Sunday, September 13, 2015

souvenirs danois

In August 2015, I took off to Denmark for five days.  I had been invited by my friend Inga to join her, a group of her friends, and some friends of their friends in Vejby, a coastal town about 58 kilometers north of Copenhagen.  Given that it would be my first trip to Scandinavia, I was quite excited but mostly curious.  There was also the part of spending time with six people who I had never met that got me a little anxious, especially since they seemed to already know each other for the most part.  But they seemed like a friendly crowd from the e-mails exchanged within the group and Eglantine, who organized the trip with Inga, could not be more welcoming of my participation.  It was also great that we all lived in the Paris area.  I had the idea that since they were getting to Denmark before me to kick off the festivities, the least that I could do was to help in keeping the good vibes flowing once I arrived.

Here's a trip back to "Danmark", in photos and sketches.

Frederiksborg Slot, in Hillerød, was my first stop with the crew after meeting some of them at the Copenhagen airport and others at the Hillerød train station sometime later. We were eight in number ‒ Inga, Eglantine, Vincent, David, Christophe, Nilu, Olivier and myself ‒ to take on this castle, which is home to the Museum of National History.

The elegant grounds of the castle inspired me to bust out my sketchbook.  I produced this sketch at our picnic site, on a lawn that laid opposite to the baroque garden and that provided a nice view of the castle over the slotssø (castle lake).  If you could look inside the castle as I drew it, you could find the rest of the crew, in a room or several of them, busy admiring the museum's artifacts.

This was an interesting moment, during which I was discovered a small bit of Danish culture.  Two boys on bikes, probably teenagers, rolled up behind me on the lawn that I was sketching on, dumped their bikes against the trunk of a tree nearby, and walked away instantly, casually.  I watched them until they disappeared from sight.  Yet their bikes were neither locked nor fastened to anything.  I mean, nothing.  When I had finished sketching and was about to leave, some fifteen minutes later, the bikes were still there.  I observed similar situations several times during the rest of the trip, where bikes were parked in public places ‒ from the entrance of a famous site to the outside wall of a house on the street ‒ without a lock.

After a rich day of sightseeing, we made a stop near the beach in our neighborhood in Vejby to watch the sun set.  I quickly gathered that this activity had become a something of a tradition in our group.  Enchanted, Christophe, Olivier and Vincent were taking it all in.

The next day was notable for a visit to Louisiana, a.k.a, "the most beautiful modern art museum in the world", located in Humlebæk.  One of the highlights of our visit was an ambitious exhibition on Africa that presented remarkable multimedia, architectural, and sculptural works from artists of mostly African origin and with diverse points of view.

Playing volleyball ‒ or something resembling more or less volleyball ‒ on a sunny day in the water by the border of a beautiful museum is generally a tempting proposition.  Too bad I left my swimming trunks at home.

"Gleaming Lights of the Souls" by Yayoi Kusama is one of the main draws of the museum, hands down.  With me being enthralled largely by the seaside scenery of the museum's sculpture park, I would have missed this exhibit if I had not heard some members in our crew asking others "Did you see it?  Did you see it?" towards the end of our picnic.  Naturally, I was curious.  "See what?", I asked.  They could not describe it, or perhaps they did not want to describe it.  I understood that the only way out was to just go see the thing myself.

I felt the urge to sketch in a locale so beautiful.  Besides, I was amused with the idea of sketching at our picnic site, like I had done just the day before.  So I sat down at the top of the hill in the museum's sculpture park overlooking the Øresund and sketched away.  The coolest part was getting two countries in the same sketch.

On our way to Kronborg Slot, a.k.a. Kronborg Castle, in Helsingør, one of us had the great ability to notice our shadows all lined up on the grass.  I can no longer remember who it was but I thank him or her for letting us know.  I wanted to capture the moment, not expecting Eglantine's foot to feature in it.

Two days later.  Inga, Olivier, David and Vincent went off for their almost-traditional morning run.  Sometime afterwards, I was teaming with Eglantine and Nilu for a walk on the beach near the house.  To get there we had to descend this remarkably long series of stairs ‒ the same stairs from which we watched sunset on the day of my arrival in Denmark.

After days dedicated to visiting castles and museums, we spent most of our last full day in Denmark chilling at home in Vejby.  This break was just what I needed to embark on a panoramic sketch of the view at the back of the house.  The encouragements that I received from everyone who passed by while I drew only made the moment extra special.

Accompanied by Sylvine, who arrived at the house in the morning, but without Christophe and Nilu, who had already returned to France, we went off for a late afternoon stroll in Tisvilde Hegn, a forest near Vejby that was also the fifth largest in the country.  It was upon leaving this forest by the sea that I noticed this gem on the beach.

For the most of us, the next day was the last day in Denmark.  It was also, for some of us, an occasion to spend a few hours in Copenhagen before darting off to the airport for our flights back to Paris.  After we dropped Inga at Østerport Station and stored our baggage at the airport, I started my discovery of the city with a group stop at Torvehallerne KPH, a well-known covered market near Nørreport Station.  Needless to say, we had some of their pastries for a quick, impromptu brunch.

Something to lure me back to Copenhagen for a proper visit: a souvenir of Nyhavn, a canal that shares the name with the surrounding waterfront district.

Monday, August 31, 2015

exposure to annihilation


It was what I often felt before running an operation in public.  No matter how many times I had been through the very same operation in the past, under the very same conditions, those feelings of fear were always present and strong, instead of absent or at least weaker, as I had expected them to become over time.  Then, one day, I stumbled upon the following words:
Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.
At that instant, I was in love.  In love with these words.  I believed that they spoke the truth, albeit in a rather poetic manner.  After all, they expressed what I had experienced over and over again ‒ the fear of being exposed when I was about to launch an operation and the fear of getting annihilated afterwards, metaphorically speaking.  Yet in the end, it was quite the opposite, because I usually felt empowered as a result of my actions. Sometimes, the feeling went beyond empowerment ‒ it bordered on invincibility.  But only for a moment, naturally.

