Listen to Black voices

Emory Douglas' Black Panther poster, showing a black one in a suit with a button on his shirt written 'Shoot to Kill' and a caption on top of him saying 'I have stood by too long while the racist pigs brutalised and murdered my people. The blood of the pig must flow in the street."

Emory Douglas’ Black Panther poster, via Casual Archivist

It’s incredibly upsetting to witness the state of the world as it is today, and it seemingly minuscule that here I was, in my unearned privilege as one of the ethnic majorities in Malaysia, to complain about being unable to put my thoughts into words. I have also been thinking a lot about hashtag activism, and how I have heard of people calling it as mere performative and in extension, an inaction, compared to the hard work of organising and fundraising. But as someone who had spent the last three years studying protests, activism, and social media, to call spreading words about grievances and awareness in an online world is more than just performative. In a traditional setting, it would be a form of consciousness-raising. Someone who is an opinion leader on social media might be spreading words through hashtags on Twitter, for instance, and their followers would be intrigued to find out — they might choose to educate themselves over it, spread the words themselves, or, the worst scenario, might not do anything about it. In other words, while hashtag activism has always been linked to slacktivism and free-riding, isn’t that also what activism is for? Fighting for the rights of people who might not be able to fight for themselves. This definitely requires more unpacking, but what I am trying to say is, not everyone could afford to donate or go to protests or do the hard work of organising, but if with a mere hashtag they could be intrigued to know and learn (and unlearn) more, I would say that is an accomplishment by itself, however small.

There are a few resources I keep going back to — but a short list of what you can do as a non-black people to support:

  • Donate if you could. This whole thread has a list of all donations links, resources, contact numbers, and petitions.
  • Listen to Black people! Read also about an experience of a Nigerian living in Malaysia, proof that we Malaysians are also complicit in our racism, antiblackness, and xenophobia.
  • My friend Fadiah has compiled a list of what Malaysians could do in the event of police brutality in the US right now.
  • Read and cite black people — Audre Lorde, Franz Fanon, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Toni Morrison, W.E.B Dubois, and many more!
  • Check in with your black friends and tell them you care about them (and show it), but do not expect your black friends to educate you on what’s happening! Read, read, read.
  • Support Black-owned businesses by buying things from them, and if you could not, spread the word about them.
  • Actively fight racism, antiblackness, and xenophobia within your community. Start by talking to your family members about their oversight on this.
  • If you are not black, DO NOT make it all about yourself e.g. “I too experienced racism and oppressions etc.” This is not the time to centre yourself.
  • Interrogate your own ingrained antiblackness and colourism e.g. equating darker colours to something lesser, using whitening cream, etc. You can’t perform allyship without acknowledging the antiblackness internalised within us.
  • Read read read about black struggle, and if you ever feel the need to make a comparison of your place in the situation, critically question the racial dynamics in your own country and region before making the assumption e.g. Do not say the Malays are the whites of Malaysia (?)
  • “Please extend your solidarity and understand that police brutality happens in our country as well. Learn about how the police system has hurt people literally closer to you please while you observe and amplify the American voices today.”

It’s also worth to remind that it is OK to feel extremely livid, sad, and exhausted. But we are not helpless, for if we are helpless, think of our black friends living these very fearful lives that we have the privilege to opt out of. Our freedom is intertwined with each other’s, so let’s get up and do everything necessary to uphold justice and liberation for everyone.

