Farewell, Formbot

It's with a simultaneous heavy heart and elated relief that I break some news: I've officially shut down my HTML-forms-to-email-and-Slack service, Formbot.

I started Formbot way back in 2015, during a period of my life when I really wanted to create some sustainable startup businesses. I was living in Seattle, immersed in the tech scene, and the idea that I could make some supplemental income from a small web application was interesting to me.

Fast forward to 2023, however, and the service has proven more trouble than it's worth. I still had two paying customers (thank you both so much for your patronage!), but that barely covered my server expenses. Many of the forms powered by Formbot fell victim to constant spamming, and my email inbox was full of spam messages sent from my website's contact form.

There are clearly better solutions out there to accomplish what Formbot set out to do, and my heart and soul is just not in technology the way it once was. So, I decided to pull the plug on Formbot at the beginning of the year.

Here's to a great seven years of service!

Nesting and the sense of home

Recently I've been thinking a lot about "home".

For years, I clung to the minimalism fad as a way to become nimble and ready to jump at any opportunity. Abundant potential energy. Few possessions or ties to hold one down.

Then, when I experimented with its extreme and sold all my belongings to move into a campervan, I realized how damn lovely it is to have a proper home. So now I find myself where I am today, again occupying an apartment filled with all my things.

But this time, I've managed to retain a sense of appreciation and gratitude for it. My refuge. My sanctuary. The one place on Earth where I can peacefully practice my own anarchy.

The minimalist ideal still rears its head in my life now and again. This August, after months of relentless Florida heat, the idea of living in a van to escape was intoxicating. So I took a long, beautiful trip up north. But I found that, in spite of my new comfort of a hospitable climate, it couldn't compare to the profound sense of home I had built around me back in Florida.

As I've grown older, I've noticed the slow transition in my values from freedom toward security. It has not been without struggle: My initial brush with this truth was riddled with self-denial, hoping to retain my youthful ambition. But there's no denying my priorities have shifted. And most of them, for the better.

About time for an update

Greetings and salutations.

It's been awhile since I've posted anything here. The chief reason for that is the codebase for this site fell into disrepair because I let its dependencies go too far outdated, and the path to upgrades was arduous and long. But fear not, for I have prevailed!

A month ago, I returned from a six-week trip up the east coast, ending in Montreal. I chronicled that journey over on another blog called Travels With Vicent, but I decided that, in the spirit of keeping all of my blogging centralized on one platform, that I'd migrate those posts here. You can read all of those in the 2022 section of the Archive.

Aside from that, not too terribly much is new of note. I've been focusing more on my mental health recently and read Louise Hay's How to Heal Your Life by my therapist's recommendation. The central message that lack of self-love is at the root of most of our mental issues is a hopeful one, but some of her perspectives are a bit too victim-blamey for my taste. Nonetheless, it was helpful if only because I am putting more attention on loving myself and feeling worthy.

Last night, I went through the very oldest posts in the archive on this site, and was delighted at being able to read my own writings from as far back as 2005. I managed to preserve many of the posts from that era by scraping snapshots of my old blog domains on Wayback Machine. There's something sacred about rediscovering writings from the past, and it's encouragement to continue writing now so that someday I might look back on these posts with the same fondness.

Until next time, toodles!

A Porchfest Porchcat Saturday

Band playing on porch

Pictured: I stumbled upon this band playing classic rock tunes as I made my way from the métro in NDG (details below).

Last night I went down to Boulevard Saint-Laurent to check out the street fair I noticed they were starting when my bus ride from Vieux-Montréal the other day took a meandering detour up Sherbrooke. I also wanted to go grab a beer at the Anglophone pub I discovered, Barfly, since I was starved for some socialization and figured it would be a good place to chat up some locals.

I had some great conversations about the politics of Quebec and Canada, the sheer complexities of which I was not aware. I didn't realize how contentious the Quebec political climate is, and how much the provincial government has alienated its anglophone constituents.

During our conversations, someone brought up the fact they were going to attend an event today called Porchfest NDG, a neighborhood music festival taking place all around the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighborhood. I woke up and, after writing my morning pages, decided I'd make good use of a sunny afternoon and find my way there.

Luckily, NDG can be accessed via the Métro Orange Line, at the Vendôme station. This was the furthest I had ridden the Métro so far, and I was taken aback by how unique and beautiful some of the station interiors were. It got me to thinking that it would be a fun photography project to visit every métro stop, photograph each one and publish the photos on a website to showcase the art and architecture that livens up commuters' days here.

When I got off the train, I emerged a couple blocks off Sherbrooke, and tried my best to orient myself.

