Skins and stories

[I wrote this on 16 August last year, but somehow never got around to posting it. I rediscovered it today in my iPhone’s Notes while looking for something else,and liked it enough that I decided I should post it.]

I came across an article the other day about ebook sales dipping (slightly), in contrast with print book sales rising (also slightly), bolstered, apparently, in part by the sales of colouring books. The article framed the discussion in terms of paper books versus ebooks, as if one were the antithesis of the other.

I also just had a brief exchange with a friend who’s helping us cat-sit; she’s leaving the country just as we’re returning, and had borrowed one of our books on the way out. A stray comment she made, that the book had probably been read because the pages were yellowed, got me thinking about the physicality and the idea of books.

When people talk about how they love paper books, and how an e-reader or a tablet will never replace paper, part of me rebels. I’ve read since I could remember being conscious; I—like almost every voracious reader I know—have read ketchup bottle labels, shampoo ingredient lists, the backs of cereal boxes, and other odd things when faced with an inexplicable lack of other reading material; I read like I breathe: involuntarily, obligatorily. But if all else were stripped away, it is the story that I love above all. Stories are how we make sense of the world. They’re how we construct ideas, our selves, our very conception of our experience as sentient beings.

The book is the skin of the human story. The ideas in it, the story in it, are the soul of humanity, of consciousness.

The scent of paper and glue and binding and ink, the dry shuffle and rasp of page on page, against your hand, the pleasure turning into dread as the weight of a book you’re enjoying alters its balance from your pinky to your thumb… to confuse the sensory delight of these things with the wonderful infection of ideas that is the heart of a book is to confuse the taste with a wrapper. You might as well venerate the finely blown bottle in which your wine resides (which I have done, nothing wrong with it), or the layers of rice paper and pastel wrapping in which your handmade mochi is presented (again, I’ve done that; the Japanese take presentation to beautiful heights)… but make no mistake: while you may enjoy the physicality of the thing, its essence resides elsewhere.


Who bears the costs?

Why are there now so many people in Singapore who seem to think it’s acceptable and appropriate to take up seats at McDonald’s or Starbucks without actually being patrons?

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops or cafes reading or writing or doing yarn work, because it gets me out of the house at least. But when I do, I’ll buy a drink or two, maybe a snack. There’s rental and utilities and employees to be paid, after all. And yes, if I linger a long time, I feel faintly guilty and I’ll spend a little more. I also make a point of clearing after myself, so that the already overworked staff have less to do.

But in the last year or so, I’ve noticed a lot of people who walk into a Starbucks, sit down, and proceed to spend the next half-hour or hour there without purchasing anything. I’ve even seen several pull out drinks and food—obviously freshly purchased elsewhere—for consumption. They sit for quite a while, and often even leave their debris behind for the staff to clear. I’ve witnessed the establishment lose customers because of lack of seating.

Look, I get that I’m privileged in my disposable income, and I get that not everyone has the means to or wants to spend money at Starbucks (but McDonald’s? A cone is 50 cents…) but that doesn’t automatically give you the right to sit in their space, use their facilities, and deprive them of paying customers. If you don’t want to spend the money, or can’t, you need to find a different place to be, no? I’ve seen clearly homeless people asleep in the 24-hour McDonald’s near my home at 2 a.m. and think it’s sweet McDonald’s leaves them alone. That’s different.

I also get that you can be tired from a day of walking around, and it’s hot outside and you want a seat and some AC. But in most cases I’ve observed, these people are carrying shopping or the food they’ve purchased is… well, it isn’t homemade food. The people I’ve observed do honestly appear to be at least comfortably middle-class people, who can’t even say “I can’t afford it.”

You could argue we need more seating in malls and commercial spaces, more communal spaces that are free of charge, and maybe water fountains—and I’d agree!—but that’s a separate discussion too. I remember hanging out at open air car parks and green spaces and sharing a drink at a fast food place when I was a poor student or early on in my working life. Some public amenity not existing doesn’t mean a private establishment is required to provide you with it, especially at cost to them. We do have parks and void decks and libraries and community centres and kopitiams and food courts, where space is often abundant, often free, and also often air-conditioned. Why not choose those?

So honestly, serious question, I want to know what is going through their heads that they think this is okay. Is it more “I want this and therefore I should have it” thinking? Because that just seems wrong.


Maybe I’m putting off studying a bit… (with apologies to Adele)

Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these hours you’d like to feed me
To assuage my hunger pangs
They say food’s supposed to fill ya
But I ain’t done much filling

Hello, can you hear me?
I’m in my litterbox dreaming about what I used to eat
When I was younger and free
I’ve forgotten how it felt before you put me on a diet

There’s such a difference between us
And a million meals

Hello from my empty bowl
I must have called a thousand times
To tell you I’m hungry and need you to feed me
But when I call you never seem to hear it
Hello from my hollow tum
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m wasting away from hunger
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Hello, how are you?
It’s so typical of me to talk about myself. Not sorry.
I hope that you’re well
Did you ever make it out of the house to buy me more snacks?

