Reading the King: Night Shift

Ah, Night Shift. I am pumped to find myself still onboard the #readingtheking train! Right now, I’m only five books in, and it warms my heart that there’s still so much more to read – King released Sleeping Beauties which he wrote with his son Owen King, and Gwendy’s Button Box, a novella he wrote with Richard Chizmar.

I’m not going to say that I’m behind on my timeline; thinking about where I currently am in my life and looking at graduating from my masters in a few months, I should not be imposing more deadlines on myself. I will admit though that I have not been reading as much as I like because of two things: (1) my capstone project is coming together and I just submitted the first draft on Friday, and (2) I recently took a deep dive into Prime Video (free with Amazon Prime Student!) and discovered Elementary! Friends, I am obsessed with this show. Lucy Liu, Jonny Lee Miller, Aidan Quinn, and Jon Michael Hill are delightful. I have been spending much of my hour-and-a-half long commutes catching up – bless the download option on the Prime Video app for enabling my binge-watching! I am now waiting on Mikaius to finish season 2 so we can embark on 3 together.

One major update on the challenge, before we proceed —

  • I can’t watch all of the associated films and/or miniseries. I tried, I really did, but it began to eat into my enjoyment of reading the source material – the media part of the challenge became overwhelming and took over far more of my time than it should. From the task of having to locate said films and/or miniseries, to finding time to watch them, it was too much. Some films were easier to come by via Google Play Store or my own personal collection, but others were simply inaccessible, and sometimes, there were too many. From here on out, the question of whether or not I will be watching the adaptations shall be a case-by-case basis.

And now, let’s talk about Stephen King’s Night Shift!

Published by Doubleday in 1975, this book is his fifth, and the first of his short story collections. It contains twenty short stories, running the gamut from depressing (The Woman in the Room), to spine-tingle-inducing (Strawberry Spring), to downright terrifying (The Lawnmower Man). Because I spent my holidays catching up on sleep and writing and other sundries, I did not have time to watch any of the movies associated with the stories in this collection, although I do own copies of some of them and will likely watch when I’m at a better place timewise.

Not watching any of them, however, gave me time to focus on the reading experience, which I have sorely missed: I spent several hours snuggled into the couch with my Kindle, iced coffee and a warm blanket, sinking into the tales and enjoying the shivers. I was also in for a very pleasant surprise when one of my friends gifted me a copy of the book for our annual Friendsmas, which featured my favourite tale in this collection: I Am The Doorway!

I have such a soft spot for Stephen King sci-fi. One of my absolute favourite of everything that he’s ever written is The Jaunt, which left such an impression on me that whenever somebody says that they haven’t read any Stephen King, I instantly recommend this short story. It’s perfect because it doesn’t require that much of a time commitment (you don’t recommend the damn Tommyknockers as a first King book!), but it gives the reader a taste of how bizarre the King universe can be.

I’ve had the opportunity to read Night Shift when I was much younger, but there were only a few of the twenty stories that left enough of a mark on me that I remember details ten years later. Strawberry Spring is one of them, as was Quitters Inc., but my favourite by far is I Am The Doorway.

Our main character is an astronaut who has been exposed to an alien life force during his mission in space. Alien beings now inhabit his body, and have recently emerged as eyes on the his hands.

It is very heavily implied that the aliens can control his body. One of the little details that I find interesting is that our man indicates that he can tell when the aliens are “awake” in his mind, but he shows us, the readers, no sign that the aliens can understand his thoughts. This makes sense as they don’t seem to understand Earth or humans, and are actually horrified by us – I mean, they see it from the vantage point of palms – and at one point our narrator tells us:

I raised my hands slowly to my face, catching an eerie vision of my living room turned into a horror house.  

I screamed.

 There were eyes peering up at me through splits in the flesh of my fingers. And even as I watched the flesh was dilated, retreating, as they pushed their mindless way up to the surface.

But that was not what made me scream. I had looked into my own face and seen a monster.

Our man is a very unwilling host to these intruders. It is interesting too that they manifested in the form of eyes – indicating that their first instinct upon landing is not yet interference, but initial observation. He attempts to end their stay as he strongly suspects that they may have been using his body as a tool for murder. He does this by waiting until the eyes are sleepy, plunges his hands into gasoline, and sets them on fire instantly. That implications of the scene makes for gnarly imaginaries, and I adore it so much.

When it was burning well I went out back to the kerosene drum and soaked both hands. They came awake immediately, screaming with agony. I almost didn’t make it back to the living room, and to the fire.

But I did make it.

Ah, but it wouldn’t be Stephen King without a twist ending, now, wouldn’t it? And there is! We last see our main character preparing to die, as the aliens have manifested as eyes again, after seven years – this time, in “a perfect circle of twelve golden eyes on my chest.”

Chills. 

As it stands, Night Shift makes for an interesting few hours of reading. There isn’t really a theme, per se, and some of it is more poignantly sad than hair-raisingly terrifying, but I think that this collection shows us, the readers, the scope of writing that King is capable of. And that is a thing of beauty.

