Diaspora

Diaspora

The term diaspora has been historically used to refer to the Jews living outside of Israel, with a capital D for that meaning, but its modern definition is now more encompassing: the dispersion of any people from their original homeland. I come across this word from time to time usually in reference to those who have fled war-torn countries. Only recently has it dawned on me that I too am part of a diaspora.

In Miami it’s colloquially known as the Exile Community yet it’s a diaspora just the same. Almost 1 million Cubans, born on the island, are living in the United States along with families full of 1st generation Americans, which rounds out the numbers to over 2 million Cuban-Americans. That sounds like a lot, but when they’re living in a country populated by 323 million people it’s barely a drop in the bucket.

Families fleeing Cuba brought all the culture they could easily smuggle out of the country. Some of it in the form of stories and traditions. Other parts through music, food, and dance. Even the language itself, filled with colorful slang and flavored dialects. These pieces of culture were vibrant when first arriving on American soil and, if you were lucky, were kept fresh by the community which grew around it.

Those of us far away from the warmth of a Cuban community weren’t able to hold onto the vitality of the culture. We took the fragments we could and hoped for the best. My broken Spanish, heavily reliant on slang and Spanglish mashups, is all I have left from my days of telling jokes with abuela while playing dominoes. My salsa moves haven’t been dusted off since I attended my last quinceanera, when I was 15. Travel to the island is now legal-ish for American citizens and I could visit the land of my heritage, but honestly, I’d be just as much a tourist as the Canadians and Europeans that have been flocking to Cuba.

I feel cut off from my roots, adrift through this world in a strange combination of freedom to go anywhere while simultaneously not being from anywhere. An itch beneath my skin reminding me that I don’t exactly fit in the places I find myself. I’m always a little left of center or just ahead of the curve. I feel like I’m not Spanish enough, in either skin tone or language skills, to slip back into a Hispanic world. Then again, I’m not white enough because I find the culture lacks the warmth and passion of my Latin community, making me a little too loud and a little too touchy for their comfort.

This Cuban disconnect is only one example of the many ways I feel like I have a foothold in worlds that I’m not fully a part of. There’s just enough in me to pass through the door, but I can’t shake off the sense of being an observer, an outsider. It ties back to what seems to be a neverending search for my tribe, those who resonate with me at a molecular level.

I can’t be the only one struggling with this dissonance within them. It’s something I wrestle with on an almost constant basis though I’m afraid the itch may never go away. The one thing that does help is being as authentic as I can and refusing to give a shit about what people think. The less I am a social chameleon, the better I am at attracting like-minded folks while filtering out those who don’t hum at my frequency. What’s the point of being well-liked by many who bring nothing to your life when you can have a handful of true connections who fill you with passion and fire?

Photo © Gabriel Novo

Rediscovering Boredom

Rediscovering Boredom

I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed, underwhelmed, angry, disappointed, and like an emotional punching bag. The neverending fire hose of information that is the Internet, social media especially, is being used like a club to bludgeon the masses or as spectacular fireworks to distract us from the shitshow. I was hoping the levels would eventually normalize, but as we all can see that’s never going to happen. Instead it seems everything is getting amplified well past 11 creating an incredible wall of noise in our daily lives.

Roughly a month ago I decided to change the way information entered my life. No more waking up in the morning only to grab my phone off the nightstand and let the day’s insanity enter my eyeballs before my first sip of coffee. No more hours lost falling down a Twitter hole or thumbing past an endless parade of photos on Instagram. None of it was filling me back up. Social media, the news, and the conversations sparked from both sources were the equivalent of empty creative calories. I thought I was getting nourished, but my creativity was starving for real sustenance without the emotional spikes of unfiltered Internet consumption. I uninstalled my social media apps, minimized my exposure to news sites, and began reclaiming my time.

At first I was twitchy, reaching for my phone out of habit before remembering the apps were all gone. Then as the trained motions subsided I began to enjoy the quiet in my head. The harsh buzz of the info spikes diminished letting my normal mental sounds come back to the forefront. It was spectacular. My mornings were no longer dictated by outside forces. I had a chance to figure out how I actually felt upon waking. My subconscious processes were firing off creative sparks again, free from the grisly task of chewing through tweets and hot takes. I allowed myself to be bored once again. Bored like I used to be as a kid. The kind of boredom that led to playing with toys while building worlds for them to inhabit in my imagination. A writer’s favorite kind of boredom.

