Sum of your Parts

When I was a kid my father used to say, “Tell me who you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are”  <in Spanish>. When I was in Elementary School his advice didn’t really make sense. Then in Middle School I began to see the tribes forming. Finally, it was in High School where the social experiment began in earnest. The lines were drawn in blood between competing groups and joining a circle was essential to surviving the four years with your sanity intact.

My social chameleon skills blossomed in those last teenage years. My main group were the Magnet students, black kids bussed in from all over Miami-Dade to learn how to become engineers. They exposed me to a culture that I was unfamiliar with being a Cuban kid from predominantly Spanish neighborhoods. Then there were the fringe crowds I was introduced to by my girlfriend at the time, gay kids who didn’t fit into theater or other clubs and hung out in a secluded part of the school. That’s where I learned their stories of being perpetual outsiders, shunned by family and still searching for their tribes. There were also the stoner/skater kids who loved punk and ska music who I met through another girlfriend–girls were a gateway for me to many cliques. I rubbed shoulders with jocks through my fellow Magnet students, who did all the afterschool sports, and my own short-lived stint in Track & Field. It was a melting pot of experiences achievable by my talent for sliding into social clusters and acting like I had always been there.

This proficiency made me damn near perfect for the consulting work I did as an Info Tech gun-for-hire. Every week I was in a new city, state, or country; dropped behind enemy lines with a singular mission to teach, implement, or reconfigure a piece of technology. I navigated the economic wastelands of backwoods North Carolina, brutally cold streets of Chicago in the middle of the night for Data Center emergencies, and criss-crossed the United Kingdom via train. Wherever I went my job was to execute a project, but also to build a quick rapport with the client in order to give our work a better chance at success. When you’re constantly switching between hats—nerd, bon vivant, trusted advisor, rescue team—you can lose sight of who you are.

It wasn’t until I began extricating myself from Info Tech that I realized how mercurial my core had become. The past year and a half has been spent trying to rediscover the edges of what makes me a person and rebuild the map of who I want to be in life. As I look around, my father’s words ring loudly in my ears. What I want to achieve in life, the milestones I want to reach, and the way I want to live my life are far from the beaten path. When I share these thoughts with others I now find myself as the alien in the group not the welcomed familiar who fits right in.

The wanderlust is difficult enough for many people to understand, but then you throw in the artistic pursuits, radical change in career, multiple brushes with death, and all the other flotsam and jetsam accumulated over my years, and I turn into a strange creature from an unknown world to be studied from a distance. I’m having trouble finding my tribe, those kindred spirits with the same thirst for a life well-lived.

Sometimes the words of Hugh MacLeod pop into my brain when I’m wrestling with all of this.

“The price of being a sheep is BOREDOM. The price of being a wolf is LONELINESS. Choose one or the other with great care.”

But then I’m reminded that wolves run in packs, tightly knit and cooperative, which gives me hope for the future. I believe I will find those who want a life outside of the rulebook. A life with a global viewpoint, inclusive of the world and drinking in its myriad possibilities.

Image by Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid

What Do You Say When the World is on Fire?

I find myself in a perpetual state of shock. The emotions swirling inside of me block any attempt at words leaving my mouth or fingertips. When I do think of something to say it feels like screaming into hurricane force winds caused by the hundreds of thousands of voices shouting the same pain. I never expected to be living in this is version of the United States.

I’m first-generation American and was raised to believe in the land of opportunity; where you work hard, aim high, and can achieve any dream you desire. Instead what I’m seeing, on a daily basis, is a dystopian future creeping into our current events. Freedoms are eroding. Doors which were once open are now slammed closed and thoroughly locked. The inclusive spirit that made America a melting pot has now been replaced with blatant xenophobia. If my parents had been fleeing a communist dictatorship in this day and age there’s a strong chance they never would’ve made it onto American soil.

Some will say our newly enacted policies are a form of protection against those wishing to destroy our country. I say that we’re on a slippery slope and in banning a country of people wholesale—under the guise of national security–we’ve laid the groundwork to start banning other “undesirables” from our shores. Which can easily transform from restrictions to expulsions and we’ll see our country diminished like a balloon leaking air.

I noticed the us vs. them mentality festering in our culture around the same time we started labeling each other red states and blue states, but the reality is that life is much more nuanced and complex than a binary classification. None of the people foaming at the mouth for our borders to be closed and the refugees sent packing have ever met the people they’re railing against.

