October Note from the Editor: The Lessons I’ve Learned About Community

The last week of September has been challenging for Singapore’s literary community, I know. Our expose (mainstream media’s term, not mine) on the inner workings of BooksActually and the Emperor whose throne rests on the hard, unappreciated work of some young women under his charge, it turns out, was a story that many in the book-reading community knew. Still, few found the moral courage to raise alarms.

Within a matter of hours, long, lilting Facebook essays were written—many were quick to condemn the exploitation of women. But between those lines of outrage, some also alluded to the inappropriateness of work relations, especially when it involves vulnerable young women, who so often find themselves at the losing end of a power imbalance. 

Still, some called for empathy and space to grieve. Evidently, when it comes to moral dilemmas, especially from those you venerate and place on pedestals, unfortunately, no one size fits all. Whatever your choice of poison, silence is not an option. Silence, I’ve learned, is complicit. 

This episode was also one where I got to fixate and stare in awe at the overwhelming power of the RICE Media community. It was your strong moral compass that propelled the story forward and ensured the ringing clarity of the voices of Renée, Mel, and the other young women who spoke to us for the interview. It was your desire for accountability that compelled a frank and open discussion about the moral skeletons hanging in the wardrobe of Singapore’s literature scene. 

The strength of our RICE community is one that is not lost on my editorial team and me. We leave the stories we write in your good hands and wait as you judge the relevance and creative endeavours of our storytelling, evident in its reach and impact on society. If anything, the BooksActually story was a glowing review of the quality of our community. It’s time we stepped up and gave our RICE readers a proper avenue and platform for such pertinent and oftentimes crucial discussions to hold space. 

To that end, we would like to invite you to join the Rice Cooker Facebook Group, where we have appointed dedicated administrators to curate, watch over, and propel essential discussions of the day into the public sphere. It is a safe space where we encourage robust ideas and perspectives, and on the off chance that your POVs are contrarian, a forum for you to convince members of the soundness of your beliefs.

We’ve also set up a Discord server which mirrors rather closely the Slack channels we use in RICE Media. There, we aim for the discussion to be more fluid, off-the-cuff, and spontaneous—like a huge chat room of similar minds. Moderated discussions start today, and it would be great to see you there, too. 

Last month, I made a clarion call for contributors to join our Editorial team. So many of you responded, each with such different ideas and differing opinions on a gamut of topics. There are some lined up and ready to be published this month, and I hope you find those stories to be of great interest to you. If you’re keen, applications are always open 24/7, every day of the week. Drop me an email together with some writing samples you’re most proud of to Careers@ricemedia.co.

Hang in there, everyone. I know this COVID-19 Stabilization period is not easy for everyone—frankly, I am so done with the phases around four phases ago. But, as my writer, Ivan, once said, “Unfortunately, perfect responses are impossible in the middle of a pandemic”. Truer words have never been spoken. 

Perhaps, if, like me, you find yourself dwindling in a spiral of uncertainty, you might find solace in the wise words of author George Saunders in a podcast, Sugar Calling with American writer Cheryl Strayed. “It’s only when we expect solidity and non-change that we are taken by surprise,” Saunder shared. “And we always expect solidity, no matter how well we know better.”  Maybe now is when we should start embracing change as the new normal, if only for the betterment of our mental health.

Here’s wishing you well and a more optimistic October.

Zat Astha
Associate Editor, RICE

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