I started reading again. Listening to radio plays in the form of podcasts. When I watched movies it was for analysis and dissection to improve my storytelling skills not numbing myself to the forget the day’s events. I felt refreshed and open to creative forces. A huge change from the constant on edge feeling, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now I control what information I engage and how deeply I let it absorb. Reasserting myself, even in such a small manner, did wonders for my sanity. Self care through self control.

After reevaluating my relationship with social media I’m doing the same with my other internet presences. I’m putting the blog on hold for now. Since its reboot I’ve had a hard time figuring out the direction of my writing. Perhaps this isn’t the time in my life for a blog. I still itch to converse with the world, so I’m dipping my toes into TinyLetter as a low impact alternative. It’ll be more intimate than my blog, but just as sporadic. Free form thoughts, tales from the road (when I finally get back out there), and sharing of cool things I’ve come across. I’m trying to model it after Warren Ellis’ weekly newsletter (in form at least).

I’ve become protective of my newfound mental quiet. It’s so damn easy to slip back into the info binging mindset. I hope these little changes in my life can foster the creative output I’ve been sorely lacking for years. We’ll see.

The Shifting Nature of Words

The Shifting Nature of Words

Language is a living entity. It spawns new words and methods of interaction as we continue to move forward into an uncertain future. It prunes itself of outdated terms and repurposes the old. This constant flux is key to the survival of any language. Without the ability to adapt it would grow stagnant and eventually be abandoned because of its inflexibility.

What I’ve come to realize over the past year is how my relationship with language has shifted. How my unconscious rigidity has aged my communication in unforeseen ways and how time has imbued other words with an unexpected richness. Being a writer, language is one of my favorite abilities, so it’s sad when I noticed how I had let it lapse. I hadn’t been trimming my archaic terms or diving into shiny new dialects. Sometimes I wielded the age of my words like a club, fiercely hammering the difference in generations they represented. It was a reflexive action, an attempt to comfort myself with the familiarity of my words instead of pushing myself to stretch beyond my linguistic inertia.

A passing reference to techno during a conversation with a friend really drove the point home when I was called out for not only using a much older term, but one that placed me firmly in the 90’s. I had understood that language could recall a specific time period, which is a tool I often leveraged on purpose, yet this was the first time I had seen an unconscious “time lock” in my own vocabulary. It was a sobering moment that made me analyze my go-to word choices.

I have certain words and phrases that I love to deploy like most of us do. Clever uses of wordplay that have become darlings or verbal tics that are now borderline shtick. Making someone laugh or smile in a conversation is a great joy of mine, but devolving into a parody of myself with the same old routine is not the kind of person I want to become. So now I must burn down the forest of my vocabulary to allow the rich undergrowth to sprout anew.

Another way I’ve seen my relationship with language shift is in the meaning of words I hold sacred. My singular tattoo is a Latin phrase:

Verba Volant, Scripta Manent

Roughly translated it means – Spoken words fly away, Written ones remain.

I got the tattoo four months after I was officially in remission from Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The phrase and its permanent home on my skin were to serve as a reminder of what my legacy in life should be. At the time, I had considered my predilection for conversation, with anyone and everyone, as something immaterial and a distraction. It was my written word—the short stories, articles, novels—that would serve as the record of my existence.

It has been five years that I’ve been cancer free and every day I wake up to see the tattoo on my body. The phrase has always been the same, but my understanding of what it means has matured. To consider one half of the equation as unimportant is to deny an integral part of who I am. My spoken words will never be etched in stone yet the power they possess is even greater than the words I leave on the page.

Many of my friends have dealt with darkness in their lives and we’re all reaching the age when physical and emotional ordeals pop up with more frequency. Unexpected deaths, sudden illnesses, crisis of confidence, and so on. This is when I recognized that my spoken words did fly. They supported, lifted, and comforted my loved ones in their times of need. They gave them the courage to keep going or made them look inward with a new perspective.

I hadn’t understood the impact of my words because they came from a place of love, naturally and without pretense, so to me they always felt normal. It took the thanks of my friends and their honest appreciation of our conversations to help me come to terms with this undervalued facet of myself.

