#fridaynightcocktails redux

I was going to blog properly tonight while waiting for my hair to dry, but then I got distracted by emails for some of the things I'm juggling in addition to the day job:
The day job, for those of you keeping score at home, is working [freelance] on the revamp of the Singapore History Gallery at the National Museum. Today that meant looking at some World War Two artefacts. It's quite harrowing, when you think about it, to be looking close-up at something that was worn by someone on the frontline. Suddenly every scrape and stain on the object seems laden with meaning.

Edited to add (10 February, 8:50 a.m.):
I inserted "[freelance]" in the last paragraph. I'm not a full-time museum employee and it should be clear that I'm not writing in that capacity.

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Things you learn from watching reruns

I've been idly, irregularly watching reruns of the first season of The X-Files, after I happened by chance to tune in last week just as the first episode was airing on cable. I've never watched any of the seasons fully, and certainly never the pilot --- so it was something of a novelty to see Mulder and Scully right at the start of their grand adventure, back when Mulder seemed like nothing but a one-dimensional obstinate fanatic and the show hadn't quite nailed down how to portray Scully's intelligence yet.

Tonight's find: the actor Mark Sheppard, whom I first adored as Badger on Firefly and then as the excellent offbeat lawyer Romo Lampkin on the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (which I've also been rewatching on my own). It turns out one of his earliest appearances on-screen was in The X-Files (season 1 episode 11, for those of you at home taking notes), as a man with pyrokinetic abilities. He didn't have that many lines, but he already had that trademark creepy, wide-eyed stare down. And the charmin' Irish brogue, of course.

Seeing him made me think of the "Hey! It's That Guy!" section of the website Fametracker, which like many gems of the late 1990s/early 2000s Internet, is now defunct. Between that and the fact that I was watching this on cable, I feel pretty old retro right now.

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Educating my iPhone

A phenomenon otherwise known as "damn you autocorrect". From today's recorrected autocorrects:
  • onsen, not Ibsen
  • jaunting, not haunting
  • prata, not pests
  • fyi, not duo
I can't believe the iPhone autocorrect doesn't know "fyi".

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Hey there

Three times today I had to tear parking coupons, and three times I caught myself just as I was about to pop out the tab for January, in time to switch to the correct tab for February. At a work meeting, I also started to tell someone, "We'll send you the document in late January ... er, I mean in the next couple of weeks."

By tonight, though, I got it right when I told ampulets that my birthday is next month. He said, "February?" and I got to retort, "No lah, today is February already."


Switching on the light again

"Fade...", a photography exhibition by Tan Ngiap Heng at the National Museum of Singapore, as part of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015.

I've never been very good at New Year's Resolutions, so now that it's the last day of January, it seems to be as good a time as any to dust off the blog and acknowledge a few baby steps I've taken towards a few things I would like to get done this year:

1. Exercise more
I've signed up for a Pilates class with my old instructor (this will be the third time that I've taken a basic class with him) and at some point in February, I shall endeavour to acquire a pair of shoes that are suitable for more vigorous activities.

2. Revise the novel
After one year and one month away from the last draft of my first novel, I've dusted that off as well and started making notes on all the rewriting I need to do. Some parts of the draft are not as bad as I'd feared, others are worse and still others are just plain mystifying (was there a point to this scene/remark/character?). Miles to go, etc. For those of you who have been patiently asking, "So how's the novel?", well, now you know.

And yes, first novel. Because the idea for a second has been brewing for a while now, but I'm determined to get the first into better shape and give it a fighting chance out there (just load up on the sports metaphors, why not) before I work on the second.

3. Redesign this website
It's looking pretty mid-2000s around here, I know. More to come before 31 December 2015.

Unrelated to the above three non-resolutions, what prompted this post was reading "What Andrew Sullivan's exit says about the future of blogging" (via @sivasothi), which linked to Sullivan's farewell blog post as well as Lockhart Steele's "Back to the blog". I'm not making any grand declarations about blogging or my own posting frequency, but I thought I'd just send this post out while these things are on my mind.

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Say Anything

On Friday night, to unwind for a bit, I started to watch Say Anything, which I've never seen before. It's a teen romance classic, many websites and best-of lists have assured me, plus I've always thought John Cusack was cute, so I thought I'd give it a go.

