Sunday, 14 February 2021

Don't Mourn The Longform Review

A discussion in an online readers' group over someone lamenting the death of "traditional book reviews" and the rise of bookstagramming turned the old gears once more.

Such grist for the mill seems to frequently come out of the Indian subcontinent, which boasts a long and colourful history of publishing along with robust and riveting discourse.

Some examples of bookstagramming provided include that of a graphic designer who offers minimal takes on books using emojis. At the end, the writer wonders whether Instagrammers can contend with privileged pedestals such as the New York Times bestseller list.

As expected, members of the online group commenting on the piece were put off by it. Someone pointed out the writer's choice of words, which I felt were polarising: the "new" ("short", "quick", "millennial" - ugh) versus the "old" ("stuffy", "hallowed", "needlessly long").

I also had to check the date: published 7 February 2021. Bookstagramming has been around before then. How long was this piece sitting in the writer's computer? Or has India finally woken up to the trend?

(Uh-oh. The writer majored in literature. Probably ego-searches on occasion. Better watch my step.)

Now, the piece makes some good points. For one, the ecosystem surrounding "traditional" book reviews has always been a rarefied circle jerk. Certain reviewers have a cosy relationship with the papers they write for, who in turn have connections to the big publishers and literary agents. These same people tend to end up in some book award panels too.

Even when the printing press was invented and the written word became more accessible, gatekeeping determined what gets and does not get published. Then and now, getting a byline in a paper is a big deal. While some have higher aspirations, middling critics like myself have more pragmatic goals: gaining free books, extra cash and writing cred.

But this cosy relationship narrowed the number of books that "matter", so the same authors and publishers tend to grab the headlines year after year. From their lofty lecterns under distinguished mastheads, marqueed reviewers sometimes take potshots at certain works, shielded from the anger and call-outs from readers.

Restaurant critic Pete Wells's takedown of Guy Fieri's American Kitchen and Bar in the New York Times was entertaining, but it was mean towards a guy who's a lot more than the hair, shades and loud shirts. (Okay, not a book review, but.) And what to say of Michiko Kakutani, who has been held in awe, dreaded and loathed for decades?

While the piece doesn't delve too deeply into the history of book reviewing to stick with the traditional-versus-Instagram tangent, the tone sounds off-putting. Was there a need to compare bookstagrammers with a controversial Indian author?

And if readers today are too "lazy" to even read captions on Instagram posts, perhaps it's because they feel that their limited time, squeezed out of a packed schedule weighed down by the stresses of modern life, is better spent elsewhere.

So what if "anyone" can influence what their peers read, especially with social reading platforms such as Goodreads? People in such circles tend to or would come to know one another, so they're comfortable with and confident in what they see there.

Also, people are more educated now. Technology is connecting people, granting them access to knowledge, and giving them a soapbox. Folks are finding their voices and skipping past the gates to be heard and read. Describing these newcomers in language that screams "hoi polloi" is tasteless and foolhardy; being picked apart alive by weaver ants seems more merciful.

Critics now are more exposed to the risks of being wrong or challenges posed by those who know more but aren't part of the nexus. So they better learn to tread lightly instead of longing, even briefly, for an imagined golden age when, presumably, it was fine to write with your head in the clouds - or up your ass.

But does that mean "traditionalists" and "purists" have to start bookstagramming to stay relevant? Whatever works, I guess. However, some rules - like ignore your personal feelings and biases, don't be too rough, and suchlike - can be set aside so you can get creative and interesting, but not mean and divisive.

Critics, for a start, should take to heart the monologue by Anton Ego, the food critic in the Disney production Ratatouille, which sums up the realities of criticism and is lent significant gravitas by the voice of the late Peter O'Toole.

But a larger pool of material means more to read and digest, which means gatekeepers are still relevant, perhaps more than ever. In George Orwell's "Confessions of a Book Reviewer", one line goes "Until one has some kind of professional relationship with books one does not discover how bad the majority of them are."

As someone with a professional relationship with books, I've found this to be true.

Orwell adds that a short pithy statement is the only criticism most books warrant, while a professional reviewer would only bother with a book if they were paid to review it. But:

...the public will not pay to read that kind of thing. Why should they? They want some kind of guide to the books they are asked to read, and they want some kind of evaluation. But as soon as values are mentioned, standards collapse. For if one says ... that King Lear is a good play and The Four Just Men is a good thriller, what meaning is there in the word 'good'?

