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WordPress and the Buddy System

NOTE: I’ve put off writing this post because I felt highly unqualified to talk about other people’s blogs. I’m always a bit worried that I will not describe it the right way, or not convey the message the blogger wanted, so please forgive me if I say something incorrect about your blog (this is why I’m keeping all descriptions rather short).

Back in university we had a buddy system that helped to pair-up new students with more experienced ones. In theory this was simple: the big buddy gives advice to the little one, shows him around the school, tells him what’s nice in the city, and warns him against some of the many traps of student life. That’s in theory, but in practice you can guess it’s not going to work exactly like that. Sometimes the big buddy never shows up, or does not have time, sometimes the newcomers end up helping each other more, and most of the time it’s an experience you share with more than just one buddy, as groups tend to form and mutual friendships emerge.

It’s easier with a buddy
Photo by Louids

A few days ago the dailypost blog encouraged bloggers to pair-up and find a blogging buddy to stay motivated and committed to writing more often. In some aspects this is similar to the buddy system of universities, as I think many ended up with more than one blogging buddy and we’re all still following blogs we used to like before. Anyways, I wrote all this to explain how I came up with such a diversified blogroll, so before this gets any longer I think it’s best just to list all the blogs:

  • Waitingforastart is the only person with whom I have a written agreement to being blogging buddies and judging by this profile we have a lot in common, so that was a happy coincidence.
  • You may have noticed that there has been a very nice improvement on the last posts, and that’s because Louids was so great that she agreed to illustrate them! An image is worth a thousand words, so her photos might really give something both pleasant and a lot more creative to this blog.
  • Sunil, Scriptorobscura,  and Lisa,  I’m not sure you want to be included in the blogging buddies but I thought I’d mention you here. These three blogs are interesting, entertaining, and instructive all in their own way.
  • So I think writing 101 letters is a challenge? How about 10’000 blog posts! This is the awesome goal of Yor Ryeter. The blog posts are diverse, nice, inspiring, and they often make you reflect on something or stimulate your creativity.
  • There’s a lot of blogs about writing, and bardicblogger’s is my favorite. Maybe just the way he explains things.
  • Kerrycharacters is a blog with descriptions of people who have been in the author’s life, even for a few minutes only. It sounds similar to what I’m doing and she writes beautifully.
  • Little Explorer loves “being curious about life and I love learning, thinking, analyzing, reading, discussing, seeing new places, travelling and meeting people from all over the world”. Sounds nice and so is her blog.
  • Beth Parks Aronson has three blogs, each with a different focus. I linked to my favorite one: a blog about lists that she does together with other bloggers. I like the way she answers the lists.
  • I hardly spend a day without listening to music. Apparently he can’t too: visit a song a day to discover or re-discover some very interesting songs.
  • Magsx2‘s blog has a bit of everything and lately I’ve mainly used it to get news about the floods near Brisbane.
  • Dara ‘s blog –Good at Life– is always very helpful to learn more about goals, relationships, etc.

All right, I’ll stop for now. There are many other blogs I read once in a while, so this list is bound to increase at some point. I just thought it was nice to mention why I put these blogs on the blogroll so you know what can be of interest to you before clicking!

I’m also trying to figure out how to make this blog a little more interactive (like I did with the section for your own letters, remember to use it some time, it’s for you 😉 ). Do you have any idea?

Letter 9: My Mexican Roommate

To motivate myself to write letters I had bought a batch of six international stamps when I arrived in Lisbon. Then on Wednesday morning my employer asked me to come back to Switzerland the next day. I still had two stamps that I hadn’t used: one of them was for the letter to Virginie, so there was only one left and had to decide quickly to whom I wanted to send it. I looked at my list of 101 names (actually 123 now, this gives me a little bit of choice) and decided it was a good time to send a letter to one of my former roommates in Montreal, Jesus.

The beginning of 2010 was a bit of a rough time in my personal life. I was living with my girlfriend and we just broke up the week before Valentine’s day, so I started looking for an apartment. One of the ads took me to a big apartment where 4 guys were living: three Mexicans and an older man from Ontario.

