My power is always here

In my adventure (that is how I am reframing it now) of job hunting, one thing I caught myself often doing is to visit the company’s websites and took a look at the pictures of the people who worked there. I did this in no way to be stalkerish, but just to see if there is someone in the company who looked like me — Asian, brown, woman, and most importantly, a hijabi, and in extension, visibly Muslim. Sadly, I haven’t seen anyone who looked like me yet in any of the companies I applied for.

I kept thinking of what this means for me, and for others who look like me. If I join this company, what does it mean to be the first visibly Muslim woman, or anyone in the margins within the dynamics that centre whiteness, to join an organisation whose entire lineup consists of people who don’t look like you? Is the first always good, but does it mean the companies weren’t ready to accept anyone who looked like me before, or if there isn’t anyone who looked like me applying at all? If I become the first visibly Muslim woman in the company, could I remain to hold the door open for someone who looked like me, and as talented as myself to join the organisation too? — which I really want to do!

Lately I have been thinking a lot about writing for people who looked like me. In Malaysia, I am part of the majority — Muslim woman, hijabi, cisgender, lower middle class, with some higher education, polyglot, and of Malay ethnicity. The last part is the most important and the most privileged out of the whole intersections, as it is tied to the ethnic group which makes me as a bumiputera, or ‘son of the soil’, rendering me eligible to a lot of rights the other ethnicities of the country don’t. But more so than these identities, I have been thinking to write about someone particularly like me — an only child who had never got into trouble, and who had to put her dreams on hold for now in place of caregiving for an elderly parent, or anything of that sort. I haven’t heard any of those voices, maybe partly because I haven’t read just as widely, maybe also because someone else hasn’t written stories about us. Saeed Jones wrote in his newsletter about writing to save yourself so the future you would thank you — because no one else would write about you but yourself. Alexander Chee, in interviewing Ursula K. Le Guin, mentioned the esteemed science fiction writer had to teach herself to write as a woman, and in learning this, he learned how to write about himself — Asian-American, gay, activist, son, brother, a man of a repertoire of interests. I think it’s about time I start to learn to write about myself too.

Today Chanel Miller posted a series of pictures in her Instagram account — the first picture shows of her a year ago, sitting outside the courtroom while going over her notes in preparation for the trial of her assault case. The next two picture and video show her signing her book at the Sydney Opera House, surrounded by people who are inspired by her resilience, and she was clearly overjoyed. But what struck me the most was her last paragraph in the caption (emphasis mine): “These photos are not a weak to powerful comparison, not a before and after. My power was always there, it just took on a different, quieter form. I was also loved in both photos. But in the first one, I didn’t understand why, and in the second one I fully do. Wherever you are in your timeline, keep going. Life will stun you.” I have no words except that I love her.

Thank you for reminding me that my power is always here.

In my tabs:

  • Very important article on channelling our worries into action regarding the coronavirus outbreak from Anne Helen Petersen: “I say this as much to myself as to all of you — you can channel some of that anxious energy away from reading articles on the internet and towards thinking about who in your life and in your community will certainly need help or assistance. Who can you talk to now to make a plan to help them later? (With supplies, with groceries, with their pets or children) If you’re able, can you donate to your local food bank, or donate additional supplies to the homeless shelter? Can you buy things from local businesses, restaurants, and artists now, so that things might be less lean for them in the months to come? If you’re someone who’s high risk, how can you be honest with yourself and others about it? If you’re able to work from home and still pull your normal salary, can you commit to still paying someone who provides you with a service (a housecleaner, a dog walker, a hairdresser, a yoga teacher, etc) even if they have to stay home?”
  • “We should prepare, not because we may feel personally at risk, but so that we can help lessen the risk for everyone. We should prepare not because we are facing a doomsday scenario out of our control, but because we can alter every aspect of this risk we face as a society. That’s right, you should prepare because your neighbours need you to prepare — especially your elderly neighbours, your neighbours who work at hospitals, your neighbours with chronic illnesses, and your neighbours who may not have the means or the time to prepare because of lack of resources or time.” Preparing for coronavirus to hit the US (and elsewhere).
  • I love Moses Sumney‘s music but I had no idea his music — his dreamy music! — centres around the idea of aromanticism (which is also one of his album titles), the inability to engage in romantic attachment.
  • Reading in the age of ads.
  • “I have been woman / for a long time / beware my smile“.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Gods of Jade and Shadow, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a story in the 1920s Jazz Age about a Mexican girl who found herself entangled between the feud of two Mayan gods.
  • Listening: Moses Sumney!
  • Viewing: Hakan Muhafız, the Turkish series about a young shopkeeper who found out he was connected to a secret ancient order tasked with protecting Istanbul from an immortal enemy, is out on Netflix today with its third season. Going to watch it!
  • Food & Drink: Tealive (my favourite Malaysian boba chain) had the buy one free one promotion, so of course I got one two!

Poetic commute

Jessica Hibbard in her delightful Overlap newsletter, of which I often look forward to receiving every week, wrote, “In one of my favorite books about writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg advocates for noticing things and developing sentences in your head before writing them down. A small, 17-syllable poem is is easy enough to manipulate without committing anything to paper, and I started to feel the shapes and rhythms of words in a different way.” She then recounted her experiences of constructing short poems during her commute to work. This exercise of noticing things and structuring her poems/thoughts before finally putting it on paper made her think, was she a better human because she wrote little poems, or did she write little poems because she was a better human?

