… then all collapsed

(If you are in pursuit of an experienced, strategic, adaptable, and empathetic project manager / product manager / team leader / any managing role to work with your amazing team — hire me!)

Very happy to find out that just like me, Octavia Butler is also a polygamous and diverse reader (thanks Austin for the link):

I generally have four or five books open around the house — I live alone; I can do this — and they are not books on the same subject. They don’t relate to each other in any particular way, and the ideas they present bounce off one another. And I like this effect. I also listen to audio-books, and I’ll go out for my morning walk with tapes from two very different audio-books, and let those ideas bounce off each other, simmer, reproduce in some odd way, so that I come up with ideas that I might not have come up with if I had simply stuck to one book until I was done with it and then gone and picked up another.

When I was little, I had always wanted to become a librarian because I thought I could read ALL the books I want. But as I grew up, I learned to try not to make my hobby into a job — too much of something can’t always be a good thing (also applies to writing as a job).

Drew Austin from Kneeling Bus wrote about the last line from Moby Dick, “…then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago”, and how entropy would often take over if we don’t give any situation a sufficient amount of sustained attention and commitment (like social movements, for example) as well as within some ideas I have explored in previous posts (like this and this). This applies to America, to Brexit, to the assumed post-racial Obama administration days, and ESPECIALLY to the fight to fix and endure climate change.

I am acknowledging that I am currently struggling with some matters at the moment, and I am giving myself two months to sort it out. In two months, I am hoping that whatever is bothering at the moment, will no longer weigh me down.

In my tabs:

  • Reading: I am intentionally languishing in reading Louis de Bernieres’ Birds of Wings, of which afterwards I would take off to the Internet to look up obsessively about Eskibahce, the fictional village in the book where Muslims and Christians, Turks and Greeks, lived peacefully before the fall of the Ottoman empire. de Bernieres never mentioned the inspiration for the village, but it was believed to be Kayakoy, located in southwestern Turkey.
  • Listening: I am in this camp where I could never find anything — even the prospect of categorising popcorn — remotely boring! Thus the whole premise of this podcast Boring Talks — whose tagline is “behind every boring subject is another layer of boringness you could have never imagined” — defeat its purpose to me. Think of it like a British 99% Invisible — slightly tight-lipped, but just as interesting. Also, this Call Your Girlfriend podcast episode with Chanel Miller — “you should be able to be visible and safe.” This idea should be normalised and no longer radical in 2020!!! I also love when Aminatou mentioned Audre Lorde’s phrase, “Your silence will not protect you.” I was just thinking today that I am grateful to be introduced to the wise words of talented Chanel Miller.
  • Viewing: I had no idea how many times I have watched The Avengers, but I let the telly on in the background while I was working and the movie was playing, so.
  • Food & Drink: I was never a fan of Thai kerabu maggi, but turns out the petrol station (out of all places) near my place made a decent one, as I managed to give some a try today.

How to interview a tech company

(If you are in pursuit of an experienced, strategic, adaptable, and empathetic project manager / product manager / team leader / any managing role to work with your amazing team — hire me!)

Two things, or news, from within the design world made me happy today.

First, design scholar and activist Sasha Costanza-Chock’s (of whose paper on the principles of design justice I wrote about here) new book, Design Justice has just been newly released! I have always been a fan of Sasha’s work that focuses on design as the larger struggles for collective liberation — where it serves beyond the recent calls for design for good, user-centered design, and employment diversity in the technology and design industry. I am very excited to read this new book of hers.

Second, I have also been interested for the longest time in how our multitudinous of backgrounds could enhance and improve in how we approach our work and research. This is why I am very fond of working within a multidisciplinary team — more so beyond our variety of professional professions, but also especially if the team is comprised of different ethnicities, nationalities, hence cultural backgrounds, which would make the experience working together in a group more enriching as we could learn from each other. I am also especially interested in how one’s previous profession, which was traditionally in no way related to their current one, could inform their current work and research. This was what the interview with Sareeta Amrute, Director of Research at Data & Society and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington was all about, as she tries to answer this question: What can those of us who work in, and maybe even love, computing cultures do about computing’s colonial expansions? She mentioned in a question about how her perspective as an anthropologist and ethnographer informs her research approach, “…researchers need to follow their findings rather than fitting into existing frames, and the most robust findings come from engaging with technological systems in practice.” She also asserts that there is more than technical skills, “These other (than technical) skills will help us both find the agency that often exists at the peripheries of existing systems and to surface solutions that will certainly come the more we are able to look beyond the confines of the organisations that employ us,” and that we need to always be learning, “We learn what our project demands as well as we can, with full awareness that this knowledge is incomplete.” I am really interested in her / Foucault’s idea of counterconduct — the agency that people, communities, and companies have to build alternatives to the colonial attributes in tech industry. And I love that she mentions all of the contemporary women and/or POC scholars of the sociocomputing field (check out works cited at the end of the interview) — Ruha Benjamin, Safiya Noble, Sarah Roberts, Marie Hicks, Charlton McIllwain, Anita Say Chan, Wendy Chun, Lisa Nakamura, Virginia Eubanks, and Beth Coleman.

