Make space

An illustration from Safavid Iran on the community of kitab-khana — the 'book-house'.

I’m very fascinated on yesterday’s discovery found through Alan Jacobs’ brilliant newsletter, Snakes and Ladders, about this very interesting institution during Safavid Iran called kitab-khana, literally ‘book-house’. I remember when libraries in Malay used to be called kutubkhanah, which I used to think was named after the Pole (of ‘kutub’ = North and South Pole) of which also strangely I never found out why. I guess curiosity did not strike me enough during that time that I never bothered to find out. It was also interesting that kitab-khana was described as more than a library — it used to hold workshops, where calligraphers and painters ans scribes and papermakers and binders gathered to work together to create beautifully illustrated books. Kitab-khana was more than just a house that kept books, it was a community.

Some good news finally surfaced after a few weeks of January. My mother was discharged early this week, and it turns out to be nothing serious. My thesis submission administration woes finally came through, which means I am ready to submit any time soon. I am currently going through the details one last time before I send it for printing next week. It felt like a massive weight had finally been lifted off my shoulders.

I have been thinking about my future viva voce a lot and the potential questions I am going to receive, particularly that my research had a great deal to do with political participation and technology (in particular social media) and as we all know, those two are pretty much fields which are very fast-paced and erratic. I have been thinking a lot about how political participation had adapted throughout various media spheres — from print to blogs to social media to chat apps (Whatsapp/Telegram) to also having their own apps (in the case of Catalonia protests). What this means for researchers next is how we need to find ways to not only be able to procure the data from these private channels and apps, but also how to do in an ethical manner. I have also been thinking about the ethical data mining a lot after I stumbled upon a site providing Twitter data on Lebanon protests, knowing that even though Twitter stated that any public tweets are public in a sense that they are available for anyone for any type of research, but also knowing that these data could potentially put the protesters — of whose details are available and mineable publicly — in trouble in case if they get in the wrong hands. These ethical questions are something that I have been interrogating myself a lot, and one of the things I would probably bring up during the defense.

Tiny Spells, every so relatable, today wrote on why she writes: “I write so that my words would have weight. I write because of a limitation I have long grown past.” Andre Aciman, of whose thoughts about writing has always been helpful for me to always show up and write anyway, because, “you write not after you have thought things through, you write to think things through.” James Baldwin, taking it up on another level, as he always does, “you write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world.”

After I switched to a daily journal Moleskine with designated pages for every day, I write every day. It felt like when there’s a space for it, I would fill it. It feels like an apt analogy — when you make space for yourself or someone or something, you or they will feel compelled to fill it. So make space, because it’s a good thing.

Some related, some not:

  • A new type of political activist is emerging within and alongside with contemporary movements: the WhatsApper, an individual who uses the chat app intensely to serve her political agenda, leveraging its affordances for political participation.
  • We were promised flying cars but got apps instead.
  • Revolution in every country.
  • “They weighed the body a few minutes before death. They weighed the same body a few minutes after death. They used simple arithmetic—subtraction—to determine the weight of the soul.”


It's revolutionary to be happy

Halloween, 1968: Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.) hexes Wall Street, New York. The stock market reportedly falls by thirteen points the following day.

The past few days I have been struggling to deal with my flawed ideals that normal every day people do not have to have some basics of insurance literacy in order to navigate the intricacies of the medical/health insurances so that we will not get duped, as my mother was about to get admitted to the hospital. The short story was that there was a change in the insurance policy in the midst of our subscription which rendered my mother ineligible to be covered for all of her hospital admissions. The long story, was, too long and however uncomplicated it should be, turned out to be complicated and we are tired. It felt defeating in moments like these, it felt almost revolutionary to be happy.

If you think I haven’t been talking incessantly about Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter enough, I am going to mention her excellent points again on her today’s edition on the pursuit of productivity and what this may cost others. In her quest to write a book about millennial burnout (available for pre-order!), she picked up two excellent books that have “clarified and shifted her thinking”. The first book is called The Sum of Small Things by Elizabeth Currid-Hackett which argues as “economic class continues to disarticulate from education level (aka, people with PhDs can be barely making ends meet, and people with a high school education working in the trades, or owning their own businesses, can be solidly upper-middle class) people increasingly signal their class status, or their aspirational class status, through “productive” leisure””.