I admitted I haven’t gotten around to noticing things as much these days. I am not sure if it’s because if I commute, it means I am the one driving — and when I drive, my focus will be entirely on the logistics of getting us safely from point A to point B and there is some linearity in that sense. More so than that, as I drive my mother around these days, I cease to think of driving as something pleasant, but more of a duty. Having noted this, I must find a way to notice again and write little poems while at that.

Unfortunately I will not be attending Women’s March in Kuala Lumpur again this weekend, but I will print out one of these posters designed by the collective Design for Activism (I am thinking of the one below where it says “none of us is free until all of us are free”) and as a feminist aunt to high-spirited teenage nieces I am making a conscious effort to speak to my girls about International Women’s Day, our demands for this year and the significance of every one of them and how these demands will impact their lives, and the importance of upholding themselves more so than their identities as someone’s daughter or wife, but as a human being with their own agency and rights to be respected. Are you marching this year?

A poster for Women's March Malaysia written "none of us is free until all of us are free" in Malay

Articles and a poem I am reading:

  • “I started seeing fat, beautiful models and actresses in catalogues, and on television shows. I would like to have seen more, but I was pleased to see them at all. I was and remain in awe of their confident beauty. I feel tenderness for them as well, for what they endured, and still endure, to achieve it. I sometimes choke up with love for them, and for the idea of how I could have lived if I had allowed myself to just weigh what I weighed.”
  • How coronavirus exposed inequality among workers.
  • Twitter wants to have Stories feature too?!
  • “I find that men who can sustain long, close friendships with women are more in tune with what women expect from one another and what we long for from our male friends and lovers,” says Maggie, a 35-year-old seamstress in New York. “Men sometimes think women’s emotional demands are unreasonable because they don’t realise that she’s asking for something she’d consider a bare minimum from a friend.” Maggie adds that it’s an “even greener flag if they’re lesbians,” indicating an ability to see women as independent and fully human rather than only as potential lovers.” Let’s talk about green flags that would make men worth dating.
  • Here we go again, as Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race. “And so we are, once again, being asked to question whether a woman is “electable” by which we really mean whether all of her qualifications for the job can outweigh the fact that she is a woman.”
  • Gretchen McCullouch, author of Because Internet, on having a weird Internet career.
  • “…at seven years old, i already knew the exhaustion of hearing my name butchered by hammerhead tongues.”

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Still in the midst of bell hooks’ Teaching Critical Thinking.
  • Listening: Jazz drummer, Idris Muhammad. He was quite a prodigy, and if you haven’t heard his name yet, his songs had been sampled by the likes of Jamie xx, Drake, Beastie Boys, and Biggie. Thanks Flow State for the recommendation. Also this podcast from NASA, cleverly named Houston We Have a Podcast, on the subject of the Overview Effect, where human beings come to the realisation that there really is only one earth, and we’re all linked by systems as big as the climate and as small as replicating molecules.
  • Viewing: Started watching I Am Not Okay With This on Netflix. And this 1.8 billion pixel panorama of Mars!
  • Food & Drink: I love my cold brew and you will never get to pry it from my cold, dead hands. Also, I had oden.

Having to listen to EDM for three weeks

The other day I posted a picture of Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel book on Instagram, with the cover clearly visible. My friend E, the passionate Turkish Aries of whom I met during my year doing MA in London, who has the tendency to talk with her hands flailing and who blushes at any slightest signs of inconveniences (hence her nickname kırmızı domates — red tomato in Turkish), commented, “So are you writing yours?”. I explained to her that this is actually a book of Chee’s essays, and to answer her question about me writing my own autobiographical novel, with almost no hesitation I answered, “I would love to, only I have to find out what’s interesting about myself!” It took me a few days to realise how easily I threw myself under the bus for something I totally am capable to do if I want to (writing an autobiographical novel) and for the flawed internalised belief that there is nothing interesting about myself. Me! Whose personal statement took only two days to be accepted into my MA! Who gallivanted solo across multiple countries, and who lived for a month in a country of whose language I only learned once I set my foot there! Me — who had been dealt with enough fires already and walked out unscathed! How dare I sideline myself and proclaim I have nothing interesting to tell about myself?

Russell Davies, a personal advertising hero of mine, who just came back from a holiday in America, said in his newsletter Afternoon Slow, “A thing I like about holidays is the way you hear different music floating around”, of which he observed of how some of the lyrics from 10,000 Hours by Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber sound like something out of Internet security questions: “Do you miss the road that you grew up on? Did you get your middle name from your grandma?” Russell, staying true to his adman self, posts these interesting, quirky observations like these pretty often which would make you think.

I would also want to propose the statement a bit differently, “You’d also hear songs differently when you are on holidays.” If you have ever listened to Norwegian DJ Kygo’s work, you would notice that he has this signature keyboard/synth tune (I wish I am a better music reviewer, I have no idea how to describe it) that presents all throughout his music. That tune would often take me back to some cold days in a basement Airbnb in Cihangir, Istanbul as Firestone plays on repeat — not by choice, but by the sheer funny punishment that my debit card expired as I was leaving for Turkey, hence I could not renew my Spotify subscription. In leaving the playlist where Kygo’s Firestone was playing, free Spotify account would default to the country I was in (Turkey) instead of the country where I first subscribed it (UK), and that would cause some of my other 200+ playlists unavailable. I had no choice but to have full three weeks of EDM music playing on my laptop in the cramped apartment, accompanied by the blowing of the horn of the ships in the Bosphorus, as I wait for my card to arrive. I could never listen to Kygo — well, if it ever shows up in my Spotify playlists again —without having this exact scene in my head.