2018: The Year of Sunday Rest

If you make your way to the far side of the Toronto Necropolis, you will find a bench bearing a simple and deeply evocative inscription: “He was my Sunday rest.” It’s a sentiment that has so deeply resonated with me and personally revealed much about the way I think about love and affection.

I am currently agnostic, but I was raised religious. The part of my family that raised my brother and I while our mother was working abroad was Pentecostal. For me, the term “Sunday rest” holds layers upon layers of meanings, stacked together like a mille crêpe, holding up my life’s deepest traumas and deepest joys. It has been quite the exhausting effort to reconcile these two, and I only very occasionally take a closer look at that part of my life. There is a harsh contrast between how much I valued my faith and my church community when I was in my pre-teens up until my early twenties, and the sudden traumatic break from organised religion around the time that I moved to Canada. “Sunday rest” has many complicated nuances for me, as far as ideas go, but it also encompasses fond memories bathed in the warm glow of nostalgia: of my old church, bustling family meals during holidays, community events and celebrations.

Despite said trauma, I also still associate the feeling of “Sunday rest” with what is good and beautiful in life. I recently attended the book launch for Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries, an anthology published and co-edited by three Filipino academics in Canada: Robert Diaz, Marissa Largo, and Fritz Pino. Robert is one of my supervisors, and of the experience of the launch, I told him, “it felt like going to church.” The space at 401 Richmond was celebratory and wonderfully supportive, and I was teary-eyed for most of it.

More recently in my adult life, though, “Sunday rest” has come to mean quiet time for myself, intended to be used as preparation for the coming week. As I get older, it has become more obvious that I am a person who thrives within routine: having a pattern in life allows me to keep my anxieties at bay enough for me to function, and hopefully function well. The importance of maintaining my Sundays as prep days, especially as I come into the last few months of my masters, cannot be overstated. Ideally, Sundays are when I organise myself into the person I aim to be at work, whilst nursing a giant mug of coffee or tea. Here are some of the things I always want to be able to do for myself on Sundays:

  • Planning: I absolutely adore the combination of a Monday-start weekly planner and a daily agenda. I prefer having calendars that begin on Mondays, as it lets me have a clear break from “plan day Sunday” to “begin the workweek Monday.” I am fully crediting Passion Planner’s Undated Monday Compact for sparking the realisation that this is how my brain functions optimally – thanks, guys! Towards the last quarter of 2017, I found myself gravitating towards and eventually exclusively using my giant collegiate notebooks to set up my weekly task lists. The right side is where I have all the to-dos by category, while the left side is for additional notes throughout the week. Recognising (rather belatedly in my academic career, hah!) that this is what works and that I should steer into it, I intend to keep using this system, at least until I finish this degree. To complement this, I downloaded the Business Calendar for Android on my LG G5, an app which allows me to (a) have the agenda view as a widget and (b) not have to carry the giant notebook everywhere I go.
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My giant collegiate notebook, which is serving me nicely as a planner!
  • Meal prep: I have been raised on the idea of meal prep from when I was a child! In the Philippines, almost everybody brings baon to school and work – baon is the Filipino word for “packed meal,” and it is so ubiquitous that food containers (Tupperware and the like), are called “baunan”, i.e., something you put your baon in. It is so satisfying to put away my baon for the week stacked neatly in the fridge, ready for me to pick it up and go. Last year I prepped a lot of simple roasted chicken thighs and steamed rice, but this year I need to incorporate more veg in there. Roasted asparagus is nice and easy, as are mushrooms and cauliflower.
  • Coffee: I have found my Contigo travel mug so useful that I bought two more and gave them away as Christmas presents. Mikaius bought me mine at Shoppers Drug Mart, but it is also available on Amazon! I was pretty skeptical when I first used it, thinking that my coffee couldn’t possibly stay hot for nine hours as is claimed on their description page. Imagine my shock (and pain) when I arrived at my 10am class after a two hour commute, popped the top open, took a sip, and promptly burned my tongue on near-boiling coffee. I have since learned to have “make coffee” be the first thing on my morning routine list as soon as I wake up and even before I shower, pour it into my travel mug as soon as it’s done, and leave the top open as I go about my daily prep. This way, my coffee is still hot when I get to class or to my office, but has cooled down enough to enjoy!

Together, meal prep and making my own coffee have allowed me to free up some wiggle room in my budget so that I can give to organisations I believe in and love. While I’m not donating life-changing amounts of money (let’s not forget that I’m a grad student with student loans looking at me from beyond my graduation day lol), I am able to save my coffee-and-lunch money and allocate it towards donations. Two that I’m currently giving to are Just A Story Pod through their Patreon, and Kapisanan Philippine Centre through the 13 for 13 #SupportK campaign. My usual order of a burrito bowl at Sid’s Café is $11 (!!!) but if I shop at the local FreshCo or Price Chopper, that is about a week’s worth of hot lunches for me, if not more. Similarly, a coffee at Tim Horton’s or Second Cup goes for $2, but buying a pack of coffee is $7 at my local Winners and a carton of milk $4 at the grocery store, which lasts me for about an entire month.

