Might I Suggest: Treat Your Inbox with These Substack Newsletters

I wanted to say, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who compulsively open every email they receive to maintain Inbox Zero and those who go to bed at night without any qualms about their notification pileups.” In fact, I was all ready to declare that I belonged to the latter group. That changed when I chanced upon a screenshot of my friend’s home screen — I couldn’t take my eyes off the alarm-red notification badge in the background, which indicated that they had 1,283 unread emails. Since I’m guilty of having over 680 unopened ones myself, I was surprised at my visceral distaste at my friend’s inbox junkyard. Was the sight of their notifications unsettling simply because I was unaccustomed to seeing a number larger than mine or did hitting four digits cross some invisible threshold?

One thing I’m sure of is that it’s so easy to accumulate clutter in our inboxes, no thanks to social media notifications, security alerts or automatic subscriptions to online shopping sites after making a purchase just once. The list goes on. Even though I’m not preoccupied with maintaining a neat inbox, I still hesitate before committing to email subscriptions of any kind. But I subscribed to these newsletters with fairly reckless abandon (after reading two to three posts) because they are equal parts entertaining and informative and I don’t want to miss a thing.

Coincidentally, all the newsletters I’m about to recommend use Substack, an email newsletter service I’ve only heard of this year. Since readers can view and binge-read all the archives at one go, you don’t actually have to subscribe to these newsletters in order to enjoy their content. All I’m saying is I did and I’ve not been disappointed since.

My favorite subscriptions, listed in chronological order:

#1. Maybe Baby by Haley Nahman

When I was preparing for an interview at a site that wrote about fashion, I stumbled upon Haley’s interview with Heroine and subsequently discovered the publication that she was writing for: ManRepeller. What draws me to Haley’s writing is her self-reflexivity and ability to put words to complex emotions in an eloquent manner that speaks to the reader’s heart. I enjoy and often reread her advice on relationships, career and writing, which includes descriptive and honest reflections about her experiences. You could say that Haley is my literary hero at the moment. I trawl the internet for her interviews for her book recommendations and to find out more about her writing process.

Haley has since left ManRepeller to pursue freelance work and her absence from the site is palpable. While I am still making my way through her byline to read her older pieces, I was relieved when she announced the launch of Maybe Baby. I had no idea what a newsletter really entailed then but I signed up immediately. Now I patiently wait for an issue to drop every week. After leaving an ad-backed site, Haley has become considerably more vocal about her political stance and takes on social issues. At the height of the media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement in America, she published a piece about performative allyship in the age of social media and the steps that one can take to educate themselves.

When I hesitate to speak out online, it’s not because I don’t care, am unsure of whether it’s my place, or don’t know evil when I see it, it’s because the medium of social media so often lulls us into believing it’s enough. That the right post makes us Good. And I’m just not convinced. The more I read and learn about the corruption in this country, and the subtle ways our culture has embraced it through language, habit, and manipulation, the more certain I become of just how far I (and all of us) have to go. I agree that silence is complicity, but when we only equate the alternative with reposting or retweeting, I fear we’re not ultimately calling for much. Or worse, are calling for empty gestures that make people (and brands! Ugh, the brands!) like Amy Cooper feel they’ve done their part. How do we reconcile that possibility with the need for people to come together in digital spaces and harness the power of virality? How do we square the hard work of untangling our implicit biases and unlearning most of the lies we learned in school with the ease of posting on Instagram?

Haley Nahman, Maybe Baby, I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a long time

I would say that the appeal of Haley’s words lies in how they inspire reflection, which ultimately breeds potential for growth (and I don’t say this just because I am a budding writer!). Such a quality is especially valuable in a time where we may easily feel mired in stagnation.

#2. Race Tuition Centre

At the height of the news cycle chronicling Black Lives Matter, someone shared a quote from Race Tuition Centre’s ninth newsletter and it was enough to pique my interest about what the writer, aka Tuition Teacher, had to say in the first eight.

Racism is a global structure. It’s the logic that enabled the inhumane exploitation of Black people through the slave trade. It’s also the logic that currently enables the exploitation of South Asian migrant labour globally. I’m not saying that they’re the same system. I am saying that the same logic underpins them both. Be consistently anti-racist. The oppression of Black people in the US is to be condemned just like the oppression of the Palestinian people and the oppression of the Rohingya. I’ve seen a lot of Singaporeans post about how scary anti-Asian racism due to the coronavirus is. Don’t you realise that all of these things are interconnected? Don’t cede any ground to a system that lulls us into believing that some people deserve life more than others.

Race Tuition Centre, #9: Black Lives Matter in Singapore Too.