Reading in my tabs:

  • Trump is a problem that Twitter cannot fix.
  • As the world sets to reopen their economy, whatever that is worth, here’s how to keep yourself safe.
  • “When any new digital policies are introduced, we have to remind ourselves that those technologies will be implemented under a military mindset.” A glimpse at Thailand’s digital ID through the biometric profiling of Malay Muslims in the country
  • “Giving a lecture in Exeter on 19 November 1914, the minister G. M. Newcombe related an anecdote about a friend of his who spent half his day reading war news in The Times, finishing only when the Exeter evening paper arrived in the house. ‘Naturally,’ he said, everyone was ‘interested in the great crisis, but excessive newspaper reading had a tendency to throw some people off their balance.’” On “doomscrolling” and its antecedents.
  • The National Theatre in London is posting a recording of one of their full-length plays every Thursday. This past week, it was a production of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Gillian Anderson (!!!) and Vanessa Kirby (!!!).
  • “When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.” — Franz Fanon.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Angela Davis’ Freedom is a Constant Struggle, and started Alex S. Vitale’s The End of Policing, whose ebook is currently free on Verso.
  • Listening: To be honest, I haven’t been listening to anything new much this week.
  • Viewing: I am close to finishing my Community binge — is it still considered a binge when it’s spanned so many weeks?
  • Food & Drink: I’m functioning on my new earl grey tangerine tea, and not much else this week.

Commonplace blog

I was today years old when I was introduced to the term ‘commonplace book‘, a concept I actually had been familiar with ever since I started journalling actively since 2009. I did not keep a journal the way a journal should be — if there was ever one accurate way to keep journals — in fact, my daily spread contains the quotes I came across, any piece of information I came across, any points of observations, etc. I didn’t particularly record what I did day-to-day, but every page was dedicated to all of these bits of stuff I came across on the day itself, as I use a daily Moleskine journal. If what I wrote did not fit into one page, I’d write on a loose page and clip it to the day page itself.

Bruce Sterling, in his farewell post of his Wired blog, Beyond the Beyond, encapsulates what a commonplace book / blog does well:

It’s the writerly act of organizing and assembling inchoate thought that seems to helps me. That’s what I did with this blog; if I blogged something for “Beyond the Beyond,” then I had tightened it, I had brightened it. I had summarized it in some medium outside my own head. Posting on the blog was a form of psychic relief, a stream of consciousness that had moved from my eyes to my fingertips; by blogging, I removed things from the fog of vague interest and I oriented them toward possible creative use.

[…] A blog evaporates through bit-rot. Yet even creative work which is abandoned and seen by no one is often useful exercise. One explores, one adventures by finding “new ground” that often just isn’t worth it; it’s arid and lunar ground, there’s nothing to farm, but unless you venture beyond and explore, you will never know that. Often, it’s the determined act of writing it down that allows one to realize the true sterility of a silly idea; that’s how the failure gets registered in memory; “oh yes, I tried that, there’s nothing there.” Or: maybe there is nothing there yet. Or: it may be ‘nothing’ for me in particular, but great for you. “Nothing” comes in many different flavors.

[…] I used to toss a lot of stuff into the blog that looked “funny,” but a lot of it was testing the very idea of significance. “Does this odd thing I found matter to anyone in any way whatsoever?” Will there be a public response of some kind to this? You can never get that response from a diary, a notebook, a studio corkboard. A blog, though, has an alternating current; so maybe some little meme will catch on and glow.

I was thinking of this concept today when I came across the term in Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse — a book about a woman maths prodigy — that I am currently reading. She was gifted a notebook of equations by her father who had served in the wartime, and the book had helped her not only in her uphill struggle towards trying to find her place in a male-dominated field, but also to find her roots and origins. 

I suppose this is how this blog is like too. When I started this blog, I was questioning its goal — I knew it was born because at the time I was struggling to write my thesis, but I still wanted to write something other than for work or for school. From then on, I knew this blog was to be semi-private — friends who found it, found it, but I would never post the link publicly elsewhere. It’s not a lie to say that I had been tempted to go public with the blog, but I find that this is the only space I love writing for the audience of one: me. In many areas — and for those who knew me, know that — I would strive for perfection at an almost rigidity, but I don’t set rules for this blog — mainly for the fact that I only have to write at least 300 words almost every day about anything. And if I do not want to write anyway, it is fine. No rules, no themes, sometimes almost no editing. Just a commonplace blog.

