Unlearning in the Time of Quarantine

Unlearning in the Time of Quarantine

When the world goes quiet and you’re forced to sit still with yourself, absent any distractions for the first time in a long while, the background noise of your mind stops humming and transforms into intelligible words. If you’re brave enough (or bored enough) you can listen to what your brain has been subconsciously yelling for years. This is the situation that I find myself in now.

We all like to believe that we’re well-adjusted people trying our best to get through the day. Our edges aren’t too sharp. Our broken bits aren’t that bad. We’re making it work. But just like someone wearing the wrong glasses, when we finally put on the correct prescription, it’s incredible how what we had accepted as normal was so wretchedly fucked.

I thought I had escaped most of my trauma relatively unscathed. I’d survived the scary parts, licked my wounds, and just kept swimming. I should be good now, right? I think you know where this is going.

There are parts of me which I hadn’t realized were badly damaged or, even worse, missing altogether. One casualty, which was a shock to admit, was my ability to communicate. But Gabriel, you say, you’re a writer and editor, isn’t communication literally what you do for a living? Yeah, it is. I’m able to help others mold their words into the shapes needed to capture the magic of their imaginations. Yet when it came to my own words, my own imagination, something had been misfiring for years.

For starters, I hadn’t appreciated how my almost 2 decades in corporate IT whittled my writing down to a sharp point. My emails, and by extension text messages, had achieved a blunt level of directness which was rude adjacent. Gone was any nuance. I didn’t paint pictures or provide context outside of the bare minimum because the speed of my work forced an economy of language. Having such a problematic foundation meant that things could only go downhill from there.

Enter my ex. She was with me through my entire 20’s and nearly destroyed me in my 30’s. The end of our relationship was bleak in ways I didn’t know existed. Imagine being trapped in a jar (sans air holes) with a fly who had the temperament (and strength) of the hulk on a bad day. Things were so unstable those last few years that I felt like I was walking on never-ending eggshells, petrified that one wrong move would lead to another meltdown. When I finally escaped I was terrified of anything dragging me back into that vortex. This fear translated to my online writing. I kept things vague because I didn’t want her to find a reason to engage with me. The few times she did it twisted my stomach with panic. I lost the power of specificity and much of my writing ended up sounding like platitudes and proclamations instead of a human trying to share their own heart.

This painful combination of scenarios birthed the most useless method of engagement: ambiguous terse conversation.

No wonder my writing fell flat. No wonder it failed to connect with anyone.

It was the equivalent of hiding in a cardboard box while shouting from a megaphone. I was a garbled mess who was afraid of the outside world seeing me. 

Something’s gotta give. Either my fear goes or my ability to write does because I can’t keep living in this ineffectual half-space. I’m hopeful that by being brutally honest in this post it helps me reunite with the writer I once was and is a first step in healing these long suffering wounds. 

*fingers crossed*


Photo © Gabriel Novo

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

Making Changes

Making Changes

This version of Cuban Nomad has been alive for almost a year and a half. That’s 15 posts totaling 6,977 words across roughly 17 months. That’s not a very good run. I could’ve done better, but I’ve struggled to rediscover the focus on this little patch of web which has mirrored my own real life struggles to find focus.

Like I talked about before, being in the middle of a long term goal can cause you to lose your bearings. The sameness of the work eventually seeps into the rest of your world and makes you question everything. By becoming aware of this larger systemic issue in my life I’ve begun to get a better handle on maneuvering  around the obstacles. So things are going to change around here in order to help me make this blog worth the creative energy and deserving of your readership.

Stepping Back from Social Media

I’m uninstalling the apps from my phone and redirecting those lost hours to, honestly, anything else is better than the black hole of social media. I understand that it’s a marvel of technology which allows us to communicate across the globe with other like-minded people. I also understand that it’s engineered to commandeer your attention and make you spend as much time as possible on its hamster wheel so that you will see more ads. Fuck those ads. I’m tired of the constant bombardment of shit I don’t need, services I don’t want, and whatever other random crap passes for a “promoted” post these days. I can’t allow that junk to continue cluttering up my headspace.

This doesn’t mean I’m deleting my accounts on Instagram or Twitter. My work commitments on social media will still be the same as well. I’m limiting my interaction to desktop websites (for a set amount of time) or a social media management dashboard (for work). These shifts in how I ingest social media will hopefully keep the forever hungry monster from eating all my willpower.

Mailchimp and Substack

When I revived the blog I had disabled Mailchimp’s post subscription service because I didn’t want my recovery efforts to trigger an onslaught of email for my readers. The funny thing is, that I never turned it back on. I don’t know why I never reactivated the functionality, but it’s stupid to make this site difficult to enjoy, so I’m turning the service back on and I’ll setup a new widget for smooth signups.

I started using TinyLetter a while back and had even sent out a couple of messages through their service, but I had to consistently fight with the interface in order to get the emails to display with decent formatting. Even a casual missive, which was the point of using service in the first place, became an uphill battle. I’m now switching over to Substack. Yes, it’s a paid subscription newsletter service, but they allow for free options and that’s what I plan on doing for now. The interface is much more enjoyable to use which will translate into more letters sent. I’ll shoot one last message to my TinyLetter readers informing them of the migration to Substack, but you can sign up now through this link.

The whole point of the newsletter idea was for a less formal, more conversational style of communicating with my readers. Maybe that style will eventually make its way back onto the blog itself, but for now I like the ability to be more off the cuff and intimate.

WordPress Theme

The company that created my WordPress Theme is no longer in business which means no more updates or improvements. It’s been a fun theme, but I keep hitting issues I can’t get around with my limited coding knowledge, so my solution is to move to another theme. I’m looking at a couple of Sculpture Qode options that are quite snazzy. I plan to make the renovations in the next week or so. Probably over a weekend. If you come by during that time and shit looks weird, that’s why.

Digital Self

With no Facebook account and limited Instagram and Twitter interaction, Cuban Nomad will become the main representation of my digital self. Just like me, this digital self is in a state of transition and trying to determine what the next phase of its life will be.

I thank you for reading this far and thank you if you subscribed. This is a weird creative experiment and I hope it  brings a little joy into your life or a little clarity into your headspace.

Photo © Gabriel Novo, *some links are affiliate*

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