Before, you could announce your spot in the upper-middle class through the purchase of recognizable luxury brand items. Now, buying an item for its luxury status is conceived of as crass, or uncultured — a mark of new money. The real way to show that you’re cultured is to evidence (through conversation or Instagram) consumption of cultured things (podcasts, articles, award-winning books, quality television) and participation in cultured activities (pottery class, skiing, bread baking, endless numbers of self-optimizing physical activities).

The next book (which had also been recommended to me by a dear friend) is called Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy by Melissa Gregg, who compiled time management manuals and guides and discerned a pattern from all of them. What caught my attention and what I caught myself nodding aggressively is particularly this paragraph as Petersen, in summarising Gregg’s findings, came to this conclusion (emphasis mine):

It’s also no accident that the first office productivity manuals arrived as secretaries — once standardised in most work places — began to vanish, or at least vanish as a regular feature for most every (man) with an office job. Before, productivity was possible partly because all of the “mundane” labour of the workday, from typing to making dinner reservations, was offloaded to the paid and unpaid women in your life. And every productivity manual or app is a blueprint, in some way, to returning to this model of work, where the concerns and demands of others’ largely did not concern or demand of you.

And for those tasks and inefficiencies we can’t offload on coworkers and family, we now underpay others to perform them for us: TaskRabbits, Uber drivers, Instacart grocery shoppers, Trunk Club stylists, Blue Apron packagers, nannies, home organisers, Handy housecleaners, Amazon warehousers and drivers, Seamless delivery people. People have always paid other people to do the mundane, time-consuming things they can afford not to do. But the current price of those services makes them widely accessible in a different way.

We’re creating a new class bifurcation, between those who work so much, and are so conscious of squeezing productivity out of every hour, making enough money to offload all unproductive tasks, and those making very little in order to make that productivity possible.

I would probably quote everything Petersen wrote (and I can’t wait for her book!) so you might as well just read her writing and subscribe to her very excellent newsletter now.

Some related, some not:


  • Reading: Finished my library copy of Comparative Revolutionary Movements. Now on to read Paulo Gerbaudo’s The Digital Party, that I have been putting on pause since last year.
  • Viewing: Season 6 of my favourite series ever, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is now on Netflix so I am going to binge watch it this week.
  • Listening: Not listening to anything new yet this week.
  • Food & Drink: Had some croissants, frozen lasagna, and some coffee.

Courage is strategic

I have realised that I have indeliberately gotten into this new practise recently as I started to journal everyday in my 2020 Moleskine Planner. I am still in knee-deep with my university administration woes at this point of time — just like today, I received my Turnitin report one week after requesting (which I remembered only took me about 10 minutes when I was given a student access through Blackboard at my old university) and the report turns out to be corrupted. Asking them to resend would probably take another week to reply, because for some reasons these people in my current university only answer phones or emails only after a few hundred tries. If it’s something I despise with the passion of a thousand burning suns, it’s inefficiency.

Anyway, back to the said practise. Within these ten days of January, there were already two posts in my Moleskine journal which read like this, “I am having trouble merging my theories together. In one week I will look back at this post and realised it seemed so insurmountable now that I have solved it” and “I am having to jump through multiple administration hoops just to submit my thesis. In two weeks, I will look back at this post when I have submitted and learned from this inefficiency of others and vowed to never inflict this upon others”. For the record, I have successfully merged my theories in less than the vague timeline I have set for myself, and unfortunately still struggling with the administration woes. Was this practise also a form of speaking into existence, to hypothesise a situation one so much desires it might finally happen? I like it. I will do it more often this year onwards.

Speaking about speaking into existence, there is this imagined report from 2030 on how we ended the climate emergency. “In a climate emergency, courage is not just a choice. It’s strategic. It’s a survival strategy”, begins one of its lines. Amidst all the alarming articles about how the world’s headed towards destruction, it’s refreshing for once to hear stories of how it could look like if we all radically, collectively take action. After all, “what is human civilisation if not the result of all the stories we’ve been told?”

Now, to take action.

