Scribble scrabble.

fire hazard

So much has happened in the last six months — getting the stegner, finishing at Columbia, getting married, moving across the world again, attending my first literary conference in vermont while simultaneously making American national news, grieving a close friend’s untimely passing, crying so much, setting up in the West Coast, schlepping all over the Bay Area for second-hand furniture, starting the Stegner, and then, finally, turning thirty…

interestingly in the last six months I’ve had close brushes with fire three times, which is too frequent an occurrence for my liking. the first was the day the stegner was announced. I was boiling my weekly batch of hard-boiled eggs, as one does, when I looked up and saw a snowflake drifting past the kitchen window. I’ve been obsessed with snow ever since I was a child, being from the equator and all. To me snow isn’t real, it’s from the realm of TV and fairytales, for a long time I thought I would simply never see it in my lifetime because going to seasonal countries is expensive. Which is a large part of why I’ve always loved getting older. In my mind, age = legal ability to work = monies = choices. In fact, I think I was almost twenty when I first went to a Disneyland, in Hong Kong, and that evening it started snowing. I completely lost my shit. I thought, what the fuck is this magic. So I did what the storybooks said people did, and stuck my tongue out to catch the snowflakes, and promptly realised I was eating soap foam. But anyway. That cold morning in March, I was so taken by the real, New York snow, that I followed it immediately, and went out on the street to watch it coming down. And then I thought, since I’m outdoors, might as well go to work. So I walked to Columbia to get some writing done, and an hour later, my roommate called me and told me I’d nearly burnt the house down because my eggs had exploded on the stove. I ran home and there was actual, visible smoke hanging in the air, lingering like some kind of unwanted guest, and powdery egg yolk everywhere, in all the crevices of the kitchen, the cupboards, the refrigerator, the light switches.

While I was on my hands and knees on the kitchen floor trying to clean up egg bits, shivering because all the slushy snow had melted and now I was just straight up shivering and drenched, my phone started blowing up, and that’s how I learnt that everyone else now knew what I’d been keeping secret for two weeks — that I was one of the new Stegner fellows, that I’d been given the gift of time, that my dreams, basically, were coming true.

A week after that my partner, now husband, flew down to new york for his bachelor’s trip, so we could meet up and go to Disney World with some of his groomsmen. Yet another thing I thought I’d never do in my entire life. I often wonder what it would have been like to be privvy to so much manufactured magic as a child; I think I would have peed my pants in excitement and wonder. As an adult I still love it all, the fireworks and music and obvious emotional manipulation, but I cant stop ringing up the cost of everything in my mind. The value of your dollar and all that, I suppose. Anyway. We took different flights back to New York because I had Delta miles from a previous pandemic related flight cancellation, and said seeya later at MCO airport, fully expecting to land at JFK within 30 minutes of each other. Little did I know. Little. Did I know.

For the next thirty two hours I boarded and disembarked multiple flights as I tried desperately to get out of Orlando while they were all cancelled one by one for all kinds of reasons, the most ludicrous being that a gate agent, in an attempt to get rid of me, printed me a ticket to a flight that didn’t exist. I cycled through the rounds of being drunk and sober multiple times as I participated in the time honored tradition of oral storytelling and regaled all of MCO terminal B with my sob story, getting multiple free drinks of pity, sleeping on an airport bench, showering in the public toilet.

Hour 21, I managed to wrangle my way onto a flight and promptly fall asleep in my seat while waiting for take off with the confidence of a fool. I woke an hour later to the smell of smoke and an air stewardess beside me. The plane was on fire. It’d only happened once in her seven years of flying, this was the second time. I disembarked, went straight to the bar, and got myself a beer and consolatory fried chicken. A routine, by that point.