Reading in my tabs:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Still finishing up Angela Davis’ Freedom is a Constant Struggle, which sadly is still relevant in these times. Started Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse because I am impatient — only 11% in so far and I already like the book.
  • Listening: How to be an antiracist.
  • Viewing: This talk with Rob Larson, author of Bit Tyrants, on Silicon Valley and the coronavirus crisis.
  • Food & Drink: I recently bought a box of earl grey tangerine teabags during my recent grocery trip, and I never had any idea how good it was, especially with some dash of milk! It’s becoming my favourite tea now.

To be fundamentally more invested in finding nourishment

Carolyn Lazard, CRIP TIME, 2018

Artist-provided visual description: A one-take video shot from an overhead view over the surface of a table. On an embroidered tablecloth is a 7-day weekly pill organizer separated into daily compartments. The labels on the organizer have been partially worn off through repeated use. A set of brown hands with gold nail polish emerge from the top of the frame and begin to separate and open the compartments. The hands proceed to open various pill and supplement bottles and fill the different compartments with pills and supplements. As hands open the bottles, the interiors of the bottles are made visible to the camera. The containers are also labeled “morning,” “noon,” “evening,” and “bedtime.” The hands move both methodically and spontaneously. The action of filling the containers suggests muscle memory like shuffling cards or sorting objects on a conveyor belt. Over the course of the action, a patch of sun on the table moves across the frame. Bottles accumulate around the edges of the frame. At the end of the video, the daily compartments are closed up and stacked on their side, Sunday through Monday.

I’ve been trying to digest how I feel about the social distancing Eid this year, even though given the fact that my usual Eid after my father’s and grandparents’ passing had been relatively quiet. The only event taken out of the equation was the ritual of driving over to other relatives’ houses, feeding ourselves with Eid food, chatting over nothing (my mother would beg to differ since she and her sisters would often gossip have a lot to catch up), and sometimes enduring casual racist and xenophobic remarks. This year, I dressed up in my comfiest baju kurung Kedah, took pictures with the cats, ate food delivered by my uncle, and changed in pyjamas before noon. The very same night, I hopped on to a Google Meet call with my friends in Beirut and Istanbul, as we reminisced over our days in London, exchanged friendly results and specificities of how each of our countries responded to Covid-19, and laughed way too much. My heart is full.

I came across Austin Kleon’s blog post in which he shared some passages from Olivia Laing’s collection of essays, Funny Weather, particularly about Eve Sedgwick’s idea of ‘paranoid’ reading vs. ‘reparative’ reading. The initial idea of ‘paranoid’ reading was something a lot of us had been unintentionally indulging in — every click and every scroll leads to a situation akin of grazing our cheek against the scorching tar (e.g. Twitter timeline), but it was something we were almost willing to return to every single minute. Enter ‘reparative’ reading, the kind of reading that “isn’t so much concerned with avoiding danger as with creativity and survival.”

A useful analogy for what [Sedgwick] calls ‘reparative reading’ is to be fundamentally more invested in finding nourishment than identifying poison. This doesn’t mean being naive or undeceived, unaware of crisis or undamaged by oppression. What it does mean is being driven to find or invent something new and sustaining out of inimical environments.

I have to agree with Kleon that we all should have “to be fundamentally more invested in finding nourishment than identifying poison” as our mission statement. Although, given my area of research, identifying poison is important for me to discover what had been wrong all this while in our current system, and what can we do about it.

Reading in my tabs:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Finished Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships, which was a 4-star read, and I wanted to write something about it one of these days. Still finishing up Angela Davis’ Freedom is a Constant Struggle, and I have Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse next in my queue.
  • Listening: What to say when a friend is struggling.
  • Viewing: I attended this online conference on memes (yes!) organised by KCL’s Centre for Digital Culture the other day, and the recording is now up! Also, more slow TV for me.
  • Food & Drink: We just celebrated Eid yesterday, and while it was less physically communal as before, it was just as socially communal as before, as my mother jumped into one videocall after another to talk to her grandnieces and grandnephews. Our families also exchanged food a lot, contactless style, as we dropped our tupperwares on the front gates, waved from afar, and drove home.