Some related, some not:


  • Reading: 50% into Ece Temelkuran’s How to Lose a Country, on the rise of populist leaders and why people quickly embrace their ideologies. Which brings us to this article that is worthy of a reflection, “He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period.”
  • Viewing: I still think Parasite was the best movie I have watched last year (more so than Joker!). If you haven’t watched it, please do — and in the meantime, here’s Evan Puschak’s analysis on the movie’s very excellent montage. Also, I am resuming Season 2 of La Casa de Papel.
  • Listening: This The East is a Podcast episode on the background information of the axis of crisis of the United States, Iran and Iraq — and explained through a critical anti-Orientalist lens, as we all should. Also listening to the heavenly voice of Moses Sumney‘s.
  • Food & Drink: Just rice porridge today, and lots of coffee.

The neverending drumbeat

I am currently having to jump through multiple administration hoops just in order to submit my thesis. In 2 weeks I will look back on this post and see that I have successfully submitted.

Designer Frank Chimero — of whose writing, portfolio, and blog I have been diligently following since years — doesn’t always write. But when he does, he gets it. In his latest newsletter, he wrote about music, particularly about the British post-punk band Dry Cleaning who sampled YouTube comments, Instagram captions, and advertising copy to construct lyrics that resemble inner monologues. In relation to this writing about music, he mentioned of how much we have assigned meanings to the inner workings of an algorithm — which, to be honest is a total black box where a lot of people, even the ML developers sometimes, could not easily decipher. In addition to the feeling of anger and outrage the algorithm has presented to us (note: also for the fact the world is literally burning), Chimero asked if we have ever considered how much algorithms and big data have also incited paranoia e.g. how many times have we asked ourselves if Facebook overheard us when we see ads about the weighted blanket we talked about last night? Or is it true that our phone’s software was deliberately designed to be slower right when its newer model was about to be announced?

In the absence of obvious reasons, we become mystics of the stream just like the sky, assigning mysterious behaviour to algorithms, mapping meaning onto the position of stars and dates of birth, believing that if we can’t change what controls us, perhaps we can believe a story enough to interface with it. The right story makes incohesiveness legible, and by knowing the pattern, we can be given a clearer understanding of the world, create success, and be lead deeper into ourselves. They can guide our infinite choices and finally create real possibility. Or so they say. In this environment, it’s no surprise that astrology and tarot have returned to popularity.

That also made me think of two things: 1. this article on how in the age of capitalism which demands all of our time, energy, and effort to be commercialised, astrology emerges as an act of resistance, as a way for us to explore our meanings (of which I have shared last week), and 2. this newsletter post by Stacy-Marie Ishmael, on clinging to faith as an act of endurance. I have always wondered about how one ascribes so much of the meanings they could come up with to their faith — especially as my religious mother is living with me — but I realised when it seems to no longer make sense, when it feels like there are no obvious answers to our questions, no balm to heal our pain, a lot of people turn to a higher spiritual power to seek for, or create their own meanings and answers.

Also, from Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a question of which I have been trying to grapple with these past few months: “How to get through neverending drumbeat of breaking news without falling too hard for misinformation”, or breaking down yourself?

Some related, some not:


The cosmic weight of a new start

I think the best thing I did so far (it’s only been three days anyway) as we entered 2020 was to subscribe to this newsletter called Tiny Spells, where it sent a self-care oriented daily digest of messages, tasks, goals, etc. every morning. It’s just what I needed in this increasingly terrifying world. The first daily digest of 2020 sounded like this:

It’s a new year! But I want you to pretend it isn’t. Go about your day without the cosmic weight of a fresh start, and just do your absolute best at each small thing and each big thing on your list. Do it all with care, and do none of it with guilt or pressure. Starting your new year by trying to force yourself to live up to a wildly out of touch standard is not going to be good self-care. Don’t f**kin’ do it to yourself.

I have always felt some pressure of doing something grand on the first day of each Gregorian year to commemorate its arrival. As 2019 was about to end, Twitter — where I spent an average of half an hour each week, as surveilled by my very own phone — embarked on a collective reflecting for the rest of the decade and speaking into the existence of all their hopes and aspirations for the next decade to come. It’s a beautiful practice of acknowledging and being grateful for yet another passage of time. Stacy-Marie Ishmael wrote in her always beautifully and thoughtfully written newsletter, “It’s the end and the beginning, the liminal period in which all things are possible, everything is everything.” But I found myself dumbfounded as I was about to reflect on my previous decade, because that would mean reliving the memory of losing my father and falling out of a friendship. And in the entire comparison of all the good things I have experienced over the 10 years, I felt it wasn’t unfair to do this to myself. I did wonderful things, I knew that — so I’m going to keep them to myself.