Third time. Less than a month after I was wed. I flew back to the States for a literary conference, which included a 12 hour SG-FRA flight, a 15 hour layover, 8.5 hour FRA-NYC, crashing a night at a girlfriend’s place, then flying out the following AM to Vermont. A recipe that did not take into consideration jet lag because I am am optimist and endlessly unrealistic. Anyway. On the Uber to La Guardia, I was chatting with my driver, Fritz, when we drove past a building that was literally on fire. I have never seen anything like it — flames really do lick the air, they also shoot, and twist, and shatter windowpanes from heat. We pulled over and he ran straight into the building while I stood on the sidewalk and did what i do best, which is yell a lot. EVACUATE, EVACUATE. Like they say in those airplane safety briefings. EVACUATE EVACUATE! The fire truck came ten minutes later, Fritz ran out having saved 2 people, and asked if he smelt of smoke. His wife would kill him, he said, if she knew he’d ran into a burning building. I tweeted about it sans names in a what the heck just happened what a crazy morning kinda way, got on the flight, and when i landed it had been retweeted over fifty thousand times. I immediately emailed Fritz and said um you know what you said about not wanting your wife to know…

Anyway. It turned out he was fine with media attention, enthused by the public excitement over choosing to do good. It feels like everyone could use a bit of hope, with the way these few years have gone. We made national news. But I was in Vermont with no cell service and shitty wifi and in between readings and classes I was on the phone with journalists and dialing in to the CNN studios for a live show by hiding in a Bread Loaf closet and trying to balance my phone on a shelf. I couldn’t hear jackshit and was really hoping for the best. When we went live, apparently Fritz said how are you and I replied I know right and my sister dragged me for the next month straight.

Anyway. That’s three fires in six months. One per two months. Far, far too many close calls for my liking. A friend pointed out that this isn’t even it — a couple of years ago, I had fallen asleep on a diving boat, and woke up to the deck in flames. People were screaming and climbing over each other trying to retrieve these dusty lifejackets which clearly had never been put to use, ever. I remember, back then, being so burnt out from work, so exhausted from juggling multiple freelance jobs while teaching at the university and trying to complete my Masters and also have a life (which was why I was even on that boat, I was trying to learn to dive in a bid to enrich my life…)

I looked at the fire, looked at my friend, a severely overworked advertising suit who had also just woken up. We both closed out eyes and went back to sleep. If this is it, I remember thinking. I’m so tired. Just five minutes more.

How far things have come. Now I am hungry to stay alive, every day aflame with the joy and pain of being able to do nothing but write, read, write some more. I’m so happy. It feels so trite to say but I am. If this is thirty, I think. I’m ready for more.

J

ngl?

I’ve been thinking recently ab the new social media trend which feels very reminiscent of the early 2000s formspring/ ask.fm days, and by thinking, i mean to say that i felt a strong visceral revulsion towards it.

So from what I understand, ngl is a new app where people can ask you completely anonymous questions and you reply by posting the question to your instagram story and typing whatever you want underneath it. Its different from the Questions button on instagram story because with that one, the questions asked are still tied to the asker’s IG handle — no, this ngl trend promises true anonymity, though apparently you can pay for hints as to who the asker is, etc.

I have, obviously, very strong feelings about this. I think that when you open your person up like that, you are giving people a hall pass into your attention, which is something that should be guarded carefully. With something like ngl, most people think about the best case scenarios — ie. they hope for a version of their self-image to be affirmed and projected back onto them, they’re hoping for one specific person to ask them something that will then establish a kind of imagined intimacy, or they hope to publicly appear a certain way (intelligent, thoughtful, interesting) through their answers to these questions. but to me that’s very dangerous. you cannot control the behavior of other people, nor their thoughts / attention. letting people say whatever they want to you seems a can of worms: you’re allowing people to plant doubts in your life, whether maliciously intended or not, you’re allowing people to express to you, specifically you, their opinions which are informed by layers and layers of calcified assumptions and stereotypes. the immediate reaction i had to the app was just, no. i dont even want your shoes in my house why would i want your thoughts in my brain.