Panic! in the supermarket aisle

Niki de Saint Phalle, Photo de la Hon repeinte, 1979

One of my first corona vivid dreams involved finding myself in a crowded supermarket where almost no one wore masks and none had regards for the practice of social distancing. In the dream, I realised I had been asking myself, “This felt like a dream. Or is it?” until I saw Lady Gaga, but who wasn’t exactly Lady Gaga (how do you explain dreams that felt like this?) so I said to myself, “So this is a dream.” Out of the corner of my eyes, someone tall — no, elongated was the word — reached for something next to me and he (it?) didn’t have a mask on, and he stood less than 6 feet away that I got anxious. I screamed at him to keep the distance, only to find myself wailing in real life, where I was lying in my bed and awoke with a drumming heartbeat. Without the exception of Lady Gaga, the dream felt real.

It was only two days ago that I was out grocery shopping that I saw people without masks on while they walked next to me nonchalantly, so close that their shirt sleeves almost grazing mine. I remember feeling so anxious, thinking if by any turn of fate I got infected, I was worried for my mother’s health back home. So I navigated the supermarket like a minefield, scuttering into the nook of the nearest aisle as some guy waddled through without any regard for a safe distance, talked too loud, and touched everything in sight. I came home, processed the groceries, and went about my daily life, thinking I was less, or no more anxious about the supermarket adventure. The dream proved I was wrong.

I also wasn’t alone in having these vivid dreams. There were a surge of articles offering explanations about why people dream within the many myriad of metaphor of the pandemic. The New York Times reported that the Gooogle query for “why am i having weird dreams lately” quadrupled by the middle of April. Dreams had always been an indicator of our mental state, and in this state of collective stress and anxiety, it was reported that the coronavirus pandemic has caused a 35 percent increase in dream recall among participants, with respondents reporting 15 percent more negative dreams than usual. This situation also happened when the same research team investigated the survivors of the L’Aquila earthquake, where they found that the closer the survivors were to the epicenter, the more they experienced sleep disorders and nightmares.

Like others I imagine, I had been having more vivid dreams — one time I found myself in the middle of a ritual where people lined up to cough on me, what the hell — and also had been waking up randomly in the middle of night. A friend of mine who constantly had vivid dreams even before the virus outbreak advised to keep a dream journal, which I think it’s not such a bad idea. But really the truth is, amidst floating in all these weird dreams and waves of anxiety and the monotony of quarantining — and I know it sounded selfish to ask for so — all I really wanted was a horizon where I, and everyone else, would no longer feel on the verge of having a nervous breakdown every time we walked down the supermarket aisles. Festina lente.

Reading in my tabs:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Angela Davis’ Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, and Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships. My reading progress has been slow lately.
  • Listening: Dr Kimberlée Crenshaw’s new podcast called Intersectionality Matters.
  • Viewing: Community series before bed.
  • Food & Drink: Made nasi lemak again!

Suppose your side had won

Work by artist Chiharu Shiota, where a single chair is placed in the middle of stacked mirrors

Chiharu Shiota, A Room of Memorya, 2009

This week I learned that in about 55 days we were stuck at home quarantining, people 2000 years ago had taken the same length of time to travel from London to Constantinople by donkey and civilian boats in spring by the least amount of denarii possible. It was crazy how (surprise!) capitalism and globalisation had changed the whole temporal experience, rushing us for everything and demanding every single effort, agency, and identity of ours to be commodified. And yet borders — how arbitrary and wasn’t etched in stone until in the 17th century — still remain to be revered and entitled itself to every abuse and harassment to refugees and immigrants possible. 

