I had two things out today!
1. The Bet, which I wrote in 2021 and which won the 2022 William van dyke story prize finally appeared in my mailbox today, in the first month of 2023. Writing is such a long journey, something I try to remind myself every time I feel lousy about the fact that I’m still plugging away at this novel. Which is… dare i say? I do not. The thing goes unsaid. Regardless, I’m very happy about The Bet, and about being able to hold it in my hands, a pleasure so visceral that it feels akin to cracking open and having that first sip of golden lager…
2. Unruly, a commentary piece for Channel News Asia, non-fiction, also came out today, and, fine, it’s called something else officially, but I’ve been referring to it in my mind as Unruly because that’s how I conceived of the piece initially, as a meditation on definitions and the differences between can and should. Writing this was interesting, because I’ve gone from being an avid traveller (averaging 2 flights a month, pre-pandemic, when I worked in media) to basically staying put for such long periods, becoming, I suppose, rooted simultaneously in two places. And despite the piece, I do enjoy travelling — the actual process of being on a plane and having that long stretch of time to just sleep or read — but its a sentiment I understand to be rarely shared by others. My partner says it’s because I’m short and so curling up into a crammed space and immediately falling asleep isn’t physically uncomfortable for me the way it is for someone with long legs (ie. him), which might be true, and might also be his way of getting another dig in at my totally normal and average height. Other things he likes to say, often, include: how’s the air down there? and *squatting* ah, so this is what you see…
In researching the piece, something interesting that came up and that make it into the piece was the learnings from this NPR piece on air rage which posited the existence of first and business class (or being forced to walk by these cabins on your way to coach) as a trigger for bad behavior. Physical design, the research posits, that flaunts inequality triggers antisocial behavior, resulting in delays the equivalent of nine hours.
Which makes sense to me, the fact that people react badly when they suspect they’re being discriminated against for their spending ability, the value of their seat, their money, essentially, which is often not morally neutral.
I think (and this is something else that didn’t make it into the piece, because 1. word count and 2. my feelings are not journalism, lmao, which is why I turn to my cute lil blog) that we often also run the risk of reducing people like gravy on a long-simmering saucepan. It’s something that came up in conversations around this piece (“but I’m paying, so don’t i deserve XXX”) and also in general whenever talking about a two-sided interaction where money is involved. The problem is that money really is rarely morally neutral, it confers power, and the spender is not incentivized to put limits on this power. And what are the boundaries around what a service worker is obliged to do for you? If we’re sticking to the aviation line of reasoning, our national airline, Singapore air, is famous for its impeccable service — but I remember this pre-pandemic vlog I saw where this guy was complaining about our SQ stewardesses not giving him special treatment on the plane, or spending time talking to him. I remember thinking, im not sure that impeccable service equates to a promise to be your best friend. I mean I think there’s a very thin line between professional warmth and demanding, basically, a kind of faux friendship that exists to make you feel good about yourself. And I say this as someone who’s presently based in America, where the tipping system means that service workers are constantly performing friendliness, and having part of their everyday reality be dedicated to walking that thin line.
I dont think its wrong to want a good experience when you pay for something, but especially in the realm of service it always feels a bit tricky. There will always be examples where there are faults on both sides — any kind of service worker is human, and prone to temper of bouts of bad behaviour — and it just feels like too easy a leap to turn it into an argument of equations, where you say, you’re being paid and it is literally your job to be nice to me. Especially if its baked into the brand promise, like with a lot of asian airlines. idk. It feels a bit ick that so many of these service workers (cabin crew or not) face very real economic repercussions for talking back to unreasonable demands and so just won’t. Esp since they’re expected to represent their whole company’s brand etc, and we all know how quickly companies can pivot to letting go of employees who might be bad for PR. But if we’re able to see the person on the other side of the interaction as human and not statistic, or referential of some bigger argument, some bigger brand, then might it not lead to a more dignified world?
Maybe this comes back to my own personal beliefs — i think offering dignity confers dignity on everyone involved. And i do think that that makes way for a more forgiving world, a less dogmatic one, where you treat others and yourself with kindness even in cases where you sorely disappoint yourself, as we are all wont to do, over and over again, because we are only human. You pick yourself up and go, well, should have behaved better there. And try to do better tomorrow and again.
Anw it’s like, 1230am lmao and I have to brave the once-in-a-lifetime bay area floods to get to Stanford tomorrow, so i guess that’s that on that.