Epigram Books Blog
Our long-running series, A Day in the Life, makes a long-awaited return with Dustin Wong’s entry! Until recently, Dustin was our intern and we miss him dearly. Few know that Dustin’s not only a published poet but an actively performing one too. Why, he even gave an an impromptu poetry recital at Queensway Secondary School’s English and Literature Appreciation Day while selling our books! So savour his words...
I suppose that I should explain my role in Epigram Books before I take you through a typical day in the office.
I am officially recorded as an ‘intern’ in the company archives. What that means in the context of Epigram Books is that I do everything from lugging cartons of books about the stock room to filling in vast and complicated data sheets with rather sensitive information.
It may seem like a fair bit too much to heft upon a mere intern but I’m not complaining. The work is challenging, but not impossible, and my colleagues are a friendly lot; we all get along just fine.
All in all, this internship has been turning out to be a rather enjoyable shindig. But I shan’t break into the details without flexing my withering literary muscles.
I present to you folks, a day in the life of Epigram Book’s sai kang warrior:
I trudge into the office, feeling the hairs on my arms rise in response to the sudden blast of frigid air hurtling out from the depths of the office interior. The office floor is gloomy, with cold, actinic light silhouetting those few colleagues of mine who have deigned it fit to come in this early in the morning.
There is a list of tasks two pages long inside my daily planner.
It’s going to be a long, long day.
The office is unusually chilly this morning. I pull my arms closer to my body, folding them across my chest in an attempt to preserve whatever little bodily heat I can.
Some have taken to blaming this oddly out of place cold on the monsoon season, pegging the drop in temperature to the storm clouds and raindrops rolling and falling across the land. Others whisper of catastrophic changes in the workings of the world, uttering phrases like ‘ozone depletion’ and ‘global warming’ in trepid voices.
I blame it on the two air conditioning units that my desk is sandwiched in between.
I am slouched over in my seat. My fingers are numb from the wintry drafts that blow me by as well as from jabbing away at an unresponsive keyboard. My temper frays with every spinning ball of doom that pops up on the screen of my Mac; there is a vein throbbing away beneath my right temple.
I glance at the time, so proudly displayed at the top right hand corner of the Mac’s screen, and find myself muttering some curse of ill taste beneath my breath my breath.
The words nearly drift past my lips in an effervescent cloud.
I find myself sitting in a secluded corner of the stock room at the back of the office. The air here is still and unmoving, and possessed little trace of the frigidity that so often pervades the main office space, with only the occasional chilly draft blowing by my cheeks every now and then.
I recline on the dusty concrete floor, and shut my eyes, in an attempt to make the most out of my lunch hour and catch up on my enormous sleep debt.
I hope a spider doesn’t find its way into my mouth.
I wake up coughing and sputtering.
There is a spider ihas found its way into my mouth.
“Dustin,” someone calls my name from the left.
Ilangoh is sitting in his chair, completely unaffected by the cold that plagues so usually me, given how none of the air conditioners were built to blow his way. One of his arms hangs casually off the back of his chair, while the other nurses a warm cup of coffee. A smirk peeks through his salt and pepper circle beard.
He is the sales manager of Epigram Books, armed with years of experience of working in the publishing industry. Due to reasons hitherto unknown to myself, Ilangoh and I are the only two people in the sales and marketing department.
“I need you to help me out,” he says as he passes me list, transferring paper from warm hands to frigid fingers, “I’ve got a list over here...”
I can almost hear the stock room and its spiders beckoning for me again in the background.
Half an hour later and I am walking out of the stock room, a cramped and narrow space tucked away at the back of the office, built for the express purpose for storing our many titles as well as copious amounts of dust.
A trolley, laden with books and cursed with squeaky axles trundles along in front of me. Dozens of books sway precariously on the bed of the trolley, having been stacked rather haphazardly in the interest of saving time.
I push the trolley to the other end of the office, this time without feeling the bitter sting of refrigerated air biting into my bones.
Manual labour has its own way of warming up the body after all.
I sink into my chair in front of my ailing iMac, beholding a neat little stack of sales reports and invoices to sift through and upload onto the corresponding Excel sheets.