This week I also learned about the term regardless power — which, according to The Convivial Society, was “the kind of power granted by techno-scientific knowledge and deployed with little or no regard for consequences. Such regardless power takes no account of the integrity of an ecosystem or the intangible goods inherent in existing social structures. It does not stop to consider what it might be good to do; it knows no reason why one ought not to do what one can do.” This week as I was preparing my slide deck for a webinar I am conducting to a group of IT and computing students on the importance of also paying attention to ethics, social sciences, and humanities, universities had started to cut the funding to arts, humanities, and social sciences courses. Even before that, STEM majors had failed to articulate any form of critical thinking over why there are things should not be done the way they wanted it to be done, more so than just as mere ‘aesthetics’ or ‘gimmicks’. Disregarding ethics, social sciences, and humanities are why women are paid 0.40 less for every dollar men in tech make even though they have the same skills and knowledge, why we have Facebook who misuses our data to manipulate elections, and this is why we have Amazon who pays little to minimum wage to their warehouse workers, among others. I am preparing the talk in hope that these students understand that their actions and decisions would have repercussions on someone else’s lives, especially those who are marginalised, poor, and helpless. But how do we do that when our lifeline is cut off from the very beginning? We are content with having a limitless number of coding and hacking classes, and content on having engineers and programmers who come into work thinking community building, socialising, and caring is a liability on their time. How do we do it?

There’s a saying by Paul Goodman who said, “Suppose you had the revolution you’re talking about. Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society you wanted. How would you live, personally, in that society? Start living that way now.” I suppose I am going to give that talk as if we have had the revolution and the society we have always envisioned for.

Reading in my tabs:

  • Giphy joins Facebook’s data collection arsenal.
  • “And doctors and nurses are not the only professionals to be constantly bombarded and overwhelmed with alerts; as part of our so-called “digital transformation,” nearly every industry will be dominated by such systems in the not-so-distant future. The most oppressed, contingent, and vulnerable workers are likely to have even less agency in resisting these systems, which will be used to monitor, manage, and control everything from their schedules to their rates of compensation. As such, alerts and alarms are the lingua franca of human-machine communication.” On the intrusion of algorithms in the intimate sphere.
  • This enlightening thread on the absurdity of reading Rumi while divorcing his works completely from the elements of Islam. Here’s another article to accompany the thread.
  • One of my favourite radical publishing companies, Verso offers a free e-book called There Is No Outside, a collection that tracks the course of COVID-19 across the circuits of global capital to New York’s prisons and emergency rooms, Los Angeles’s homeless encampments, and the migrant camps in Greece; and into the intimate spaces of our homes, our ideas of how to live, and into our bodies and cells.
  • In commemorating Nakba Day, “… one day I’ll become what I want.”

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Angela Davis’s Freedom is a Constant Struggle.
  • Listening: It’s very clear I am not a sourdough starter, but I have been listening to this playlist for sourdough starters by Robin Sloan, author of Sourdough.
  • Viewing: I loved Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey which discards the original male gaze in the earlier translations — now she’s reading it on Youtube!
  • Food & Drink: Crab fried rice, and a cup of iced Milo for iftar.

Words have weight

“I don’t feel like writing today!” I screamed into the void of my self-imposed consistency within my limited and deteriorating personal bandwidth that I have pretty much used up recklessly and without a care for my own health over the years. It is funny how I keep saying to my friends — it’s the pandemic, it’s completely OK for us to slow down, to not do anything, it’s also OK to do something you’d always wanted to do — but when it comes to my own capacity, I tend to be unkind about it. A friend joked that there are two other entities aside from our own critical selves who wouldn’t let us catch a break — bosses and capitalism. And while we snorted over our video call, with a glass of sparkling water and gummy worms for a second dinner — a combination made in heaven (or hell, it depends) I couldn’t help thinking the truth behind it all.

The email above came from the chairperson of my viva a day after I successfully defended my thesis. This year as I made a resolution to commit to journaling more so than ever (even though I have been journaling since 2009), I had also been keeping screenshots of nice things people said to me. They could be from my chats, my emails, my Twitter replies, and even verbally (if I managed to jot them down in the journal). People write — to themselves or to other people — without realising that their words have weight (writer Austin Kleon even weighed his journal before and after filling them in) and this is the kind of heaviness that I’d like to weigh myself down. Not that I do not like to take criticism — heck, I was in tech and I am in academia, being mansplained by both techbros and academiabros is almost a rite of passage for any women I have learned to selectively and critically tune out — but it’s nice to be seen sometimes.