I read all the archives in one seating and was sold. Upon subscribing, I received a welcome email that demonstrated Tuition Teacher’s tongue-in-cheek style of humour, “Hey, thanks for joining my tuition centre! It’s good to have you! Enrolment is free so don’t worry if you don’t have rich parents.” I must confess that the introduction of the post about inadequate apologies made me giggle for a whole minute.

I usually don’t enjoy reading online content with memes being interspersed in the text because they are often redundant and detract from the writing. But I won’t complain when Tuition Teacher uses them this well. Beyond the engaging style of writing, this newsletter is a good resource to nudge fellow Singaporeans to start thinking and talking about race. It examines societal issues in a critical manner, from the poor living conditions of low-wage migrant workers to the problem with naming the coronavirus “Wuhan virus”.

A candid discussion about ethnic relations is sorely lacking in our society and activists who are committed to anti-racist work in Singapore constantly wrestle with how far they can push the out-of-bounds (OB) markers before facing consequences. Tuition Teacher announced in a special General Elections issue that they would not continue to publish any more posts in the foreseeable future as they no longer have the resources to do so.

While you can still subscribe and join me in pining for Tuition Teacher’s return, reading the archives will be helpful in reshaping your understanding of race and ethnicity. By highlighting experiences of everyday racism and the state’s policing of race, Race Tuition Centre effectively shows that there are problems and contradictions embedded in the Singapore state’s ideology of multiculturalism.

#3. Salve by Zachary Hourihane

I first discovered Zachary’s writing when I chanced upon a piece he contributed to ManRepeller, titled “I Love New York, Which Is Why I Had to Leave”. While I couldn’t really relate to the essay given that I have never set foot in the city, my attention was piqued when he mentioned that he was from Singapore. Intrigued, I clicked on his socials and quickly found Salve, “a weekly column of snarky social commentary for cynical pop culture lovers”.

Zachary writes about his life as well as digestible bits of phenomena that took the internet by storm, from Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness trap to the latest drama unfurling within Youtube’s beauty community. While Zachary has named his readers “Salveheads”, he starts almost every newsletter with other terms of endearment— my favourites are “deflated condom balloons” and “soiled surgical masks”, feel free to let me know yours.

Recurring sections of his newsletter include interviews (he once interviewed a witch!), an agony aunt column titled “Dear Salve” and “Salves for your sorrows”, a thoughtful list of recommendations that range from articles and poetry to videos and podcasts. Thanks to one of his “Internet Free-dive For Your Pleasure”, I got sucked into the rabbit hole that is reading almost every article about Caroline Calloway, that I could find on the web. Her former best friend, Natalie Beech, wrote an exposé on her on The Cut and the saga certainly intrigued me since it concerned the paradox of personal writing, a genre I deeply enjoy. What I’m trying to say is that Salve will keep you up to date on all the hot gossip and then, leave you pressed to find out more on your own.

#4. We, The Citizens by Kirsten Han

Created by journalist and activist, Kirsten Han, this newsletter covers politics, civil society and social justice in Singapore. I became a subscriber in the thick of the 2020 General Elections, after coming across her widely-circulated summary of the manifestos of the various parties. Just like the aforementioned compilation, Kirsten’s newsletter has been immensely useful in helping me navigate the political landscape as a first-time voter.

In her coverage of the news and developments during this election period, Kirsten does not shy away from tackling delicate issues head-on. After addressing the police reports that have been filed against Raeesah Khan, a Workers’ Party candidate for Sengkang GRC, she takes the opportunity to explain systemic racism and debunk the myth of “reverse racism”. She also highlights the importance of calling out opposition parties that rely on a xenophobic rhetoric in their campaigns.

Yet some of the rhetoric employed by opposition parties in criticising existing PAP policies veer away from policies into xenophobia. Instead of pointing to flaws in the PAP policy and ideology, they end up framing the issue as one that paints non-Singaporeans as the Other, here to steal Singaporean jobs and make our lives harder. In this narrative, it isn’t the capitalist “growth at all costs” model promoted by the ruling party that’s the problem; instead, it’s depicted almost as a sort of conspiracy between the ruling party and shady outsiders here to rob us of our rice bowls.

Kirsten Han, We, The Citizens, GE2020: Xenophobia and class warfare

A subscription to this newsletter would certainly aid your pursuit to be well-informed and thorough in educating yourself about social issues in Singapore. While I originally subscribed to We, The Citizens for its election commentary, this newsletter will still remain germane even in the time after, for being educated about the political and social realm is something that should extend beyond the elections.

Feature image by Sherryl Cheong

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Are you subscribed to wildchild? If you do so, maybe then I don’t have to participate in exhausting but (currently) necessary self-promotion on social media.

Sherryl Cheong

Sharer and carer of wildchild

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