On the first day of 2020 — in going about my day without the cosmic weight of a fresh start — I took my mum to my favourite chapati place where we had our lunch for the day. I started the day as awkward as ever by saying ‘happy birthday’ to the shopkeeper when I meant to say ‘happy new year’, only realising it after he gave me an utterly confused look. We went to an old Chinese fruit shop where the owner (we would call him ‘uncle’) refused to wear a shirt, and at the back of his shop which was adorned with a number of framed pictures of Gautama Buddha, his transistor radio was playing — out of all songs — Raihan’s Intifada. This whole racial and religious ambivalence — while nothing completely new — is still something extraordinary for us to comprehend, after decades of being internalised by the ruling elites in our country that our myriads of race and religions in the country are complicit to divide than to unite us. In his obliviousness of this whole ambivalence (or perhaps not), ‘uncle’ defied all of this notion, however insignificant this scenario might look like.

Some related, some not:

  • “I now understand what I never did as a child: that I was the product of my parents taking a risk. The risk that their gift of love would be rejected; the risk that they would be misunderstood; the risk that their creation would have a life of his own.” Viet Thanh Nguyen is one of my favourite authors, and this essay on fatherhood and the lessons his own father and his children taught him made my heart swell. Just what good words do.
  • “It’s going to be a rough year. The fatal combination of escalating climate breakdown and the capture of crucial governments by killer clowns provokes a horrible sense of inevitability. Just when we need determined action, we know that our governments, and the powerful people to whom they respond, will do everything they can to stymie it.” Author and climate activist George Monbiot urges for everyone — especially the governments and corporations — to make this decade the decade of ecological — and psychological — repair.


Peace to the never knowing

I wrote a lot this year, although less for work, but more towards projects that I have sole or major decision in the direction of the writing or the project — like the magnum opus that is my ongoing PhD thesis, or this blog, of which I have treated as a space for me to let my consciousness run free that would otherwise I have to filter for other paid writing jobs. This experience is liberating for once — because you have the full or major control of a project of your own choice, and one that you can manage at your own pace. I am basking in this complete control of a cathedral I am building fused out of perspectives and ideas of my own and other people, before lunging into the workforce which I hope in 2020, will not try to dampen my spirits again. At this point in time, I realised it’s increasingly clear that my unsettledness has less to do with the fact of how I have not learned much — because I have learned terribly a lot! — but more so on how I could convey to future employers of the employability of these skills of mine despite taking a break from a full-time job. I am still somewhat overwhelmed with anxiety about the future, but interestingly enough I keep coming back to Anne Helen Petersen’s words that would probably be my lodestar for the next decade to come — how much do you actually care about other people?

I have also been reflecting on my writing style. Those in academia felt my writing’s too loose, those in the industry felt my writing’s too scholarly. I used to dwell on this a lot, and in wanting to appease both fields I felt I lost my own voice. But I have decided I wanted to write so everyone could understand what I am trying to express — something in the middle, no jargons, clear, operationalise everything as possible, supported and crosschecked through credible facts and research, etc. In other words, as someone had called me ‘precise’ before in my work practices, I am going to be exactly that in my writing — precise.

My reading resolution? Try to read more science fiction, and study the underlying contexts (I learn this is always the best way for me to get interested in something, study the contexts). For some reasons, I seriously could not get into science fiction — which is funny because studying technology is exactly what I am doing! — so I need to figure out how to latch onto the appeal of this well-celebrated genre.

I don’t plan on listing things that I like or learned about in 2019, as a lot of them were already mentioned in previous blog posts. I might do this though in the next few days, because I think I learned a lot of new things from the books I read last year, especially on the topics of borders violence, protests, mass movements, and many more. I also don’t feel like making any specific new resolutions, with the exception of no longer letting my fears hold me back. My wish for the New Year: I want to find the confident, brave, continually hungry and searching self I lost in the streets of London. I know I am speaking from a place of privilege, as someone who had the chance to study abroad, but it was on those beer-stank, cigarettes stub-littered narrow streets filled with city dwellers who walked on average 1.68 meters per second that I felt I was the happiest, the best I was ever myself. And that starts with telling my fears to sock it, and to treat every individual, subjects, events, with more mindful and critical manner, and to address their flaws and to accept criticism from the place of empathy, and be aware of my own privilege against others in the intersectionality of our diverse backgrounds.