One of them quickly made a nice impression on me, he had a warm smile and just seemed really honest and down to earth. We chatted a little bit and when I asked him what he was doing for a living he said: “I’m a life coach, I help people to improve some aspects of their lives and get more out of living”. Now that was an interesting coincidence! My life felt like a mess and I was sure I’d appreciate any advice that would help me improve it. He also said “We like to party”. I was not a party-goer and neither were my friends, but this was a time when I really wanted to hang out with people, blow some steam, and avoid occasions to ruminate about what I could or should have done. Plus I did not have time to look for too many apartments and this one was just disorganized enough so I would fit in perfectly.

So you said you like to party? Hmm, I wonder
what’s my first clue.

So that’s how we met. When I moved in my new roommates gave me a hand to bring my stuff and furniture up the stairs, which is a nice way to make someone feel welcome. The guys really included me in their activities too, we went watching hockey, eating out for breakfast, etc. and when they talked about enjoying parties they weren’t lying. The good thing was that three Coors Light usually were enough to give me a surprising buzz. Of course we never stopped at three and our Sundays were often dedicated to untagging pictures on facebook and taking all the empty pizza boxes out of our rooms (we were not necessarily in shape to do a lot more, shame on us). Anyway, we created lots of nice memories (and some more shameful ones I admit) and this really was a catalyst in our friendship.

Of course we also did some more meaningful things, like playing soccer, making water fights in the apartment and making barbecue in Mont Royal. You know, things grown ups do. But there is something that really strikes you when you know someone like Jesus is that whatever he does, however insignificant something seems to be, he always looks like he’s having the time of his life. He used to tell me “If you act like you’re happy you’ll feel happier. Your brain does not know the difference”. I tried that and it works, the only hard thing is actually convincing you that you’re in a great mood, but once that small step is taken it’s very easy to feel this kind of “synthetized happiness”.

Water fight in the apartment?
At least we mopped the floor for once!

One of the best examples of this  is when the Montreal Canadiens won against Washington in the play-offs: he had not seen the game, did not know who the players were, and actually woke up because of the noise we made after the game (my roommates were heavy sleepers, there once was an earthquake and they didn’t even feel it), but now when I look at the pictures we took that night, he looks like a hardcore fan who had been waiting for this moment to show the world how happy he was. He’s in the middle of the other fans, just having a darn good time.

He also said: “When you want to laugh, laugh your heart out and you’ll see how great it feels. Incidentally, you’ll also laugh more often”. And he was so so right. I now surprise myself laughing out loud in front of a TV show even when I’m alone, and it feels really good.

These are not the only things I learned from him. He is one of the least judgemental persons I know. When he meets someone new he does not make any snap judgements – like I sometimes do- and talks to them to see if they have anything in common or if he can learn something new. Once a guy started talking to us on the bus. I’m pretty conventional when it comes to communicating in public transportation: no talking, except if you have to get information (or give information to someone). If a stranger talks to me it’s a bit disturbing and I just assume he’s disturbed. But my roommate wasn’t like that: he talked with the guy, and when he got off the bus said that he was cool. Second big lesson he taught me: “Try to learn from everyone you meet, a stranger is just a potential friend”. (I know I’m probably paraphrasing Will Rogers here).

We also had this cool system where we would share each other books that we liked. There’s a world of wisdom in some books, and I realize I’m quoting my roommate once again but I just found this post-worthy: I had given him one of my favorite books and when he returned it he said “There’s a saying that says that the person who lends a book is stupid, but even more stupid is the one who gives it back. Thanks for making me discover this book”.