In my tabs today:

  • When designing for an international audience with variable levels of literacy and numeracy, then you first need a good framework to measure, amongst other things, digital literacy.
  • As described by Rao himself, this piece is “a sprawling, messy hot take on the State of Textual Media.” A very useful and accessible article on understanding the development of textual media from technology, economic, and cultural standpoints.
  • Last Friday, the World Health Organisation made its debut on TikTok in an effort to combat rampant disinformation about the coronavirus. By Monday, the account had garnered nearly 162,000 followers and 1.2 million likes.
  • “The effects of name-signalling — what names say about ethnicity, religion, social sphere, and socioeconomic background — may begin long before someone enters the workforce. In a study of children in a Florida school district, conducted between 1994 and 2001, the economist David Figlio demonstrated that a child’s name influenced how he or she was treated by the teacher, and that differential treatment, in turn, translated to test scores. The relevant question may not be “What’s in a name?” but, rather, “What signals does my name send—and what does it imply?”” Why our names matter.
  • “Part of the soulful quality viewers find in Studio Ghibli films stems from the empathy shown not just to characters but to the environment and to how both need each other to survive. There is an almost animist relationship between the two, which is threatened time and again through development, war, and pollution.” On why we love Studio Ghibli animations.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Reading progress has been slow these past few weeks, so I am still in the midst of bell hooks’ Teaching Critical Thinking and promised a friend a review.
  • Listening: French clarinetist, Yom. Give Dark Prayer a listen for a start. And this The Ezra Klein episode with Tracy K Smith on poetry.
  • Viewing: The Library of Nonhuman Books.
  • Food & Drink: Infused some tea with cinnamon sticks.

Bound to a place

We have the tendency to deliver the bad news first, good news after — perhaps as a form of mental defense and to soften the blow whatnot — so I am going to do the same here.

The bad news: I have not received a single interview invite yet for 30+ job applications I have sent in.

The good news: I have finally learned how to narrow down my job preferences. As someone who is multiskilled — or realistically being made to learn and master as many skills as possible in a small agency — I had a feeling it had been hard for companies to pinpoint my expertise. Are you a Project Manager? But also a UX Strategist? A Content Writer? And you do social media too? I have also learned that over the years as a Project Manager for a small distributed team, the combination of tasks and roles I had done are almost similar to the tasks of today’s Product Manager. In the discovery of this, I have made a decision to narrow down my job search to the Product Management area, and cater my resume and cover letter specifically to this role. I have also enrolled in a Product Management course in Coursera (see Status Board below) to refresh what I have learned hands-on before, and to learn what’s new in the industry. So that’s the good news. (For the record, I spoke into existence today of what I am as a professional currently, and what I am aspiring to be — in hope that the universe will listen and grant me what’s good for me.)

I have been asked before: why keep looking for a remote job? Why not relocate (back) to Kuala Lumpur or other cities where job opportunities are more abundant, and I can easily find one that fits my qualifications? I have always been hesitant about answering this question, for the fact that not only I find remote positions more productive and sustainably friendly, but also, I am unfortunately bound to a place. This is probably a situation not many — in the words of Anne Helen Peterson — ‘hyper-mobile millennials’ understand, not a lot of us can just pack up and move, at least not anymore. Anne said exactly what I thought, “But sometimes you don’t just “want” to be near your extended family; your extended family needs you there. Or they help provide the child care that makes it possible for you to work. Or your partner has a good job that you can’t or won’t give up. Or you love a community, have loved it your whole life, and want to be part of its future.” In my case, I am bound to the person who birthed me, whose life and families and easy access to her medical care are also bound here, and there’s only both of us after dad passed away. I know there are many others like me out there, who can’t just chase after any employment opportunities and more so than often, give up all of these seemingly amazing opportunities because we are bound to a place for many reasons.

It’s quite demoralising to open your email inbox every day to find another rejection letter, or to find no good news at all I admit. But then again I kept telling myself, I just submitted my PhD thesis only over a month ago. It’s still fresh, and my viva is still not scheduled. I still have all the time. I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now. But how long can I keep telling myself this?

Quite a long list on what I have been reading over the weekend:

  • “This very brief overview of the basic relationship between the colonial power and colonial knowledge helps us distill some of the characteristics of a colonial relationship. We will use these characteristics to make a determination about the current age and its own centres of power. We will ask, is tech colonial?” Sareeta Amrute, again asking the important questions. Also, I have to learn from Sareeta on always giving visibility to women and PoC scholars, as she had gloriously cited all their works in this piece.
  • An Indian politician is using deepfakes to win voters — the first ever record of a political party anywhere (also it isn’t the first time deepfakes emerge during a political campaign, as in the case of the UK general election) has used a deepfake for campaigning purposes, a decision that comes with ethical baggage.
  • “Offices used to be gulags, but at least they had a clear purpose. You wouldn’t hang out in a cubicle farm, let alone spend time there on the weekends. Then companies like Google came along and reinvented the rat race into something with purpose and, along the way, confused work with the rest of life. Now, your coworkers are supposed to feel like a family. Hierarchies have been flattened, conventional job titles replaced by ones like “wizard” and “ninja.” The vacation days are unlimited (not that you’d ever take them). And forget about work-life balance. It’s all about work-life integration.” Not sure about the gulag comparison, but I wholly agree with this article of how Silicon Valley ruined and expected work culture.
  • What would happen if salaries were made transparent?
  • “I told her that I’d woken up with this pain the morning after watching the debate. She paused what she was doing, resting her gloved hand on my stomach the way you’d calm a skittish animal. “Yeah, I’m seeing a lot of this lately,” she said. “Women who haven’t had problems in years coming back in. People have all kinds of different reactions to trauma.”” What a revelation.
  • “Last year, I did a big feature for the Times on the ten essential Persian recipes, and we had such a wonderful and positive reaction to it. But then, well, it turns out that people can like our food and still want to bomb us.” An interview with Samin Nosrat, chef, author, and all-round delightful person.
  • There’s an unconscious tendency to tune out people you feel close to because you think you already know what they are going to say. It’s called closeness-communication bias.
  • How our relationships change over time. The parents and the dog/pet ones punched me in the gut.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: bell hooks’ Teaching Critical Thinking.
  • Listening: Ibrahim Maalouf, a French-Lebanese jazz trumpeter and composer.
  • Viewing: I enrolled in this Product Management course on Coursera to prepare myself for job interviews as a Product Manager.
  • Food & Drink: Lots of affogato today.

What can you trust of what you can’t see?

In his The Guardian essay, Teju Cole wrote about his love for photobooks, in what he described, “In an age of mayhem, everyone needs ballast and, for most people, I would guess, that ballast is made of several different things.” Other people’s ballasts, one that grounded them against all of the political squall and many other maladies of the modern world, would more than often consist of travels, retreats, books, and many others. His ballast was the photobooks, the coffee table kind. Unlike exhibitions, which are crowded and noisy, Cole says, you can look at the photographs in the photobooks at your own pace. A great photobook, according to Cole, is a combination of many variables: “the paper; print quality; stitching and binding; the weight, colour and texture of the cover; the design and layout of the interior; the size and colour balance of the images; the decision to use gatefolds or to print across the gutter; the choice to include or exclude text and, if so, how much of it, where in the book, and in what font; the trim size and heft of the book; even the smell of the ink! Every great photobook is a granary of decisions, an invitation into the realm of the senses.” Cole mentioned that if a poem or a book (content) is great, he hardly thinks about how the book is designed, but this is different when it comes to photobooks. My most recent read photobook would be After the Last Sky, which was how I learned about a searing portrait of Palestinian life and identity written by Edward Said through the photographs of Jean Mohr.

In these seven days of political squall happening in Malaysia, I keep thinking a lot about what Cole says about finding a ballast of your own that keeps you grounded. Possibly one that glues us together as a nation, as this is what we desperately need at this moment while the leaders screw us up and go on with their lives unpunished for national cardiac arrest they imposed upon us a few days ago. I keep returning to books, and then being aware that my retreat to books is solely individual, I think of resorting to libraries as a collective ballast.

As a kid in 1990s growing up before the age of the Internet, I used to spend my after school hours a lot at the library while waiting either my dad or mum to finish work early and pick me up. My mum taught at another school next to mine, and she often had to stay late to finish some administration works till 4 pm. Meanwhile, my dad, a technician working closer to the city, were sometimes lucky to be allowed home early. And thus, in between these hours, I’d find myself in the library. I remember my first checked out library book was Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, and I inhaled the book in just a few hours during that day itself, at the time totally oblivious of how feminist Bathsheba Everdene was. It was also no secret to close friends that if I am not who I am today — whatever my profession is, writer? PhD candidate? — I’d be a librarian. The idea of being surrounded by books and given the power and trust to curate what the whole community should be able to read sounds like a transformative task.

To me, libraries have always been about the idea of sharing and community. They are always open and welcoming. Anyone is allowed to be there. You could be someone like me — an only child from a lower middle class family who finds reading life-changing, or someone from a much lower income family who need to use the computers to do some research for the homework. Or a struggling civil servant with an entry-level job using the resources to learn about his tasks at work, or to look for more jobs which would pay him a more dignified wage. Or a 60-year-old pensioner who is here to read newspapers and participate in this collective isolation because the house he lives in seems so quiet after his children move out for universities and work. With the exception of paying a small fee to obtain a library card for the first time, no one is literally made to spend any cents to be there. Not only that, it seems radical that we (with the library cards) are so trusted to take a few books home, and returned them within the duration stipulated. Rebecca Solnit wrote, in reference to libraries as the ‘last refuges of a democratic vision of equality’, “I’ve joked for a long time that if you walked up to people in the street and asked them whether we could own our greatest treasures collectively and trust people to walk away with them and bring them back, a lot of people would say that’s impossibly idealistic and some would say it’s socialist, but libraries have been making books free for all for a very long time.”

I learned yesterday that in the dissolution of the Malaysian cabinet, all reforms are put to a halt. This includes the plans to renovate the dilapidated and outdated library of my city, one that was approved last year. If it was a success, it was said to host a number of new resources, a complete overhaul of the library collection, and a number of other amenities of which the people of my city would be able to enjoy. Among other reasons, I was especially furious when I heard this is not happening. For years, we had been at the mercy of the politicians to help advance our lives because our democratic choices are limited and increasingly suppressed, this includes providing us with the avenues for us to access any forms of education there is. But now, it seems we are back to square one. In light of this, I couldn’t help thinking of how true it is when Assata Shakur said, “No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.” There are also multiple instances proving that books and literacy are some of the authoritarian governments’ worst fears.