I no longer look at my tattoo and think one half is a caution and the other is a commandment. Now I see a complete path to an authentic self who accepts all his gifts.

 

Photo © Gabriel Novo

In Defense of Monotasking

In Defense of Monotasking

I spent 15 years of my life as a professional nerd not counting all the other years I was a nerd for free. My existence was replete with cutting edge technology and pressure cooker environments. I had to maintain a 100 MPH lifestyle, juggling multiple projects, personalities, and inboxes during my drive towards success. The only moment I wasn’t spinning 5 plates at the same time was when I was asleep.

Some folks wore this lifestyle as a badge of honor, like I once did, burning the candle at both ends and numbing themselves to handle the fire. I too fell into that trap. Late nights of staring at a computer screen were quickly followed by long nights of staring into numerous cocktails.

I was in a perpetual state of distraction finding it harder and harder to disconnect when it came quitting time. The problems of the day kept buzzing around my head while I approached my personal time with the same crazy juggling ethos. Everything felt vaguely satisfying, but nothing reached a deep sense of fulfillment.

Then came the day I was able to jump off the hamster wheel. No more panicked clients. No more instant messaging windows fighting for my attention. No more flood of emails demanding instantaneous responses. I was free.

After going to a really good concert have you ever noticed a faint ringing in your ears?

I experienced that same ringing when I left the noise of the technology industry. It was as if my body was readjusting to the normal volumes of a reality outside of the fast lane. I started rediscovering the joys in my life from before work supersaturated my entire consciousness. I got closer to feeling genuine fulfillment.

I began cultivating that sensation. Tearing away years of bad habits, so that I could be present in whatever I was doing. Focusing on conversations with friends without the buzz-buzz-buzz of cell phone notifications. Reading a book, an actual physical paperback, and getting lost in its pages. Enjoying the flow of writing, which I adored, but had sorely missed. My body-mind connection came back online in a big way.

I’m far from perfect in maintaining my concentration and still struggle with distractions because our modern lives demand overstimulation, but I’ve drawn a line in the sand. I’m personally making the effort to do things in a serial fashion, halting my natural tendencies to multi-task, and instead appreciating my activities in a singular fashion. By allowing myself to savor the process I’m finally feeding my hunger for true satisfaction. It’s amazing and I can’t imagine going back to my old ways.

Photo © Gabriel Novo

Chaos is my Co-Pilot

Chaos is my Co-Pilot

I take for granted my intimate relationship with uncertainty. It’s such an integral part of who I am that I often forget most people don’t have the same connection. When discussing uncertainty with others I’m always surprised by the terror of the unknown that so many carry within them. This fear is an alien concept to me. Life has no script or predetermined path. The routines we establish through habits and geography are only to disguise the chaos. I try to be understanding of their dread, but it is a struggle to put myself in their shoes.

My early life was forged in the fires of perpetual change where my hard-earned talent for adaptation was developed. I went to 5 elementary schools across 2 countries before hitting middle school and the only reason I went to a single high school the entire 4 years is because I was enrolled into a Magnet program. Thrown into the deep end was an understatement. I was the eternal new kid with no shared history and vastly different life experiences. My options were to retreat into myself and transform into a quiet loner OR explore every new situation with eager enthusiasm and inject myself into every possible social situation I could muster. Guess which path I chose.

Since I’ve operated with a relentlessly adventurous spirit for decades it’s damn near impossible to give into the fear I see around me. That’s not to say I lack fear. I’ve been afraid numerous times throughout my life. The walk towards someone you’re attracted to for your first conversation. Dark nights spent in a hospital room listening to machinery beep and whir around me. Making a real change in my life when the status quo would’ve been incredibly easy to maintain. The only difference is that I refuse to let fear control me. I’ve seen the results of a life paralyzed by fright. Someone who views the world in an unending stream of NOs instead of being filled with the possibilities of YES.  It’s a sad and pathetic existence. My personal nightmare would be a life trapped by anxiety, alone with panicked thoughts in a prison built by my own dread and no connection to the world.

That’s why I embrace the uncharted and let go of as much trepidation as I can. Anyone who has left a mark on history did so by embracing the unknown with fervor. I hope to one day leave a legacy I can be proud of, not one filled with regret and hesitation.

Photo © Gabriel Novo