Learning Too Much: Where I’ve Been Lately

I haven’t written much here for a couple of months, and I could say the easy thing here and tell y’all that going back to work has thrown our family schedule into chaos. That is true, and yet, it’s not why I haven’t posted. After all, writing on this blog reawakened my love for writing, and I enjoy engaging with family, longtime friends, new online friends, and those who stop in just once. When I love something, I squeeze it in where I can. So my silence here isn’t due to a new busy season of life.

When I started writing this blog, I envisioned it as a place to write down funny kid stories, maybe throwing in a more grown-up opinion piece or two. But to my surprise, what started pouring out were my opinions about issues within the widespread Church, my thoughts on social issues, book reviews (okay, that wasn’t all that surprising), and the occasional kid story. Now, removed from daily doses of American culture, and with my kids all in school, I could say my inspiration sources have dwindled. It’s true that I have remained unaware of several recent Christian kerfuffles (notice the lack of pertinent links to them), and that with the kiddos in school, the kid stories don’t pile up in abundant, bloggable heaps the way they used to. Those excuses don’t really fly, though. I come from a family of storytellers; we can get years of mileage out of almost nothing. I just held my kids spellbound last evening for nearly ten minutes telling the story of Ladybug, at 18 months, asking to watch “Eelo,” and me figuring out that “Eelo” meant “Ariel” from “The Little Mermaid.” (That’s the whole story, by the way. No plot twists. Ten minutes of giggles.) So I’m not out of material.

Here’s the reason: I’m learning too much.

We see propaganda about being "united" and "productive" everywhere. At first, this seemed quaint and ironic. Now, I'm indignant.

We see propaganda about being “united” and “productive” everywhere. At first, this seemed quaint and ironic. Now, I’m indignant.

When we first arrived in Havana, I spent the first couple of months on sensory overload. Everywhere I looked: colors! music! friendly people! an entirely different approach to government/society/life than I’ve ever seen! Cuba was exhilarating! Cuba was new! I knew almost nothing about Cuba! I could write funny little posts about confusing aspects of negotiating our way through a new place, and how I handle the constant surveillance. I could observe and report. I could even dip a toe into somewhat more serious social topics just from what I could see around town.

Now, my new position at work hasn’t taught me anything that’s any kind of state secret. Things get leaked that are way more hush-hush than anything I know or do. I could tell you what I do, and I wouldn’t even have to kill you, to paraphrase the tired joke. So I’m not clamming up because I know something you can’t know.

When I say I am learning too much, it stems from this realization: the Cuban story as I see it is not “the” Cuban story. Each person here has his or her own Cuban story; together they form a much more intricate picture than I ever dreamed of before we got here. I could try to paint myself as an expert on What Cuba Is Like Under (Raul) Castro, but I am not an expert. I wouldn’t even rank myself as a novice yet. I’m a pre-novice. I’m a beginner-in-training. Have you ever heard someone try to speak definitively about a topic, only to realize later that with a couple more pieces of information, you would have recognized the “expert” for the fraud (s)he is? That’s me, right now and maybe for the rest of our tour: the semi-permanent pre-novice.

What I mean by “learning too much” involves the lesson of having respect for the rights of the people I meet at work; I shouldn’t wrest control of telling their stories away from them, especially when I can’t even muster a wider audience for them than I (currently) have. Doing so would make me feel unprofessional, greedy, and callous. No, folks, I cannot rip their stories out of their hands just to give us all a little frisson of feeling that we “understand” life in Cuba.

The people I meet commit their lives to a course of action that, honestly, I think few Americans, few Westerners, can imagine. Forget saying anything about their First Amendment rights; there’s no such thing as free speech for anyone except the state-run news outlets here, and even their “free” speech is predicated on the assumption that employees will report about the Revolution and its leaders in a favorable light. Set the idea of “freedom of speech” aside for a minute. These people are aiming no lower than (untainted by adjectives or quotation marks) Freedom. Many lose jobs; get followed by officials charged with keeping an eye on them; face betrayal from trusted friends; are estranged from friends or family members; get arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. It’s impressive, and it’s weighty.

And their stories are not mine to tell, but they are mine to sit with, for now, at least. I know that moving forward, I will find ways to tell y’all my story, here in Cuba and wherever we end up. It probably won’t take me long to get my writing legs back under me.

In the meantime, please know I haven’t forgotten this place to virtually meet with you. I love writing; I love reading your comments. I’m not too busy; I haven’t hit writer’s block. I’m learning about the scope of the human story, from a Cuban perspective, and the part of that that turns out to be mine is what I’ll share with you, as soon as I can. Thanks for being patient with me, and for encouraging me to keep writing.

And next time, remind me to tell you about my new coffee-drinking habit.

Now, I’d love to hear your thoughts:

Have you ever needed to take a step back to more fully assess a situation before expressing your thoughts on it?

Who are some of the most determined people you’ve known? How did that quality irk you or inspire you?

 

12 thoughts on “Learning Too Much: Where I’ve Been Lately

  1. Don’t you think we should always fully take a step back and fully assess the situation before expressing our thoughts? However, we seldom do that. Your Pawpaw said that was why he used to smoke his pipe when he counseled people because he could always “fiddle” with it before answering a question or making a comment thus giving himself a period of time to think what to say. Not a bad idea. Usually we just spot off with the first thing that comes into our minds and that gets us into trouble. Many times we wish we could take back what we just said.

  2. Silence is not a bad thing if it is used wisely and used wisely sometimes is staying silent. I check everyday and look forward to whatever you decide to share and when.

  3. So thankful for the weight you feel about all that you see. I’m SO guilty of what you are avoiding. Mucho Respecto Freindito….

  4. Hello from the past! I was “Michelle Peak” back at Broadway, but now I go with my first and married names “Sydney Powell.” Remember me and my parents, “Ashli and Ira Peak”? What brings you to Cuba? Loved your piece. My husband, Phil Powell, works for the IU Kelley School of a Business and travels the world with students, arranging opportunities for them to consult with small third world businesses, giving the business a leg up and the students international experience. I call it “secular missions.” His next trip for students is to Burma. Curious about Cuba….Your kids are super cute! Would love to reconnect.

  5. Hello Jenn,
    I hope things are going well for you and your family. Winter is finally packing it’s bag here in Virginia and heading out. I don’t know if I ever told you this but my grandfather Allman was a man who I never saw angry and I never heard him cuss. He hit his thumb with a hammer once and all he said was that he was glad “it did not hurt worse”. One thing he would say whenever we told him something he did not believe or he thought crazy was “Aww Go to Cuba” It always seemed to be what he would say instead of saying Go to Hell. Anyway when we would tell him Cuba was a real place he never believed us. I think he died not knowing.

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