I had long attributed the words to Pema Chödrön, who wrote them in her book, "When Things Fall Apart".  It was only a few weeks ago that I learned that she may have been quoting Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, who had included the words in his book "The Way of Transformation".  So I went looking for the source and discovered the passage below.  Nothing but love.
The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive. Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it, thus making of it a 'raft that leads to the far shore.' Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

journée presque parfaite

I had hoped for a good day, but I was not expecting it to be that good.  I mean, this is a post that was not meant to happen.

It all started on Monday morning in Paris, on my way to work.  I took the metro, getting the opportunity to interact with a few commuters via Operation Metro.  Albeit startled (who wouldn't be?), they smiled and returned the "Bonjour!" when I greeted them.  The best part was that I had wasted no time before I got into the act.  I had not asked myself whether or not to do it, if people were already watching me or were going to watch me, or how weird it was going to be.  With an intense focus, I had simply jumped in and created the interactions that I had set out to create.  Afterwards, I picked up where I left off in my book of the moment: "Ces impossibles Français", Chapter 5, "Au rendez-vous des libertins".  I coasted for the rest of the ride.  My mind was at ease.

After the morning spent at work, I got back on the metro during lunch break.  I had decided to finish scouting Jardin des serres d'Auteuil, a botanical garden within a major greenhouse complex.   I had visited the garden for the first time only the evening before, to determine if it was a suitable location for a future sketcher outing.  Since I had to take three different metro lines to get there, I had three chances to run Operation Metro.  Yay!  Of course, I had my usual anxieties about deciding to stand out among passengers in the metro, but for the most part, I was looking forward to the opportunity.  By the time I got out at Porte d'Auteuil, the closest station to the garden, I had scored only two out of three points for the operation.  Why?  Because on the second leg of the trip, I had interactions that were more involved ‒ and more interesting.

Waiting for the metro at Charles de Gaulle - Etoile to begin this remarkable second leg, I noticed a very pretty girl standing nearby.  Then I noticed that the backpack that she was carrying was partially open.  Which provided an opening for me to go talk to her.  She was accompanied by another girl, but that was secondary.  If I hesitated for a second before approaching her, it was because I was busy appreciating this unexpected opportunity to accomplish Operation Insecurity.  Eventually, I went over.  I said "Bonjour", and followed with "Votre sac est ouvert" ("Your bag is open").  She verified it, smiled and said "Merci", and I left to return to the spot where I was waiting before.  Great.  Wait, I left?

The only thing that saved me from self-torture after this "hit-and-run", as my friend Sophie would say, was another interaction that took place in the metro after it had arrived and I had entered.  Mind you, I was still in Operation Insecurity mode, so I needed to approach another attractive girl to conclude.  As a result, Operation Metro was no longer applicable, and it got suspended momentarily.  In the metro, there was a pretty woman seated at a certain distance in front of me (I was standing).  She had a small backpack on her lap on which it was written "Keziah".  After the customary hesitation, I dodged a couple of passengers in order to reach her.  "C'est pour Keziah Jones ce sac ?" ("Is that Keziah Jones' bag?"), I asked, referring to the Nigerian singer and guitarist who actually became well-known in France for performing in the Paris metro.  "Non", she replied with a smile.  "Il est à mon fils" ("It's my son's").  I developed the Keziah joke some more and a conversation ensued, about the origin of the name, French and English languages, and the like.  In the process, she complimented my supposed French sans accent, whereas I did the same on her English (she was Congolese).  I found it even amusing that she asked me which French words tended to reveal my accent when I said them.  I admitted that some words with the "r" were problematic, and she inquired whether the "l" was also an issue.  I thought about it.  Indeed, my colleagues, all francophone, had once teased me during a meeting when I had said "les rules" (in a French manner), a word that had both "r" and "l" in it.  But I digress.  Eventually, the lady had to get off and thanked me for an enjoyable chat.  What she probably did not know was that I was just as thankful, if not more.

Scouting the garden (after I had eventually made it there) was blissful, just as the day before.  I took the opportunity to explore other areas and to ask the woman working at the entrance about picnic spots and restroom access.  But what really gave me the thrill, just like the day before, was standing on the border of Roland Garros complex, which is literally across the street from the garden.  I walked up this street on my way back to the metro station, gazing at parts of the rounded exterior of Court n° 1 that were not hidden from view by metallic bars and trees.  I was particularly drawn to the surface at the top of the court, on which there was a long series of names inscribed for successive years.  Names like G. Kuerten.  S. Graf.  M. Seles.  A. Agassi.  V. Williams.  S. Williams.  M. Navrátilová.  J. Henin.  R. Federer.  And R. Nadal, over and over again.  I imagined myself linked to these champions, appreciating the moment of being close to the history of the French Open beyond newspaper articles and television and computer screens.

I made the trip back to work via metro, bus and tram and the afternoon passed by.  The next delicious moment happened on my way out of the building.  When I got into the elevator to get to the ground floor, I was the only person.  I wondered if the elevator would stop at an intermediate floor.  And it did.  And then I wondered if the person about to enter would be male or female.  With a slight amount of nervousness, I hoped that the person would be not only female, but solitary as well.  And the person was.  She entered.  I said "Bonjour", she said "Bonsoir" in response.  As usual in these circumstances, I scolded myself for not using the appropriate greeting for the evening.  Yet I was too focused on this rare occasion to care much about appropriate greetings.  When the doors of the elevators closed, I turned to the lady and asked, "Vous venez ici souvent ?" ("Do you come here often?")  She replied, in a more or less serious manner, "Mais je travaille ici" ("Well I work here").  We both stared at each other for a brief moment, her facial expression more puzzled than mine.  An awkward silence set in.  We still faced each other, but we no longer had eye contact.  I noticed a faint smile on her face nonetheless.  A guy got in at a lower floor, but that did nothing to change the vibe.  On the ground floor, the woman got out of the elevator, then out of the building.  I lagged behind, reflecting on what had just transpired.  Needless to say, I was glad about it.  A bit troubled, but glad.