On the personal front, this is among the weeks where writing felt difficult. There is just no groove. I was directed to Jack Cheng’s newsletter post where he wrote about the distinction between ruts and full-on block, as he reread Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit:

A rut is not writer’s block (or any other creative block). When you’re in a rut, at least you know your motor is running. Writer’s block means your engine has shut down and the tank is empty. Being blocked is most often a failure of nerve, with only one solution: Do something—anything.

He wrote in his notes: RUTS ARE FORMER GROOVES. I guess I am just slightly tired and lacking groove at the moment.

Currently in my tabs:

  • How to interview a tech company: A guide for students. This is an excellent list of questions to ask by anyone, not just students, to tech companies that they are interviewing at — addressing issues about ethics and equity in the industry. Some of the questions are US-centric, so please adapt accordingly.
  • On February 2, the World Health Organization dubbed the new coronavirus “a massive ‘infodemic,’” referring to ”an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
  • “There should therefore be a time in adult life devoted to revisiting the most important books of our youth. Even if the books have remained the same (though they do change, in the light of an altered historical perspective), we have most certainly changed, and our encounter will be an entirely new thing.” Why read the classics.
  • “To look closely over someone’s hands, to open the palm, observe the fingers, follow the veins and examine the creases and folds, is to gain a powerful sense of the living newness and exoticism of their life.” On studying someone else’s hands.
  • A prayer for new freelancers.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Still Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings.
  • Viewing: Back to watching La Casa de Papel, Season 3.
  • Listening: Disco Jazz by Rupa, of which described in Flow State, “There’s Bollywood, there’s Western Funk, and there’s what the excellent Pitchfork deep dive describes as “[what] would now be considered Balearic beat music, with its expansive and hypnotic musical interludes.””
  • Food & Drink: Made sweet and sour shrimp dish using this recipe.

Culture of idiots

I forgot how the whole pursuit of job searching is a job by itself. Writing self-promoting paragraphs after paragraphs, assessing which companies would fit your values, trying to determine how much you are going to be paid at the same wary you might be asking for so much (or so little?), being overwhelmed with so much anxiety and defeat after weeks of no news whatsoever… ay dios mio. If you are in pursuit of an experienced, strategic, adaptable, and empathetic project manager / product manager / team leader / any managing role to work with your amazing team — hire me!

On a much happier, more accomplished note, I decided to take part in a gender studies conference in my university in October. I think I’d be writing and talking about gendered harassment on Twitter, which is a spin-off from my thesis where I noticed non-male identified activists received more sexist, condescending, and more often than not, violent remarks referring to their gender more than their ideas — what we also often call ad hominem attack. I am still unsure which feminist framework of which I should examine this phenomenon from, or if there is any, but I am always excited to start researching and writing once again.

As an extension of previous post, I have also been thinking about the distinction between our private and public space, especially in this digital age where impression management is flattened and it is almost impossible to hold different personas now that your very one self is showcased publicly throughout your social media platforms. Your friends know the same things about you as your boss does, being anonymous is almost revolutionary. It is also funny to think that the Greek origins of the word ‘idiot’ is someone who made their private life public:

But where my classics come in is I am amused by the fact our word idiot comes from the Greek word idiotes, which means a private person. It’s from the word idios, which means private as opposed to public. So the Athenians, or the Greeks in general who had such a highly developed sense of the radical distinction between what went on in public and what went on in private, thought that a person that brought his private life into public spaces, who confused public and private was an idiote, was an idiot. Of course, now everybody does this. We are in a culture of idiots in the Greek sense.

I also could not stop thinking about this scanned PDF of the handwritten log of computer use at Stanford’s AI lab in 1967. Should we stop fiddling if we don’t know enough?

