Month: September 2018

On Writing – Rudyard Kipling’s Writing Table

As somebody who has worked his entire professional life on small screens with inconstant tools, I read with envy this description from “Working Tools,” by Rudyard Kipling:

“Like most men who ply one trade in one place for any while, I always kept certain gadgets on my work table, which was ten feet long from North to South and badly congested. One was a long, lacquer, canoe-shaped pen-tray full of brushes and dead “fountains”; a wooden box held clips and bands; another, a tin one, pins; yet another, a bottle slider, kept all manner of unneeded essentials from emery-paper to small screw drivers; a paper weight, said to have been Warren Hastings’; a tiny, weighted fur-seal and a leather crocodile sat on some of the papers; an inky foot-rule and a Father of Penwipers which a much loved housemaid of ours presented yearly, made up the main-guard of these little fetishes … Left and right of the table were two big globes, on one of which a great airman had once outlined in white paint those air-routes to the East and Australia which were well in use before my death.”


I don’t know what Kipling means by the ominous “before my death,” but the rest of the passage has a delightfully antediluvian feel. It is a vision of a lost world where men could “ply one trade in one place for any while,” the opposite of the digital, big city working life in which we carry our tools with us everywhere as tablets and computers, and we are hurried from desk to desk even in our own offices in the course of a single day.

In my experience, creative types like rituals and privacy. There’s something of the private treehouse about the sort of environment I like to work in best. To transport me to another place, I need to be safe from interruption and sterility, and computers are safe from neither. People accuse me of being cranky or reactionary when I bemoan the endless treadmill of software updates, but to me they are the equivalent of somebody coming in and tidying up a working room without asking and with no warning. The creative part of the mind hates this. It is more like the mind of a child or a dog — it can’t play unless it has consistency and comfort to go back to; it likes its toys and its familiar places.

(image credit, kiwibird:

The Feminism of Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is lovable for many reasons (as its record box office performance demonstrates). One of them is how it effortlessly portrays a world in which women are the prime movers. The men in the story are either absent or seen in moments where women are center stage. The two scenes where we do encounter men only both pass a kind of reverse Bechdel test, in which the male characters are important enough to be named but their conversation is entirely about a woman.

It is in the traditionally female domain, the mahjong parlors, kitchens, high-end fashion boutiques, bedrooms, boudoirs, and garden pavilions of Singapore that the true stars of this film move like warring goddesses, dripping with jewels and clothed in a procession of jaw-dropping outfits. But these remarkable women are more than mannequins. It is their struggle to balance duty and love, to find peace with each other, and to keep alliances in an uncaring world that generate all the suspense and joy of this story. The men of the film are the objects that keep that plot moving. They are beautiful objects, but untransformed by the story. Like the jewelry which is so important to the plot, men are valued more in the exchange than the possession.

So much of the talk about Crazy Rich Asians has focused on its breakthrough status for minority representation in cinema, that its remarkable feminism has gone unremarked, perhaps because it wears it so lightly but so well.