Since it was rush hour, I decided to try out Operation Rush Hour before entering the metro to go home.  I was already out on the street, and the lady from the elevator was nowhere to be found (even though I was not necessarily looking for her).  I spotted a group of three girls coming my way.  Hesitation.  Then I spoke to the closest one as I passed her.  "Bonjour, le mois d'août, vous passez vos vacances où en général ?" ("Hello, in August, where do you usually spend your vacation ?")  "Rwanda", she said.  Here was a reply, and even a reaction, that I had not expected.  In fact, I was expecting a mild form of repulsion (which only goes to show my comfort level with this type of activity).  But no, I was talking with a group of Rwandan girls.  We (they and I) got to know a little about each other, but it did not mean much since we dispersed within the minute.  Later on, I came across a woman who I found older and less attractive than the Rwandans but attractive nonetheless (call me a bit desperate), and stopped to quiz her on when the next public holiday was.  The ideas that I have sometimes.  But she was quite agreeable and played along.  Each time (out of two) that she suggested a holiday that fell on a weekend, I contested her response, saying that it did not count.  So we reached a conclusion that the next real holiday was on November 11, otherwise known as the anniversary of the signature of the armistice that ended World War I in 1918.  We then separated and I completed my journey to the metro, where I did not hesitate to run Operation Metro once more.  Pure joy.

Back at home, I announced an upcoming group outing to Jardin des serres d'Auteuil on the Paris Sketchers website.  I also wrote a first draft of this very blog post.

And to think that these events happened because I decided at each instant to take responsibility for loving myself.

May the most of the following days be similar, or simply presque parfaites.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

adventures in queueland

One of the most remarkable sights in Paris is that of people lining up for something.  And I'm not talking about lines to enter the Louvre Museum or to go up the Eiffel Tower.  I am talking rather about everyday situations in which an average Parisian would find himself in a line.  For example, a stop at the butcher's.  A visit to the bakery.  An outing at the movie theater.  An evening at a concert hall.  Keep in mind that the venues just cited can attract queues that are formed outside on the sidewalk and that for a number of them, such is often the case.  It seems that this occurrence is something that most Parisians have long accepted.  A reasoning that some of them may offer is that the sight of a line of people in front of the entrance to a shop is a clear sign that the products on sale in that shop are of good quality, and sometimes of very good quality.  So queues in Paris can be good.  Otherwise, they are most likely just a matter of too many people to be served and too few people to do the actual serving.  Sure, other cities that I have lived in (as well as those that I have not lived in for that matter) can boast their own queues and this for their own reasons, but I had not paid any significant attention to queues anywhere before moving to Paris.  They seem to be a part of life in this city.  Given the good chances of finding one in front of the butcher's shop on Saturday morning or another outside the bakery on Sunday morning, something had to be done.  I mean, seriously.

It was only a few years ago that I discovered that there was personal value in creating interactions with people, especially those unfamiliar to me, a.k.a. strangers, and started doing just that.  One Saturday morning, on my way home from the swimming pool, I noticed a line of people waiting outside the butcher's shop near my place.  I had often seen a line there at that time of the week without giving it much consideration.  I hardly shopped there anyway.  But, at that very instant, I was seeing beyond the line.  What I was seeing was a group of people with unfamiliar faces, each having a few minutes to spare (before the moment came to place his order) for something to happen (a little entertainment perhaps).  In other words, ladies and gentlemen, I saw opportunity.  And thus, Operation Queues was born.

Well, the birth did not happen so instantly.  While opportunity had been perceived, a natural process of experimentation had to take place before Operation Queues took form.  The very first question ("What to do?") after discovery of the opportunity was answered by simply going to somewhere in the middle of the queue and walking along it to the end, saying "Bonjour" to each person in line along the way.  As this approach was another way of saying "Bonjour", it started out as a new phase of Operation Bonjour.  Ultimately, it became clear that such a style of interaction deserved its own operation, even if it was only necessary to say "Bonjour".  So a spin-off was created.

With a set of rules, Operation Queues became more formal.  Among other things, these rules state that upon stumbling upon a queue that has at least 5 people in the process of everyday living, I am allowed to run the operation on the queue.  Doing so involves saying "Bonjour!" to between 5 and 10 people successively in a line within the queue.  If the line was disorderly ‒ in other words, not a line ‒ then it was not necessary to do anything special.  Since the judgment of line of people as disorderly can be subjective, I sometimes let my instincts decide the course of action to take.  Also, if I have to say "Bonjour" to people in the queue who know each other and who are huddled together, for example, a family or a couple, I generally consider all of them as only one person, unless the line was too short and I wanted to reach the target of 5 to 10 people.  In this case, I would greet as many members of the group one after the other as necessary.  Other boundaries, such as the number of times it is possible to run the operation on a regular basis (twice per week at most), were established to avoid acting too much like a robot.