A scanned handwritten log of computer use at Stanford’s AI lab in 1967, which wrote: MAG tape no work. Vacuum pump won't come on. I don't know enough to fiddle, so left it in that state.

What I am paying attention to today:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: 63% into Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings, where I am currently in the chapters set during the Battle of Gallipoli where it gets interestingly good and graphic and also so very sad.
  • Viewing: “The gap between activism on the streets and online debate seems to become bigger in between the last years: Whilst the biggest street demonstrations were held by progressive activists, the debating culture online suffered from hatred through alt-rights and trolls.” Activism in the smartphone era.
  • Listening: Today is somewhat tough, so I have been listening to some slow jazz — of course it includes John Coltrane.
  • Food and Drink: Tried this matcha ice-cream, and this salted egg fish skin snack everyone’s been talking about. Love the matcha ice-cream, not a fan of the fish skin.

On online mourning

The secret history of facial recognition.

Lately I have been thinking about the way we mourn online.

Two weeks ago, I, and perhaps others in the same hemisphere, woke up to the news of the death of Kobe Bryant. I found out through Twitter. To be honest, I could no longer recall a day where I wake up and not pick up the phone and check Twitter first, a habit I must instantly vanquish. Drew Austin in Kneeling Bus wrote about recalling the day Michael Jackson died a decade ago — he was on a bus to Chicago, a fellow commute first got the news and announced it to the entire bus. At about the same time, I recalled I was in my old office as the news made its way through my cubicle. I had no smartphone at the time, and social media was still in the fledgling stage, so what I did was texted a couple of friends and talked to a few colleagues and reminisced of how Michael Jackson’s music shaped our childhood. But news hit different now.

Yesterday a Malaysian comedian passed away in his sleep at the age of 32, prompting a flurry of heartfelt messages indexed within a Twitter hashtag, which soon trended worldwide. I found out about the news through a family Whatsapp channel, when a relative posted a link to the comedian’s friend’s Instagram post, of which he was crying into the screen of his phone, viewed by millions of viewers all over the world. Loved as he was, the Twitter timeline soon filled with users posting their own video selfies, grieving over the loss of their idol. A few parents posted videos of their children crying over the comedian’s loss. An opposite of collective effervescence, collective grieving online is just as powerful.

My father, my person, passed away in December 2011. I remembered texting a close friend that I was packing to go to the hospital, and as soon as I received the news of his passing, I texted her first and foremost. Soon, my phone (also not a smartphone, but I was already active on social media) was inundated with messages from close friends and others, who I presumed, got my number through my other friends. Unlike today at the slightest inconvenience (I am talking about myself, who sometimes overshare on social media), I didn’t instantly take the news to social media. I only browsed through the platforms the night after the funeral, replying messages from friends and colleagues who were checking on me. But soon the messages which are logistics-based (replying messages, thanking them etc.) turned into what Rachel Vorona Cote called our “very own imperfect Victorian mourning ritual” — public and performative, at which everyone was free to participate in their own online discursive ways (like, retweet, comment), or none at all (view, or mute, or block). After all, I never asked for anything much — it felt shallow to always have to talk or text someone in particular about how much I miss my dad, for I understand we are adults with numerous obligations of our own — so posting about missing my dad on social media somehow implied that you, out there, reading, have the choice to participate in my online mourning to whichever extent that you want. All of us who are mourning online — it felt like we are screaming into a void, except this void is filled with people who will just see us flailing our arms and have the choice, most of the time, to ignore us. Amidst my own flailing limbs, I see you too.

Mentioned in this article:

In my tabs:

