I have been reading a lot of books for the past two months. I usually get through one or two a month, but since July, I’ve plowed through 18.

As usual, even with this seemingly innocuous activity I’ve found a way to bash myself about the head.

You’re not reading anything improving, I scold while I search and download yet another Victorian-era murder mystery. Or Regency-era romance.

No! Wait, there’s that book on astronomy and that one on behaviour science and the other one on materials. You love science and math! Why aren’t you reading them more! I brain-yell and simultaneously one-click purchase my 5th young-adult fantasy.

All schizophrenic entreaties fall silent, however, as soon as the download completes, and an exciting new world loads and swings open to the first page.

That, I think, is it. My reading compulsion could well be chalked up to my intense desire to run away from my life as it is right now. Because these books are easy to follow, they keep me occupied but also free up part of my attention to take stock of my situation, and the reason for my increasing tetchiness.

I recall that metaphor about life dealing you with a hand of cards, and it’s up to you to play them as well as you can. Have I recently drawn a bad hand? I will borrow some inspiration from all the fantastical worlds I’ve been dwelling in, and indulge in some metaphor-making: If I were to fan out my cards on the table and read them, Tarot-style –

The worst one would be the one called Nightmare Job. It presents itself as a pretty climbing plant, with tendrils that hang like curlicues. But all along the surprisingly woody vines are rows of barbed hooks that latch onto your flesh and dig deeper if you struggle. The hooks leach a stinking, suffocating sap that fogs your brain. If you are dealt this card, your options are – stay still and wait for the plant to die, or endure some pain and pull out the barbs one by one till you’re free. You’ll be a bloody mess then, but if you’re still alive, you… win! I suppose…?

The next one is called Pit of Longing. It’s, well, a pit. You hear a siren call and follow it to the pit but then you fall in, and can’t get out. The siren stands on the lip of the pit and beckons to you, while you scrabble uselessly at the surrounding walls. Fellow sufferers may identify this as falling in love – a terrible fate. Double deduction for falling in love long distance.

The third card is the Dark Angel of Self-Doubt. If you draw it, you succumb to her sweet, relentless anti-assurances. She strokes your hair and tells you the reason why you are stuck at your job, at your external projects, in your relationships, are because you simply suck. (Or are stupid, lazy, frivolous – she offers a good mix.) She makes you feeble, fretful and filled with fear; yet you listen to her destructive murmurs because they are soothing and they give you the perfect excuse for failure.

Fourth in line is House of Smoke. You think you are home, safe, secure, unmovable – but you realise your walls are slowing but surely dissipating into smoke. You can buy another House, one of Not-Smoke (or whatever building materials HDB is into these days) but at the moment you may not have enough… what’s a fancy Tarot-ty word for money? Let’s go with dragoons. You do not have enough dragoons.

The final card is called the Death-Guilt Sack. It’s a filthy hessian sack that you have to put over your head if you get this card. Inside the sack, it makes you hyper-aware and terrified that your loved ones have limited time left (grandparents, cats) but because the sack is over your head, you avoid spending too much time with them. That’s the part when you get overwhelmed by guilt.

Now, I’m no card shark – I know there’s a game where cards add up to 21, or something like that – but I think I may not be in a Tarot session after all. My book binge has convinced me that my story needs a protagonist, one who’s not going to just keel over from a poor hand. So I think I may more likely be a participant in a Rummy-type card game, where you continually draw and discard cards. I’m not sure what my next card will be, but my turn to draw is coming soon, and with it, the process of shedding an unwanted deck.



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