Reading:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Rereading Angela Davis’ Freedom is A Constant Struggle.
  • Listening: Randomly listening to my Spotify Time Capsule playlist, filled with 90’s pop and R&B.
  • Viewing: Over the weekend, I watched Prince and the Revolution show from 1985’s Purple Rain tour. Also, an annual Zoom review with dogs.
  • Food & Drink: Went out to buy groceries after over 20 days quarantined! Made so much food today for iftar — a stack of French toasts, spaghetti bolognese, some fruit salad, and I even got some good coffee!

Worry stone

The week after successfully defending my PhD thesis, my life fell into its normal routine — which is to say in this current global pandemic, still hadn’t secured a job, depleting financial savings, worried of my mother’s health and mine in this neverending purgatory, and ready to guard the house in a kebaya on Eid after the government announced that families were allowed to visit each other on its day. What does it say after experiencing the peak of your highest achievement for one split second and going back into what the capitalist drivel of society demanded of you and failing to do so?

Monday the week after I received a flurry of congratulations over my — here I quote from the chairperson of my viva — “one of the best viva over the 10+ that I have chaired the last 1 year”, I set up a Google spreadsheet of the list of thesis corrections I am meant to do. And because minor corrections didn’t actually mean quite minor in a sense, when you change or add a small paragraph, the page number would change, the section number can sometimes change, the narrative flow might also slightly change (I discovered my voice and tone changes over the three months I submitted my thesis as I pivot into more work-related writing), and so on so forth. So I made set up another tab in the same spreadsheet where each correction is linked to more subcorrections, and again every night as I whined, “I don’t want to write tonight!” I showed up at my desk and somehow miraculously, although sluggishly, I proceeded with some amount of corrections.

A friend of mine had been in touch with me over the intricacies of setting up her very first website. I was grateful she trusted me to help her with this. She mentioned that she had been thinking about getting a website and a blog of her own that isn’t quite owned by Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram, and I said it was a good idea to have an online home of your own that isn’t quite owned by these corporations whose platforms might disappear one day or which policies might change that might not serve us anymore. I should have mentioned her about a website being the idea of a worry stone — a classic idea that probably gave birth to the likes of fidget spinners or stress balls — in which you could spend hours tinkering away at the design, fixing the CSS, changing the size and styles of the fonts, and you would return again the next day, convinced it doesn’t look good enough. After all, it’s your online home, you of course want it to somehow be a digital embodiment of your identity, yourself.

Current reads:

  • “… what if the user’s experience determines whether or not their child learns at school? Or when their experience means the difference between staying in the country and deportation? Or if it gives a marginalized community agency and autonomy over their own future?” Really enjoying this interview with social UX researcher Alba Villamil on the pitfalls of user experience, which only focuses on the homogeneity in the user baseI instead of a more societal approach.
  • “When you take away the diners all you’re left with is this predatory, venture capital, third-party app as all of your business.” Giuseppe Badalamenti, owner of Chicago Pizza Boss, tells the Washington Post why people are rebelling against food delivery apps.
  • We all should just shut up.
  • India is the only democracy to force its people to use a covid app, and people aren’t happy.
  • Step aside Zoom parties. Check out Shared Google Doc party!
  • “i’ve been thinking about how differently i experience a book when i approach it with generosity — i savor sparks of brilliance, appreciate potential even when it falls short.”

STATUS BOARD

The Earth vibrated less

In cities, the effect of billions of humans at standstill has become evident in the Earth’s crust. Movements from everyday human activity create countless tiny vibrations in the ground. Seismometers close to or inside urban areas have registered reductions in movement.

(I want you to read this all the way before continuing with my post.)