And it’s no secret that the both of us
Are running out of time

So hello from my empty bowl (empty bowl)
I must have called a thousand times (thousand times)
To tell you I’m hungry and need you to feed me
But when I call you never seem to hear it
Hello from my hollow tum (hollow tum)
At least I can say that I’ve tried (I’ve tried)
To tell you I’m wasting away from hunger
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

Popcorn begs for food a lot. A LOT. I had Adele’s Hello in my head while I was feeding her dinner this evening, and I couldn’t get it out, and somehow the two things collided into this.



The Shepherd’s Crown

I’m reading The Shepherd’s Crown, which has been sitting on my Kindle since launch day. I’d preordered it, but hadn’t had the heart to read it till now. My Kindle tells me I’m 90% through the book; I’ve tried to eke it out, I have, but it’s always the same when you read a Discworld book, you know.

You start slow, savouring the familiar characters, sinking into the Discworld again, so the first two chapters or so go by slowly. But then the story catches you, and before you notice, you’re a third into the book, and you think to yourself, “It’s okay, there’s plenty of book left, and anyway there’ll be another Discworld novel along in a year or two,” and you let yourself indulge a little because the ‘what happens next’ is so powerful.

Then the strands of story begin to come together and crash bang all that conflict begins to resolve and then you look up and go oh no, because you have less than one quarter of the book left. So you begin to slow down the reading, because oh god there’ll be another wait of a year or two before you have another deliciously new Discworld novel again.

Except this time, there isn’t, there won’t be, there can’t be. And I find myself unbearably sad that this is so.

“Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?”

Terry Pratchett, Going Postal (Discworld, #33; Moist von Lipwig)


Grinchy Grinchy Grinchy

I have just about had it with people today.

On the bus on the way to town today, there’s someone who plays music loudly on their phone, sans earphones, for some fifteen minutes.

On the way back, there’s some doofus whose message notification sound is a particularly high-pitched series of chimes. They’re actively messaging and the damn sound goes off every five seconds, just long enough for you to hope that it’s stopped, only to have your hopes shattered by the next *ting ting TINNNNNG*. This goes on from Tanglin Road all the way to Pandan Valley.

And just a couple of minutes ago, I’m at the florist waiting in line to order some flowers. I get to the front of the line with no one behind me, and start asking the florist questions about my purchase. An older lady (40s? 50s? I can’t tell anyone’s age anymore) comes up behind me and picks up some cellophane-wrapped chrysanthemums and carnations. I’m literally in mid-sentence with the florist when this woman waves the flowers she’s picked up at the florist, and breaks in, “This one how much?” I turn and look at her. “Sorry ah, sorry ah, just asking,” she says. She continues waving the flowers at the florist, who proceeds to answer her. (!!)

I think, “Okay, never mind, she’s oblivious, it’s one question, it’s Christmas, let it go, let it go…” I turn back to the florist and ask if it’s possible to have the bouquet made up as an arrangement instead, and we walk to the fridge to have a look.

We return to the counter, and I get as far as “I’ll take…” when the woman breaks in again. “If I want this one, the carnation buy what colour?” Something small snaps inside me and I swing around. I say, very calmly, and quite evenly, “I was literally in the middle of talking to the florist here. Don’t you think it’s a bit rude to interrupt like this?”

She looks slightly taken aback, and so does the florist. But she shuts up, and I return to my discussion with the florist as if nothing has happened. All of this, by the way, takes place in maybe ninety seconds. I finish my transaction, and I don’t see or hear from her again.

What is this? What is with people behaving as if no one else exists in a common space? Use closed-back earbuds on public transport. If your phone keeps going off with messages and alerts in an enclosed space, put it on silent mode. WAIT YOUR TURN.

I realise I sound super Grinchy here. But really!

Anyway, the husband is cooking Christmas dinner, and the rabbit is begging for treats, driven insane by the smell of apples being peeled. So we’re going to huddle up at home with the cat and the rabbit, away from people, and eat good food and knit and be quiet and happy together.

Merry Christmas, everyone. (Yes, even those berks.)  


A Mini Performance Review

Dear spiders living outside the house, I want a word with you. I thought we had an agreement: I don’t allow the cat to squash you and I don’t brush away your webs; you eat up all the mosquitoes, flies, and other assorted flying I-don’t-know-whats with wings.

How do you account for this then?


It itches like the dickens, I tell you. And there’s more than one of these bites! Look, you’ll just have to take my word for it. No, I’m pretty sure you don’t “feel” me. You don’t have soft skin that welts up when bitten and itches like this!

Very uncool, guys. There are currently a couple that have even invaded the house!

Please step up and do your job. Eat the (blood)suckers! The mosquitoes are top priority. If you get those we can maybe, maybe let the other flying things slide.

Right? Right. Glad we had this talk.


2014 in Review

I originally started writing this on 22 December, as you can see below, but because of the move, and my back giving me trouble, and—frankly—WoW, I didn’t finish it. This seemed to be a good time to finish up the post, especially since we’re in traffic on the way to some friends’ for a New Year’s Eve get-together.
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