So if a book isn't worth the time, maybe an emoji or a GIF meme will suffice - better than rendering superlatives hollow through overuse. Using cleavers on sparrows might grab more attention but it's wasteful and unnecessarily theatrical.

By now, I think there's enough space for criticism in many formats, of any length, and that space is still growing. A humongous marketplace of opinions should be celebrated and readers can take their pick in an environment where quality does shine.

However, as long as "traditional" book reviews are still being written, the format will never die. Longform articles will always have a key role in some situations when an emoji or a hundred-word caption won't do.

With growing scrutiny and greater access to information, perhaps they will get better and become more deserving of those hallowed pedestals than before.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

When The Water's No Longer Fine

Putting pen to paper - or keying things to screen - about the ongoing pandemic and its myriad of inconveniences is hard. Who wants to relive or read about that? No different from daily news reporting for the past year, chock-full of negativity and few bright spots.

Which reminded me of two negative encounters online that I thought I had laid to rest.

One was with a notorious personage who seemed to like nothing more than to brag of their love for literary fiction and the amount of which they've read - and picked fights with others in an online community about their reading choices and apparent lack of knowledge on books.

A few years ago, Personage praised me for something I wrote (forgot which one though) but later, in a comment to my blog that I deleted, harangued me for not knowing anything about Arabic literature, then accusing me of not being literary enough to talk about books. I chalked that up to "Personage being Personage" and brushed it off.

Only when I received news about Personage's terminal illness and passing did much of their behaviour make more sense.

Whether it was their condition or something else, they perhaps found solace for it in the online community and, over time, developed an idealised view of it. When the community failed them in any way, the reality of their situation crept through the crack in the rose-tinted bubble, sparking a backlash.

The quarrels Personage stirred were either attempts to stay inside that fracturing bubble, or cries for help. The people Personage sparred with or hurt might empathise now that the former is gone, but Personage will be known more for the rows and burning bridges.

I have less time and understanding for the guy who tried to interrogate me about a phrase in my Facebook post to a readers' group. I wasn't even talking about Nazis or Hitler, but a chapter in comedian Trevor Noah's book. The bit about Nazis and that there are worse out there was a throwaway remark, but to this guy it was important.

What this dude did, which I now recognise as textbook sealioning, was probably to get me riled up about the Nazi bit because he believes that no, nobody is worse than the Nazis and that I was talking out of my ass when I said that - yet he had no guts to tell me that to my face.

Even then, however, I smelled cari gaduh all over his all-too-polite queries. If Sealion wanted to school me, he could've beat me over the head with his own research and opinions. But assuming that he was genuinely interested in knowing who I thought were worse than Nazis, I don't owe him that either.

People run from trouble. When they can't run any more and they're deep in a rut, they find ways to escape, whether in themselves, safe spaces, or objects. Sweet treats. VTuber clips. Online communities.

But they're not the solution. And you will eventually be disappointed or desensitised.

Personage found comfort in what they believed were like-minded people of a similar calibre, but was quick to judge and condemn when they did not live up to their expectations, seeing gaps in knowledge or understanding as flaws or signs of deception.

So I'm not well acquainted with Arabic literature. That doesn't invalidate whatever else I say about literature in general, or books, writing and editing. It just means I need to brush up on the subject.

For the likes of Personage, however, it's a deal-breaker.

If you're in pain, piling on more hurt on yourself - or lashing out at people - is counterintuitive. But I guess when you're so used to the torment you don't feel the added weight. Nor are you inclined to empathise with others or interrogate your disappointment in them when they "fail" you.

Are they not good enough for you, or have you set the bar too high?

Sometimes, people get caught up in the spirit of things, they forget that these are people too. They have other commitments, issues, and boundaries. That's why administrators of Facebook groups, for instance, lay down rules. Without limits, people will go out of line. I have stepped over boundaries on occasion and the repercussions weren't nice.

No community owes you anything for your participation. Your contributions, however stellar, do not entitle you to more than what the community is willing to offer.

When you're triggered by what someone says, instead of pouncing on a perceived slight, maybe take a step back and ask why you're bothered by it. Was it aimed at you, or a mere shot in the dark that found its mark anyway? As one saying goes, "if you didn't eat those chillies, you won't feel the burn".

