On an unexpected loss
By Toh Hsien Min
With the debate on the value of Literature in the Singapore education system rearing its head all over again, as it does every decade or so like a monster from a volcano seeking a sacrifice, whereupon the devotees will wheel out the old arguments about how it rounds out a child and helps him or her to become human and to see other points of view, even as the unconverted heathens wail: "But… but… but… it brings down my average grade", I thought I would have an easy time of it writing an editorial this issue. Bring on the blindfolds.
Instead, we almost didn't have an issue.
My hard disk drive died at the end of March. It was a quick death. One fateful Sunday afternoon the computer refused to wake up from hibernation; I managed to force it awake long enough to pull out a handful of essential files, but thereafter it refused to get beyond the startup screens. At first the diagnostics seemed to indicate that the hard drive was okay, but by the Monday when Alvin Pang swung by to look at the laptop the blue screens of death were showing and the hard drive was becoming unresponsive. Eventually, I sent the HDD via a Sim Lim repair shop to a clean-room lab, which came back asking if I wanted to spend a fortune on only a fraction of the data on the disk as most of the sectors were damaged. My decision to grit my teeth and proceed was probably less to do with logic and more with telling myself that I would then have done everything I could have to recover what I needed from it. As it turned out, when I got back whatever the lab were able to rebuild from the dead HDD, it indeed made me question the truthfulness of all those CSI-type dramas depicting the retrieval of incredible amounts of evidence from even more physically damaged hard drives.
Well over 95% of my documents were restored from backups, and probably a similar proportion of photographs. So why the fuss? The trouble was partly that my emails weren't part of the same backup routine for a rather silly technical reason, and in any case because my backups happened at the end of every quarter I know that it would not have saved us anyway.
There's no easy way of saying this: we lost all our of January and February submissions. Everything that was sent to us between 1 Jan and 6 Mar 2013 (with a very few exceptions) has been eaten by the volcano. We're being quite open about this because we make it a point to read all submissions (that follow our guidelines) and to reply to contributors, and this quarter we unfortunately have no way of knowing even who to write an explanatory email to. If you happen to have sent something to us during the fateful period, please accept our apologies for the inconvenience and please do re-send the submissions to us.
For the future I'm changing a little how I manage the central email pool to prevent something like that happening again, while for the present the hand of fate has shaped this issue slightly differently from most: we have published fewer poems than at any time since the beta issue twelve years ago, which was a conscious decision based on maintaining the quality rather than the quantity of accepted work (I assure you the mournful themes are coincidental). Kai Chai on the other hand has taken the opportunity to specially curate a short story showcase of some of Singapore's prose talents. The critical writing has taken up the slack with reviews of three important recent releases in Singapore literature, while the Proust Questionnaire features two marquee names in literary criticism and Singapore poetry respectively.
To top it off, Chew Yi Wei has more or less written the piece on the value of Literature in education for me, through her reflection on her relationship with Shelley's poetry. Evidently it has nothing to do with computer savviness, nor – given my recent stresses at work – statistical programming. But I like to think it has something to do with a certain sense of perspective that helps us to roll with the battering of the waves.QLRS Vol. 12 No. 2 Apr 2013