Today, we’ve published a powerful, moving account of one Singaporean’s 30-year mental health journey. It takes us from the emotional fragility and fluctuations of teenage boarding school in 1980s’ England, to mid-40s’ introspection sparked by Covid isolation in a Singapore flat.
It's a piece that must have required immense courage and perspective to even consider writing, never mind the subsequent task of excavating one’s memories and feelings for unknown readers across the vast reaches of the internet.
Last week, we published a postcard by a Singaporean who faced possible physical danger in a war-torn country, and this week, not by design, we have a piece by one who braved emotional rupture by diving into the recesses of her past, of her inner self.
Thank you, Tsen-Waye Tay.
Waye, as she’s commonly known, is one of Jom’s three co-founders, and our head of content. In keeping with the rest of our National Day Series from Jom’s core team, the purpose of Waye’s piece, “Mental health: my journey and life’s foundation”, is to help broaden and normalise conversations around mental illness.
Waye and I first interacted when she, as editor at another outfit, commissioned me to write an essay. In the core team, Waye has by far the most varied work experiences, both inside and outside the media. I like to think of her as the quiet, steady hand behind a lot of Jom’s processes. She keeps our engine running.
Yet it’s probably a bit reductive to focus on her functional roles, because the artist in her is a fine photographer and writer too, as you’ll see. She’s also perhaps the only one in the team who can keep up with my whisky drinking. (An appropriate salve, I imagine, to deal with my noise.)
So, how do we think about mental health at Jom? Well, frankly, a lot of it is new to me. I’m still learning, still catching up to contemporary trends and diagnoses.
And so, over the past eight months, as we’ve tried to nurture a working culture at Jom that prioritises employee autonomy and work-life balance, Charmaine and Waye’s contributions have been vital.
Jom is a remote-first organisation, which suits everybody. Luckily, we all have home environments conducive to work: no difficult partners, imposing in-laws, or garrulous children. (The causes of work-from-home stress for many.)
But surely we can’t be remote 24/7? We’ve settled on a single weekly, three-hour meeting, which can be attended remotely. We always begin the meeting with 15 minutes of trash talk: catching up with each other’s lives or the latest gossip in town. It’s really important, and helps a lot with Zoom fatigue.
We conduct all other collaboration via Slack, e-mail, and the occasional call. (And sometimes also Google Docs, Trello, WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. A digital nightmare. The day Jean messages me on TikTok I’ll quit.)
Non-journalists sometimes ask if Jom loses something by not having a “newsroom”. But we don’t do daily news. We’re a weekly magazine that adheres to “slow journalism”. We rely not on instant collaboration, but a slow rhythmic tempo, each part necessarily moving to its own beat. I think that gives each person enough headspace to explore themselves artistically, creatively, which is what we need to produce our work.
So there are no fixed hours at Jom aside from that one meeting. I never worry about anybody underworking, I think that’s a 20th-century paranoia around disengaged employees. But I do worry about overworking, which is why it’s important for people to turn off notifications when there’s no pressing deadline.
In line with that, Jom has decided on an anytime leave policy. Again, the danger here is that people don’t take leave, so we have instituted a 15-day minimum. For two weeks in December and one in July, the whole team will be off. What that means, dear reader, is that there won’t be any new Jom material in those weeks. When we’re big enough, we’ll have cover. But for now, we appreciate your patience as we try to build this business sustainably.
Finally, medical expenses. We believe in comprehensive portable insurance coverage, from dental to mental health, for every employee. But Charmaine, Waye and I also recognise that, as a cash-strapped start-up that is far from financial sustainability, it’s probably something we must aspire to.
So at the moment each full-time employee has a yearly medical budget that they can use however they want. I can’t wait for the day when Jom can provide every employee with complete coverage. (And if you haven’t yet gotten a paid subscription, please do so to take us one step closer.)
I would like to conclude with a really important announcement! Jom has appointed a new sports editor, Nicholas Fang.
I've known Nick for a long time, he does many things: former national fencer, former nominated member of parliament, runs his own research and media outfit (BlackDot), director at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. We agree on many things but disagree on others (like National Service), though after a burger and beer and thrashing out our views, I’m always reminded of the value of opposing viewpoints and healthy debate.
Nick could conceivably work on everything from international security to local F&B, but we think sports editor is the most appropriate. This is an adjunct position, another hat he’ll be wearing.
Why sports? Well, Jom is a weekly magazine about Singapore, and we want to cover everything from arts and culture to sports. In line with that, we intend to keep appointing domain experts to adjunct editor positions. Jom wants to work with people who can help us develop our expertise in these areas. (A food editor and climate editor are probably next.)
More specifically, we believe in the inherent value of sports and think that good sports journalism has a crucial role to play in the development of the sector. Nick’s Jom bio says: “He holds out hope that Singapore will become a true sporting nation some day.”
P.S. If you, or anybody you know, wants to write for Jom, please reply and let us know! We’re looking for writers. From Waye in mental health to Nick in sports, we have editors that are eager to work with you.