  • Reading: I have really tried to incorporate reading into my personal calendar by doing the Stephen King reading challenge, a name which is turning out to be a misnomer as it is more of a “reading Stephen King’s books and watching the movies and miniseries inspired by those books” challenge. Maybe I should change the hashtag to #experiencingtheKing instead? More to consider as I head into the new year! I’m currently on the last story of Night Shift, which I was initially reading via an ebook until a friend gifted me a thrift store copy of the book for our annual Friendsmas! The copy he gave me is the paperback edition with the bandaged hand as a cover, which is one of my favourite tales in the collection. Thank you lots, A!
  • Art and culture: Over 2018, I want to indulge my love of museums and art galleries more often. For Christmas, I asked my family for memberships to the Royal Ontario Museum and to the Art Gallery of Ontario! I’m very excited to see where this goes, as both of these institutions are within walking distance of campus, and I have always loved spending time there – even after seven years of living in Toronto and many dates taking place at the AGO and the ROM, there’s always something new to discover.

Coming up now on 2018 and looking back, 2017 was rough. I was recovering from my *dad’s death, but had not quite come back from the abyss yet. I was in very wild depressive cycles, and my anxiety has never been so terrifying. But, 2017 was also filled with little triumphs and joys: I lived by myself, for the first time ever, and the experience taught me that I absolutely can take care of myself. It makes me feel better for future me, knowing that I can handle living alone and all the responsibility that entails.

I have also been sending out applications to fellowships and submitting my writing to various places, collecting rejections along the way rather like how some people string up Christmas cards over the mantel. I wasn’t too stringent about my submissions in 2017, and more than once whipped up an application two days before the submission date – which is not how my mind works at all and so I screwed myself in the process, ugh. I’d like to believe that I’m wiser now, for that experience, and will continue to work on my writing. I would like to submit not just more, but more polished.

Having said all that, I want 2018 to be my year of Sunday rest. I want to invest time in myself – to work on the skills that I want to be better at in order to get to the career that I want, to submit my work for publication, to actually build my portfolio (which I have, but, you know, it isn’t as clean and beautiful as I would like it to be), to take more photos, to learn to be comfortable in my skin. I think that most of all, I want to learn how to truly love myself, which is proving to be a difficult task. I have had to train my brain to understand that I don’t need to be perfect. The anxiety in the lead-up towards submissions and meetings when I am overwhelmed in obsessive thoughts has actually negatively impacted me and the work that I produce.

As a daily visual reminder, I put some stickers on my laptop that are imperfectly overlapping just to remind myself that it is okay, that it will be okay, that I am okay.

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Starkanine is actually killing me with the placement, but I want to remind myself that it’s okay to not have a perfectly planned layout for these stickers.

Being in my late 20s, I am especially cognisant of the fact that I am effectively already in my thirties, and so before time actually catches up with me, I need to be prepared. I want thirty-year-old me to look back at twenty-seven year old me and think, she did well. As this year ends, and as I interrogate more closely why I’m doing what I do, I want to look at myself in the mirror and have a clear vision of what I need to work on to be my best self. That’s rather abstract, I know, so I set myself five goals for this coming year, and I want to be able to tick off this list by the time December 2018 rolls around. Here are my resolutions:

(1) I want to collect rejections. I don’t mean to say that I will submit applications to be rejected, but I wanted a way to think about submitting grant applications and poetry and other things without the inevitable rejection letters being too hurtful. I want to take this year as an opportunity to learn how to write better applications, and how to be more effective at the many different kinds of writing that I had not tried my hand at before.

(2) I want to go to the Philippines, once, before I fully emotionally commit to a life as an immigrant. My family has something planned, but we’ve not had a good track record in doing it – myself especially! I have been intending to go home for a few weeks since 2015, but then graduate school happened and I wasn’t able to leave. I think that I need to be home one more time before fully accepting that while I will always consider myself to be Bacolodnon, home as I know it is no longer there. I cannot plant roots where I am not.

(3) I want to decide if I am to pursue a PhD or not. I jumped into my masters straight from my undergrad, without a break, and knowing now what was to happen in 2015, I would have been much better off had I taken a year off. I was so absent my first year due to grief that I didn’t get to make friends or interact more with my colleagues, and I dearly regret that. I want to be certain that a PhD is what I want to commit my life to, before I write my applications.

(4) I want to learn how to make bread. I’m already starting this! I made a basic white bread last week and Mikaius really enjoyed it, so that was fantastic. It does feel good to be baking again, honestly, and bread is something I had always been slightly afraid of. What is the wizardry of yeast? Why are people so obsessed with bread? I don’t know, but I have a bunch of recipes lined up and I can’t wait to learn more about it!

(5) I would like to be more productive with this blog! Instead of writing when I feel like it, I have created a schedule, a calendars, and planned activities. From around October 2017 onwards I started jotting down ideas for 2018, and I now have a pretty good chunk of the next calendar year planned out. Blogging has been a constant for me since I was in high school, but I think 2018 will be a good year to see if I want to take it towards something more involved than memory-keeping.

And with that, thank you for hanging around and reading this. May your holidays be full of warmth and feel-good moments. See you next year!

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