I remember roughly the very first time I ran the operation.  It was at that same butcher's shop where I conceived the idea, and it was a Saturday morning.  Before I even got anywhere close to the shop, I was feeling very anxious about what I was about to do (I was not even 100% sure that there would be a queue).  A familiar voice within me kept trying to discourage me from doing something so weird, so ridiculous, and obviously so senseless.  It was a voice that kept reminding me that the majority of the people who frequented the shop at that time were elderly people and that I should not bother them with my antics.  But I was already hooked, haunted by an opportunity that refused to leave me.  In hindsight, I admit that what I wanted really was to seize the opportunity.  The opportunity to give life to yet another idea, to yet another operation, and, in the process, to myself.  There was no way out but to follow through.  Soon enough, I reached the butcher's shop and saw the queue.  With my nerves raging, I proceeded to do what I had set out to do.  When it was done, I walked away, without looking back.

The moments that followed were a blur.  Everything happened so quickly.  Getting to say "Bonjour" to the first person turned out to be the most difficult step, as I had to overcome the resistance of the inner voice that kept talking to get me to abandon.  After that "Bonjour", the voice calmed down and the resistance subsided, even though the operation was not yet completed.  I had the impression of being out of myself during the ordeal especially after it.  But more important than anything was the feeling of accomplishment.  It was undeniable, and I was still alive.  I was happy.

And what about the people that I "met" in the queue?  They did not seem to understand what was going on (maybe they did not like it).  For the most part, they did not return the "Bonjour" nor did they do anything particular in response.  Some, especially those who had probably seen me carry out the operation earlier in the queue, made little or no eye contact when I approached them.  Besides, I was too focused on running the operation in the simplest possible way, and, as a result, I did not wait long enough for anyone to give me a reply.   I simply moved on the next person.

Over the past few years of running the operation in places such as bakeries, cinemas, museums, libraries, cafeterias, restaurants, and nightclubs, more often outside than outside, I received a small range of reactions from queue filers.  On average, most of the people returned the "Bonjour", sometimes with enthusiasm, at other times with indifference.  Other people just ignored me or even looked away.  Very rarely did a conversation ensue.  When one occurred, it was usually because I had taken the initiative to engage it with the person.  Attempting to make conversation ‒ a conversation with an opening sentence chosen on the spur of the moment for that matter ‒ was in fact an enhancement added to the operation along the way to make things more interesting, and it was only with the last person approached that I did so, for practical reasons.  Even then, every attempt did not always lead to a conversation.  Some people were just not keen on talking, perhaps because they did not know me.  Or maybe because I was doing something unexpected.

Granted, my own attitude has a lot of influence in the reactions that I get from people in queue.  The more enthusiastic and engaged I am during my interactions with them, the higher the likelihood that they will respond in a similar manner.  At least, that is what I believe.  On the other hand, if I am simply running things by the book just to get the task over with, I cannot expect to feel or give much joy during the interaction.  And here lies a great challenge that I face in this operation.  Bringing enthusiasm and engagement.  The only challenge greater that I see would be having people that I know and that know me participate in these interactions.  On that note, I am beginning to entertain the idea that with great challenge comes great opportunity.

And why all this fuss about queues anyway?  It is probably because I see in them a way for the individual to maintain or regain his freedom while still being a part of society.  Other than that, I sometimes feel like being a little different when I find myself in a group of people that seem to be doing more or less the same thing, especially when this "same thing" is expected.  It turns out more often than not that honoring this feeling is good for my health.  And if there is a possibility of having a positive effect on someone else in the process, even for one second, then that is just great.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

why i love paris (9)

Shortly after 9am on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, I joined fellow Paris Sketchers in front of Shakespeare and Company, the famed English bookstore on the left bank of the Seine river, in Paris.  Brigitte had organized an exclusive sketching session there, to start an hour before the bookstore was open to the public and notably to the tourists.  It was an event that I could not miss, especially since I had personally attempted almost a year before to obtain permission for a group of us sketchers to draw there.  I had not gone very far in this initiative, due to complications of having about a dozen people drawing in a commercial venue that was also iconic, somewhat confined, and often crowded, with visitors outnumbering shoppers.  Luckily, Brigitte, who had recently become a Paris Sketcher, decided to take up the challenge all on her own, as if it was a natural thing to do and without knowledge of my previous efforts.  And it was a challenge that she pulled off with gusto.

It was so cool just walking to the bookstore that morning, from the Cité metro station, past Notre-Dame, and across the Seine.  Surely, the half-day off from work was a big reason for that.  Also, there was the old yet pleasant feeling of being in the heart of Paris.  I may have lived in Paris for more than eight years, but I can still be delighted at the idea of rediscovering a popular part of the city.  Like a tourist.

It was even cooler joining the ten or so sketchers who had showed up on time in front of the bookstore.  Brigitte, Sophie, Martine, Marion, Blandine, Béatrice, Gu, Claire, Joelle, and Constance, who I met for the first time.  The moment felt special, as if we were about to set out together on a secret mission.  Soon enough, the bookstore was open and we filed in.  Eriko arrived just in time, before the door was closed.  I wondered if latecomers would be allowed in.  Then my attention shifted to what was happening inside the room.

We were given a warm welcome by Camille, a store representative and our contact person for the day (who would in the next hour come around to offer us coffee ‒ nice!!!), before we set off scouring the different rooms and hallways across the two floors in search of something worth sketching.

I started things off in a room on the top floor whose walls were bordered for the most part by shelves filled with books, books, and more books.  A door leading to a somewhat hidden room and a window providing a view of Notre-Dame completed the wall decor.  Several sketchers, notably Blandine, Martine, and Constance, had already taken up their spots and were indulging in a chatter as they drew.  I saw some space on a long bench and settled myself there.