Every community has its bad apples. Sussing them out is important, but not as vital as laying out what you expect when you join a community and the lines you - and others - must never cross in your interactions. And don't expect too much from people, no matter how awesome they seem to you.

Eventually, any community will change. The goals may shift, or they may stagnate or turn into cesspits. Maybe the people there have changed, or you have. Maybe the things they share don't interest you any more.

The need to belong is strong in humans. However, one should keep in mind not to sacrifice your individuality and ability to change just to fit in, no matter how much you identify with a certain group.

If you don't feel like you belong, walk away. And leave the bridges alone.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

A Short Squab Story

The chronology of this story I'm about to tell has been jumbled up by the lockdown-induced brain fog. Which did I see first?

The nest behind an air conditioner compressor unit? Or that pigeon parent brooding two chicks?

However, I did belatedly realise that the compressor now sheltering a pigeon nest is one of mine. I discovered the nest last December, and recalled another nest located in the emergency stairwell that had been destroyed weeks before by who I assumed was the cleaning crew.

A nearby fire hose was used, and on the remains of the nest lay two small white eggs. That image still haunts me, and might have kept me from reporting this nest. I'm also a fan of nest cams, so having a real nest nearby to watch would be interesting.

As I followed the chicks' growth, however, my decision to spare the nest and the pigeon family was challenged by how messy and unhygienic it was growing. This was a one-clutch nest, new. But I can't call the cleaners on two defenceless chicks, nor should anyone be forced to do what the may feel is unthinakble.

However, I would need to get the compressor serviced with the air conditioning and this complicated matters. No wonder the cleaning crew resorted to the fire hose.

How long would I have to wait until the chicks fledge?

City shitbird
A little research uncovered more about pigeons than I needed to know, but that's just me being a trivia glutton.

The bird we simply call a "pigeon" - the one with reddish eyes, blue-grey feathers, dark grey tail, and a shiny green and purple neck - is officially known as a rock dove or the common pigeon. So common, it is often considered a pest wherever they are abundant.

You've probably seen flocks of them mooch spilt rice or grain from shops, roosting in trees and on power lines or ledges, "bombing" unsuspecting cars and passers-by, or hanging out in nooks and corners of condo balconies and fouling these areas with feathers and poop.

So that's why I don't have pictures of the nest. You don't want to see any. This creature is also one reason I passed on a unit at a nearby condo. And I have yet to forgive what one of them did to my car 24 hours after I had it polished.

Like dogs, cats, raccoons and the occasional polar bear, pigeons have long associated humans with free food, so I guess we brought that on ourselves.

A squab or a juvenile pigeon
Found this squab on the steps of my condo several days after posting.
Not sure if this is the surviving squab SQ1, but it looks about the
same age. Practically a juvenile pigeon by now.

A young pigeon is called a squab - a word I haven't seen in years. When I first read it, I think it referred to some kind of food. Searching for "squab" on Instagram yields many images of dead but well-prepared and beautifully plated birds. Shatin roast pigeon, anyone?

For the first week or so, pigeon squabs are fed an exclusive diet of what's called crop milk or pigeon milk, a nutrient-dense substance that looks like cottage cheese. Both male and female pigeons can produce it, which you'd think would help out a lot when raising young.

But I assume that the amount and quality of crop milk produced depend on how well the bird is doing, so problems crop up if the parents aren't eating enough or, somehow, they have more than two squabs to feed. Pigeoons rarely lay more than two eggs per clutch.

...Thirty days. Squabs take about 30 days to fledge after hatching, which takes 17 to 19 days, but that may depend on how well they were fed. Thought I had forgotten, didn't you?

Also, pigeons breed about once or twice a year. They can have young less than a year after hatching and typically live for a few years in the wild, and longer in captivity. The population will be fine. But be careful when walking or parking your car under trees.

Sibling squab-ble?
My pigeon tenants had two chicks but when I checked on them before last Christmas, I saw that one of the squabs was nearly twice as big as the other.

The smaller and presumably younger one, which I dubbed SQ2, looked at least a week behind its larger sibling, SQ1, in development. The latter had begun sporting juvenile wing and tail feathers while the former was still a grey puffball.

Either SQ2 had hatched late or had a defect that hampered its growth,1 or SQ1 had a farther head start after hatching. Both squabs are aggressive, and after each feeding the parent seemed eager to escape.