I only watched the first 45 minutes before sleep got the better of me and I went to bed, but this is the impression that still lingers with me today: not the dated, cringeworthy pseudo-teen fashion of 1989, not how lanky and limber John Cusack looked, but the damn telephones and other technologies that populated each scene. In one of the earliest scenes in the movie, the cassette tape playing in Cusack's car gets jammed in the deck, and he smoothly wedges a piece of folded card between the tape and the deck to get it going again. Later, at a party scene, anonymous hands are popping cassette tapes in and out of a stereo with multiple tape decks; one even inserts the tape upside down (a detail I suspect would be lost on a modern-day teenager).

Back at the graduation ceremony, there's a scene --- obviously meant to be comical --- where the camera focuses on a whole crowd of parents holding up massive portable videocassette recorders to record the valedictorian's speech. Most tellingly, the teenager characters call each other on landlines using rotary dial telephones they carry into the bathroom for privacy or, in the case of a wealthier family, a cordless flip phone (a forerunner, no doubt, of early Motorola cellphone design).

This film is only 25 years old, but if they remade it today, the social dynamics and beats would be very different. If nothing else, filmmakers are still experimenting with how to represent texting in film without impairing storytelling.

I don't feel old, but I'm reminded once again that the trappings of modern life change very quickly.

On a related note, it turns out that a number of iTunes users today don't know who U2 is anymore and have been pretty candid online about it (link via Adrianna on Facebook; context: Apple is giving away the new U2 album free and it's automatically downloaded to one's iTunes account). Which makes me think about cultural touchstones as signifiers in the long run, and how they are read and remembered compared to, say, technologies. Which is also linked to why I think Friends is still relatively entertaining even though it's 20 years old and counting, but that will be a longer post for (I hope!) another time.

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This thing is happening tonight

I'm speaking at the National Library tonight, together with the poet Grace Chia Krakovic, at the following event:
Gender Matters: A Conversation about Women in Writing
7 - 8 pm, Thursday, 10 July 2014
Visitors' Briefing Room, National Library (Level 1)

In this day and age, what do terms like "women's fiction" or "women's writing" mean? What is it like to be a writer who happens to be a woman, in a publishing industry dominated by men? Grace Chia Krakovic and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow will discuss these and other questions of gender and writing, and how it has affected their work.
As timing would have it, this week the National Library is mired in a broader, equally serious and not entirely unrelated controversy about its apparently kneejerk "withdrawal" of certain children's books from circulation because of a "pro-family" letter-writer. It's heinous, of course, this kind of censorship and Kirsten Han has written a good commentary on it, "NLB should not define ‘family’ and censor books". And as a friend pointed out on Facebook:
... a person who actively lodges a complaint and subsequently urges others to scrutinise the NLB's catalogue is simply known as a "concerned member of the public". While those who are concerned about the encroachment of religious conservatism on secular public space are almost always labelled "activists". Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Speaking of these "activists", there's a Facebook group, Singapore's Parents Against Library Censorship. Separately, there's an open letter that I've signed, and you should too, if you care about living in an open and progressive society where different viewpoints and beliefs can coexist alongside each other and be debated openly (there's that word again) and rationally.

There's supposed to be a press conference today at the National Library about this incident. I suspect the National Library doesn't so much have an ethical position on making knowledge, information and ideas freely available to all, as it has a bureaucratic checklist of what books Singaporeans "ought to" read. Despite that,  I'm going ahead with speaking at tonight's event because I think the subject matter is important in and of itself, and also important to be discussed in the context of questions of censorship, fear, problematic definitions and categories, and the power of imagination against that.

I love libraries. Libraries were where I fell in love with stories and ideas, and where the exquisite range of books available --- even in dinky Queenstown Library in Singapore in the 1980s --- was far more what any parent could have afforded to buy. The author Neil Gaiman delivered a wonderful lecture on libraries last year, "Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming", in which he said (among many other things):
Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different. ...

... libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
So tonight let's talk about women's writing, or what the heck that is anyway, and what it's like to be put in a box, and have people tell you what you can or cannot write because of it, and then whether people say others can or cannot read your writing because of it. Technically you're supposed to register for the talk, but I have it on good authority that there are still spaces available --- so please come!

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