Cathedrals we built

I think everyone who had any experiences working on any projects that are considered significant, in a way, must have experienced a mixture of excitement, relief, and not to mention anxiety in its culmination. At least that was how it felt the time I was writing the acknowledgements section for my thesis three months ago. You would realise as you wrote down the names of the people who have helped you tremendously throughout your project, how much of your work — however substantial amount of their production comes from your own blood and sweat — was actually sustained by the wonderful people around you. Not only that, how much of your work was guided by the work of the smart and amazing people of the past — this whole standing on the shoulders of giants thing — almost always made me emotional and grateful for others who opened the doors for other people. And that is how I would always strive to do too, once the doors are opened for me, I will keep it open for others, particularly those who had to jump through more systemic hoops than any of us less marginalised folks do in order to achieve their lifelong dreams.

I think about this article by Rebecca Solnit and specifically this phrase a lot, particularly after encountering (sometimes, well-meaning, passionate, new) activists who insisted on knowledge gatekeeping — a symptom that sometimes are prevalent among academics too (and also something I must have done in the past, and have reminded myself every time I found myself being judgmental too):

I wanted to yell at some of the people I run into, “If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labours of others.”

When the cathedrals you buid are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analysed and argued and shifted our assumptions.

Solnit also shared a beautiful passage Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza wrote in the wake of the 2016 election:

This is a moment for all of us to remember who we were when we stepped into the movement—to remember the organisers who were patient with us, who disagreed with us and yet stayed connected, who smiled knowingly when our self-righteousness consumed us. Building a movement requires reaching out beyond the people who agree with you. I remember who I was before I gave my life to the movement. Someone was patient with me. Someone saw that I had something to contribute. Someone stuck with me. Someone did the work to increase my commitment. Someone taught me how to be accountable. Someone opened my eyes to the root causes of the problems we face. Someone pushed me to call forward my vision for the future. Someone trained me to bring other people who are looking for a movement into one.

In the arrival of 2020, I am loving (however still articulating my own!) Saeed Jones’ prompt for your New Year resolutions, of which he asked, along with guidelines on how to write them: “What is something you are determined to do in 2020? (Pro-tip: Use the “will” verb — as in, “I will write the first draft of that novel I’ve been thinking about writing for years” and articulate why this will be a big step forward for you.” There were so many beautiful hopes and determinations shared in the comments section, one commenter said “heart in my throat and tears in my eyes as I write” — just shows how much we truly want something — “I will stand up for myself more, so that I can honour my intentions, integrity, and time”, “I will rest and separate myself from both busy work and the idea of exhaustion as a status symbol”, “I will forgive myself. I will be in the moment”, and many others. Some also shared specific goals, such as “I will get a full-time job, earning $60,000 with benefits, in the DC area! I’m graduating in June and I’m being specific about my intentions and goals. I will also find joy in my work, instead of dread and anxiety.”

A job that aligns with my values! One that I would walk in without dread and anxiety! Which pays me equally or more than I am worth befitting my skills and not my gender, and treat me as a rightful human being and respect my boundaries for once! I knew it — that’s what I want for 2020 too! I can be as specific and as broad as I want, but this is exactly what I want!

And we all cheered for each other too:

A screenshot of comments from Saeed Jones' newsletter

I also made something to put on my wall, courtesy of Beyoncé’s mama:

A digital illustration with red trees in the background and text in front, written "My fears are not allowed where I am going."

I haven’t been reading this past few days — which is a rare occasion — but I am loving this interview with evolutionary biologist Jessica Flack, who runs the Collective Computation (C4) group at the Santa Fe Institute on her research where she seeks computational rules that govern how groups of organisms solve problems collectively.

I hope 2020 takes you to where you have always wanted to go.


  • Reading: “It is not because I am a better writer. It is because, when she solved for X, I came first. And if I came first, she came second.” On how we all often stand on the shoulders of others, and how we should reflect on the question of labour between women and men.
  • Viewing: The best video of the decade.
  • Listening: Enjoying this short podcast episode compiling various sound bytes of the decade.
  • Food & Drink: Took mum to her early birthday lunch to this restaurant which sells giant grilled squids! It was, however, packed with so many people so it was quite uncomfortable to eat. We stopped by McDonald’s on the way home and got sundae cones each, an iced latte for me (of course), and some spicy fried chicken.

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  1. Pingback: Peace to the never knowing – Two Kinds of Intelligence

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