Arguably, when feeding your kids involve them shoving their beaks into your throat while you puke your milk, you'd think twice about having them. But we're talking about pigeons, which only seem to exist as fodder and fouler of balconies, ledges, roofs and cars.

So for days I've been hearing the peep peep peep of two pushy squabs from my unit as they wait for Mom or Dad to come home. Then, yesterday - or was it the day before? - I looked out the window and saw SQ1 all but covered in juvenile pigeon plumage.

SQ2, however, was nowhere.

And then there was one
Upon seeing SQ1 and SQ2, I knew the latter would be in trouble. Besides possibly hatching first, SQ1 has been getting the lion's share during feedings. Unable to compete, SQ2 was losing out. Mom and Dad might also be hard-pressed to produce enough crop milk.

The only possibility I can think of is that, when the squabs were chasing Mom or Dad around, jostling for a feed, SQ2 either lost its footing and fell off the ledge, or had been accidentally pushed off by its sibling or parent.

I don't believe it was intentional. Unless they're stressed or barring certain factors,2 pigeons do not turn on their young.

Regardless, I hope SQ2 had died from the fall. Because if it didn't and kept calling for its parents, one of them may kill it in a practice called scalping, in case the squab's cries attract predators.

Nor would falling near another pigeon nest help. Besides being skittish, pigeons are also territorial and will attack or kill squabs other than their own. And if the nest or squabs appear disturbed, the parents will abandon both.

These things happen. The law of the jungle stays even if the jungle itself is gone.

Leaving the nest
Things took another turn today. A hungry squab will chase its parent around until it is sated or the parent flees, but from this afternoon's feeding, the parent seems to be priming SQ1 for take-off. Sometimes I think the adults do this to get their offspring out of the nest ASAP so they can nookie and make more shitbirds.

As SQ1 had migrated from the main ledge to one of the side ledges, I tried to spot it from another window. Looking up and to the left, I was greeted by a tuft of dark grey feathers, then a head with a beak.

A quick visit on my way out to run an errand confirmed the presence of another new pigeon nest one level up, under another air-con compressor. A parent was brooding something on top of what looked like dirtied packing material.

Thus, life finds ways.

When I returned later in the evening, I peered out to the ledge. I was surprised to see SQ1 perched on another ledge two floors down.

The surviving juvenile had, technically, fledged.

Though pigeons are reputed to have good homing instincts, I don't think SQ1 will be returning to the nest, which now requires hazmat treatment. Nasty things lurk in whatever's left behind, including spores of a disease-causing fungus.

And hey, pigeons can carry bird flu viruses too, so please don't trap them for food while in lockdown. We don't want to incubate any more pandemic-grade pathogens.

Nevertheless, I'll be calling the condo management next week to see if they can do something about the empty nest. I wish them - and SQ1, wherever it may be - all the best.

1 From a research paper (PDF file) about reasons squabs die. What atrocious writing. Wasn't this peer-reviewed for grammar?

2 Never knew these cooing crap machines are this savage. These facts and more pigeon trivia can apparently be found on the main site. And with the other supplementary links I've sprinkled throughout, now you and I know more about pigeons than we probably should.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Too Precious For Its Own Good?

In a local book lovers' Facebook page, a conversation developed around an article that was critical of Rupi Kaur's poems. "I wish we had a new label to describe Kaur’s output," proclaims the writer. "Poetry is too delicate and precious a word to be besmirched by such associations."

Really? Then perhaps poetry needs to be less precious to make it more accessible. Perhaps it also needs to be less delicate to stand up to growing scrutiny.

And if poetry has become too "precious" and "delicate" due to gatekeeping by the likes of the writer, then perhaps few are better suited to batter down those gates than Rupi Kaur.

Let me own up to my gatekeeping tendencies, which until recently tended to lean towards the literati side. The yardstick these days seems to be how viral it is, which determines how well it sells.

But things can go viral for less-than-savoury reasons.

Rupi's success did not come out of nowhere. The lore states that she was discovered on Instagram and when she went to print the fanbase followed.

Nor does the vector matter in virality. Any publicity, however bad, is better than none, so in writing his piece the writer at LiveMint is spreading the fever.

Granted, Rupi's prose is easy to hate on. It's so ... plain, goes one complaint. Sounds like hardly any effort went into it! Just everyday sentences that are broken at random points!