It was only when I had finished ‒ around 10am ‒ that I realized that I should have spent the visitor-free hour on the ground floor, which tended to be more crowded because everyone passed by there.  Besides, that was where the cash registers were.  Trying to make up for the missed opportunity, I rushed downstairs.  Even though the store was already open to the public, even though groups of passers-by had become a constant occurrence, I was dead set on making my second sketch there.  Giving me hope was Brigitte, who I found seated on the ground in a room near the entrance, with her large sketchbook wide open and its pages adorned with a variety of colors.  I told her about the situation that I was in and, to my astonishment, she managed to find me something to sit on!  She ended up pulling out a stool that was underneath a nearby table, but in a way that let one think that she had not known it was hidden there.  It was like magic.  Enthralled, I tried to show my gratitude by sketching some of the view that she was already giving the watercolor treatment.

2 hours, 2 sketches.  I was quite satisfied with my pace.  Lunch was scheduled for 12:30pm in La Bûcherie, a restaurant very close to the bookstore, which meant that I could easily embark on a third sketch.  There was a small room on the top floor with a piano that everyone (or so it seemed) had sketched in.  I had dropped by earlier for a quick tour and it did look interesting indeed.  So I went back upstairs to try my luck.  Once inside, I was lucky enough to find a spot facing the piano, on the other end of the room.  I was not without company.  Eriko, Lionel, Gu, and Blandine were also present.  Some non-sketchers came by or were already there, to look around, to browse through books, or to read more comfortably seated next to us.  A curious few engaged in conversations in English with a sketcher or two.  All the while, I drew on, amused.

Around 12:30pm, I thanked the staff members that I saw and stepped out of the bookstore.  The (relative) calm that was present outside in the morning had long disappeared, which was hardly surprising.  Most of the sketchers were already there and I accompanied them to the restaurant.  There were about 15 of us to accommodate, including Camille, but the waiters made it work.  At the table, we passed sketchbooks around, commenting here and complimenting there.  It was a nice way to wrap up a fantastic experience ‒ at least for me, who had to leave the restaurant before the others, saying goodbye to touristic Paris and good afternoon to working Paris.  Alas.

Monday, June 22, 2015

assume the purpose

I believe more and more that the question of finding out what meaning to give to one's life let's call it one's purpose can be answered by assuming that something is one's purpose and then investing one's energy in living that purpose.  With discipline, what is assumed will become what is true.

All that is left is having solid reasons for assuming that 'something' is one's purpose.

That said, I might as well assume that this blog is a part of my purpose.  After all, I have reasons for maintaining it that are solid.  Well, I assume that they are solid.

Monday, June 15, 2015

becoming the linchpin

On my second and recent read of the book "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" by Seth Godin, a fear crept up within me.  "Would I spend the next seven months reading and re-reading this book like I did with Flow, analyzing the chapters one by one, highlighting passages with my yellow marker, typing entire sections of the book on my computer, making drawings of the concepts presented?"  The book was just that good, that relevant, and I could not put it down.


I am no publishing expert, so I will simply copy what the back cover of the book says:
In bestsellers such as Purple Cow and Tribes, Seth Godin taught readers how to make remarkable products and spread powerful ideas. But this book is about you—your choices, your future, and your potential to make a huge difference in whatever field you choose.

There used to be two teams in every workplace: management and labor. Now there's a third team, the linchpins. These people figure out what to do when there's no rule book. They delight and challenge their customers and peers. They love their work, pour their best selves into it, and turn each day into a kind of art.

Linchpins are the essential building blocks of great organizations. They may not be famous but they're indispensable. And in today's world, they get the best jobs and the most freedom.

As Godin writes, "Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back. It's time to stop complying with the system and draw your own map. You have brilliance in you, your contribution is essential, and the art you create is precious. Only you can do it, and you must."
One may claim that the book says nothing new, but Seth writes with an edge that I find so rare and insightful that I would debate that claim.  Needless to say, he is a linchpin himself, and he is indispensable.  His book is nothing short of art and is a gift of his to us.  Naturally, like he points out, there is no manual for becoming a linchpin.  Each of us must draw his or her own map.  Besides, isn't that where all the fun is?

The Linchpin poster

Sunday, April 19, 2015

love and responsibility

You infer that your WHY is the result of "a habit of repressing things — not just my favorite ideas — when feeling intimidated by the masses or by authority".

Actually, it has nothing to do with feeling intimidated. It has nothing to do with the masses or with authority. The former is only a symptom, whereas the latter only serves to provoke the symptom.

It has everything to do with you. You don't love your favorite ideas enough, and instead of loving them enough to express them, you fear them and then blame the masses and authority for intimidating you.

You have found out that when you love your favorite ideas enough to express them in presence of the masses and authority, you do not feel intimidated by the masses and authority.

Actually you feel empowered.

And when you are feeling empowered, there is no room in consciousness for feeling intimidated. By anyone, including yourself.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"do you have a joke?"

Before 2pm on Saturday, February 28, 2015, I showed up at Gare de Lyon, one of the six major railway stations in Paris.  I had no train to catch and I had not come to pick up someone.  I had no ticket on hand and I was not going to purchase one.  I was not even getting something to eat, and I had no need for the restroom.  No, I was only there to run Operation Insecurity.

Operation Insecurity is nothing more than a spin-off of Operation Les Jolies Filles, which was also targeted at pretty women.  In all honesty, it is exactly the same thing as Operation Les Jolies Filles.  I had just changed its name to remind myself why I was running it: to overcome my feelings of insecurity towards doing unusual things in public.  And to help me were the pretty women to be found all over Paris, whether they knew it or not.

Once I stepped into in Hall 1 of the train station,  I began looking for a target.  Walking the length of the hall, in the area that separated the platforms from the dispersed travelers, I kept my eyes open, scanning the crowd.  To calm my nerves and keep away the dissuasive thoughts, I repeated a quote from the mythologist Joseph Campbell that I had remembered only after failing the same operation in the same place five hours before: "Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain."  It was a quote that I believed in, given the numerous successes that I had had when running challenging operations in the past.