Thanks for helping me grow man!
Photo by louids

Finally, here’s why it was more than fitting to write this letter to him (this is one of the most disorganized posts on this blog so far, but at least I did remember to put the most important point in the end for once). On his 29th birthday, we were in his room talking when I noticed a list of goals taped to his wall. Above, he had written “2010, the best year ever”. I asked him about it and here’s how he explained it:

“2005 was the worst year of my life. I was depressed for most of the year and never felt like my situation could improve. But on New Year’s Eve, I looked back and decided I never ever wanted to look back at a year again and feel like it had been a disaster. So I made a pact with myself that 2006 would be the best year of my life, and I came up with a list of goals that would serve as an indicator of how good the year had been.
Again, on New Year’s Eve 2006 I evaluated the year, and indeed it had been the best of my life. I came up with a new list for 2007, which turned out to be even better, and so on. If I complete most of what’s on that list, 2010 will have been the best year of my life.”

What an inspiring way to live! I have a list of life goals, but I never thought of making a list for each year, nor did I take time to reflect on the year that passed. Given that, it’s hard to know exactly how good or bad you’re doing. So the day after, I picked 10 items and made my own list. I vowed that 2010 would be the best year ever, and guess what? It has been!

How about you? Have you made a list for 2011? I’m curious to know how many people do (personally, I have not written mine yet).

A Nice Short Story on Gratitude

As I mentioned in a tweet I’m having a busy week, so not too much free time to blog, but I just happen to have a sweet short story to tell you.

My father and my brother were talking on the way back from a volleyball game (we played in the same team once). Their conversation naturally drifted towards hitchhiking, and my father said:

When I was studying in Besançon I sometimes came back home hitchhiking. (FYI we live in the French Alps, which is about a 220 km ride). One day, someone left me relatively close to the Swiss border, and nobody wanted to take me before crossing the border. I stood there for quite some time when a nun drove by. She didn’t stop but I saw she had the same licence plates from where we’re from so I just waved to say hi when she drove past me.

Then she stopped about 50 meters later. When I got to her car she said: “I saw in my mirror that you were not mad at me for not stopping, so I regretted what I did. Where are you going?”. I told her I was going back home and she took me in, drove all the way across Switzerland, and dropped me in France on the other side. That’s quite something.”

Photo by louids

Back to the context of this blog, there are a few things that this made me think about.

The first is the power of doing nice things. I know this sounds a bit cliché but it did get my dad a 200km ride.

The second is the lasting effects of gratitude. When my dad told the story, you could tell he was grateful that the nun stopped. Years later, he still feels good about this random act of kindness from a stranger, and the nun probably felt good about helping a young man get home. At least, she is still remembered 35 years later for what she did.

And the third thing is that gratitude is a two-way street. The nurse was grateful to meet a nice stranger (although some of you might say her actions were more the result of remorse than gratefulness) and showed it by doing something nice to him. And he is now grateful for that. He maybe even thought about writing her a letter 😉

Now before this gets any more philosophical I’m going to leave you with that story. Feel free to comment to tell us if you relate to it or if you have similar examples of random encounters like this one to share.

Cheers!

Letter 8: Virginie, My Former Landlady in Montreal

Sometimes a relatively small accumulation of details changes the course of your life in a major way. In my case, it made me meet Virginie. She is enormously important to me. She is the closest thing that I have to a grandma in Montreal and I often turned to her for guidance or an understanding ear when I faced a problem or a difficult situation. Yet, we owe our relationship to a series of small decisions working well together.

When I first arrived in Montreal, I set out to look for an apartment (it was not a challenge that scared me but I did not know the best places to look for, like craigslist. But I digress). I found an ad in the newspaper that really spoke to me (if there is such a thing). It talked about a former journalist who had travelled a lot, was renting two rooms in her house, and liked to cook for her residents. I guess what I read was: “Interesting person, my own room, and a home-made meal once in a while. Great let’s go!”.

In Montreal, you’re never far from a park!

So I tried calling the person (Virginie), but I never got any answer in the first two days. After some persistence I eventually managed to get a hold of her and arrange a visit. I liked the room and the place but it was out of my budget and she had other visits scheduled. It was no big deal, as I was going to move in with a gay couple with whom I got along well. Everything was in place for me never to see Virginie again.