Happy New Year. Here’s to more wonderful things in the next decade — and hopefully a more decisive action to mitigate climate emergency to come from our world leaders too.

  • “Worldwide, growth in the fragrance industry is lagging behind cosmetics and skincare products. Why? You can’t smell a selfie.”
  • “Adorno’s critique of the mass-produced horoscope turns back on itself. It is capitalism that demands unquestioning adherence to its strictures. Astrology, by comparison, reads like an act of resistance. Practised with mindful solemnity, yet also with light-hearted irreverence, embracing astrology is both a contravention of the system and an intervention of the self. Astrology cares nothing for the neoliberal world. Its mechanisms are eccentric, adaptable, spiritual, as simple or as complex as one wants them to be. It opens a space for exploring and defining one’s own meaning.”
  • Every so often I think about this conversation between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert talking about grief.
  • “Peace to the things you left undone. Peace to the never knowing.”

(Image is of a Hungarian chess set, ca. 1885)

Cathedrals we built

I think everyone who had any experiences working on any projects that are considered significant, in a way, must have experienced a mixture of excitement, relief, and not to mention anxiety in its culmination. At least that was how it felt the time I was writing the acknowledgements section for my thesis three months ago. You would realise as you wrote down the names of the people who have helped you tremendously throughout your project, how much of your work — however substantial amount of their production comes from your own blood and sweat — was actually sustained by the wonderful people around you. Not only that, how much of your work was guided by the work of the smart and amazing people of the past — this whole standing on the shoulders of giants thing — almost always made me emotional and grateful for others who opened the doors for other people. And that is how I would always strive to do too, once the doors are opened for me, I will keep it open for others, particularly those who had to jump through more systemic hoops than any of us less marginalised folks do in order to achieve their lifelong dreams.

I think about this article by Rebecca Solnit and specifically this phrase a lot, particularly after encountering (sometimes, well-meaning, passionate, new) activists who insisted on knowledge gatekeeping — a symptom that sometimes are prevalent among academics too (and also something I must have done in the past, and have reminded myself every time I found myself being judgmental too):

I wanted to yell at some of the people I run into, “If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labours of others.”

When the cathedrals you buid are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analysed and argued and shifted our assumptions.

Solnit also shared a beautiful passage Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza wrote in the wake of the 2016 election:

This is a moment for all of us to remember who we were when we stepped into the movement—to remember the organisers who were patient with us, who disagreed with us and yet stayed connected, who smiled knowingly when our self-righteousness consumed us. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you. I remember who I was before I gave my life to the movement. Someone was patient with me. Someone saw that I had something to contribute. Someone stuck with me. Someone did the work to increase my commitment. Someone taught me how to be accountable. Someone opened my eyes to the root causes of the problems we face. Someone pushed me to call forward my vision for the future. Someone trained me to bring other people who are looking for a movement into one.

In the arrival of 2020, I am loving (however still articulating my own!) Saeed Jones’ prompt for your New Year resolutions, of which he asked, along with guidelines on how to write them: “What is something you are determined to do in 2020? (Pro-tip: Use the “will” verb — as in, “I will write the first draft of that novel I’ve been thinking about writing for years” and articulate why this will be a big step forward for you.” There were so many beautiful hopes and determinations shared in the comments section, one commenter said “heart in my throat and tears in my eyes as I write” — just shows how much we truly want something — “I will stand up for myself more, so that I can honour my intentions, integrity, and time”, “I will rest and separate myself from both busy work and the idea of exhaustion as a status symbol”, “I will forgive myself. I will be in the moment”, and many others. Some also shared specific goals, such as “I will get a full-time job, earning $60,000 with benefits, in the DC area! I’m graduating in June and I’m being specific about my intentions and goals. I will also find joy in my work, instead of dread and anxiety.”

A job that aligns with my values! One that I would walk in without dread and anxiety! Which pays me equally or more than I am worth befitting my skills and not my gender, and treat me as a rightful human being and respect my boundaries for once! I knew it — that’s what I want for 2020 too! I can be as specific and as broad as I want, but this is exactly what I want!

And we all cheered for each other too:

A screenshot of comments from Saeed Jones' newsletter

I also made something to put on my wall, courtesy of Beyoncé’s mama:

A digital illustration with red trees in the background and text in front, written "My fears are not allowed where I am going."