I returned to re-reading Alexander Chee’s book of essays (see Status Board below) in light of my political burnout. In one of his essays, his yoga teacher asked the whole class, “What can you trust of what you can’t see?”. At this moment, what can we trust of what we can’t see?

Writers writing on how to write when the world is falling apart:

  • “This was the volume I turned to the most during the horrors of the Bush and Cheney years. Even though around the same time my own belief in God had faded away, I found that I needed to somehow retain belief in a cloud of witnesses. I had strayed away from religious dogma, but my hunger for miracle speech had not abated. Tranströmer’s mysterious poems, hovering on the edge of the unsayable, met me right at this point of need.” Teju Cole finding solace in the poems of Tomas Tranströmer’s.
  • “There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.” Toni Morrison on choosing not to remain silent.
  • “Strange as it sounds, this finally explains my need to go to the rose garden after the election. What is missing from that surreal and terrifying torrent of information and virtuality is any regard, any place, for the human animal, situated as she is in time and in a physical environment with other human and nonhuman entities. It turns out that groundedness requires actual groundedness, in the ground.” Jenny Odell on how to do nothing.
  • “”The question I was thinking about in this book,” she told me, “was, Can you still just tend your own garden once you know about the fire outside its walls?”” Jenny Offill on how to write a fiction when the planet is falling apart.
  • “Paul Goodman famously wrote, “Suppose you had the revolution you are talking and dreaming about. Suppose your side had won, and you had the kind of society that you wanted. How would you live, you personally, in that society? Start living that way now!” It’s an argument for tiny and temporary victories, and for the possibility of partial victories in the absence or even the impossibility of total victories.” Rebecca Solnit on embracing hope while living in dark times.
  • “I have new lessons in not stopping, after the election. If you are reading this, and you’re a writer, and you, like me, are gripped with despair, when you think you might stop: Speak to your dead. Write for your dead. Tell them a story. What are you doing with this life? Let them hold you accountable. Let them make you bolder or more modest or louder or more loving, whatever it is, but ask them in, listen, and then write. And when war comes—and make no mistake, it is already here—be sure you write for the living too. The ones you love and the ones who are coming for your life. What will you give them when they get there?” Alexander Chee urging us to keep writing, despite everything.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: I returned to re-reading a chapter from Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiography Novel every night before bed. In his book, he asked, “Isn’t beauty strong?” In all of his beautiful words in the book, yes, yes it is, Alexander. Thank you for writing such a powerful and honest book.
  • Listening: I found myself veering towards piano sounds these days. Now listening to Sylvain Chauveau, a French composer based in Brussels. With moving, minimal pieces for piano, strings, guitar, and synth, his work is an embodiment of contemplation and retrospection. Thank you Flow State for the recommendation.
  • Viewing: He failed the service dog exam, but he’s still the goodest boi ever.
  • Food & Drinks: Sizzling yee mee, and boba.

The year of decades-weeks

Lenin was reported to be saying, “There are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen.” This is how every week in 2020 feels like — one of those decades-weeks.

For every two job applications I sent out these days, I almost receive one in return. That’s 1:2, that’s half of everything. As someone who had done a bit of hiring myself in my previous job, I was made aware of and admitted the hiring system is broken (of which if I am involved in the hiring process in the future, I want to do better), but I could not help questioning if there was something I did wrong or in what way I did not stand out, that manifested in the pages of documents and assignments I sent to these companies. Then as a researcher I am, I obsessively A/B tested one application against another, only to be receiving another rejection letter the next day. In the meantime, my bills are piling up.

There’s a truth that the words we use can have a detrimental effect on how we feel. The etymology of the word ‘reject’ as a verb originates from Old French rejecter which brings the definition of to ‘throw away, cast away, vomit‘. As a noun, it sounds even more upsetting. ‘Reject’ as a noun means ‘a castaway’, and in 1893 it was reformed to mean ‘things cast aside as unsatisfactory’. I can almost imagine my resume and cover letters reaching the (virtual — as they were all sent through emails) desk of the hiring team, having them skimmed through briefly, and cast aside as they were unsatisfactory.

We were told not to take things personally every time we receive one of those rejection letters. More so than often, none of the people hiring has any malicious intent towards you. I know this, again, because I used to hire people. But now being on the other side, as someone who is pouring it all to be hired, it was hard not to take things personally the first few hours upon being told your application is ‘cast aside as unsatisfactory’. It was personal, simply because I, like many of job applicants out there, poured all of ourselves into our application drafts. It was personal, because we were internalised to equate our worth to our hireability, the things we could churn out once we are hired, and how much we make. Capitalism is an inhumane notion that pits us against each other, one that we almost have no control of (unless we are rich). Those first few hours were also the hours I allow myself to wallow in all of the temporary defeat — put on the saddest playlist I could find, journal all the feelings, cry my eyes out. When the time’s up, I got up and set for the next goal in mind.

I came across this tweet a few weeks ago, “If you can imagine the worst thing, you can imagine the best thing. Both things are imaginary. Say out loud verbally the positive outcome, repeat until it feels more real.” There was a position I applied that I was really looking forward to. For the next few days after sending in the application along with the required assignments, I would sing my name followed by the role and the name of the company repeatedly as I pruned the dead leaves and praised the sprightly growth of my indoor plants. Then the rejection letter came in. I stopped singing altogether to any names or any designations.

