It’s our last issue of the year! Jom is on leave for the next two weeks. We’ll be back on January 6th 2023.
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We thank you for reading this newsletter for 22 weeks now. It’s been quite the ride for us all. I wanted to leave you with a subject close to my heart: friends.
Let me first share some of my friends’ work. Charmaine Poh, one of Jom’s co-founders, will this weekend be hosting an open studio at the Goethe-Institut Singapore, where she is currently on residency. Her ongoing YOUNG BODIES work is “an inquiry into avatar creation, the Internet gaze, and the possibilities of agency.”
The first time I encountered her work in person, I told C that away from the themes of agency, access, power, and image circulation, I also felt the space-time continuum collapsing. Are we each living out every moment of our lives simultaneously?
Something so personal was also at the same time something so universal. It was her story but I saw bits of my anguish there, my agony at my pixelated flesh somewhere far away. Looking forward to seeing where she goes with this over the coming years; this weekend’s open house is another step. More details here.
Next, Faris Joraimi, Jom’s history editor, has written a beautiful, soulful “Postcard from New York: Mee Rebus in Midtown”. He uses the West Indian Day Parade, with its “cavalcade of people in feathers and sequins”, and the Singapore Literature Festival, which selected the theme “Archipelago Dreaming” for its latest iteration held in Manhattan, as experiential starting points to discuss a city’s openness, identity, and experiences of racial encounter, assimilation and mixing.
The Caribbean and South-east Asia are the world’s two largest equatorial archipelagoes while New York City itself, Faris writes, “is an archipelago, and part of others. The American writer Rebecca Solnit considered New York the ‘far north’ of the Caribbean.” Faris somehow ties all these themes together to prod us, as he does, to look beyond the existential and ideological constraints of the nation state.
Finally, Jonathan Chan, a writer and editor of poems and essays, and author recently of “A brief history of Koreans in Singapore”, has today published his first poem in Jom. “5 foundings” is taken from going home, his first poetry collection. Its themes of transitions and descriptions of New York City complement Faris’s postcard.
Now, onto friendship challenges. At Jom’s launch party two weeks ago, the three co-founders were asked to describe our biggest personal challenge in starting Jom. I said “friends”, in three dimensions: the friends I have to write about; the friendships I have with my colleagues; and the friends I don’t see anymore.
For the first, let me share a message I received two days ago from an old school friend.
“Bro. I thought de Souza your friend?!? Read your article, a bit heavy.”
The implication, I guess, is that Jom should write more kindly about our friends than we do strangers. Over the past two weeks, we’ve written a fair bit about Christopher de Souza, member of parliament (MP) with the People’s Action Party (PAP). First, we criticised his comments during the S377A parliamentary debates. Then we reported on Chris being found guilty by a disciplinary tribunal of professional misconduct in his legal practice (charges he has denied).
Chris was a year my senior in junior college. We weren’t tight, but hung out a few times. He later became the MP for the ward where my parents live. Over the years we’ve bumped into each other and chatted.
Jom first mentioned Chris in our Dover Forest video and essay, in a laudatory way, one of two PAP MPs to have lobbied to save the forest.
Unfortunately, with S377A, Chris’s views—what we call “faith-based homophobia”—are so diametrically opposed to Jom’s that we had to take a strong stance on it. So too with Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party, another friend whom I’ve known since we were kids.
Within Jom’s team, we must disclose our personal relationships with external subjects. It’s just good journalistic practice, to reduce potential bias in our coverage. When I look back, I do wonder if we overcompensated, if perhaps we felt the need to be even harsher with Chris and Gerald precisely because they’re my friends.
But this challenge doesn’t just relate to public figures. Even when profiling newer friends such as Salty Xi Jie Ng and Chew Kheng Chuan, the issue arises. “Are you being critical enough?” is a question my colleagues have asked.
As Jom tries to nudge Singaporean society towards greater criticality in thought, writing about friends is a challenge—heightened by our close-knit society, by the fact that we’re in many ways a global city and kampung.
With my colleagues, especially Charmaine, Jean and Waye, I face a different friendship challenge. I never wanted to start a company with close friends. I’ve seen friendships ruined, I’ve seen the toll it can take, especially because, as one entrepreneur buddy told me, “close friends take liberties with each other that strangers never would.”
However, what should I do about my nascent but fast-growing friendships with my Jomrades? I now find myself in that unenviable position: having to be boss, colleague and friend, often all in the same day. I sometimes worry that I’m being too much of a friend and not enough of a boss, or vice versa. I lurch from one to the other in clumsy, possibly rude ways.
Should I artificially keep my distance from them? I guess some people could, but it’s just not in my character to do so. So it’s a learning process. The great thing is that the four of us have spoken about this openly from the start. They know about my boss-friend tension, they shower me with empathy, they guide me.
And I’ve also stopped being fixated by the risk of relationships turning sour. Fear shouldn’t hold me back. Why can’t we create a great media company while also cultivating beautiful, nourishing, lasting bonds and friendships? No reason. Let’s go for broke.
All the time I’ve spent with these new friends has also invariably meant less for my old. And that’s my third and final friendship challenge: my worry that some older relationships are just going to wither away. Jom has been so all consuming that I’ve not been great at responding to non-work stuff. I still don’t know when to switch off. It sometimes takes me weeks to reply to messages on WhatsApp.
I’m not proud of it, I’m working on it, and the only thing I can say, with an overflowing heart, is that I’ll be spending these last two weeks of the year both with some of my newer friends and with many of my oldest.
I hope you do too.
May we be agents of blessing to all we meet,
p.s. I stole that sign-off from Faris’s history weekly, about Christmas. Read it.
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