  • “I am becoming quite popular. I heard one say that he would vacuum the HEPA filters for my gardener if he could have five minutes with his nose close to me.” If a space zucchini could write a diary, so could you.
  • Couldn’t stop thinking of the saxophonist playing ‘El derecho de vivir en paz‘ (the right to live in peace) in the middle of Santiago riots, reminiscent of the bard in Mad Max: Fury Road.
  • I still couldn’t get over the fact that some people do not have internal monologue — so lucky, and their mind must be so so quiet! But that also might explain why some people talk to themselves out loud (I used to have a roomate who did this, suffice to say I knew everything she was thinking about) as they could not verbalise what they are thinking.
  • “It’s not in the lies, it’s in the exhaustion. The danger is we become so overwhelmed that we just give up.” Ranjan Roy on the price of innovation and the tech-as-a-panacea mentality adopted by the Democrats as they kept cheering on aggressive digital and information strategies to defeat Trump. The failure of the Caucus app is also, more so than political, a monopoly story. Also, inside ACRONYM, the tech consultancy behind the disastrous Iowa Caucus app.
  • What your political burnout means, and what you can do about it.
  • Also related to the above: “Seeing those connections—and how your own actions fit within the firmament—obliterates the notion that nothing matters. So much matters, to so many people. The result of that awareness is that your heart aches in new ways. But it also grows in new ways, fortified by the knowledge that we are, truly, in this together.”
  • While looking after yourself is great, self-care is still an idea rooted in a neoliberal tradition of looking out for ourselves, rather than seeing ourselves, our health and our fates as inextricably linked to our fellow human beings. Communal, instead of, self-care. This is a tricky notion for me, as I believe in order to also be available for others, we must first take care of ourselves. What do you think?
  • Coronavirus is causing video conferencing tools like WeChat Work and Zoom in China to crash as workers turn to them by the millions to keep work going.
  • “Visible mending insists that beauty can be built in the wake of a breakdown, and that we can connect to one another even in times of rupture.” On sashiko, the art of visible mending in Japan.
  • Look out over the prow. There are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you.”

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Still Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings, which also made me think of the concept ‘internal cartographies‘ as everyday life is disrupted in the midst of war.
  • Listening: Spotify generated a playlist for my cat Monty based on his temperament — I mentioned he’s somewhat 60% chill 40% tempestuous — so the app came with this playlist for him. I have a name for this, it’s cute cat surveillance (a spin-off of cute cat theory).
  • Viewing: The smart girl trope, explained.
  • Food & Drink: I’m having those Vietnamese spring rolls again. Shut up.

On solastalgia

Interior Views of the Central Social Institution in Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1937, home to the world’s largest vertical file cabinet.

Interior Views of the Central Social Institution in Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1937

How do you write when the planet is falling apart? “Can you still just tend to your own garden once you know about the fire outside its walls?” These are the sort of questions that not only Jenny Offill asks herself, but I do too. How do we persevere in a world that will burn us alive — or it’s us ourselves who will burn ourselves alive? How will our writings help? Turns out there is a word to describe the ‘solace, desolation, and nostalgia to convey the distress of seeing a familiar environment bitterly transformed by drought, fire, and flood’ — it’s called solastalgia. It was coined by environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, and it is a ‘disorienting sickness we experience without leaving home’, that these worries soon permeate our everyday lives that it manifests in our tasks, however minuscule they might be.

This is the premise of Jenny Offill’s new fiction, a cli-fi called Weather, where it tells about Lizzie, a failed PhD student turned part-time librarian who frets about the littlest thing, but then whose frets soon turned into something bigger — she began to worry about climate collapse after Trump was elected. It reminded me of Ducks, Newburyport, where a housewife’s stream of consciousness works like puzzle pieces — they are all interrelated together to create a bigger picture, and strangely, something all of us who are anxious could relate to. Indeed, to many of us, the worries about climate emergency — however major — could seem to be sidelined by our everyday tasks. But in any odd minutes, the worries emerge, in what the piece calls ‘internal cartographies’, where the apocalyptic scenarios were not explicitly mentioned, but they would then loom upon us unpremeditated, unannounced.

In the recent The Convivial Society, L.M. Sacasas wrote about the notion of a ‘tremendous accumulation of tiredness‘ — taken from Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time to Keep Silence — the constant tiredness, exhaustion, and burnout, stemming from worries, simply as a matter of living in the modern world.

he most remarkable preliminary symptoms were the variations of my need of sleep. After initial spells of insomnia, nightmare and falling asleep by day, I found that my capacity for sleep was becoming more and more remarkable: till the hours I spent in or on my bed vastly outnumbered the hours I spent awake; and my sleep was so profound that I might have been under the influence of some hypnotic drug. For two days, meals and the offices in the church — Mass, Vespers and Compline — were almost my only lucid moments. Then began an extraordinary transformation: this extreme lassitude dwindled to nothing; night shrank to five hours of light, dreamless and perfect sleep, followed by awakenings full of energy and limpid freshness. The explanation is simple enough: the desire for talk, movements and nervous expression that I had transported from Paris found, in this silent place, no response or foil, evoked no single echo; after miserably gesticulating for a while in a vacuum, it languished and finally died for lack of any stimulus or nourishment. Then the tremendous accumulation of tiredness, which must be the common property of all our contemporaries, broke loose and swamped everything. No demands, once I had emerged from that flood of sleep, were made upon my nervous energy: there were no automatic drains, such as conversation at meals, small talk, catching trains, or the hundred anxious trivialities that poison everyday life. Even the major causes of guilt and anxiety had slid away into some distant limbo and not only failed to emerge in the small hours as tormentors but appeared to have lost their dragonish validity.