I haven’t been reading this past few days — which is a rare occasion — but I am loving this interview with evolutionary biologist Jessica Flack, who runs the Collective Computation (C4) group at the Santa Fe Institute on her research where she seeks computational rules that govern how groups of organisms solve problems collectively.

I hope 2020 takes you to where you have always wanted to go.


  • Reading: “It is not because I am a better writer. It is because, when she solved for X, I came first. And if I came first, she came second.” On how we all often stand on the shoulders of others, and how we should reflect on the question of labour between women and men.
  • Viewing: The best video of the decade.
  • Listening: Enjoying this short podcast episode compiling various sound bytes of the decade.
  • Food & Drink: Took mum to her early birthday lunch to this restaurant which sells giant grilled squids! It was, however, packed with so many people so it was quite uncomfortable to eat. We stopped by McDonald’s on the way home and got sundae cones each, an iced latte for me (of course), and some spicy fried chicken.

Slice of pie

Austin Kleon shared a shot from Booksmart — which sadly I haven’t been able to watch! — and in his words, “If other people have to lose to make you feel like a winner, something is broken — in you, and in the system in which you participate.” He then shared a picture of a passage from Ursula Franklin’s The Ursula Franklin Reader, juxtaposed with a clipping from an article about The President Who Shall Not Be Mentioned, who has the tendency to see things in binary and nothing in between — winner and loser.

…many people are hypnotised by the mentality of zero-sum games. In this mentality, if you want to win, someone else has to lose. If you want to gain, someone else must give something up. It is not difficult to point out the many instances in which this scheme falls down.

[…] We should consciously avoid representing all events as conflicts, and in an either-or framework. There is a great need for us to avoid either-or presentations and images of confrontation, of teams, of winning.

I think about scenarios like this so very often. It reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my nieces. She was about 11 or 12 at the time, at the cusp of adolescence and oily skin and major breakouts. I had stumbled upon a mean comment by (presumably) one of her friends in her Instagram picture, and I had imagined her picking up her phone, typing relentless, this reply (I translated this from Kedahan Malay), “Tak payah kurang ajar. Tak hilang pun habuan hang kalau orang dapat lebih.” (“There’s no need to be mean. You’re not losing your slice of pie if one takes their own.”) I asked my niece what she meant by that — that her friend is not losing her slice of pie? With a bored look and while fiddling with her phone, she answered, “She’s been jealous of anyone being better than her in everything. She needs to know that she’s not losing even if someone else’s winning. We all win if everyone does.”

There was a thread going around last week on Twitter, asking cishet Twitter users of what made them supporters of trans rights. There were so many heartwarming answers, ones that made us momentarily forget of the polarising nature of the discussions on Twitter made possible by its many features. But it was pointed out by Harry Josephine that the answer they is looking for is just very simple, “because my liberation is bound up in yours.” It’s that simple, a reason without any agenda or charitable reason — recognising that everyone regardless of background, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc. deserves basic human rights and decency. Life’s not a zero-sum game. In this life, you’re not losing your slice of pie if one takes their own.

Some related, some not:


  • Reading: Finished Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends, and was amazed at how much lessons packed in such a short book. Will write about it soon.
  • Viewing: I… definitely did not watch anything today.
  • Listening: It had been a slow day today, where I let some podcast episodes playing the background. Will possibly pay more attention tomorrow.
  • Food & Drink: It’s been a slow day — not sure if it’s attributed to the ring of fire solar eclipse, but I’m just saying! I’m not sure what I had for meals today, but I definitely had a mug of iced Nescafe.