A little quip from the mighty office manager, Boon, floats through the back of my mind at this point in time, a snarky little voice, muttering something along the lines of ‘thanks for being an EXCEL-lent intern’, right before a little rainbow ball of death pops up on the screen of my computer.
Yet another curse drifts past my lips in an effervescent cloud.
I am standing in the carpark right in front of the office block. A soft, warm tropical breeze caresses my face, taking with it the last of the chill that had settled within my bones during my time inside the office.
The door to the boot of Edmund’s car is open, swung wide, and I am loading box after box into it, each full of books pre-destined for some bazaar somewhere no doubt.
A little vein is throbbing away in my temple once again, but this time, it doesn’t beat to the pulse of frustration. Somewhere, depe in my veins, blood is surging forwards once again, called into action after being put into dormancy by the horrible cold put forward by the air-conditioning.
The vein throbs away, and as I shut the door to Edmund’s car and lock it with a note of finality, I find myself humming the chorus to some pop song whose title I can barely remember.
One more minute to go. The edge of my vision is turning blurry, and a small part of me wonders why everything seems to have taken on a chilly shade of blue. I rub my palms together, the action sending bits of hoarfrost to the floor, where they dissipate into tiny little spools of ice water.
I feel my teeth rattling in their roots, my jaw shaking involuntarily of its own accord. The howl of the air-conditioning system is all I hear now, and it is jeering at me, mocking my human frailty and a lifetime spent growing up in one the warmest climes in the world.
The world slowed to a crawl around me, even as the air-conditioner’s unrelentlng assault barrages my skin, cracking underneath what has to be a layer of ice. A slurry of regrets start to bubble forth from underneath the partially frozen grey matter beneath my skull. The world gradually edges its way into darkness, but I know I cannot die here.
It has been said that it is nigh impossible to die of hypothermia in Singapore. But still, even as I trudge from my seat to the door with shards of ice cracking and re-forming in my joints, I could not help but feel a nagging sense of unease pervade my weak but tenacious heart, that I have damnably close.
A little part of me wonders how all my other colleagues manage to even put up with the temperature in this frigid place.
I am off work now, far from the office and its evil air-conditioners inhospitable atmosphere, and quite thankfully, the air around here is warmer.
There is a cigarette in my battered fingers, and I take a drag from it, letting its heat fill my lungs before exhaling it through my nose, sighing incontentment as I do so.
“Note to self,” I find myself muttering under my breath.
“Bring a bloody jacket to work tomorrow.’
Thank you for coming to last night’s edition of The Finer Art of Editing—the second instalment after the inaugural session with Miguel Syjuco. Over the course of two hours, Meira Chand, the internationally acclaimed author of eight novels generously shared with us about how the UK editing landscape was like in the 1970s and 1980s, when she was published by the same imprint as Jane Austen herself.
Meira also related how her first editor sat down with her for five days, going over every word, sentence, paragraph and chapter—her greatest lesson in writing yet. Now, she edits her own manuscript before submitting it to publishers, like her latest, the Oprah’s Book Club selection A Different Sky (Random House, 2011), which Meira herself edited down from over 1,000 pages to its final 500 plus.
Our thanks also go out to NUS Press, Super Cool Books and NTU Centre for Contemporary Art for joining us. Do join us for April’s instalment of this complimentary evening of editing enrichment, snacks, drinks and conversations with some of the best writers in world literature. RSVP with our Sales Manager, Ilangoh Thanabalan, at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ today. Until then, keep reading!
We’re kicking off a monthly mixer called The Finer Art of Editing and all you publishing folks are invited. Renowned fiction writers, like the multiple award-winning Miguel Syjuco, will be dropping by to share their experiences in an engaging, informal and frank manner. Join us so we can all become even better editors of Singapore Stories.
In March, we’ll be hosting another exciting, internationally heralded novelist. Do contact our Sales Manager Ilangoh Thanabalan at ‘email@example.com’ if your publishing house is keen to join us for a complimentary evening of editing enrichment, snacks, drinks and conversations with some of the best writers in world literature.
We'll see you here soon!