But when I came back to my youth hostel she had left me a note, saying that if I liked the room, she’d keep it for me. She even cut a hundred bucks off the monthly rent! And she offered to come by the hostel with her car to help me with my stuff.  I did not know exactly why she had gone so much out of her way for a stranger like me, but I soon found out that she behaved like that on many occasions. That kind of altruistic behavior is just a part of who she is.

That’s the first important lesson I’ve learned from Virginie: when you do good things to someone, you feel much better about yourself. Incidentally, I tried to apply this principle with various results: I felt great helping an old man crossing the road, not so changed after giving a homeless guy some money and a meal, and worse after stopping for a pedestrian that did not thank me… nevermind, it’s still a good way to live (and another subject entirely).

During the three years I lived at Virginie’s place she’s really helped me grow, reflect on what I wanted in life, and taught me a lot on how to live a happy life. Maybe not happy but at least more fulfilling. Even after I moved out we saw each other regularly. My friends and family have all met her and said the same thing: she looks fifteen years younger than her age and she is incredibly smart and educated.

We're eating at Virginie's, yay!

The thing I enjoyed the most, and the way I learned the most, is when she cooked a nice meal and invited me to share it with her. She would tell stories of the famous people she interviewed, like Edith Piaf, or one of the many challenges she faced and how she dealt with it. When experiencing a tough situation, a break-up, or an occasion to celebrate, it was always nice being able to talk to her and listen to her stories. I also learned a lot about Quebec and its culture, which is very interesting.

I could write a post twice as long about all the things that make her a great person and why I’m thankful. But for now I just want to leave you with three other lessons I took from Virginie:

  1. Life is a bumpy ride, there will be ups and downs. But it is important to live every moment of it. Some of the worst moments of your life will actually help you later, you just can’t know it at the time.
  2. Life is fragile and short. The persons who are most important in your life might not be here tomorrow (I haven’t talked about the stories behind this lesson because they might be too personal). So cherish every moment.
  3. It is very important to be unconventional and take risks. Virginie has a rebellious mind, kinda like Harry Potter when he breaks all the rules. From being among the first Canadians to travel to communist Russia, to taking the Canadian flag down at a reception in France, she’s created some pretty awesome memories for herself and the people who were with her!

    Two TED Talks That Inspired and Motivated Me

    A funny thing happens when you start to focus on something: you suddenly become more aware of everything related to it. Kinda like when you think of buying a new car and seem to see it everywhere.

    The same thing happened to me since I started thinking about writing letters to the people who have influenced and helped me in my personal development. I started noticing books that talked about thank-you letters, quotes that alluded to gratitude, and videos like the ones I’m about to share with you.

    The first one is a talk from Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania about “positive psychology”.

    Just in case you, like me, are guilty of reading blogs during work hours and cannot watch it right now, here’s a very quick summary of the aspects of this talk that I think relate to this blog:

    Over the last 15 years, a science of positive psychology developed. The goal of positive psychology is to build on people’s strengths, understand how to improve their lives, and make them happier. There is a website you can go to www.authentichappiness.com, with tests to do to learn more about your level of happiness.

    There are three different happy lives:
    1. The pleasant life: having as many pleasures as possible and learning the skills to amplify them.
    2. The good life: When you are fully engaged in something.
    3. The Meaningful life.

    Then Martin Seligman talks about several different experiments he and his team designed to evaluate how each of these different types of happiness influences our lives. For example, he asked people to design a beautiful day and use savouring and mindfulness to enhance the pleasures. Then he would rate how they felt at different points after the experiment.

    But here’s why I think his talk is really linked to this blog: the gratitude visits. Here’s what gratitude visits are, in Mr. Seligman’s words: “Remember someone who did something enormously important that changed your life in a good direction, and that you never properly thanked. The person has to be alive. Your assignment is to write a 300-word testimonial to that person, ask if you can visit (don’t tell them why), show up at their door and read the testimonial”. He then adds “Everyone weeps when this happens. When we test people one week, month, or a year later, people are both happier. It is something that lasts”.

