An act of solitude and ruthlessnes

Today I turned down an opportunity that seemed interesting, but it would pay too little and with some vague instructions which required me to ask multiple rounds of questions until I finally got some sense of clarity. I did not think much of it throughout the day, but as he sat down to write tonight I thought of how years ago I would probably just take up the offer, knowing full well of how lowly paid I am going to be and how my phone would be inundated with emails and text messages of scope change and whatnot that require my immediate attention every single time. I think I am at this stage where I am finally comfortable to assert boundaries and able to assess how much my skills are worth, hence I could charge higher. It took so many years but look, growth!

I think of Melissa Gregg’s definition of productivity as shared by Anne Helen Petersen today in her newsletter, productivity as “a form of training through which workers become capable of the ever more daring acts of solitude and ruthlessness necessary to produce career competence.” Years ago I would have never thought of asserting boundaries at work and demanding a higher payment (because I am good at what I do!) is an act of solitude and ruthlessness! Can you hear how empowering that is when you start to actualise your worth and potentials?

I also think about all the times we started to ask “whatever happened to _____?” the moment any women friends got married and were relegated to invisibility as domestic life took over. Sometimes it’s a choice — which is OK — but a lot of times it’s unintentional, where sometimes “patriarchy is ambient, and jovial. Sometimes it’s outright violent, and sometimes it is institutional.”

Poet Emily Raboteau wrote a diary in recounting a year’s worth of talking about climate anxiety. She noted, “some scientists say the best way to combat climate change is to talk about it among friends and family — to make private anxieties public concerns.” I also realised that as the world is descending towards climate doom, none of my family members ever talked about it. The members of my family — like most lower middle class northern Peninsula Malaysian families — are of ideologies bordering staunch religious or just, unquestioningly content. Conversations about climate change would soon turn into lectures about the end of the world and how it’s a collective punishment for the sins of mankind, and it was hard to discuss objectively on how it could impact a wide range of issues — not only largely to the ecosystems — but also to the society. Looking up online, I came across a number of articles about talking to your family about what to do as we head towards climate emergency — such as this one — but again they are often catered towards the Western audience. If there are any articles where one could discuss the subject of climate change objectively with families in a super traditional Asian setting, I would love to know about them.

What I am reading:


  • Reading: An anthology of spine-chilling stories collected by Roald Dahl, — although as someone who is easily spooked, none of the stories managed to send chills down the spine yet so far.
  • Viewing: Anand Giridharadas’ Winners Take All book on how ‘the global elite’s efforts to ‘change the world’ preserve the status quo and obscure their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve’, distilled in this 5-minute animation.
  • Listening: This 99% Invisible episode on Vantablack, “it’s a pigment so black you can see your own death.” and this Song Exploder episode on probably the most played song ever since 1990s, Semisonic’s Closing Time.
  • Food & Drink: On my birthday last week I had kimchi jiggae (I know, again!). The day after, a friend came to my city for work so we went for a panini duck sandwich, of which he confessed he still could not stop thinking about (it was that good!).

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