How do we map our ‘internal cartographies’ away from this ‘tremendous accumulation of tiredness’? How do we write in a planet that will soon fall apart? Maybe this is where the dog in the burning house muttering ‘this is fine’ GIF should be placed, but really — how do we channel all of this dread into action?

Currently in my tabs:

  • I’m quite skeptical (and I have a lot of questions!) at the premise of yet another social network claiming to be distributed, knowing that most of them would change directions when acquired by bigger corporations, but Planetary is co-founded by technologist Tom Coates so I am interested to see how the platform develops. Also, check out Cocoon.
  • The Mozilla Foundation, the non-profit arm of the company known for its privacy-friendly web browser Firefox, released a guide for helping students navigate ethical issues in the tech industry.
  • Arab Spring in 2011 was one of the events which inspired — although it feels like a weird and inappropriate choice of word — the direction of my PhD thesis to understand the dynamics of protest movements in the age of networked space. It was also one of the events in the last decade of how technology had played a momentous role in shaping the course of history.
  • On TikTok, black girls find visibility.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings.
  • Listening: Hit random on any of the (200+) playlists that I have on my Spotify.
  • Viewing: For the weekend: One guy gets the entire park to sing Bon Jovi.
  • Food & Drink: Char kuey teow, and iced tea.

Your boss may track your every keystroke

I wanted to write about the fiasco surrounding Iowa Caucus app beyond its technological failures — as how every technological failure should be analysed — but I figured I wasn’t really prepared in terms of materials, so perhaps I am going to hold off on the post for another day.

I just finished re-reading architect Marwa al-Sabouni’s The Battle for Home, in which she writes about how architecture has played a slow unravelling of Syrian cities’ social fabric, as the country plunges itself into destruction following the years of civil war. I don’t normally read architecture books — a large mistake — as I felt books on architecture and built environment that I was exposed to during design school often focus on aesthetic values and lack social perspectives. This is the gap of which al-Sabouni highlighted in her very book — where she brings together her first-hand experience of growing up in her war-ravaged hometown, Homs, through contextual lenses of urban planning and politics, forced displacement, heritage, and the effects of refugee crisis — and how architecture could help reverse the damage. I am also especially drawn to how al-Sabouni highlighted the discontinuity between the architectural pedagogy in her country and the actual needs of the city (plus how politics and corruption could influence the whole decision of built environment) — a set of uncomfortable truths which are not alien in many countries as well (a friend wrote a doctoral research on exactly this kind of disparity in the scope of my own country). I feel that this book is severely underrated and I would recommend everyone to read it. My review does not do justice of how intelligently, thoughtfully, and empathetically written this book is — so if you want to know more, Zeina Elcheikh has written a more eloquent one.

In my tabs:

STATUS BOARD

We make determinations

A scene from the documentary Miss Americana: Taylor Swift where she says, "Like, you can run from fascism."

Disregarding her privileges as a white, thin, blond, and beautiful woman with a net worth of almost 400 million dollars, there was a very specific — OK, several — scene(s) in Miss Americana where I could definitely relate to Taylor Swift. The whole growth from being accustomed to being known as the ‘nice girl’ who smiles and waves and stays out of trouble, all the way to acquiring the social and political awareness — thus leading us to deconstruct our entire belief systems, especially after we found out how our ideological stance would not only affect our individual ways of lives, but also others’. The whole bouncing back from an incident where we nearly lost ourselves, and reinventing in ways that scream “I deserve to be here and you don’t get to tell me otherwise!”. That one revealing scene where despite all the hurdles she faced, she is thankful that, “I’m only here because I work hard and I’m nice to people. That work ethic, thank god I had that work ethic.” The documentary concludes with Swift announcing, in all her reclamation of her multifacetedness, “I want to still have a sharp pen, a thin skin, and an open heart.”