First, I discovered the band pictured above playing some mean classic rock covers. People had congregated in the street to watch them play, so many that cars had a difficult time getting around us. It was incredibly inspiring to see a full-on concert crowd in someone's front yard.

I remembered NDG was just beyond the A15 overpass, so I followed the road signs to the A15 and eventually found the park that was to host the festival's inaugural event.

I was too late for that, but instead stumbled upon a dadcore punk rock band playing outside an Anglophone used books and music shop:

Band playing at
Porchfest

They were excellent, but unfortunately I arrived at the end of their set and they only played a couple more songs.

I also noticed this nifty mural while walking on Sherbrooke:

Mural on Sherbrooke

On my way back, I remembered that Sherbrooke would eventually lead me back downtown, so I decided to walk along it as far as I could before I got tired, and then find the nearest métro station to wherever I was. This led me to Westmount Square and the Atwater métro:

Atwater Métro

I had to change trains at Berri-UQAM, since Atwater was on the Green Line. Eventually, my legs sore and my body sleepy, I found my way home.

After a few hours of lazing about in bed, I walked down to the phở restaurant around the corner to get some tasty soup. The guy running the place (I imagine he's the owner) is an all-around chill guy—super-friendly and hospitable. And being that it feels like 110 degrees outside in Florida most of the year, I haven't wanted noodle soup much down there, so it was nice to have a cozy bowl of noodles.

When I got back from dinner and a quick trip to the corner grocery store, a white-and-black cat approached me on the sidewalk outside the apartment. When I bent down to pet her, I expected her to be shy and to run away, but she seemed quite interested in me. So much so that she followed me up the stairs, where I sat for a moment and pet her. Then she leapt onto my lap, at which point I began wondering if she'd been abandoned, or at least, forgotten about.

But then, when I left her and went to unlock my apartment door, she zipped up the stairs and walked in the door ahead of me.

It was at this point that I was concerned. Was this just an extra-social neighborhood cat, or was she in some sort of distress? I located two phone numbers on her tag and called and texted both of them while I sat on the porch and comforted her.

It took a full hour for her owners to return my calls, but they laughed and said she's quite social... which I think is quite the understatement! Her name was Fleurette, and she was probably my favorite part of the day:

Fleurette

A brisk wonderland

Church in Vieux-Montréal

Pictured: A church I visited in Vieux-Montréal yesterday. The interior was stunning, but unfortunately my little Nikon camera couldn't cope with the low-light conditions. Trust me when I say it was a spiritual experience.

Autumn has broken here in Montréal in a real way. I awoke this morning delightfully chilly, pulling the sheets and blankets up over me and snuggling in for a few more minutes of rest before springing up to make the morning coffee.

The sky is clear and blue, and Montréalers are bundled in hats and scarves and jackets.

The past weeks have been incredible for my personal growth, in spite of (and probably because of) a spell of depression. Here's why:

Throughout most of my adult life, I've been a hopeless romantic. I don't mean this only in the sense of yearning for romantic love, although that has been a component. I mean that I'm hopelessly addicted to the promise of salvation that allegedly waits for me on the other side of some effort.

This year, that effort was my 25-hour drive to Quebec. I was so sure that when I arrived, I would be greeted with perpetual elation and bliss. Instead, I found ... myself, here, in Quebec, away from all my friends and family, in a city where I know nobody.

At first, this was an exciting prospect. I love that feeling of arriving in a new city and feeling the energy and potential of the place. But, as the days go on, it becomes familiar, and that novel feeling wears off. What once was new becomes routine. And it happens quickly.

I found it difficult to cope with this, until I asked myself what the experience could teach me. And the lesson, found through weeks of daily journaling, wasn't what I expected to find on this trip. But it is what I've truly needed.

For most of my life I've struggled with remaining grounded. Sometimes I feel like a bee flitting from place to place, trying to pollinate as many flowers as he can. I try to view this as a part of my nature and nothing to be overly concerned with.

And I think, to a point, it's true. I'm so grateful for having the privilege to have lived more life by my mid-thirties than most people live in their entire lives. Sometimes, if I'm tuned into the divinity of the present moment, I feel the need to pinch myself just to see if I'm dreaming, because I've been so goddamn blessed in this life. I wouldn't trade my adventurousness, my creativity, or my appetite for romance for anything.

But the insidious side of all of this shows itself when I'm not tuned into the present moment and I'm not viewing my current circumstance as the existential perfection that it is. I become bitter. Anxious. Depressed. I expect so much more than life can offer, and when it doesn't deliver, I can't cope with the dissonance.

We all know that attachment is the root of all suffering. But it requires constant effort and practice to make use of this beyond uttering it as a feel-good platitude. It requires noticing when your expectations exceed reality, and bringing your expectations back down to earth. And most of all, it requires observation of our present circumstance—no matter how vile or unfit as it may seem—as perfect and divine.