a lot of my feelings about this comes from specific personal experience. ten years ago when i started hosting i was thrust into the public eye, and it felt as if i immediately split from myself, and became jemimah the person, and jemimah the gesture. suddenly everyone and their mothers were in my business, expressing to me things and behaviors both online and in real life that would be completely unacceptable to say otherwise. singapore is small, so i would perpetually run into people who knew me from the general internet or who watched the show i was on, and who felt it was totally ok to be either overly rude or overly intimate. i remember there was this one time someone went to all the trouble to document every single meal i had posted online and email me with a break down of the carbohydrate and sugar and msg content, explaining to me quite earnestly why even though i looked ugly now, i would be less ugly if i did this and this and this to my diet. that person took special umbrage at my patronage of ramen santouka in clarke quay central, something that stuck with me all these years but didn’t make a dent in my love affair with ramen.

anyway, the email seemed well-intentioned but i can only guess. it was certainly superficially more polite than other emails or DMs expressing disgust at my existence or just gleefully expressing explicit or disgusting shit to me. The worst part is that despite being told to kill myself on a semi-regular basis I actually dont think i got it that bad. i’ve exchanged notes with my other girlfriends and a lot of things that get thrown around are actually horrifying. Anonymous commentors are not afraid to play mother play father. Social decorum or basic decency goes out of the window. at best it’s flabbergasting and stressful, at worst it’s heartbreaking.

And it’s not like i didn’t also have support and love and trust from people who only knew me from a digital arms length. Part of being so publicly accessible was being able to have many long conversations with people I’d probably never meet irl, but who shared their lives and troubles with me after connecting with something I might have said online — to be honoured with that kind of trust is something I dont take lightly. I was very moved by the interest and empathy and enthusiasm from those for whom i was just a collection of pixels on their screen. But every time i got these other kind of messages i remember thinking in outrage, what makes you think you can say this to me? and then finally realizing that of course they can. the difference between can and should is a vast ungovernable chasm and all you can do is hope that people are courteous. which is, you know, a big ask.

which is part of why this ngl trend scares me. i remember thinking years ago that ok fine, i technically knew what i was signing up for, and i just had to accept this as part of the package of a life of privilege that media afforded me. and i learnt very painfully, but very effectively, to disengage from absurdity or walk away from interactions i didn’t want to be a part of. It’s a useful life skill but it’s not something that i would wish upon anyone else having to learn the hard way.

And most of the time, in regular interaction, you won’t have to. Most communication is enacted in an arena where both parties have agenda and power, shit can go down but it can also be dodged/resisted/pushed back against. And at the very least there is some kind of accountability, which triggers both an awareness of social consequence and, i think, a level of self-respect that reminds you that you are not a primordial baboon driven only by its present id, and that keeps you to a higher moral standard in your interactions with another individual.

That, to me, is the key difference between an app like ngl and someone just sending you an anonymous DM with their own private IG accounts or whatever. The complete and utter anonymity of ngl doesn’t just cede control over the conversation for you, it releases the other person from the usual moral standards of what it means to be a normal human being in society. i usually don’t have that much of an opinion about social media trends cos most of them are harmless and transient, but ngl to me seems to be hiding under the same veneer of innocuous fun, but which has the potential to really cause lasting damage. people spend so much of their lives trying to establish a solid center of self-regard as they develop as human beings, and so few people are truly able to remain unaffected by what others think of them. Ngl to me seems like giving a stranger booze and a katana and hoping they dont drunkenly stab the baby crawling around the room, slowly learning to walk.


Anyway. My girlfriends and i were having a long conversation about this the other night, where we were like, man, imagine how damaging this ngl thing might be for all the preteen and young adults online who are just trying it for fun. And then of course the very next day my partner went online and was like, he he we’re getting married this weekend ask me anything!!! And i was like, Shane. Please. But I had a look at the questions people sent him and only one person was kind of shady. I was worried, I asked Shane if it bothered him at all, I was all ready to walk him through the techniques of Not Giving A Fuck About What Anonymous Internet People Say.