I’ve been procrastinating from finishing something which I know I am hella capable of, but I could not quite pinpoint why I had been dragging myself to work on it. So I decided to approach the Assessment of Why I Procrastinate like a researcher — in which I wrote down all the possible theories of why I procrastinate (I don’t believe that one procrastinates because they’re lazy) and a set of questions to possible ask some friends. At the end of today, I managed to pinpoint two reasons — two major and two minor — of why I had been holding back on this task. It all seemed clearer now, and all I needed to do was to figure out ways to navigate around these challenges.

I couldn’t stop thinking of this story told by poet Saeed Jones on new year resolutions, of which his mother called instead, determinations. “We don’t make resolutions in this house; we make determinations.” Unlike resolutions, determinations, in Mama Jones’ format, contained the word will — “As in, “I will overcome my health challenges. I will travel abroad this year with my son.” She didn’t live long enough to do all of these with Jones, but her consistency to summon these determinations like a clockwork every year, her resilience to make things work, this form of speaking into existence, stuck with Jones forever. And it would be with me too.

What’s open in my tabs for the past few days:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Re-reading Marwa Al-Sabouni’s The Battle for Home, in which she explores how architecture played a crucial role in the slow unraveling of Syrian cities’ social fabric.
  • Listening: An episode from Call Your Girlfriend on bad bosses, and how hard it can be to tell whether your supervisor is holding you to a high standard, or whether they’re just being a bully. “When I’m in a challenging situation or a relationship, ask yourself: Is this hard in a constructive way or hard in a destructive way? Am I growing as a person, or am I losing myself?” and a lot of other useful questions to ask yourself. (Update: When women are bad bosses, weigh the stereotype against powerful women, and your own expectations of bad bosses. And consider also the power dynamics.)
  • Viewing: Very important and very timely, post-Amber Heard / Johnny Depp abuse case. And of course, Miss Americana.
  • Food & Drink: Does everyone have a phase where you practically eat the same thing out of choice for a few days straight because you like the food so much? I have been binging on Vietnamese spring rolls for like, four days in a row now. So, so good.

Dinosaurs in love

Another valuable thing I learned from my doctoral journey is somehow developing this tendency to ask more ‘productive’ questions — productive, in which I define as would involve actionable steps, rather than just treating the means as an end. These questions are more than (in the context of social network platforms usage in protest movements) “are they effective?” but more towards “how would these social network platforms reconfigure the dynamics of protest movements? How will these affordances of the platforms do this? Who would benefit from these new dynamics? And who would be potentially be harmed?” etc.

One edition in WITI a few days ago talked exactly about this, particularly when it comes to contextualising data. As researchers, a lot of our daily work involves coming across a great deal of numbers and statistics that sometimes, in the early days of our career, we tend to just publish them without actually questioning how relevant they are and how they can add more value to our reports. I like the part when Noah quoted Columbia statistics professor Andrew Gelman of his answer about how to do better with stats as a writer (emphasis mine).

I recommended to the reporter that, when he sees a report of an interesting study, that he contact the authors and push them with hard questions: not just “Can you elaborate on the importance of this result?” but also “How might this result be criticised?”, “What’s the shakiest thing you’re claiming?”, “Who are the people who won’t be convinced by this paper?”, etc. Ask these questions in a polite way, not in any attempt to shoot the study down—your job, after all, is to promote this sort of work—but rather in the spirit of a fuller understanding of the study.

I especially like the part where his answer places people in the focus of the question, “Who are the people who won’t be convinced by this paper? How might this result be criticised?” which is often my first and foremost principle whenever I try to embark on any research project — placing people first.

There’s also another WITI where I learned about the existence of the fabric called sea silk. Writer and illustrator Edith Zimmerman, who also owns her own newsletter Drawing Links, wrote this edition following her and her mum’s vacation from Sanibel Island, Florida. They visited Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum where she came across sea silk, a fibre made from the tufts of giant mussels (or, noble pen mollusks). According to her, “Garments made of sea silk are prized for being both light and warm, but sea silk’s real allure is that when it’s submerged in something acidic, like cow urine or lemon juice, it turns from a dull brown into something that glitters like gold in the sun — and retains that quality permanently.”

Image of a sea silk

Speaking of the Sun itself, the National Science Foundation has just released the very first and the highest resolution images of the Sun. Taken using the new Inouye solar telescope, it shows three times more detail than previous imaging techniques. Every blistering cell in the image is about the size of… Texas.

I was joking to a friend today that the Sun looks like caramel popcorn, and now she wanted some.

