On thin places

Someone in my Twitter timeline today, of whose newsletter I am subscribed to, wailed, “I don’t want to send a newsletter today, I don’t feel like it!” and it was echoed by a number of other people, which I find both surreal and funny, of whose newsletters I am subscribed too as well. I wanted to shout the same into the disembodied void that is social media that I don’t feel like writing too, except 1) I have abandoned my book newsletter for so long, and 2) I actually do want to write something today.

The moment I received the news that my PhD viva is going to be held, like, soon, like every sane people I head over to the Internet to look for every single tip imaginable to go through the day. A very energetic YouTube video from a certain Dr Valerie Balester from Texas provided somewhat of comfort when she mentioned she had chaired over 65 thesis defenses and only one had failed, “If you have done the work, you most likely will pass!” to which she made a point to repeat a couple more times. In writing, repetition is very often a useful literary device, often employed intentionally to catch a reader’s attention, emphasise points, and further persuade the reader. Many famous speeches contain repetition, from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” to Winston Churchill’s “We Shall Fight on These Beaches”. In the case of Dr Valerie Baster, I guess it worked as well because I am now reminded I have done the (very hard) work of getting to where I am now, so most likely I will pass.

Some Internet trawling through away, I also came across this list of 40 potential questions to be asked for thesis defense, of which I have worked through halfway today. In addition to that, while rereading my own thesis, I have placed myself in the shoes of the most meticulous and the most finicky examiner ever, and listed down 29 tough questions I would ask the candidate/myself about her/my thesis. A friend who had passed her PhD viva last year said I don’t have to be this overprepared, but I’d rather be overprepared than underprepared (but can you ever be just prepared?)

In other news, I am intrigued by this idea of ‘thin places’ after reading yesterday’s The Isolation Journals. According to Jordan Kisner who wrote the prompt for yesterday on the topic, the idea of ‘thin places’ comes from the “Celtic mythology that the distance between our world and the next is never more than three feet (i.e. just a little more than an arm’s reach away). There are “thin places” where that distance shrinks and then vanishes, where you can glimpse some other world or way of being for a brief moment. Often, “thin places” are literal places, geographical locations that feel holy or otherworldly, but you could also imagine these kinds of thresholds popping up anywhere: in a hospital room, in a bar, in your apartment, in your relationship, in you. A thin place may also be a moment, a time when you were briefly suspended between a world/life that you knew and something totally new, different, awesome, frightening.” I have been thinking about the idea of my own ‘thin place’ for a moment now, especially during this lockdown, and it does not have to be somewhere physical. Maybe it’s when I got my hands on a good book and am curled up in my favourite blue sofa in my home office, surrounded by my cats. Maybe it was when I decided to put on a coat and took a stroll along the Bosphorus, watching local old men in blazer fishing by the Galata Bridge, which is a rare occurrence in my country as blazers are often reserved for special occasions. Maybe it’s both. It can be both.

Reading in my tabs:


  • Reading: Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation. My copy of Toni Morrison’s The Source of Self-Regard arrived today, and I could not wait to dig in.
  • Listening: Ibrahim Maalouf.
  • Viewing: Watching Community between breaks of working on my viva presentation slides.
  • Food & Drink: Mother made chicken rice for iftar today. I felt like having a glass of iced Milo, which I realised is a quintessentially Malaysian drink.

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