And she didn't do herself a huge favour by saying: "I'm a very empathetic person to a fault, my Dad will tell you. I see somebody remotely having a bad day and suddenly I'm on the floor crying."

These days, one can produce something trite or gimmicky, seemingly without any effort, hype it up by word of mouth and it flies off the shelves. Fewer and fewer works bear the polish and perfume traditionally associated with the craft.

Seeing these people - some of whom are already celebrities - getting rich and being feted like the greats of old must chafe for some.

"Couldn't have they found someone else?" But you have to look at the audience, don't you? What is it that they found appealing about this poet or their work? Do they deserve the same smear of tar from these creators' detractors?

"If only So-and-So or This Other Person were similarly successful." Maybe they already are? And by "successful", is it by their yardsticks or yours? Perhaps the price of fame within the arena Rupi found herself in might not be worth it? Commercial success, as we know by now, may not mean quality.

And if Louise Gl├╝ck received the 2020 Nobel Prize for Literature, surely someone is looking out for the likes of her, so maybe we can rest easy.

Publishers and retailers today, particularly the big names, relentlessly seek the next big thing. If they're no longer good at highlighting new or hidden talents, they did it to themselves by chasing the bottom line and growing too big to fail, even a little.

So potentially good stuff gets sidelined for the sake of those churned out by recognisable names: viral names or names in the news that, hopefully, mean large profit margins that'll keep them afloat for another year.

A diverse publishing ecosystem comprising multitudes of smaller players exposes people to more names, including those the LiveMint writer feels are more deserving of the attention Rupi is getting. But the mere mention of "break it up" or "go small" seems to send chills down the spines of executives.

Maybe the LiveMint writer's ire is misdirected here.

Let's not forget that some of the lionised figures in poetry, despite their failings and the brickbats of others, have gone viral in their day and age.

Then and now, notoriety is more efficient than merit in spreading the word.

In the article, the writer acknowledged that, despite what they feel about Rupi's works, "there's a wave of opinion that argues that writers like Kaur speak for immigrants, people of colour, and women. Her unadorned directness, glib motivational slogans, and, at times, nonsensical blandness have broken the barriers of elitism in poetry." (Okay, the last bit is a little backhanded.)

If she's writing about her own darkness, her courage to confront or relive that pain each time she pens another verse should be noted. Don't discount the possibility that many out there are finding solace and hope in her work during these difficult times.

(And it has a local book lovers' circle debating the nature or definition of poetry. Also a plus when interesting viewpoints emerge. For me, as well - viewpoints, not necessarily interesting ones - which is why I'm putting them down here instead of a Facebook reply.)

Everything has its role in an environment. All sorts of things exist, flourish, and can only grow in fertile soil, which also harbours things we don't like. We can be honest with that.

After all, literature is a messy and happening sphere that thrives on diversity. Sanitised soil seldom nurtures flower nor fruit.

So what to call Rupi's work, then? Perhaps we should stick with "poetry". The field is big enough to accomodate her and if it has any borders, it's probably the ones we draw around ourselves and what we know.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

2020 Sure Sucked, Didn't It?

You can't tell me otherwise.

Thursday, 19 November 2020

Walking Away From Anger

I took mindfulness lessons at a time in my life when I needed more clarity. Problem now is that I tend to notice a bit more in something than I probably should. Things such as a nod to mindfulness and Buddhism in a video game. Specfically, in Street Fighter V.

Talking about this without referencing some history about the game and its in-game lore is hard, so bear with me.

From a straightforward beat-em-up, gaming giant Capcom's Street Fighter franchise went global and is considered iconic. Through sequels, prequels, interquels and crossovers, its lore and growing roster were enriched, evolving into something akin to Marvel's Avengers film franchise. Brilliant marketing to get fans and players more invested in it.

One particular thread concerns the protagonist in all the Street Fighter games: a wandering pugilist named Ryu, a practitioner of a martial art traditionally used by assassins. One aspect of this martial art is access to the satsui no hado, the surge of killing intent. This power promises victory at the cost of one's insanity and even humanity.

After losing to a veteran fighter, young Ryu lashes out with this power, scarring his opponent. Ryu eventually embarks on a journey to hone his fighting skills and find a way to deal with his awakened killing intent before it grows strong enough to erase his humanity.