I got through the hall without a single approach.  That's not to say that there were no pretty women around, on the contrary.  I just did not make out any clear-cut opportunity or, when I did, I did not muster the courage to do anything about it, telling myself that I did not know what to say to the girl, even though I had allowed myself to say anything that came to mind.  All the while, moments came and went as quickly as the number of people that were moving all over the place.  Not to be discouraged, I kept on moving myself, armed with words of wisdom from Joseph Campbell.

I made my way into the Galerie des fresques, which linked Hall 1 to Hall 2.  Soon enough, I spotted a woman in a very colorful outfit walking towards me, alone.  As the gap between us got closer, I quickly looked around and verified that there were people nearby : some were standing by on her left, others walking behind her, and several walking behind me.  Perfect.  As I crossed paths with the woman, I got her attention by saying hello, in English.

"So how was vacation?", I asked.


"You know, the school vacation period just ended."

"Yes ..."

"And it lasted two weeks."

"Yes ..."

"So how did it go?"

The woman kept silent for a short moment before continuing.

"I don't quite understand.  Do you speak German?"

"German?", I asked in return, surprised.

"Yes, German."

"No, I don't.  Are you German?"

"No, but I speak it."

"But you do speak French?"

"Yes", she replied.

I was intrigued as to why she had asked me if I spoke German instead of asking me if I spoke French.  We were in France, after all.  Or did I miss something?  In any case, I was not going to switch to French for the sake of convenience, so the interaction swiftly ended and we parted ways right after.

I kept on walking until I reached Hall 2.  Upon entering, I found myself on one end of the floor.  I went straight towards the platforms to be in the middle of the action while walking towards the other end of the floor.  Of course, I was still keeping a lookout.  And my efforts were about to pay off when, somewhere along the middle of the floor, I noticed two women standing together, facing the trains.  One was looked like she was in her late 20s or early 30s.  The other was perhaps her mother, as she looked much older.  Without hesitation, I jumped into action.  It was what I wanted after all.  Action.

"Hello", I said, looking more at the younger woman, who was closer to me.


"Are you waiting for your train?"


"Oh, you are waiting for someone then?"


Silence.  All the while, I could pick up a certain discomfort on their part (or was it on my part rather?).  The younger woman was giving me one-word answers, though I took some responsibility for this, having coming up with such simple questions in the first place.  The other woman had turned her head away and remained quiet.  As for me, I had run out of things to say, and it seemed that the best thing to do at that point was to end the conversation.

"Well, have a good day", I said, smiling.

"Thanks", said the younger woman, with a faint smile.  The other woman kept her silence, though she gave a hint of a smile.

I completed my tour of Hall 2 and left, going through the Galerie des fresques again to return to Hall 1.  Having initiated a conversation on two separate occasions inside the same building, I had completed the operation that I had failed only five hours before.  But I did not feel satisfied with this victory.  In fact, I felt like I had not given an acceptable effort, notably with the two women that I met in Hall 2.  The interaction with them had been simply too brief, and the questions that I asked them did not require more than "Yes" or "No" answers.  Also, I had been taken aback by their relatively distant reaction.  "I mean, why can't some people just lighten up sometimes?", I complained to myself, almost impulsively.  And at that instant, my mind got to racing to thinking what I could do foster light-hearted interactions with strangers (in this case, with pretty women).  Then an idea emerged and stood over everything else in my consciousness.  I liked it and decided to give it a go.

I was already back in Hall 1, which seemed more crowded than before.  But I was undeterred.  In fact, I was more determined than ever, Joseph Campbell's words still by my side.  I walked below the main departure board suspended in the middle of the hall, among the dozens of travelers who had their eyes fixed on it.  Nearby, I saw three girls standing in a small circle, talking.  Given the mass of people around them, it was an excellent opportunity for me to feature my insecurity.  So I chose to go capture it.

"Hello", I said.


"Do you have a joke?"

"Er ... what?"

"Do you have a joke?"

"A joke?"

"Yes.  A joke.  Do you have one?"

The girls looked amused.  I guessed that they also felt perplexed.  But they were game, and started conferring quietly among themselves.  It took place quite quickly, and I could not record everything that was going on.  However, I remember being pleasantly surprised by the success that I was having in pulling off this stunt.  Some silence had crept in, so naturally, I made sure to pick up the dialogue.

"Okay, I'm waiting for a joke!", I stated, with a hand gesture meant to convey my impatience.

"Do you speak French?", one of the girls asked me.

"Yes, I do.  But not today."

She seemed to take that well.

"What about a bad joke?", another girl asked.

"Well, a bad joke is still a joke", I conceded.

"All right, I am going say it, it's in French."

I moved in closer to listen.  I found it a bit odd yet humorous that I was going to have to understand a joke in French even though everyone was aware that I had chosen to not speak a word of French.

"Qu'est-ce qui est jaune et attend?"  (In English: "What is yellow and wait?")

"'Jaune', OK, I got that. 'Attend'?  Like from the verb 'attendre'?"


I thought about it for a while, trying to come up with an answer.  I asked for a clue, but I don't think that my request registered with the girls.  Helpless, I did not spend much time before giving up.

"Jaune-attend!", one of them said.

"Jaune-attend?  Wha ... oh!  Jonathan?  The name Jonathan?"


"Wait ... Jonathan ... pronounced in what language?  French?  English?"

I cannot remember their reply.  But the joke ‒ or rather the riddle ‒ was more or less understood.  I just assumed that the French pronounced the name Jonathan differently compared to native English speakers.  "Jaune-attend", I repeated.  "Hmmn."

"Not bad at all, not bad", I added.

The girls were all smiles.

"Do you mind if I use it?", I asked them.

"Not at all", one girl replied, giggling with the others.