At this point in time, I don’t need prayers. I just need one “you’re hired” in a sea of “thank you for your interest, unfortunately we decided to go with another person”s. Fortunately, there is a sliver of hope that I am still hanging on to — that one day what’s meant for me (hopefully good things) will not elude me.

What I am paying attention to today:

  • An app can be a home-cooked meal. This is an interesting perspective from Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, who built an app for his family to use. And this quote from Clay Shirky he uses in the article on ‘personalised’ software, “Situated software, by contrast, doesn’t need to be personalised — its personal from its inception.”
  • Surveillance and censorship make it harder for Xi Jinping to know what’s going on. Another insightful investigation by Zeynep Tufekci.
  • What happens in the event of internet shutdown?
  • I’ve been thinking a lot about the prevalence of screenshot sharing involving private conversations on social media. The deterrent so far would still be UI-based e.g. Snapchat notifying users when other people take a screenshot of their Snaps. Instagram Story used to have this feature, but no more. We need the norms and language to deter malicious screenshots, but until now, alerts could help.
  • Apparently “Choose Your Own Adventure” books are unique products of the social, economic, and cultural context of the 1980s (Thanks to Jessica for the link!)
  • “I’ve found the more I look like a queen when I speak, the more confident I am.” Illustrator Mari Andrew, whose comics perfectly encapsulate the unexpected joys of life, on her outfit, which now inspires me to dress up to the nines, everyday, fuck all.
A map showing the spread of stuffed and boiled dumplings from the Mongol Empire. Taken from Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History by Rachel Laudan

On the spread of stuffed and boiled dumplings from the Mongol Empire. Taken from Cuisine and Empire: Cooking in World History by Rachel Laudan (thanks WITI for the image!)

STATUS BOARD

If you like this book, ask me out

Over the weekend, I read two essays related to reading and relationships which made me think of two questions — of which we shall come back to later. But a little bit of disclaimer first: all throughout my life I don’t think I have ever had any long-term relationships with anyone who are avid readers such as myself, which was really unfortunate because one of the things I enjoy with my close friends was the ability to discuss about books and recommend our favourites to each other. In return, no one could ask me these two questions I am about to pose.

Question 1: What book would you give someone if you suspect they like you, and you’d like them to ask you out?

The first essay was written by artist Emma Kohlman, about her crush Jane of whom she knew from online. After an incident where she drunkenly sent a text to Jane and where Jane did not exactly reciprocate, she tried to shrug it off. A few weeks later, Jane messaged her asking for her address because she wanted to send her a book, which soon arrived with a note, “Emma, hi! If you like this book, ask me out. And if not, we can be mutuals forever.” Dumbfounded by this grown-up gesture, Emma wrote, “I was a veteran resident of unreturned texts and the half-hearted next day apology, unfamiliar with the near mythical concept of being treated well.” Personal note: This is a feeling I knew too well. If Emma was a veteran resident of unfortunate romantic relationships, I am the patron saint. They eventually dated and broke up, but the idea of giving a book to someone you like, and whom you suspect liked you back too, seems like a good idea.

Which brought to the question: What book would you give someone if you suspect they like you, and you’d like them to ask you out? I have always been cautious about whom to date (refer life experiences above) and might be pretty oblivious as to whom had a crush on me, if ever, but if there is one book I could think of this moment, it would be Channel Miller’s Know My Name. I am still, unfortunately, leaning towards hetero-attraction, which means I still would be visibly dating men. In choosing this particular book, I want to know his views on the themes revolving around the text — the prevalence of rape culture, the idea of consent in sexual relations, how the existing system in place fail sexual assault victims and women as a whole, the inequity of a legal system that is lenient toward the wealthy and the privileged (in Channel’s book, the white), and in seeking for justice, survivors are made to go through precarious processes which made healing even harder and trauma even compounded, among others.

And if the writer in the essay didn’t get quizzed on the book she was given by her crush, best bet I am going to quiz my potential date on Chanel Miller’s book.

Question 2: Would you combine bookshelves with a partner?

Alexander Chee already posed this question, along the lines of, in this essay of his: “One of the funniest and most interesting questions you can ask a group of couples at a party is whether or not they have combined their bookshelves.” The last partner I used to live with barely had a book of his own, and even he had one, it was of ideas I did not endorse (which at this point of time made me think how stupid I was to be attracted to someone of whose harmful — think MRA, racial politics, the idea of women with an exception of his mother and sister as a dehumanised other, etc. — ideas not only something I do not endorse, but also heavily oppose) so he barely had a bookshelf of his own. I don’t think this is something I could answer on the fly, if the question was directed at me, but given my previous experiences I would want to be particular on what kind of person I date, and what kind of ideas influence him, and how open he is to personal growth. I sure as hell don’t want his Jordan Peterson to be shelved next to my bell hooks — not that I will be dating any Jordan Peterson fanboy.

What about you? What book would you give someone if they suspect they like you, and you’d like them to ask you out? Have you combined your bookshelves with a partner? And if you haven’t, have you thought of that?