I’ve broken bread with a university educated Afghan man who fled his war-torn country and was working in an English kebab shop because the UK wouldn’t recognize his degrees. He just wanted to live a normal life like anyone of us. Same for the Lebanese kid I met in Northern Virginia who was studying medicine at Georgetown University so that he could join Doctors without Borders. His family would’ve been flagged under the new “extreme vetting” simply because they’re Muslim and fleeing a country under siege.

Change their countries of origin or religions and the stories would sound just like the ones you hear from the people in your town or family. The hopes of those searching for a better life are universal.

Sadly, this is just one small part of the inferno that’s threatening to engulf this wonderful country and its kind-hearted people and I fail to understand why a fire fueled by hate will make anything great as opposed to reducing everything in its path to ash.

Photo by Gabriel Novo of Niatron at the Women’s March. Sign quote from the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise

The Nerd Who Hates Binary

I spent many years of my life in a constant state of travel between cities, states, and countries which gave me an unprecedented look at people across a wide spectrum of life. Many folks who I never would have bumped into if not for our paths momentarily crossing as we got from point A to point B. Time and time again, I marveled at the complex lives around me. The solemn woman in Tampa who was on her way to unplug her comatose sister and dreading that she might have to adopt her nephews. A gregarious Czech man in Dusseldorf who plied me with beers and espressos till the AMs as we suffered through an overnight layover at the airport. 70-year old traveling buddies who drank me under the table on Belvedere martinis, straight up with a twist, while regaling me with tales of Reno, Hawaii, and San Francisco.

All it takes are a few moments amongst the people sharing this world and you quickly see that humanity is a beautiful tapestry of grays. Not the black and white, us versus them, 0 or 1, divisive categories we’re so often corralled into. It’s what makes me hate labels the older I get. Not once has a person I’ve met, and made the effort to converse with, ever been solely defined by a label or demographic. The few words I use to describe myself are merely entry level descriptors for the social chameleon that I am.

I hate individuals who treat others as talking points instead of human beings. Life is fluid, people are fluid, ideas and viewpoints have more nuance than news sound bites and internet headlines lead us to believe. You can’t tick a series of boxes on a checklist and have it equate a person. That’s a fantasy held by those with no desire to expand the boundaries of their limited worldview.

Let’s try disposing of trite labels and getting to know one another. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Image by Christiaan Colen on Flickr.

Trying Something Different

It’s interesting how the human mind shifts gears whenever it approaches the end of something—a time period, a struggle, a relationship—reflecting on the moments leading up to its conclusion. An attempt at understanding is made even when no chance at comprehension is possible. Then, like sifting through tea leaves, we try to predict our futures based on what came before.

I’m incapable of predicting my future even more so than the average person. Uncertainty has lodged itself permanently into my way of life. Medical uncertainty, geographic uncertainty, and a multitude of other variables that refuse to be solved. I always sucked at the “where do you see yourself in X years… question and it’s only gotten worse. I’ve given up on trying to map things out and will instead roll with the punches.

That being said, this past year has left me punch-drunk. I’ve been battered within an inch of my life, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson, one that I’ll be using in the coming new year. My natural inclination in life, and social media, is to share my intent. Whether it be a new undertaking or a goal I wish to reach, I’ll shout it from the rafters hoping to connect with the like-minded while holding myself accountable to a nebulous them. 2016 has repeatedly shown that this method doesn’t work leaving me with ashes in my mouth and a trail of broken ambitions behind me.

Rather than continue on my loop I’ve decided to make a change. A small shift in my being which I hope will yield huge benefits. Every personal project will be a secret project. Every life move will be revealed after the fact. I’ll focus on the doing and not the announcing of things. Perhaps this will help me avoid God’s laughter. Yes, I understand the irony of broadcasting my desire to stop public disclosures, but I am still a writer and oftentimes need to work things out on a blank page before an idea makes sense even to myself.

Photo © HBO, edits by Gabriel Novo

The King is Dead, Long Live the King!

I spent the last 7 years pouring hundreds of thousands of words and countless hours into Cuban Nomad. It had been my sounding board, my confessional, my soapbox, and my classroom. Oftentimes, I didn’t know how I felt about a particular matter until it was in text on this website. I shared triumphs and defeats, illness and recovery, new starts and sad ends.

Then it all went away. 7 years of writing blinked out of existence because of technical glitches.

It felt like my guts had been ripped out, but only for a moment, because I soon realized this was an opportunity. I had grown over the years as a writer and as a person, so instead of carrying around old thoughts and broken links I could have a fresh start. A place with which to explore the next 7 years of my life (and hopefully many more).

It will continue to transform while I finalize its design, but in the meantime, welcome to my new digital space.

Photo © Gabriel Novo