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

Swimming in Shallow Water

Swimming in Shallow Water

For several months now I’ve had a vague feeling gnawing at my insides. An unnamed anxiety which would manifest during the quiet in-between moments of life like the ringing in your ears while laying in bed late at night. It has made me uneasy and irritable. Quick to snap with a sarcastic barb when a kindness would have been preferred. I tried to pin down the source of this emotion with little success.

It wasn’t until reading an article by Penelope Trunk—a brutally honest writer who tears into herself as deeply as the topics she discusses—that I began to understand what was bothering me. Throughout my adult years I wore many hats at an expert level. Being an expert IT Consultant paid my debts and financed my lifestyle for a decade and a half. I was also an expert in being myself, having inhabited my adult skin with confidence and ease. Which is why Penelope’s words struck me right between the eyes when I read them.

Nobody Likes Beginnings - Penelope Trunk

Not only had I shed the life of a confidant and capable IT Consultant for that of an Indie Book Editor, but I had also discarded my old sense of self. The Married Man was now adrift and alone in the world. The Ambitious Corporate Climber had been burned out revealing a Curious Artist underneath.

The roles I had played for years were no longer available to me. I was forced to wear the scarlet B of Beginner and I did not like it. It’s a vulnerable and unsure role. You can’t be the person you want to be when you’re a Beginner. You’re not cool, calm, or collected. You’re frantic, frazzled, and fucked.

So the agitation chewing on my guts came from my return to Square One. I don’t usually mind beginning anew when there’s some sort of foundation in my life, but EVERYTHING that I was, and considered myself to be, got torn away. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

I find myself floating in the sea of uncertainty. The last time I tread these strange waters was  high school, the lovely social experiment disguised as preparation for adulthood. This is not a fun mental or emotional space to occupy. Intellectually, I understand the differences between my current situation and my past, but the anxieties are similar enough to trigger a flashback to more turbulent times.

Both periods shared a lack of control over my agency. Both had the requirement of patience for things to fall into place. Both experienced isolation. Throw in glasses and a bad haircut and the only thing separating the two moments are my wrinkles.

It’s bizarre to wear skin you thought had been relegated to deep storage long, long ago.  I’m much better at dealing with the inevitable awkwardness, but the lack of control is still a bitter pill to swallow.

Photo and Image © Gabriel Novo, Quote from Penelope Trunk

Patience and Perspective

Patience and Perspective

I pride myself on a level head and calm approach in hectic situations. It’s a skill that served me well during the chaotic technology work of infrastructure migration and helped me survive many personal tribulations. I’ve honed my ability as best as I can over the years yet whenever I think I’ve mastered this particular lesson in Life it reappears with a vengeance to show me what a novice I truly am and remind me that every situation has a next level.

One specific truism which has been beaten into my head this past decade is that everything, and I mean everything, takes much longer than anyone expected. It’s an especially difficult pill to swallow when our lives as a whole seem to be moving towards instant gratification in almost all aspects. I can pick up a phone and video call a friend in Japan without hesitation, but five years after my battle with cancer I’m still picking up the shattered pieces of my life. Anywhere I am in the US a package can reach my front door in two days, but I can’t remember what a healthy romantic relationship feels like.

The farther away I get from the parts of my life I cherished, the longer I sit in these painful stretches of time before I can get back to living, the harder it becomes for me to endure the waiting. I thought my encounters with illness and death had given me sufficient perspective to weather these storms, but there are moments where my hard earned knowledge crumbles in the face of unknown timelines stretching into the distance.

You can’t even complain because every day it’s the same story and the only thing which will change your predicament is what you’re already waiting to happen. Not to mention, you’ve done everything you can to speed up the process. When things are out of your control the only option left is to grin and bear the delays.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here. Perhaps it’s an impotent scream into the uncaring void because little else has worked and I need a release valve. Perhaps there are those similarly becalmed who wish life would return to joy and see camaraderie in my words. Perhaps I need to see my struggle on the page before I am able to fully process this period of my life.

Photo © Gabriel Novo

Hibernation or Starvation

Hibernation or Starvation

My post-cancer years can be best summed up with a single word: survival. I survived a horrible disease. I survived the side-effects of my treatment. I survived the financial devastation of medical bills and forced unemployment. I survived the emotional damage such an ordeal wrecks upon yourself and your loved ones. I survived my body betraying me.

Notice I don’t use the word thrived. I made it through the gauntlet, but I’m far from restored. Like a man rescued on the edge of a desert inches from death I’m pouring water back into my body with shaking arms. I still carry around the pieces of my former life. Every so often I shuffle through the jagged shards looking for something resembling the familiar, but I always toss them back inside the bag.

I’ve considered these last two years my hibernation. I’m holding out until Spring returns to my world and I can rejoice in the explosion of new growth. But it has been a very long Winter for me. I’m struggling to stay warm and notice the cold more each day. It reveals itself in innocuous ways such as a sudden listlessness or unexplained lack of focus. The symptoms creep up on me and compound into a general malaise.

I’ve noticed these changes. Not at first, but now they’re undeniable. My hibernation has slowly transformed into a starvation of self. My life has not reconstituted itself despite my efforts, so instead I continue in a low-powered state of being and with nothing feeding my fires the hunger turns into hollowness. I watch the starvation progress like a slow-motion accident, the horrible outcome is apparent, but I can’t prevent it, at least not as I am now.

I pour myself out into the world hoping it jumpstarts my rejuvenation. Nothing has yet sparked. So I wait. And I starve.

Photo © Gabriel Novo

Sum of your Parts

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