My tabs are currently opened to:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Emily Carroll’s horror webcomic, His Face All Red. It was only ten pages, but it managed to send chills down my spine. Looking forward to getting her horror graphic novel, Through the Woods, and spook myself.
  • Viewing: Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak on Netflix, a timely documentary. And this gorgeous stop motion animation by Charlotte Arene, called La mer à boire (French for “it’s not that big a deal” — it’s not like drinking the sea).
  • Listening: Khruangbin, a three-piece band from Houston sporting instrumental jams through Jamaican reggae effects and techniques, whose band name takes inspiration from 70’s Thai funk music. Also, dinosaurs in love.
  • Food & Drink: I had the fluffiest croissant ever, I am still full now.

January 2020

Every day I take a 1-second video using the app 1 Second Everyday to record what’s happening in my life. This is for January 2020 — where, despite how everyone was grumbling of how long it took, was quite eventful for me! It was my birthday month and it was also the month where I submitted my PhD thesis! Sadly, it was also the month where my mum was admitted to the hospital (she’s OK now) and some of the cats, weirdly, also fell sick at the same time.

Now, on to February (and the rest of the year).

We don't give voice to anyone

Last week there was this whole fiasco about the novel American Dirt, a novel about the Mexican migrant experience who received flak from the Latinx community due to the tones of appropriation and the dehumanisation of the Mexican experience as portrayed in the book. It was written by Jeanine Cummins who isn’t Mexican and whose lines in the book include, “Lydia notices that her arms are as tan as childhood. Luca, too, is a shade browner than usual…” and whose personal anecdotes include “I don’t want to write about race“, and that her wish that “someone slightly browner than me would write it”. A NYTimes reviewer called the book ‘determinedly apolitical‘ — how could it when all reading is political and it is especially a book of which theme revolves around the subject of border crisis? It was made worse when the book made it for Oprah book club, of whose book party presents the guests with barbed wire adornment on their table, “to evoke ‘border chic’.”

One of the most valuable things I learned from joining academia and especially social sciences was the opportunity to interrogate my own previous uninformedness and biases, as well as learning how to re-centre the voices of those who needed to be heard. This is why I found that I could not read ‘fluff’ materials anymore, or if there is such thing as ‘fluff’ or ‘lowbrow’ subjects, as I would tend to analyse these materials and place it in the various contexts of when, where, and whom the materials were created for. I felt like if the publishing team (and the author) made an effort to ask a set of questions especially ones regarding identity, representation, exploitation, and the potentials of harm — among many others — before deciding to write and publish this book, or any book, both the author and the readers would have had the opportunity to be introduced to a more sensitive, inclusive, and respectful work.

William Lopez, a PhD holder whose interests include the issues of immigration, wrote an excellent Medium post on the responsibility of social scientists to be mindful of positioning our work in a respectful, honest, authentic, and powerful ways (emphasis mine):

As social scientists, our work is meant to counter systems of injustice and inequity, and addressing issues of identity, representation, commodification, and authenticity are fundamental parts of this work.

Own your identity in your writing, whether as an insider, an outsider, or something in between. This also means that you must acknowledge your privilege and actively work to articulate and address how it impacts your data collection, your interpretation, and your dissemination.

We don’t “give voice” to anyone. Claiming to “give voice” belies an assumption that those on behalf of whom we work have no voice themselves. The problem, then, is not that these voices don’t exist, it’s that society either actively chooses to ignore them, or, worse, actively silences them.

We must bring discussions of violence and trauma into the foreground with respect, reverence, and responsibility.

Also related, Alexander Chee’s three questions as answers to questions posed to him from an audience during a writers’ conference, “Do you have any advice for writing about people who do not look like you?”

  • Why do you want to write from this characters’ point of view?
  • Do you read writers from this community currently?
  • Why do you want to tell this story?

Also, time to revamp our bookshelves so they no longer contain stories about people who only look like us, or predominantly white. Time to read widely.

Currently reading (and thinking):

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Mark Fisher’s Capitalism Realism, “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”
  • Viewing: This documentary on Netflix called Don’t F**k with Cats, which is, even though originating from the subject of animal abuse, much to my relief did not depict the abuse at all, but then… it was about something else. Watch it.
  • Listening: Rachel’s, a chamber group from Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Food & Drink: Went to have my favourite bihun sup (vermicelli noodle soup) and ais kacang (shaved ice), 20 minutes drive away from home.