What I am reading today:

  • Very important: “Moving towards the practice of a more-than-human politics is a revolt that I can get behind, because it feels like now, more than ever, we need to reject the division within ourselves, between ourselves, and from the deep ecology that sustains us. Because we don’t exist in isolation, we never have.” Anab Jain with the edited transcript of her talk On Critical Activism and Fungal Revolts, presented at the Tentacular Festival in November 2019, calling for a more-than-humane politics.
  • The hidden pro-union politics of Space Jam.
  • One of my first advertising copywriting jobs was to work on cultural transliteration for Axe (in Malaysia as well as some other countries, it was re-branded as Lynx). The fragrance and its iconic ads upheld a bygone image of masculinity but now as we glimpse from the vantage point of the #MeToo era, Axe looks like a spasm of late patriarchy.
  • “All of these were phrases with “aspirational authority,” she told me. “If you’re in a meeting and you’re a 20-something and you want to sound in the know, you’re going to use those words.”” The horrors of corporate speak. I must say it’s the same case with academia too — and something I am also guilty of!
  • Chanel Miller to the people reading her book, “I love when I see people saying “I’m reading but I’m taking breaks.” That to me is saying you’re listening to your body. You’re going slowly as you need. You’re stepping away and remembering that you have the power to step away, that you can go outside and have a cup of tea. That no one’s going to force you through reliving everything. I love that people are immersing themselves at their own pace and hopefully coming out of the book a little more clearheaded and freed from the shame that we all learn and then slowly unlearn.”
  • Partisanship explained.
  • What you can’t fathom requires embrace.

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Just finished reading Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. The essay about writing in the seemingly fall of democracy hits me hard, especially in times of political upheaval in Malaysia at the moment (have you heard?)
  • Listening: My friend A directed me to listen to new music from Natalia Lafourcade, and it’s called Veracruz. It’s brilliant, it’s dreamy. And I love songs with city names in their titles.
  • Viewing: Vivir Dos Veces, a Spanish heart-rending movie on the effects of Alzheimer’s on the elderly and the family and friends around them. And also there’s a roadtrip!
  • Food & Drink: Stayed home, feeling powerless over the precarity of democracy in my own country and ordered pizza delivery — to be specific, a regular Domino’s chicken barbecue — today.

A recipe for a revolutionary vanguard

Windows by Jim Darling

I received three job rejections today — one of them within the span of 10 minutes after I pressed ‘Send’ from the email. It would be a lie to say that I was not disheartened to find out about this — especially since I spent almost 10 hours on the assignments required for one of the applications — but coming from someone who had done some hiring myself, I understand there are many reasons why I didn’t make the cut. It might be that I do not fit the role, or the application pool is so competitive mine didn’t stand out. It might also be that in strange ways, the universe is redirecting me towards something that might align with my values better. We’ll never know, but I’d like to think that way.

I chanced upon this article by Eric Levitz, published earlier this week, when the brilliant Anne Helen Petersen mentioned it in her newsletter. The straightforward article, titled “This One Chart Explains Why the Kids Back Bernie” has this paragraph:

Tell a subset of your population that they are entitled to economic security if they play by certain rules, provide them with four years of training in critical thinking and access to a world-class library — then deny them the opportunities they were promised, while affixing an anchor of debt around their necks — and you’ve got a recipe for a revolutionary vanguard.

While I acknowledge my failure in getting hired as soon as I am about to conclude a degree is not directly exacerbated by the economic conditions these days, I kept hearing a lot from brilliant friends of whom, if given a chance to work alongside them I would, kept receiving job rejection one after another. I don’t have the statistics for Malaysia at this very moment, but I learned in the article that “the unemployment rate among recent college graduates in the U.S. is now higher than the country’s overall unemployment rate for the first time in over two decades, more than 40 percent of recent college graduates are working jobs that do not traditionally require a bachelor’s degree (while one in eight are stuck in posts that pay $25,000 or less), and the median income among the bottom half of college graduates is roughly 10 percent lower than it was three decades ago.” I have some reasons to believe the condition is just as bad in Malaysia, given — at this point of time might be anecdotal — experiences of friends and colleagues among the same age group as my own. Neoliberalism is wild indeed. I refuse to comment on what people keep saying about how university degrees are almost useless these days, but I want to keep coming back to this statement — the system that is broken now is one that punishes individuals for attempting to further higher education, places them in a mill where their self-worth will be measured on being called ‘smart’ but then pummels them until they feel stupid and lost, and punishes them further by placing them in near poverty in trying to survive in a society where if you don’t work, you are left to die. It does not stop there, “if they just work hard enough, they will have a chance at a job that will finally fill the psychological hole that was created by the system in the first place”, and “then deny them the jobs based on anonymous evaluations so that they can spend the rest of their lives blaming themselves for shortcomings they cannot completely name.”

I learned that if we keep discussing these issues often enough, it becomes a vicious cycle and in time we would lose sight of what to do next. It is like the instances where we often blame the poor for making terrible choices — like purchasing cigarettes instead of food whenever they are given money — but if you learn enough, scarcity can seriously impinge upon your mind. This scarcity mentality would consume even the most abundant among us, if we were placed in a condition so lacking of everything, that would lead to terrible decisions.

How can we do whatever possible in our might to change this? While the horizon is still visible to us, what we can do now is to pay attention to leaders whose values align with ours, and especially ones that could help others less fortunate than yourself. Think of the most vulnerable person you know, and vote in their best interests. While I do not fully endorse representative leadership and I believe democracy should not be confined to ballot boxes, but this is all we have thus far.