But actually I needn’t have worried. Shane has the confidence of a lynx, he just found all of it quite funny. So maybe it’s bc he’s 32, or maybe im overreacting and am only really being retroactively protective over the kid i once was, and maybe kids nowadays are able to cut through and dismiss external feedback that isn’t helpful or edifying to them. Either way. That was my cute lil rant on the dangers of letting people talk shit to you, online or otherwise. I’m getting married this weekend, do not ask me anything.

x jem

big baby

Reunited! Reunited with Athena! Hard to believe it’s been ten years since all the stars aligned and my mother’s old school friend’s cat got preggers and there was suddenly a shock of directionless kittens looking for homes, and my baby sister did well on a national exam and appealed for a reward in the form of permission, not a cat, but permission to get a cat, and for the cat to stay. Prior to this, we had fostered a bunch of cats — fostered in the sense that we would simply pick up injured lost strays and bring them home, to the chagrin of my parents… at our peak Catdom we had three cats, i think, though I might be mixing up the timelines. It came to a point where whenever there were abandoned kittens in the neighborhood people would call us and we would turn our big pleading eyes on our parents and if they said no we would take the kittens home anyway. In retrospect we were not easy daughters but at least we always meant well. Right? Right. There are worse problems to have in daughters beyond a tendency to rescue and house cats, is what i am telling myself. And every time we nursed the kittens or strays back to health, we would seek out a family who would want them, and every single time we handed the cats over to their new loving homes we would cry and cry. But you cannot live with a cat and stay disaffected, each separation must have sliced away at my parents too, and so when my baby sister turned twelve, and when the opportunity for permission and reward intersected, my mother finally said, fine, but in her heart i think she was — we were — all thinking, finally. Home, finally. A home, finally. Family. And we had all these dreams of a cat who would love us and curl up beside us and boop our noses with her (it was always going to be a her) cute little pink paw pads and melt our hearts and be everything we ever wanted. And we saw Athena and we thought she was going to be it. But she grew up grumpy as all hell, a cat who wails at everything and is scared of bugs and rain and cries whenever another cat walks by and hates being groomed and sheds like a bitch and refuses to be held for more than ten seconds and complains whenever it is too hot as if we could control the weather and you know what, everyone is surprised, and I’m surprised too, but it really was everything we ever wanted. Athena, the perfect cat. My sweet baby.

Some fun personal news



Columbia University School of the Arts News

In early march, i got a call while working in the library and thought it was spam, because, you know, America.

Anyway, I picked up, because, you know, me, got the news, then ran into the toilet and burst into tears while people around me flushed and glared.

I was immediately very emo:


lmao.

And I’ve been kind of in a whirl ever since. I guess this means I’m going home, getting married, then moving to the Bay Area with no duty to anything except my art. What a summer it’ll be.

x
Jem

Joy

Untitled

It has been a difficult writing month — why? because writing is a temperamental wife, i suppose — but this past weekend I spent over ten hours each day with this one spec-fic story that’s been eating at me, and i came away feeling so renewed. The singular joy of sustained focus one has while chiseling away at a story, watching it take shape, breaking it apart, and putting it together again, is really like nothing else.

x
jem

This was nice

I don’t think we’d ever planned for Shane to visit me during my stint in New York because 1. it’s expensive 2. it’s expensive and 3. it’s bloody expensive. Plus, i guess, after years of dating someone who worked in travel, we assumed that Shane would be more or less accustomed to me being away.. but me being out of the country half the time isn’t the same as being in a long distance relationship, i suppose, as much as it is having a staccatoed girlfriend who makes up for each absence by being really bloody loud whenever she’s back. Point being, LDR is different. And so he schlepped up to New York with a bunch of groomsmen this March for a bachelor’s trip which I really co-opted as MY party, and suffice to say, we all had a great time.



x
jem


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I shoot on a Nikon D750 with a 35f/1.8 lens, or on my Samsung Note 20 Ultra. Pictures edited in Lighroom Mobile or VSCO