Be Care” read by author Aaron Rowley.
“I remember I was on the 4 Bus, going somewhere, and I just had this idea that I needed to write,” Rowley said. “I didn’t have anything, so I just pulled out this gum wrapper. In class, I’d just start writing because I needed to get it down. I didn’t take the idea of writing a book seriously until last year. It’s weird to me. It’s surreal that this is going to be one book.”
And yet, so much of his life bleeds into his passion for writing — even when it comes to engineering.
“Science has been quite inspirational to me as well,” Rowley said. “When I got here, I decided to go for engineering because I always found it really fascinating. I’ve always had a really strong sense of curiosity when it comes to science. It’s constantly forcing people to see things differently and exposing new ideas.”
Rowley takes that approach in his writing — presenting thoughts in different ways, and “looking at literature as a medium for the way people see things, not in the story they’re telling, but in the way they tell the story.”
The poetic engineer makes a conscious effort to share his love of literature with his engineering peers and professors.
Graduate student Joe White has known Rowley since they were freshmen, and while he knows Rowley as more of an engineer than a writer, White said Rowley is one of the best people to sit down with and talk to about life.
“He’s one of my closest friends that I can have those types of conversations with,” White said.
He also noted Rowley, who has performed spoken word poetry at Week of Welcome as well as monthly open mic event Another Type of Groove, is a captivating public speaker.
“He disarms anyone who comes across him, and his vulnerability puts people at ease,” Kao said. “He is the type of person you would come home to, and he would have his arms wide open with a smile that says ‘welcome home.’”
Rowley sits in his home, intently reading his favorite book, “Only Revolutions,” as his fingers absent-mindedly rub at a Laura Marling quote tattooed on the inside of his forearm: “Let it always be known I was who I am,” it reads.
“It’s an attempt to be my true self,” Rowley, who shares a birthday with Marling, explained. “No matter where I am in life, no matter what, I still am me.”