The curious thing is, as much as my solitude on this trip has recovered this wisdom from the bowels of my intellect, I find myself constantly forgetting and returning to my patterns of control and the anxiety and depression they produce.

Perhaps that's what people mean when they say that solitude can help us find ourselves. Perhaps it is out of necessity, in our darkest and most lonely moments, that we uncover wisdom we've always known in our minds but seldom practiced in our hearts.

So today, I'm basking in the tranquility of this perfect present moment. I hope you find the courage to do the same.

Summer's last hurrah, I hope

Marché Jean-Talon

Pictured: Marché Jean-Talon, a beautiful open-air year-round farmers' market just a block away from my flat in Montréal.

When I first arrived in Montréal, I was greeted by an incredible reprieve from the Florida heat. Autumn was in the air and I got to wear my favorite sweater, a pair of boots, and a beanie. I love autumn. I feel most at home during the autumnal weather—when I can wear clothes that don't make me feel like a scrub and the city turns inward. As a closeted introvert, it's a celebration of afternoons spent sitting in cozy cafes and the click-clack of my favorite boots on the sidewalk.

But this week, all of that changed as Montréal is experiencing another heat wave. Yesterday, temperatures reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, they're hovering around 83.

And I've noticed in the past couple days that I'm more irritable than I'd been in the weeks prior. I wake up in a great mood, but as soon as I walk outside and I'm blinded by the late summer sun, all I want to do is go back inside, close the blinds, and take a nap.

All of this is making me wonder how much longer I can stomach living in Florida. Florida's winter is idyllic—from December to March, it's my paradise. But the rest of the year it's a bit like living in a wet, slimy oven.

The weather is supposed to turn on Tuesday, with rains bringing the temperature down to a lovely 69 degrees Fahrenheit. My sweaters and jackets and boots and socks are waiting anxiously, hoping this is the end of their six-month hiatus from the street.

In the meantime, I've locked myself inside from the summer heat. I wanted to go visit the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, but the thought of walking back out into the heat makes me think next weekend I'll enjoy it a bit more.

The positive aspect of all of this is that I've had a lot of time for self-reflection and self-improvement. I've been committing to a daily exercise regimen, I've been eating healthily, and I've been doing a lot of therapeutic writing to help wipe away the cobwebs in my brain.

I also took a trip down to Vieux-Montréal (Old Montreal) to visit the Montréal John Fluevog store, my favorite bootmaker. They had a pair of burgundy Derby Swirls in my size, so I splurged on a pair because they've always been my dream boots:

Fluevog Derby Swirls

I love them, but I could only wear them for an hour this morning until the city turned into a sweaty inferno.

I'm trying not to be timid about doing some shopping and spending some money while I'm here, since the exchange rate works splendidly in my favor and Montréal's shopping options are near limitless! There's a denim store called Jeans Jeans Jeans that I overheard the locals talking about, so a new pair of jeans might be in the cards, too.

Hope you all have a beautiful Sunday!

As the leaves turn

Montréal Autumn Leaves

One of the things I miss dearly from up north is the changing colors of the autumn leaves. Out in the Pacific Northwest, we'd get a bit of a colorful autumn, but nothing compares to the brilliance of the autumn colors in the northeast.

I noticed, while sipping my morning coffee at the cafe I've been frequenting, that the leaves had begun their slow transformation from green to amber. So often I'm so absorbed in whatever it is I'm doing that I hardly notice the leaves change—and I realized this morning that it would do me some good to slow down.

It's a bright, sunny, crisp day here in Montréal, and I'm so grateful I was blessed with the ability to take this sojourn. Travel, for me, is as much about seeing new frontiers as it is about rekindling an appreciation of the place from which you came. I'm so excited to reconnect with my friends back in St Pete (if you're reading this, hi! I love you!). And I'm very excited to make a glorious drive back home just as the weather here is turning frigid.

Speaking of which, I decided over the weekend to extend my stay, so I'll be departing Montréal the day before Halloween, October 30. Despite it costing a pretty penny to book another place for October, I figured it would be worth it to stay, since I'm already here.

On Monday I stumbled upon an anglophone open mic comedy night at a bar on St Laurent. It was such a relief to be in an English-dominant space and to have people to talk to. I'll definitely be returning next week!

Hope you all have a beautiful week, wherever you may be.

Back to work

Alleyway in Montréal

I've returned to my client work as of yesterday, so I'm sure my updates will probably slow in the coming weeks as I focus more on that.

One highlight from yesterday is that I successfully ordered a sandwich in French without the clerk noticing I wasn't fluent (or maybe he did, but he didn't switch to English, so, cool!).