A few days right after the government conducted yet another inhumane mass arrest in one of the most densely populated areas of migrants and refugees in the city, we were made aware of the death of a hospital security guard who was found dead and positive of Covid-19 by the roadside. It was said he attempted to walk back to his hometown over 370 km away because he had no money and no transportation of his own. A few days before, as the movement control order was loosened — mostly because to allow the ‘economy to reopen’ whatever that means — people flocked to the pawnshops presumably to pawn whatever belongings they have left. At the same time, we believe in time for Eid, we could just order everything we needed, because the ‘essential’ workers in the postal delivery service could just deliver them to us whenever we needed. The poor and the less privileged serve the frontlines, with little to no wage increase, as we merrily tap on the ‘order’ button. We call them ‘heroes’, when in many cases, it means they were put up for sacrifice.

Anne Boyer in her essay The Undying: A Meditation on Modern Illness said in one line: Disease is never neutral. Treatment never not ideological. Mortality never without its politics.” As I see people posting of how the virus does not see your status or colour of your skin, I am tempted to slide into their private messages and tell them, that the virus might not discriminate, but the society does. It was exemplified in the most global city with the highest number of deaths in the world where people of colour were hit the most, but it doesn’t take that far to see the same condition happening in our very own country.

Having heard these kinds of news almost on a daily basis, our hearts are heavy. It was almost tempting to opt out of the news, but these are crucial information to know, not just for awareness and certainly not for pseudo-gratitude (“we should be grateful our lives are much better than this is”) but also essential for actions, whatever our capacity permits. So we are enraged and emboldened and we dispense fewer words of love and light and prayers, so for us with a little bit to financially give fork out whatever remaining balance in our bank accounts to mutual aid initiatives, so we order takeout food less in an attempt not to further endanger people on the frontlines delivering them to us, so we call out the callousness of our leaders, so we make a list of criteria of what kind of person to vote for next, so we make noise, so we write, so we organise.

Coronavirus-related reads:

Other reads:

  • If you are familiar with the works of Rebecca Solnit, you would know that this is nothing new, but: most people are actually pretty decent.
  • Another proof — and a very engaging, eye-opening read.
  • “We have to think about, we have to talk about, we have to make strides toward an open future before the futurist-consultants come in with their predictive models and techno-solutionism and tell the bosses they have to sell off the world to save it.” Audrey Watters talks about how the imagined scenario created by futurists could still influence the directions of decision-making of politicians and corporations, and how this can affect the future.
  • “I know is that I am being tested, and whether or not I am offered this job will depend on the appetite and mood of strangers. “Your final task,” I imagine the dean saying, “is to make a rope out of these ashes. Do it and the job is yours.”” Phew, this essay on the struggle of job hunting hits hard.
  • Jeff (Bezos) is so wealthy, that it is quite literally unimaginable.
  • I love writing and exchanging letters, so this story about a girl who wrote letters to her postal officers warms my heart.
  • More virtual tour: Virtual tours of iconic skyscrapers.
  • “In your extended absence, you permit me the use of earth.”

STATUS BOARD

What good shall I do with this knowledge now?

A hand holding a bouquet of flowers with alphabet letters 'DR'

If it isn’t quite obvious from the picture above, I have passed my viva examination with minor corrections!

While I understand having nerves would be natural in times like this, I was initially shitting hard, concrete, rigged bricks. My viva was scheduled to be on Friday morning and I have scheduled a practice with a friend two days before so I could pretend-present my slides and she could become my pretend-examiner and ask hard questions, but I had to cancel it because I caught a fever of which I realised was largely psychosomatic. I had a call with my supervisor earlier in the week, of which I conducted with no holds barred — I literally lamented to him of how nervous I was, that I was afraid I might freeze in the middle of a question and the examiners might find me a fraud, and that despite having gone through the thesis again three times before the exam, I might lose sight of the important points and said something contradictory of which the examiners might catch and mark me as a fraud again. It was a vicious pattern! My supervisor, calm and collected as he always was, assured me that I had nothing to worry about, and adding into the pressure, said that “I’m sure you will do great.” He did not just say well, he said great. I walked out of the call convinced that he wouldn’t take anything less than great, and if I were to perform anything less than great, then, what kind of a mentee would I be after he had invested so much time and effort in my development?