Because someone woke you up

I just finished my 70th book of the year. It was Rachel Cusk’s Transit and in my opinion it was, well, A-OK since I am in the mood of reading something with at least some plots happening and Transit is the kind of book that does not offer that. I was once asked if I remember details from all the books I read in a year, possibly in an attempt to validate their own beliefs that read better > read more (also in trying to imply that even if I read a lot, I don’t necessarily understand a lot), and also since I read a lot (the image that comes to my mind right now is of Amy Santiago of Brooklyn Nine Nine proclaiming “fifty books is not a lot“), and dutifully I answered: nope. Definitely not. But I have always been a ravenous reader, and I read in between other daily routines — in between work breaks? I read. While waiting at the bank? I read. While eating? I read. You got the picture. While I might not remember a lot of things from what I have read, there are books which stayed with me, and those books were filled with highlights and underlines and scribbled marginalia and extra pieces of paper clipped in between the pages because there were no more space for me to write in the margins. There might be some reviews I have written about those books here in this blog, or Goodreads, or at least in my own personal Moleskine journal. Then when I read other books, sometimes about topics remotely unrelated at all from the previous books I have read, I managed to somewhat connect the dots between two or more unrelated topics altogether, and I would write about them all over again here in this blog, or my own personal Moleskine journal. It has become somewhat of a mental exercise, and it brightens up my day every time I manage to come to a revelation or connect the dots. In conclusion, I maintain that in order to read better, you still have to read more.

I’ve always prided myself on the diversity of the topics of the books I read. It’s a blessing and a curse to have such boundless curiosity, sometimes more than enough to keep me awake at nights. This is largely due to the Internet, and also the fact that I have friends who are amazing and involved in all sorts of amazing things too, and I always wanted to know more about what they do and what they are interested in, so I always try to ask about books they like, or enlist Goodreads’ help for the manual voyeur into their virtual bookshelves. Author Anakana Schofield in Book Post newsletter asked us to examine our reading experience — this after she found out about the term ‘fern up’ after reading Oliver Sacks’ Oaxaca Journal on his fern exploration in Southern Mexico:

How much of our reading is accidental, how much intentional, how much directed and influenced by the readers in our cohort? Is our receptiveness and direction in reading hardwired into our brains or responsive and evolving? Are we drawn to single-species enthusiasms or more diverse ecologies? I’ve always prided myself on never having to be told what to read. I take a flaneuse approach and read widely based on what captures my interest, what I bump into. How many lifetimes do we need to read all that we want, and how to resolve the inevitable subtraction from that imposed by wasting time on the unsatisfying or what we’ve been forced to read for work.

I don’t know if I am a fast reader (I’ve been asked if I am). To be honest, with the amount of highlighting and underlining and researching mid-reading and writing in the margins, I could not possibly be. And if I ever was, it was certainly not intentional. There are few things you should know about the anatomy of reading before you can decide to attempt speed read: the eye pauses in between reading to process what one has read are called ‘fixations’, the rapid movements in between them are called ‘saccades‘, and the inner voice we give ourselves when we read is called ‘subvocalisation‘. All of these three are important for reading comprehension, but in order to speed read, one needs to learn to limit fixations and subvocalisation as they slow down the process of reading. A college-educated adults can read and comprehend 200-400 words per minute. Some experts estimated to have read 500-600 words per minute with a good comprehension to be called a speed reader. John F. Kennedy was said to be able to read 1,200 words per minute. Evelyn Wood, the inventor of speed reading herself, was said to be able to read 2,700 words per minute. I, personally don’t care. I am quite done with all the hustle culture and the move fast break things bromantra already, let’s not inflict more of them into something I genuinely love.

Speaking of reading, my friend Syar sent her big long list of things she liked reading this year, encompassing topics such as prison abolition movement, disability justice movement, transformative justice, environmental issues, being queer, labour and work, being women, and many more! I am currently having many tabs opened while reading the articles recommended in her list, and I learned so much already. (See? I have very amazing friends doing amazing things!)

Some related, some not:

  • “I wanted to yell at some of the people I run into, “If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labours of others.”
  • “The best companies I visited, all through the years, were never very hurried,” DeMarco said. “Maybe they used pressure from time to time, as a sort of amusing side-effect. But it was never a constant. Because you don’t get creativity for free. You need people to be able to sit back, put their feet up, and think.”
  • Just replace the government with TikTok teens!


  • Reading: Finished Rachel Cusk’s Transit. Next in line will be Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends, a collection of essays on borders and migration issues in the United States, particularly ones afflicting Central American migrants.
  • Viewing: Pitch Perfect 2 was on the telly just now, and I cringed so much at all the racist, sexist, fatphobic, and homophobic stereotypes strewn all throughout this movie. To think that I never caught all of these when I watched it for the first time only last year!
  • Listening: A Spotify playlist called Persian Chill.
  • Food & Drink: I felt like having a good bowl of curry noodle today, so I did. The Tealive barista knew my order by heart already (it is always iced shaken coffee with grass jelly, no sugar).