I also had an incredible experience last night when I got off the métro and wanted a cold drink. In most American cities, that would usually mean walking half a mile in some direction and finding a convenience store or gas station, since we decided grocery stores should only be built for cars. But as soon as I got off the métro, there was a small supermarket directly on my way home. I walked in, grabbed a few things, and walked back to the flat.

I'm currently prospecting staying in Montréal another month, to return to the States around Halloween. It would cost a pretty penny to stay another month, but I'm already here and enjoying myself, so it seems like it would be worth it.

Okay, back to work. Enjoy the day, wherever you may be, dear reader!

I don't want to go back

Cafe Ferlucci

Pictured above: Cafe Ferlucci, a charming little cafe on Castlenau a few blocks from my Montréal flat.

I woke up this morning in a bit of a panic. I'm not sure if I had a dream or what happened, but I tossed and turned and couldn't fall back asleep.

I'm in love with Montréal, but I know I cannot stay.

It's not uncommon for me to fall in love with cities when I arrive, only to find the love affair wear thin after a season or two. But here, the love affair is a bit more practical. Montréal, to me, feels like the most livable city in North America.

There are myriad grocery stores within walking distance. The streetscape is pleasant and inviting. The culture is elegant—not flashy, not overdone, and not opulent (I'm looking at you, Florida). People ride bicycles to work, down streets designed to accommodate them. There are very few large pickup trucks, and when you see one, you laugh at how ridiculous they look trying to navigate Montréal's crowded streets. You hardly ever see Canadian flags on things, because people here evidently don't feel so insecure about their country's standing so as to shove their nationalism down your throat. (I'm looking at you, America).

To me, it is a more civil society. Now, this is all my impression from the few square kilometers I've seen of Montréal. The rest of Canada, I'm sure, is probably nearly as backwards as much of America. But here, life is incredibly pleasant and rich. That the city is bilingual only adds to this richness.

And I really don't want to go back to the States.

That's not to say I don't love America. It's a place that had a great run. Some of the best art, music, and film was and is produced in America. If you're an immigrant from a less affluent country, moving to America can be an opportunity out of poverty. But compared to the rest of the developed world, we've messed up, severely. We've prioritized the illusion of individual self-determination—a tenuous illusion based on false premises—over the development of the commonwealth. That has left us with crumbling, inadequate infrastructure, housing that's built for the rich few, ever-increasing healthcare costs, and a society of self-help gurus and get-rich-quick schemes.

Again, that's not to say anywhere is perfect. Canada is certainly not perfect. But in traveling, one can see where our deficits lie.

I've done a bit of research, and it would be quite the uphill battle to immigrate to Québec. The most difficult part of the process, I imagine, would be becoming fluent in French. But Québec is more strict with its immigration policies than the rest of Canada. I feel fortunate that I have a technical skillset that is in demand around the world, so I imagine if I found a job and became fluent in French, I could make it happen.

For now, being that I still have an apartment in Florida, I'm going to enjoy the winter in St Pete with the beautiful friends I've made there. But something has been gnawing at me for years—that something just doesn't feel right to me living in America anymore. Being here and feeling so much more at ease is confirming that. Maybe the grass is greener if you find the right grass.

Montréal, the land of beautiful people

Place de Castlenau

Pictured: Place de Castlenau, a street in the Villeray neighborhood that, you guessed it, is closed to private automobiles during the summer.

Whether or not it is merely the language barrier playing tricks, I cannot help but be ensconced by the elegant, poised, and beautiful nature of Montréalers. I experienced a similar feeling when I was living in München. What is it that makes us Americans seem so generally crude by comparison?

And it warrants reiterating that my perception is a generalization. But I can't help but notice that people here put in more effort to live la belle vie than most of us do in America.

Most people's manner of dress is elegant—refined yet modest, impressive but not flashy. There's a sense that people put effort into their appearance, but not so much that they appear outlandish, as if they're trying merely to draw attention to themselves. Nor, on the other end of the spectrum, do they appear slovenly and unkempt. Again, this is a generalization, and there are exceptions in America as well as in Montréal.

As well, the city is generally clean and I imagine it's the result of people caring enough to keep it that way. Compared to New York, I'd eat off the floor of the Métro here.

That's not to say I haven't seen my share of ugly behavior since I've been here. I saw a jerk in a BMW swerve around someone stopped in traffic and nearly collide with an oncoming car, all so they could be stuck behind yet another car. And I've noticed people on the street will not smile back at you—something that I'd grown accustomed to in Florida.

But overall, I feel so much more at ease here than I do in America. The cosmopolitan spirit of the city is inspiring and energizing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some serious people-watching to do. Tant de belles personnes!