    Now that’s an encouraging fact! Although my blog slightly differs from this idea, I still plan to write testimonials, express gratitude, and say thank-you to people I probably never thanked properly. I’m not going to have time and money to fly to their homes and say what I want to say face-to-face, but the letters will be a good step in that direction, and should at least make some of the recipients of the letters happier. Let’s call it a step in the right direction.

    The second talk I want to share with you has just been uploaded on TED.com a few days ago, and the best word to describe it is… Awesome!

    This talk is less specifically related to what I’m doing in this blog. It is however, very inspirational for several reasons. Neil Pasricha, author of the 1000 awesome things blog tells us how awesome life can be. Despite the sometimes disheartening and awful setbacks we experience, there are hundreds of things to rejoice over. This talk is about gratitude.

    I related this concept to the letters I’m writing. After all, maybe what I’m actually doing is showing gratitude to people for the sometimes little things (according to them)  they may have done for me. Little, but awesome.

    And the second way I related this talk to my blog is the way he closes his speech: “The cashiers at your grocery store, the foreman at your plant, the guy tailgating you home on the highway, the telemarketer calling you during dinner, every teacher you’ve ever had, everyone that’s ever woken up beside you, every politician in every country, every actor in every movie, every single person in your family, everyone you love, everyone in this room, and you will be dead in 100 years.”

    According to this, he goes on saying that the best moment to enjoy life is now (you have to watch this video, it almost made me cry). Of course his main point is that there is no better time for living than right now, but I also understood it this way: you should not wait to tell the people around you that you care about them. If you have something important to tell them, do it now. You may not get the chance to do it in a week, or in a year.

    I had a neighbor who could have been on the list of people I’m writing to. He was a very intelligent and creative man, with tons of experiences and cool stuff to teach me. He genuinely cared about my development when I was growing up. He would take my brother paragliding, he used to take me fishing or catching crawfish, taught me how to build a fire. He made me meet older piano players and musicians that helped me improve my piano skills. But after a long depression and a divorce, he hung himself.

    My godfather was an awesome man too. He saved money to make sure I would go to college. He taught me that “true generosity is giving what you want the most to keep” (he had a garden and always gave the first vegetables he grew to his neighbors). He had climbed the highest summit of the Alps and had a successful career by the time he was 25. He was a someone who had great values and a great outlook on life. I learned all that from his wife, because he killed himself in a paragliding accident when I was 10.

    Both of these deaths have been big blows in my personal life. I cried for a whole day when my mother told me my godfather was gone. And I felt guilty of not having been there for my neighbor. He had always been there for me growing up, but I turned my back on him when he was going through the most challenging period of his life. I did not visit when he asked me to, I was busy doing other things.

    I’ve experienced other painful losses, but these are the two times I wished I had written, said hello, told these persons they were important to me before they died. After the sad events, there was no way to let them know that, and I had to live with what I had not said. That’s another great motivation for writing those letters. Everybody will die sometime, so the time to show gratitude is now.

    How about you? How do you usually show those around you that you appreciate them? And why not write letters to these people, as a start?

    Letter 7: My Portuguese Teacher From High School

    Portuguese Postal Services, just thought it fit well in this blog

    A couple of months ago we had a team building activity at work where we each had to present ourselves. One of the things we had to say was: “Who is important in your life”. As everyone else, I of course said “friends and family” but I also added teachers to the list. I have had a lot of great teachers and as you will see quite a few of the letters I’m going to send will be addressed to teachers.

    First a little background information: I was born in Brazil but never lived there and my native language is not Portuguese. Growing up I have always been interested in knowing more about “my” country (after all I do still have a Brazilian passport); but it is hard to truly understand a culture when you have almost no contacts with it and don’t speak the language.

    Then in high school I finally had the opportunity to learn Portuguese, but I didn’t take it. I instead chose a computing class I had no interest in because a friend of mine told me to take it. Two lessons here: #1 you know what you want, not the people around you, so don’t let their opinion influence your decisions too much, and #2 this holds true even if you secretly have a crush on the person giving you advice. As my former roommate once told me “If you live according to other’s opinions, you might someday realize that you do not know nor like who you are”. But I digress.

