If you are one of the over 700 million users who have an account on Instagram, you’ve likely found yourself doing some scrolling: jumping from profile to profile, in search of nothing in particular but frequently stumbling upon things that you had no idea you were so hoping to find. And if you are one of the 1.7 million people who follow him, or even if you have only seen his posts in passing, you likely know the familiar sight of the work of R.M. Drake: posts made up only of a white background and black typewritten text, presenting quotes written in all lowercase letters, always ending either in periods or question marks and a signature—r.m. drake. They are optimistic and uplifting one day, and brutally, agonizingly honest the next. Each post is “liked” tens of thousands of times, by people who at the surface have little in common, from small-town teens to Kardashians; moms and dads and aspiring poets to superstar musicians, singers, and award-winning actors—linked by their common ability to relate to the words of one Florida poet who found an audience on social media. We spoke with Robert M. Drake by email about his desire to remain (relatively) anonymous, the inspiration for his writing, and his debut novel, Gravity, which will be available in stores May 29th.
Hannah: You really are a bit of a mysterious entity online. Millions of people follow you, look to you for inspiration, and share your words, but most of us don’t know anything about who you are as a person beyond your pseudonym “r.m. drake.” Is that intentional? Do you want to be anonymous?
R.M. Drake: Thank you for having me. First and foremost, the name R.M. Drake is a name I’ve have since the mid 90s. The name came about when I used to break dance. All my friends had really cool names, and they came up with calling me “Bobby Drake.” I still have people who call me that. As I got older I removed the Bobby and added my real name, Robert, hence “Robert M. Drake.” The M is for my real last name, Macias.
Cailin: Do you worry it would be more difficult for certain people to relate to what you write if they could put a face to your name? That perhaps there are people who picture you to be a certain type of person, who might absorb your words differently if they could visualize who they are coming from?
R.M. Drake: The reason why I don’t do TV interviews often is because I am not trying to be a celebrity. I don’t like the tension of having to go places and speak in live instances. I also don’t like the attention. I’ve had offers, lots, to come out on TV. I was invited to come out in a television series, TED Talks, Kocktails with Khloe, Ellen and a few others. I mostly do things that don’t involve my face. That makes me happy. Also, no I don’t think it changes the experience if people knew what I looked like. A reader can always Google “r. m. drake face” and a picture comes out.
Hannah: Who is R.M. Drake?
R.M. Drake: I don’t know, honestly. I’m still trying to figure that out as time goes on.
Cailin: If we were to ask your closest friends, how do you think they would describe you?
R.M. Drake: They would say that I am crazy. That, at times, I am very hyper and fast paced. I have a lot in my heart and mind, that’s why.
Hannah: A lot of people post their writing on social media, but yours is among the most shared. What do you think it is about your words that draws so many people in?
R.M. Drake: I think it’s because I was one of the first to do this. So a lot of people recognize or attach my name with others. Not a lot of people know this, but back in 2012 there were only a few of us doing this and we all knew each other. We all wanted to change the world.
Cailin: Do you have a genesis story? Where does all your inspiration, for thoughts that an unbelievable number of people have been able to relate to, come from?
R.M. Drake: I’ve been doing art for a very long time. I don’t only write. I paint and sculpt too. I’ve been doing it since I was perhaps four years old. It’s in my blood. What’s funny is that writing is my weakest medium. My strongest is sculpture. The inspiration comes from real life. I always want to tell the perfect story. I probably never will, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Hannah: Are your writings inspired by your own life experience, other people’s life experiences, a combination of both? Are any of them purely abstract?
R.M. Drake: They are inspired by both. I am releasing a novel this year called Gravity. It was based on a true story. Not my own, but someone I know, and I thought it was very interesting. She had a very sad tale and I just wanted to share it with my readers.
Hannah: You’ve said that you prefer to classify your work as “micro-narratives” rather than poems. What’s the difference?
R.M. Drake: I never saw it as poetry. There are a lot of formalities in poetry. A lot of style and academics. I like to write stories. I like to write moments. Sometimes what I share on social media is part of something bigger, that is, something I’m working on, a short story, a novel or an idea.
Cailin: Don’t you find it amazing that each person who likes or shares a post of yours is connected by their experience of the same emotion, even though they all have completely different lives? I would imagine that sometimes you feel like you are this therapist to the masses, who has never met his clients!
Hannah: …And you say that your goal behind writing books is to inspire the youth—how has social media helped you reach your intended audience?
R.M. Drake: I love the youth. I love that stage in people’s lives when they are trying to figure themselves out. That stage where everything happens for the first time and you’re learning that life isn’t what it seems, not what you read about or saw in a movie. Those hard teenage years, the transition between adolescence to adulthood. The wonder years. I want to inspire them because they are the future and education is key.
Cailin: Some days, you leave your followers a quote about love, and other days, death. Is there an undertone, a common thread, which ties together everything that you write? What do your quotes about love share with those about death?
R.M. Drake: It’s a mood. Sometimes, I feel good inside and sometimes I don’t. I go through these strange moods and they change in a blink of an eye. Perhaps I am bipolar or depressed. Not sure, to be honest. I just write how I feel at the moment and try not to think about anything else.
Hannah: How do you want to impact the lives of those who see you on their timeline every day?
R.M. Drake: I just want to tell stories that touch people. I want to be the kind of artist that people read when they were young and then, 15 years later, that person is with their friend and says, “You remember that book R.M. Drake wrote? Wow, that changed my life.” That’s all.
Cailin: Do you consider yourself to be an optimist?
R.M. Drake: I think so.
Hannah: Your highly anticipated debut novel is being released soon. Describe the journey that Gravity will take us on.
R.M. Drake: Writing a novel is a hard and difficult thing to do. It takes courage. It’s like a war, a constant war you have going with yourself. Every night you write more and more. And the nights you don’t it haunts you. It’s always in your head. It’s always there nagging, needing attention, wanting to come out. You have to let stories out sometimes, you know. If not they’ll eat you alive. Once you’ve finished your first manuscript you feel good, but you’re not done there. Then you have to go back and write it again and again. I’ve written two novels. One I am releasing this year and one the next. I’m working on my third as we speak. It never ends.
Cailin: So…what’s it like to be quoted by a Kardashian?
R.M. Drake: I think it’s awesome. Sometimes I wonder if any of this would be happening today, had that not happened. Perhaps, there would be no new age poetry movement at all.
Gravity will be available May 29, 2017. You can follow R.M. Drake on Twitter and Instagram @rmdrk, on Facebook at R.M. Drake, and on his website, www.rmdrk.bigcartel.com.