I decided to end the interaction.  I had the feeling that I no longer had anything plausible to say.  My mind was blank actually.  I felt that I had already redeemed myself after the disappointment of the previous encounter.  Pleased about this last experience, I wished the girls "bon voyage" before leaving them, even though I did not know whether they were going to take a train or if they were simply waiting for someone to arrive.

Alone once again and feeling liberated more than anything, I headed for the bus stop outside the train station, amusing myself with ideas to take things further with this operation.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

security and risk

Recently, I discovered a strange relationship between risk and security.  And to thank for that, I have no one but Paul Arden, who states in his book "Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite", that risk is your security in life.  Usually, we would think that security was a prerequisite for risk.  We would expect people who have a lot of money to be able to purchase expensive products and services without worry and those who have little to keep their expenses low.  In the workplace, we would expect people with a lot of expertise in a given domain to be able to make the risky decisions in times of uncertainty and those that with little experience in the same domain to follow the instructions.  But given the title of his book, Paul Arden challenges us to consider the opposite, asserting that it is risk that fuels security.

I am fascinated by this link between risk and security because for several years I have been working with the concept of security.  And to be clear, I am not talking about financial security.  I am talking rather about a deeper kind of security.  The kind of security that is more universal than money.  The kind of security that is even capable of influencing decisions related to financial security.  The kind of security that, in my opinion, affects each person, rich or poor, throughout the course of his or her life, from childhood to old age.  I am talking about emotional security, and especially the lack of it.

As a human being living in society, each of us has or has had emotional insecurities.  Each of us has known something about himself (or herself) that, if exposed, would cause him (or her) to have unpleasant feelings like those of being rejected, mocked, ignored, or weakened.  Who longs for those feelings?  Who appreciates them when they are experienced?

One of my greatest emotional insecurities arises when I wish to do something that comes from a deeply personal place but that is noticeably different from what most people around me are doing, especially if they are doing more or less the usual things.  Something like roaming the streets of Paris on a Saturday to ask one of 50 people in English if they came from a capital of one of the 50 American States, which, I admit, is not usual.  Or something like going to each desk in a small open space shared with 15 colleagues between 4pm and 5pm on a randomly chosen day each week to say hello and make brief small talk if possible, while these colleagues are all working on their computers.  Or even something like using a public albeit virtual space like Facebook to share a personally written post on emotional insecurity whereas many other Facebook users are sharing photos from their travels or from their everyday life, posts about events that happened, or articles written by other people.  Whatever the context may be, my emotional security is in question when I become aware of an opportunity to carry out one of my cherished wishes.  Sometimes, I seize the opportunity and reap the rewards of satisfaction that logically follow.  At other times, I seize nothing, and all I can do afterwards is feel the pain of defeat.  Call it a struggle if you will.

Four years ago, I heard a wise man say that you could get rid of your insecurities by featuring them, and I believed him.  This is probably for this reason that I conceive schemes that I call 'operations' to nurture my wishes of demonstrating my particular tendencies in public, with the hopes of gaining security in the process or, better yet, of overcoming my insecurity of wanting to do things differently.

So far so good, taking the risk seems to be paying off.  While I still have moments where I am emotionally insecure, I have discovered that I am less troubled than before by events that occur as a result of other people's actions (or lack thereof).  Consequently, I have been able to feel more in control of my emotions.

How beautiful it is to do without the expectation that others recognize you, pay attention to you, or approve of what you do.

How beautiful it is to feel liberated from the need to criticize others for being more normal than you, in terms of ideas and opinions.

How beautiful it is to ignore the temptation to hold grudges or to breed jealousy towards people who seem to be doing everything right.

How beautiful it is to take interest in the lives of people that you know and that you meet without faulting them when they do not reciprocate the gesture.

How beautiful it is to have something that solicits your attention more than everyday nuisances and that depends primarily on your efforts.

How beautiful it is to experience something so special that you can think of only one word to capture it: fulfillment.

If this is what security is really about, then I want more, more until it is second nature.  So, taking inspiration from the words of Paul Arden, I must remain willing to take the risk of carrying out my personal and unusual ideas in public.

Risks are a measure of people.  People who won't take them are trying to preserve what they have.  People who do take them often end up having more.

Paul Arden

Sunday, January 25, 2015

why i love paris (8)

In the afternoon of Tuesday, November 11, 2014, I met up with the Paris Sketchers crew on the panoramic rooftop terrace of the Printemps department store located on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris.

I had suggested the outing, as part of my "Paris par arrondissement" drawing project (in English: "Paris by arrondissement"), for the 9th arrondissement.  On the Saturday before, I had checked out different sites in the arrondissement in order to choose one that was convenient and interesting enough for a talented and passionate group of urban sketchers.  Opera Garnier came close (I know that I would have loved to sketch in the famous operahouse).  There was even Galeries Lafayette, which also boasted a panoramic terrace on its rooftop.  But there was nothing like that of Printemps, which, on the tenth floor of the store, offered a great cafe vibe combined with comfortable furniture, lovely decor, and people everywhere.  And yes, fantastic views all over Paris too.

Photo provided by

What was even better than all that was the weather.  It was gorgeous!  Sure, it was a bit chilly, but for November, it was wonderfully sunny.  And none of the sketchers who came stayed inside the cafe leading to the terrace (until it had started to get dark).  We were all outside, sharing space with the locals and tourists passing through from time to time, some of whom did not resist the temptation to come and see what we were up to.

In the sketching crew were mostly familiar faces ‒ Eriko, Jean-Marc, Jérôme, Blandine, Chantal, Tula, Carole, Véronique, Aviva ‒ and a few people I had never met, notably Monique and Michèle.  I was glad that they had all chosen to spend this public holiday ‒ the Armistice of 1918 ‒ sketching with me at a pleasant and somewhat unusual location in Paris.