    Had I not spent a year abroad I would probably have kept going like that, thinking I would learn Portuguese at some point later in my life, and regret it now. But that year gave me the necessary distance to know what I wanted.

    And now let me tell you about motivation. When you want something bad, you know it because you’re willing to do things you’d not even consider otherwise. I bought a learning method (which is more like a small book and a tape… old school I know) and spent my summer trying to teach myself rudiments of Portuguese. It’s hard when you’re 16 to find discipline to study when all your friends are playing outside or resting from a long day of volleyball camp. But I had a purpose (now that I think of it I don’t know if I’ve had that kind of motivation for anything since then).

    Above all, the hardest part was going to class the first time. It was a small group of students who all already knew each other, and who were a year more advanced than I was. I’m not extroverted now but back then I was super shy, yet I still managed to go up to the teacher, explain my situation, and ask her to let me join the class. She did on the condition that my first grades were at the same level as the other students. I accepted the deal and soon realized I didn’t know anything. I was speaking in Spanish, couldn’t pronounce words correctly, and had no idea what the texts we were reading were about. My future in this class looked bleak.

    Usually I would have found a dozen reasons not to follow through but you know about my motivation. The teacher really did her best to integrate me, she was passionate about the Portuguese world and that really is the number 1 thing when you want to be interesting: be passionate about what you talk about. During the two years of having class with her I learned a great deal about Portuguese speaking countries, their histories, etc. I would so love to visit Luanda or Mozambique for example.

    The streets of Lisbon, my new daily walks

    Portugal has a really interesting history. This small country dominated the oceans and the world in the 1500s, and they have the most interesting revolution, the Carnation Revolution, particular by the fact that it was organized by the military and that they did not use direct violence to take power. I strongly recommend the movie April Captains, by Maria de Medeiros, if you can find a version in your language.

    5 years after taking this class, I found a job because I speak a little Portuguese, and my company sent me to Lisbon. Though I admit this is not my dream job and would rather be doing anything else, the experience of living every day in Portugal, eating out in little traditional restaurants, or walking in historical places is great and a unique opportunity.

    That’s why I wrote to my Portuguese teacher. Her classes were great, I loved going to them. And for the record, when you love what you do, things do become a lot easier: I finished the class with the best grades.

    Oh Thank Heaven for 2011

    Yay! After two weeks of running around in circles things are starting to straighten up enough for me to get back to this blog and update the situation.

    But first, as this year is still pretty new and fresh, allow me to wish you an excellent new year and I hope you’ll keep great memories of what is to come in 2011. This is also a good occasion to give a bit more “direction” to the blog and make it (hopefully) a bit more entertaining.

    So here are my “resolutions”:

    1. I have completed a list of 101 persons I want to send letters to, but I keep moving names around to avoid writing the “hard” letters, where I have to say that I screwed up and I’m sorry. Resolution #1: I will write those letters.

    2. There are a few blogs I enjoy reading once in a while, some of which I found by chance. Resolution #2: subscribe to these blogs and put them on a blogroll (they probably won’t get a lot of visitors from my blog but some readers might enjoy discovering them).

    3. Participate in postaweek2011. I will have to post every week anyways if I want to write all these letters.

    4. Letters are good but sometimes I will post more personal and unrelated posts. When I write a letter or put a portrait of someone I usually cut away all the bad memories to keep only the good stuff, but I can’t make the same promise for these posts, they will most likely replace therapy (which is where I might end up otherwise).

    5. I’ll put something new on twitter 5 times a week, even though I have no followers. It’s a good complement to the blog posts when you visit the blog.

    6. This very week I’ll open up a section where you can submit your own letter or portrait. You can put whatever you like (this includes a letter to your goldfish if you want). Only rules: a letter has to be written (not necessarily sent), and of course general wordpress rules (the content is not spam, no pornography, no violence, etc.). If I can get 1 person to write a letter by the end of 2011 then I’ll have contributed to something (try it, it gives nice results!).

    All right, that’s it for now, hope to see you on this blog again soon!