Decades after the first Street Fighter game, Ryu's struggle with the satsui no hado seems to have reached its denouement with the introduction of a character in an update to SFV: Kage, the manifestation of the dark power within him.

In Kage's mini-story mode, the shadowy being challenges Ryu, who obliges but doesn't want to defeat it. Kage wins, but doesn't understand why Ryu isn't bothered about losing. Chilling on the ground after getting beat, Ryu is all "you wanna kill me, beat me up or just hang around, be my guest."

Unable to get a rise out of his host, Kage fades away.

Anger-eating demon
To some, this might not be significant, unless they've heard of the Buddhist parable of the anger-eating demon. This creature gained power from the fury and hatred others directed at it, and one day it made itself at home in the palace of a king.

Because of the hostility of the king's men towards it, their efforts to kick the demon out failed. Then the ruler returned and killed it with kindness, starving it of its nourishment.

Kage, or the satsui no hado, is a type of anger-eating demon. Unable to interact with the outside world, it requires a sentient host to manipulate and feed on, and its urgings are seldom recognised as such, often disguised as the primal urge to destroy whoever or whatever one deems a problem.

Ryu's struggle with the satsui no hado was probably hard because his goal initially was to force the thing out of him. This took time and energy that might have left him spent and weakened, opening him up to negative thoughts that empowered the darkness.

The king in the Buddhist parable, however, acknowledged the existence of the anger-eating demon invading his palace and disarmed it by treating him like any ordinary person - a guest even - without wasting time or effort getting worked up over its presence.

This, eventually, was how Ryu dealt with Kage.

Leaving the road to ruin
In mindfulness, it is stated that our positives and negatives are part of an indivisible whole; forceful rejection of the parts of us that we don't like hurt because in doing so we damage ourselves.

Instead, we are taught to live with our demons. Mindfulness allows us to look deeper into ourselves to identify those demons, what they feed on, and the triggers that let them take control.

With this knowledge, we can rein in the dark impulses that will make us do things we may regret later, solving the problem before it manifests.

Learn what our demons are, acknowledge their presence and treat them with kindness, but never let them take the wheel. They promise shortcuts and instant gratification, but are more likely to take you on the road to ruin.

Ryu's epiphany in the story mode of SFV puts him on the path his master blazed, a departure from their school's violent past. A path where foes are overwhelmed not by destructive force but incredible compassion towards their inner demons.

A naive outlook in a cynical world, perhaps, but an approach worth pondering. Perhaps the divisions in society can only be healed once we acknowledge the humanity on the other side - and identify the demons controlling them.

The next step will probably be the hardest for many: to walk away from their anger and leave their demons be.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Sick Weekend

All I did was close my eyes and lean to one side and when I righted myself in my office chair I was struck by a wave of nausea.

I knew what I was in for. This isn't the first time. All those anxiety- and stress-fuelled late nights - some MCO-induced - have finally caught up with me.

Such episodes last quite a bit, but I had little idea how long: all the way to one of my usual clinics. Maybe I've forgotten how bad it gets.

What's more, the doctor was caught in traffic en route to his shift, so it was a long excruciating wait. The young man turned out to be nice and attentive, and he gave me two days' MC. The medicines worked wonders too.

What a nice young man, wheezed my inner ah pek.

However, I risked teetering over the edge this weekend after one or two more late nights, so I'm hurrying this up with my new full-feature keyboard - ASCII code and Word shortcut inputs, yay! - to try and get to bed before midnight.

But OMG, the VOCs emanating from it. Fresh out of the box, what did I expect? Well, I am typing faster than I was with the laptop keys. Feels more natural too.

That my first major Touch 'n Go eWallet transaction outside of toll and parking payments is for my clinic bill says a lot about my life at this point. Yet the company and creditors such as Citibank haven't caught on and sent me more promotions related to healthcare and medicine.

Instead, they feel I haven't been spending enough and nudge me towards things I'm not interested in. No, I don't visit Tealive THAT much. No, 20 per cent off spa day here is still ludicrously expensive. Thankfully, Citibank has stopped e-mailing me about Condotti luggage bags.

But more stressors keep coming. Last night I had to deal with an uninvited guest (first part of its name is synonymous with "rooster") when it was already damn late, and stress levels forced me to sleep in the living room. Might have to do that again tonight.

Now, if only all that water I chased down my supper of savoury oats with would process itself quickly and leave me alone.