I was drawn during the entire visit to a view of Montmartre that culminated in the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, even though I really wanted to dig into something showing the Eiffel Tower.  I had to accept that a date with the "Dame de fer" (in English: "Iron Lady") was not to be that day, for some reason that I can no longer remember exactly.  But at least now I have a reason to return to such a remarkable viewpoint.

La butte Montmartre

Saturday, January 17, 2015

beyond the conversation

When it comes to socializing, a lot of emphasis is placed on conversation.  Starting conversations.  Continuing conversations.  Ending conversations.  Changing conversation subjects.  Avoiding conversation subjects.  And so on.

I think that this is fair.  After all, without conversation, we would have difficulty knowing if we got along with someone else, building social relationships, and learning new things about people and sometimes about the world that we share with them.  Certainly, people that thrive together in a couple, a friendship, or a business partnership generally owe a big part of their success to conversations.

Yet, sometimes, on subject of enjoying real-time, face-to-face communication, conversations do not seem sufficient or appropriate.  They generally require substantial time on the part of the participants, they can easily become too factual, their structure is highly predictable, and the topics discussed tend to be the same ones.  And I say this while recognizing that I have not mastered the art of engaging people in conversations that are both stimulating and insightful.  As a member of society however, I bear a certain responsibility for the current state of conversation.

Real-time, face-to-face communication is about social interaction and conversation is only one form of social interaction.  Or at least that's the way I see it.  And there is so much joy to be derived from other forms of social interaction that are free from the constraints inherent in standard conversation.  I could not even dare naming all of them, since they are limitless in my opinion.  But there are a few that I use on a regular basis, and others less frequently.  I offer you some examples below.
  • When a person looking in your direction waves to someone else (who may be visible to you or not), wave to the person who initiated the wave.
  • When you are aboard an airplane and it lands after an uneventful and relatively short (1 to 2 hours) flight, applaud loudly to celebrate the landing.
  • When you are reading a book in the subway and you spot a fellow passenger reading a book written in the same language as yours, go closer to them and ask "Book swap?"
  • When you cross paths with someone while eating a sample of some delicious pastry from a bakery that you just left, ask them if they have tried that type of pastry from that bakery.  If they respond in any way other than saying yes, say "Well, I recommend it!".
  • When you discover an uncommon animal being presented on the street that you are walking on because of some event or holiday, e.g., a camel on Epiphany, remind yourself to ask a fellow pedestrian that you cross paths with some moments later on the same street if they like that kind of animal.  Better yet, convince them that they are in for a big surprise.
  • When, after just exiting a subway station on your way to work in the morning, you see someone in front of you exit a building and then walk towards the subway station, say hello and ask "You're going home?"
  • When you see a group of five girls or more seated comfortably in a bar chatting away, go over, say hello, and ask, "So, what do you girls want to talk about?"
  • When you see a girl standing with her eyes fixed on the screen of her cellphone, go next to her, quickly pull your cellphone out, and while pretending to use it, say "Ok, I'm listening, area code, 212, go on ..."
  • When you are in a crowded bar and a girl is passing you with a pint of beer that she just bought in her hand, tell her "Hmmmn, that smells good".
  • When someone on the street asks for directions, help them by first asking "How much do you have?"
  • When you are in conversation with peers that you do not know well, interrupt at some unexpected moment by saying "You know, it's like cheese".

Indeed, there is no limit to the forms of interaction we can have with people, if it is not our own imagination that imposes it.  We do not even have to use words, which a conversation could not do without.  All that is needed, at a minimum, are people and some idea that includes people.  The stranger idea is, the better, yet it should be respectful of the wishes and well-being of everyone included.  This is an art that the good people at ImprovEverywhere have definitely mastered.

But why bother with alternative social interactions anyway?  Well, for one thing, it is simply fun using them to step beyond the confines of what is normal ‒ standard conversation ‒ from time to time.  Secondly, they can serve as sources of inspiration, allowing us to dream up new ideas applicable to social settings, try them out, refine our methods, and even imagine other forms of interaction based on the feedback we receive.  A third reason is more personal yet it is universal.  This kind of interaction is a quick way to connect with people in our midst, with whom we would perhaps never imagine having an engaging conversation (an activity that many of us seem to cherish).  I think that some issues that we as individuals face in society would not need to be if we reached out regularly to people that we did not know and shared with them more of what we loved about our lives, even if that lasted only 10 seconds.  Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, stated during a TED talk that "connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives."  I am yet to read somewhere that connection required five minutes of conversation.

Yet a conversation of five minutes has its merits.  And it does not have to be restricted to common topics.  If it is engaging conversations that we want, we have a responsibility to foster it, using our personal resources (such as creativity, knowledge, and sense of humor, among others) as much as necessary.  Dare I say that complaining that a conversation is banal or superficial may be a sign that one is not expressing his true interests or his true values during the conversation.

So I'm all in for some good ol' conversation, with family, friends, colleagues.  But I do not want to always wait to be reunited with people in my social circle before I can share an idea, a discovery, or an experience that is worth sharing.  If, for some reason or the other, I am unable to converse with the people around me at any given moment, I prefer to interact with them in other ways, because it can be just as fun as conversation, and sometimes more.  Besides, doing so gives me a sense of purpose.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

je suis charlie

Thanks to Aziz for coming up with the idea and the text, borrowed from the song "Ride Natty Ride" by Bob Marley. The drawing made it to a poster that I carried with Aziz and Mélodie during the January 11 rally at Place de la République in Paris, in memory of the 12 people who had lost their lives during the attack on January 7th at the headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.

Several people were injured in the attack, and related incidents that took place over the next two days in the Paris region claimed the lives of at least five more people.