In my tabs:

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.
  • Listening: A lot of jazz music, as I created a Spotify Radio playlist out of Faraj Suleiman’s Crushed Coffee track.
  • Viewing: The doctors, in the process of removing violinist Dagmar Turner’s brain tumour, decided to wake her up during the procedure and asked her to play the violin to make sure that she didn’t lose any parts of her brain vital to her playing. I am speechless.
  • Food & Drink: I went out to have bibimbap today, and got some cold brew on the way home.

Hang on tight to the first agreement

Very often I have to remind myself that every success is dependent on numerous acts of sustainment, commitment, and continuous strategy — and in summary, patience.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post on a list of things one needs to have in order to become a UX designer. These were the days when the UX practices were still in its fledgeling stage, and if there were companies at the time could afford the time and money to spend on research, it would be the likes of IDEO. There were a number of similar posts where it listed down ‘passion’ as one of the criteria, of which I did not deny is just as essential. But in my post I wrote that, more so than the fiery spark, that supernova energy that propels one into the idea of wanting to become a UX designer rather than just mere pixel pushers and help businesses do better, is that one needs to have patience and commitment. I wrote something along the line of, in the fast-paced industry such as tech industry, one needs to have patience and commitment more so than passion, because it is tech industry after all, we work in versions, not a finished magnum opus. The learning curve, while might be as steep as it was when one started, would always be there. This is an area of incessant learning and tweaking. This notion of patience however, did not sit well with a lot of readers, particularly in the time when discourses of burnout weren’t widely talked about yet. It was also the time when UX field was in its early stage of gaining recognition, so it was understandable that there were lots of fresh designers ready to venture into UX, bright-eyed, eager to experience come what may. But that’s the thing about passion and disruption, it burns, it disrupts. Without strategic patience, sustainment and commitment, pretty soon when the novelty of the field starts to wear off these young blood would soon go out to look for other injections of dopamine boost. Jenny Odell, in her much talked about book that I still wasn’t able to shut up about, wrote about the importance of the acts of maintenance and care when she noticed the workers tending to the rose garden she often visited, “Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.”

In this very same premise, maintenance should be a crucial feature of the technologies we design as well. Noah Brier in a WITI edition wrote about the reason he chose Omnifocus above other task management tools out there — it was because the app has the feature called Weekly Review that no other apps like it does. “Each project in Omnifocus has an option to set a review cadence. Whether it’s once a week or every two months, you can then go through all your projects that are up for review and check in on them,” Noah wrote. I have never used Omnifocus before — at my previous workplace, we used Basecamp and I am currently relying on Notion for my personal use — but I agree this feature is something, especially distributed teams, would find extremely useful. It would perhaps eliminate the need for a daily or weekly short meeting at the start of the day to check in what everybody is working on, and if the distributed team does not work in the same overlapping hours, they can check what’s going on the moment they sign in. Vaughn Tan wrote about the importance of maintenance by design, “The most common way to think about maintenance is as a process of finding and fixing broken stuff— maintenance as the routinised search for problems. This allows many small fixes (easier and usually cheaper) instead of a big one (harder, requiring more downtime, more expensive).”

I chanced upon these words from author Luis J. Rodriguez, who wrote Always Running, in Book Post newsletter today, which also made me think about sustainment and commitment a lot:

In writing, as in any artistic endeavour, nothing is guaranteed. You may not get published. You may not become known. You may not even be able to earn enough to pay your bills. But if this is the heart of what you care about, then you have to do it and do it as well and as persistently as you can. It’s about a primary agreement to live out your inner story. Hang on tight to the first agreement between yourself and the universe. This is the source of real authority, the root of “authoring.” This is where you enter the realm of ownership, responsibility, and, ultimately, freedom. There are many obstacles arrayed against the poet, writer, musician, and artist in this society. That’s on society. But if you give up, that’s on you.

Speaking of sustainment: Writing 300 words every day had closely become a chore I dread these days. I am thinking of taking a break but in a way that I will not be deprived of this intellectual stimulation — I worry less about input as I still read voraciously every day, but more about output. Any ideas on how do I navigate this?

Reading today:

  • “But to me, the film’s critique is nothing new. The Korean language and culture embody class stratification, and I was frustrated because I wanted everyone to recognise the ubiquitous nature of the class stratification that happens every day, in every conversation, which isn’t apparent in the subtitles. This ability to navigate the language, even for an immigrant turned naturalised citizen like me, is how you keep in touch with culture. Perhaps this is where translation fails, with the nuances of emotional understanding.” Bong Joon-ho’s film is even more nuanced and incisive than closed captioning would suggest.
  • The Iowa caucus disaster is a function of a broken economic structure that rewards con artistry over competence.
  • Take a quiz to find out how populist you are. Apparently a lot of my views align with Bernie Sanders’.
  • Something to think about: “How do you win against a computer that is built to stop you? How do you stop something that predetermines your fate?”

STATUS BOARD

  • Reading: Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. Give me more brilliant essays such as this one to read!
  • Viewing: Musician and psychology professor Bertolt Meyer hacked his prosthetic arm so he could play synthesiser with his mind. Genius.
  • Listening: Discovered the music of Palestinian composer and pianist, Faraj Suleiman, who in his works introduces some new Arabic scales and modalities where it was said, “You can hear Bach, Stravinsky but also rock music, Egyptian music.” My favourite track is Crushed Coffee.
  • Food & Drink: Had some nasi lemak and made some affogato to go with it.