An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

My Photo
Location: Philippines

Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

31 July 2009

Security blanket

It has always been my habit to carry a book wherever I go. This is largely because I always seem to get stuck either in long lines, traffic, solitary meals, or large crowds that I tend to prefer to ignore. Even when my parents used to drag me to the Roman Catholic Sunday Mass, all throughout my life until my late twenties, I’d always carry a book with me, half-hoping I could get to read it instead of pretending to listen to the Mass.

Of course I never did get to read a novel while hearing Mass. But there were plenty enough opportunities in my life for reading books -- growing up among them as a sickly girl, for one. I was literally surrounded by books, as our bookshelves were placed along three of the four walls of the bedroom I shared with my brother and sister. I have always found comfort, escape, and wonderful little germs for thought in whatever book I could snatch from those shelves. I’d bring a book to the porch, to the living room, to the bathroom, to parties, when receiving friends at home, even when watching a movie on the Betamax, and sometimes, even when eating.

Summers during my grade school years were magical times. When school was out, I would stay up late in bed to read, and then linger in bed till way past nine o’clock in the morning, reading. Afternoons would find me up in the stout, old, fruitless mango tree in our yard, comfortably nestled in between two branches, with two throw pillows, reading a book. Our maid would bring me merienda there. When the cousins would visit, they would inhabit the other branches of that mango tree.

I also had my reading phases. Of course there was Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, but I found the Hardy Boys rather tiresome. I preferred Nancy Drew because she had girlfriends and they wore dresses. Together with this phase was my Reader’s Digest phase, in which I read everything that came in every issue of the magazine. We had a collection that ran along one entire level of a bookshelf, and I would peruse their crumbling pages hungrily while slurping down three huge glasses of cold Milo. I also enjoyed reading long epic works, and anthologies of obscure but very long stories. I still remember the very first time I read the legend of Lam-Ang. (Incidentally, I also remember the very first time I read the rhyme that goes: "There was on old lady who swallowed a fly.")

Strangely enough, my childhood favorite has always been a huge illustrated book that discussed the principles of physics. I would pore through the pages, constantly referring to the Glossary as I read, and then promptly forgetting the definition of the word that I just looked up, running my hands over the drawings of pails filled with water spinning suspended on a rope and some such everyday object rendered strange and fantastic by its use to illustrate a particular law of physics. I remember suddenly looking up once from the page and uttering, “A chair is never just a chair,” and then writing it down on the page with a pencil. (Another thing about my childhood: when it came to books, my parents always let me run free with them.) And there began my lifelong giddy wonder for physics.

Agatha Christie, too, was staple reading. "The Witness for the Prosecution" left me breathless. It was Agatha Christie who said that people are often worse than we suspect them to be. Because of that, she is unforgettable to me. (I often wonder if I would be a less skeptical person today if I hadn’t encountered Agatha Christie early on in my life.)

And then came high school and the requisite Mills & Boon and Sweet Valley High. SVH was available for borrowing in the school library, while there was a rather large supply of Mills & Boon in a closet of the house we were renting at that time. But of course they were books I hardly remember now.

Thankfully, in college I started on Stephen King with the novel The Eyes of the Dragon. And from then on it was a wild ride across horror, fantasy, realist novels, comedies, plays, Ron Perelman, James Thurber, Woody Allen, back to the dark and serious, Henry James, a smattering of Shakespeare, and then to non-fiction, to self-help (ugh) to monographs about the concept of time, and then to literary theory and criticism, to Samuel Johnson to Edward Said to the horrible, horrible Derrida – who nobody likes, as Gemino H. Abad once blurted out in class – back to Shakespeare, and then to Proust, to Wally Lamb, to Betty Friedan, and on to works of writers that I actually know and talk to and exchange emails and text messages and drafts with. I myself have become a writer, with my own writer friends.

But I did not stop being a reader. If anything, I became more of a reader, I suppose. Reading certain novels more than once, journaling about them, looking up the biographies of their writers, taking down copious notes, tabbing certain passages, copying them into index cards and filing them away. It’s exhausting sometimes. But when I look back on my younger reading life, I realize I have most probably progressed along the most logical lines. What else is there for a wide reader to become other than be instrumental in producing reading matter for even more wide reading? And in the process of producing this reading matter, there is even wider and wider reading to be done. Here lies my world; in the ever-widening circularity of it I find fulfillment and comfort and saving grace.

Now, in my Makati apartment, I am still surrounded by books. The wall of books is the first thing I see upon opening entering, and I always feel that home is where all of my books are. Many happy moments were spent here, just reading. And I still never go anywhere without a book. I somehow feel safer with a book in my bag at all times.

Recently I stayed for four days in the hospital because of flu, asthma, and a rather painful attack of colic. My mother had to travel all the way from Bicol to take care of me and fuss about my pillows and blankets -- especially the blankets, as it was rather cold in my room at Makati Med. But I didn’t really mind about the blankets. I had my copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude with me. It was the most appropriate security blanket.

[Some related posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]

22 July 2009

Fever, soup and sunlight

I have taken to my little bed since Saturday because I am down with the flu.

But it's a nice bed. Jim made it up for me with fresh sheets and a comforter the other day. Now I'm looking forward to some soup with him tonight, and to walking out into the sunlight tomorrow.

[Image credit]