A Tri-State of Mind

A Tri-State of Mind

I am utterly enamored by the uncertainty of travel. No matter how much you prepare, no matter how much you plan, the moment you step outside your home and into the world literally anything can happen. I’ve met fellow travelers who were paralyzed by this fear of the unknown. I’m the exact opposite and instead thrive on this sense of the unknown in ways I still don’t fully understand. My body hums with the electricity of infinite possibilities and I open up my senses as far as they’ll go, hoping to key into everything. That’s why I was excited to ride the rails for 20 hours on an Amtrak train going up the East Coast.

There are a multitude of reasons that someone would subject themselves to such a grueling length of travel. You could be escaping from something, using distance as the solution to an insurmountable problem you were leaving behind. You could be searching for something, hoping the difference in geography would provide the answers you desired. You could be pursing something, an amazing goal that was bigger than the confines of your city or the borders of your state or even the edges of your country.

I was chasing down a dream I couldn’t shake loose, no matter what was thrown my way. Which is why I was speeding along railways at 110 mph in the middle of the night surrounded by strangers with their own reasons for the journey. It’s why I’ve logged roughly 4,300 miles on the road, across 9 cities and 6 states, since 2015. There’s no static way to achieve big things. You gotta keep moving.

So, I’m moving like a man possessed. I gotta get my indie publishing company to the next level, one where you can buy our books in every bookstore, airport bookshop, warehouse club, and anywhere else fine books are sold. Digital only wasn’t enough. Regional printing wasn’t enough. I need to have our books coast-to-coast and in every English speaking country we can find on the map. I was never content with the small stuff.

Now I’m in a colder climate and a cozy home. These are early days, but they are optimistic ones. The heavy lifting should be done by the end of the year. After that… if I’m being honest, I always plan to cross the finish line, but I haven’t given a thought to what comes later. Then again, uncertainty is kinda my thing.

Photo © Gabriel Novo

I’ve Been Knocked Off Course

I’ve Been Knocked Off Course

2018 should’ve marked my 18th year as a professional in the Information Technology industry. I also would’ve celebrated my 15th year of marriage to a woman I loved. I’m supposed to be entering the reliable phase of my life when expertise and experience create a steady trajectory for the next couple of decades.

Instead, 2018 will mark 6 years after cancer shook my soul like an Etch A Sketch and I’ll celebrate 3 years of escape from both the burnout of IT and a relationship which had sadly turned toxic. This is far from where I expected to be at this point of my life.

No one can avoid ALL the bumps along the road, so eventually you catch a bad break and have to recoup. I’ve started from scratch several times in my life: moving to Charlotte for Microsoft, moving to the UK for what I thought was the start of an overseas adventure, and then retreating to the West Coast when that endeavor spectacularly fell apart. This doesn’t include the lesser, but still brutal, hiccups mixed into the bunch: Chicago, Aventura, and Northern Virginia. I’ve become a goddamn expert in picking up the pieces after all these years. Yet even with those hard won lessons under my belt I was still blindsided by fucking cancer.

These days I’m dealing with my second full-scale reboot since being visited by the big C. It’s exhausting. Support systems have dwindled. Resources are taxed well beyond their limits. I called in all the favors I had, scrounged for a few more, and am still nowhere near to getting back onto my feet. This is fucking ridiculous. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been knocked down, but more like knocked out.

Then there are people in my life yelling at me to just man up and get my shit together. Really helpful nuggets of wisdom. You can practically taste the toxic masculinity. It doesn’t matter that I’ve switched careers or am building a business from scratch. That’s obviously not good enough. I need to do things on their terms in the ways that worked for them because, of course, that’s the ONLY way you can succeed. More pearls.

The aforementioned advice I received opened my eyes to the rarity of someone having suffered through real physical vulnerability. To have their body betray them, repeatedly, and subject them to the horrors of a rampaging disease. Financial and professional hardships are a fucking cakewalk compared to having your sense of self ripped away by debilitating pain, potent drugs, and the constant specter of death. Lying awake in the darkness, listening to the beeps of machines that keep you alive, with no control over your own destiny is pure vulnerability. Many people don’t understand what it takes to come back from the brink of such an ordeal.

I’m square in the middle of that resurrection journey. The boring middle with nothing but slog ahead of me and slog behind me. It’s a desert of tough choices and zero guarantees. I have no idea what I’ll look like at the end of this phase in my life. I’ve burned away so much inessential bullshit that I know it’ll be a streamlined version of myself, but what remains of me is still a work in progress inching slowly towards a more authentic self, one that won’t allow the chaos to infiltrate.