A week before the exam, I decided to text a couple of friends who had defended their thesis to ask about their experiences, and what advice they might have to deal with nerves. I collected more wisdom than I expected, which is a given because I am blessed to be surrounded by people with much self-assurance, kindness, and intelligence I could ever aspire to have. Someone I looked up very highly to mentioned that the morning of her viva exam, she walked into the room telling herself saying, “So if I fail, I fail.” situating herself in the fact that she had done her best, and that a PhD, however a monumental event in one’s life, does not define your life entirely. I talked about it with my mother, and while she obviously looked worried — “but, you’ve done the job, they should pass you anyway,” then 10 minutes later, “RIGHT?” — I think about the notion all the time. I decided that I was going to adopt that confidence, in hopes that in some ways it would seep into my bones and become mine.

The day itself, surprisingly, was rather breezy. I signed into the Webex call initially nervous of course, but my examiners, in all their unbridled wisdom and experience, had made the session so comfortable I realised I had SO much to talk about my research when prompted. They have proven again and again that what it takes to dispel all the nerves in amateur academic researchers such as myself is to believe in them and their hard work, and I was very grateful for that. The questions they posed to me were more around their curiosity about the research more so than the horror stories of ‘grilling’ and ‘scrutinising’ of every chapter that I had often heard of. After an hour, I was ushered out of the call, and when I came back in, I was inundated with a flurry of congratulations.

My work isn’t quite over. On top of the list of minor corrections, one of the examiners suggested my thesis for an award and a book publication, so there’s more work. My thesis has survived three significant events in the history: a government change within electoral means, a government change with non-electoral means, and is currently surviving a global pandemic. Which is to say in extension, the whole journey is also a test on my character, my professional and my personal growth, and what good I shall do with this knowledge now. That was the question that had kept me grounded throughout my doctoral journey: What good shall I do with this knowledge now? In all its vagueness of what ‘good’ entails and how wide the scope is, I know for once the focus would be on minimising harms for all diversity of people, and that requires a great deal of unlearning and framework building of which I needed to find out where to start.

In my list of questions I prepared for myself before the viva, one of it was: “What advice do you have for researchers entering your field?” My answer, although I did not get asked this in my viva, was: 1) When it comes to writing research about technology and politics, always critically analyse every issue from the point of the intersections of gender, race, class, and other possible human diversity in your thesis, because if we fail to do this, we fail to see how technology could harm people in the margins, and 2) Cite less white men, and re-center the work and experience of others who would be largely affected by technology, which is to say, not white men.

In my journal, I wrote a reminder to myself to write about this word when I had successfully defended my PhD — opsivo — which is Greek to describe “an act of arriving too late to the feast, or to feast today with the weight of all the wasted yesteryears”. I had ‘kept’ the word tucked between the pages for months, convinced I was going to write about it to describe my feelings today. Little that I know today that I would not describe the yesteryears — filled with failed relationships and severe work burnout and friendships gone awry out of different directions — as wasted, but more so as a journey, a test that had contributed to my growth to who I am today. I wouldn’t say I would thank all of these people involved in these experiences, but I would say my resilience and tenacity was also what bounced me out of all them. I am not late to the feast, but rather, I am exactly where I needed to be.

The word more apt for the journey so far today, I guess, would be — phlotimo — literally translated as “love of honour”, essentially “at its core, is about goodness, selflessness, giving without wanting anything in return and the force that drives individuals to think about the people and the world around them”. Although still virtually untranslatable, it is what I would aspire to achieve in my journey of what good I shall do with this knowledge that I have earned.

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Viva week!

Halloween in Harlem“, Amy Stein.

Taking a break from writing non-work things this week as it is my PhD viva voce examination week! In the meantime, wash your hands, keep your social distance, stay home if you can, vow to fight fascism, and wish me luck! 🧿