We don’t talk about the need for continuous reinventions as much as we should. If it’s an underdog tale that fits the socially acceptable narrative then we’ll see TED talks and all sorts of inspirational videos culled from the experience. Otherwise, we repeat survivors of life’s little catastrophes, are pushed to the side and told to keep quiet. We don’t fit the common narrative. We can’t be whittled down to a simple adage that looks good on a t-shirt.

Fuck it. I’ll keep yelling my story from the tops of buildings. Maybe someone else dragging themselves to the reboot button for the umpteenth time wondering if they’ll ever get back to stability will hear my shouts and know that they’re not alone.

It takes longer than anyone expects to get back on your feet. It may even take multiple attempts, but we’re strong motherfuckers who refuse to give up despite the kicks to the teeth. We’ll do it the way that works for us and give a one-finger salute to anyone who tells us we can’t.

It’s not exactly a war cry, but it’s a start.

 

Photo © Gabriel Novo

What Do You Say When You’re in the Middle of a Marathon?

What Do You Say When You’re in the Middle of a Marathon?

I’m neck deep in the least sexy part of the creative process: the never-ending middle. I’m far from the exciting beginning, which is always full of hope, and just as distant from the satisfying end when it all comes together successfully. This is the desert of the middle. All I see around me, for miles and miles and miles, is nothing but sand. I know that if I don’t keep moving I’ll die on these dunes yet it’s so fucking hard to stay motivated.

Other parts of my life are stuck in the deadly middle as well. Rebuilding post-cancer, post-marriage, post-IT has taken so much longer than anyone expected. If we keep going with the desert metaphor then I’m finding myself increasingly sandy these days, both in temperament and physicality. I’m easily irritated and quick to lose my patience. I feel weary from the constant grinding of my body and mind.

On top of all that, it’s a boring part of the journey. Not because the work lacks excitement, but because it’s the same kind of work, day in and day out. Every time I’m asked What did you do today? I have the same damn answer: Worked on manuscripts, author meetings, and maintaining the business. It doesn’t change. It hasn’t changed for years now. This is the part of building a business and career that no one talks about. Or when they do talk about it, others quickly lose interest and move onto something else.

The bitch of it all is that this is an utterly essential part of getting anywhere in life. You HAVE TO GRIND to achieve your goals. There aren’t any shortcuts. There are plenty of ways to make things more efficient or quicker or smoother, but you still need to put in every ounce of work necessary to carry your dreams all the way to fruition.

I know once this is all said and done, I’ll have plenty of stories about the scrappy beginnings and gratifying ending. The drudgery of the middle will fade from my memories along with all their anxiety, frustrations, and moments of despair. I get to keep the good parts while excising the mundane.

I guess this post is part shout into the void and part memento, so that if I ever decided to aim for something grand again I’ll know to expect the pain of the long-suffering middle.

Photo © Gabriel Novo

Shot of Whiskey

Shot of Whiskey

I’m tired of watering myself down to become weak tea for someone else. Oftentimes in my life I’ve operated at a diluted strength because when I opened myself up to others at full potency I was attacked by a chorus of:

…too cerebral or too emotional or too polite or too vulnerable or too passionate or too loud or too vulgar or too…

It’s frustrating when you hear people constantly complaining about a lack of authenticity in their relationships (lovers, friends, etc.) yet when faced with a taste of real authenticity they quickly realize they were enamored by the “idea” of it all and not the work necessary to be genuine themselves.

Being self-centered, shallow, and emotionally stunted is a piece of cake. That takes zero effort to accomplish and goes down smoothly like a saccharine wine cooler.

Clear communication, self-awareness, emotional maturity, a commitment to being vulnerable with a willingness to fail and then learn from the experience is much more difficult. You have to boldly be yourself whenever possible while retaining the ability to adapt as you grow through life. That requires ongoing dedication and has a bite like a shot of aged whiskey which, I admit, can be an acquired taste, but is worth it in the long run.

I’m naturally a chameleon in my social life because, honestly, I love people from all walks of life. I don’t plan to change that aspect of myself anytime soon. What I have become aware of—far too late in the game—is that such an openness to the world, while good for the soul, is not a sound approach for those you want closest to you. Those who you let inside have to be at the same proof as you. They can be shots of vodka or rum or bourbon, but they have to be as fiery and as complex a taste as you. Otherwise you’re setting yourself up for disappointment in the best of scenarios and a wasted life in the worst case.

I’ve burned enough years on the wrong people. I’m done hoping others will embrace my values or thirst for life with the same fervor. If they aren’t already humming along my frequency then I can’t continue to expect them to meet me there.

 

Photo © Gabriel Novo

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