Saturday, January 19, 2019

Reading in bed


RECENTLY, I rediscovered reading in bed.

I read in bed as a child. Growing up, we had an old black-and-white television in the living room. Until my father replaced it with a secondhand color set, this temperamental box required tedious tinkering with its antenna or wires to project a picture that had a mist of snowfall overlying the scenes, even those set in sweltering jungles.

Coupled with my father’s implacable rules—no TV on weekdays; the last full show on Fridays and Saturdays aired at 7 p.m.—it was no contest between a book and that artifact.

Even during the interminable summer, when a book was never not beside me during the day, I still read in the evenings until sleep crept up and stilled the turning of the page. For the young, sleep is a waste of time.

When I heard my father’s snores, I read by the glare of the family flashlight whose batteries were regularly replenished, my father decreed, for “emergencies”. Sudden brownouts then made reading challenging but not impossible.

Bedtime reading was a juggling act. I could not be caught reading by flashlight because my father worried about the abuse of my eyes. I made the batteries reasonably last because I could not imagine explaining to my frugal parent that the absolute need to discover what lay beyond a chapter’s cliffhanger fell under the category of an emergency.

In summer, when no novels could be borrowed from the school library, the book at hand had to last until the next batch of borrowed paperbacks.

Ah, but how else should youth be lived except on the edge? In spite of astigmatism (my father’s fear realized), reading in bed became a habit, a tic, a reflex, along with reading while waiting, reading in the toilet, reading during breaks, reading in the car, reading despite next day’s exam, etc.

Marriage and children paused the nighttime binges. I couldn’t withdraw into other worlds while starting a family.

Then graduate school and its regimen of reading made this trickle of fear: what if I forgot how to read? What was reading but retreating into other worlds?

Reading again fiction at midnight or dawn, I note these changes: I time these binges no longer under the cover of my father’s snores but only when I sleep alone and no one gets jolted by a book, instead of a pillow, or the beam of my smart phone, instead of the family flashlight.

But these nocturnal readings—of the fantastic or the mythic, read in silence or reenacted on bedroom walls as shadows eloping with the storytelling or segueing into other excursions—I would still very much consider as a personal emergency: tell me, how does the tale end?


(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 09173226131)


*First published in SunStar Cebu’s January 20, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”



Reading in bed


RECENTLY, I rediscovered reading in bed.

I read in bed as a child. Growing up, we had an old black-and-white television in the living room. Until my father replaced it with a secondhand color set, this temperamental box required tedious tinkering with its antenna or wires to project a picture that had a mist of snowfall overlying the scenes, even those set in sweltering jungles.

Coupled with my father’s implacable rules—no TV on weekdays; the last full show on Fridays and Saturdays aired at 7 p.m.—it was no contest between a book and that artifact.

Even during the interminable summer, when a book was never not beside me during the day, I still read in the evenings until sleep crept up and stilled the turning of the page. For the young, sleep is a waste of time.

When I heard my father’s snores, I read by the glare of the family flashlight whose batteries were regularly replenished, my father decreed, for “emergencies”. Sudden brownouts then made reading challenging but not impossible.

Bedtime reading was a juggling act. I could not be caught reading by flashlight because my father worried about the abuse of my eyes. I made the batteries reasonably last because I could not imagine explaining to my frugal parent that the absolute need to discover what lay beyond a chapter’s cliffhanger fell under the category of an emergency.

In summer, when no novels could be borrowed from the school library, the book at hand had to last until the next batch of borrowed paperbacks.

Ah, but how else should youth be lived except on the edge? In spite of astigmatism (my father’s fear realized), reading in bed became a habit, a tic, a reflex, along with reading while waiting, reading in the toilet, reading during breaks, reading in the car, reading despite next day’s exam, etc.

Marriage and children paused the nighttime binges. I couldn’t withdraw into other worlds while starting a family.

Then graduate school and its regimen of reading made this trickle of fear: what if I forgot how to read? What was reading but retreating into other worlds?

Reading again fiction at midnight or dawn, I note these changes: I time these binges no longer under the cover of my father’s snores but only when I sleep alone and no one gets jolted by a book, instead of a pillow, or the beam of my smart phone, instead of the family flashlight.

But these nocturnal readings—of the fantastic or the mythic, read in silence or reenacted on bedroom walls as shadows eloping with the storytelling or segueing into other excursions—I would still very much consider as a personal emergency: tell me, how does the tale end?

(mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 09173226131)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

While waiting


READING is a form of waiting. Recently, I settled down to read while waiting for my son to fetch me from a mall.

Long after I met friends, long after the mall closed, long after the café took final orders, long after taxis left the queue with indefatigable midnight explorers, I turned the pages of my book, which I bought when I decided to wait.

It rained steadily, miserably the whole day, which curtailed some of my plans. Since commuting home a bridge away was bound to be an interminable, miserable wait, I opted for an interminable, pleasurable one: reading until my son’s work was done.

If there is anything graduate school taught me, it is to read with purpose. It is the same lesson middle age teaches me: one cannot read everything ever written; therefore, one must choose, in keeping with a reasonable estimate of one’s lifespan, the writing one spends time with.

Lifelong readers may want to interject at this point to underscore the inestimable complexity of what seems to be a deceptively simple insight: how does one choose what to read?

A lifetime of reading is also waiting time to seek and find myself as a reader. In the first 50 years of my life, I read what was required, what was available, what was given, what was free, what could be borrowed. Most of all, what I wanted to read.

Looking back on the paperbacks, textbooks, classics, fiction, library books, pornography, comic books, newspapers, magazines, manifestos, poetry, and Jingle music chord books I picked up, I think, foremost, I enjoyed myself.

I also wondered what I was missing by being such a hedonist.

When I hit the middle of a century, I realized I couldn’t prudently expect another 50 years to fool around with. Besides, even if I wanted to, I quickly fall asleep now when reading in bed, roll over too many eyeglasses, banish peevishly to the bottom of the tottering pile those writers whose main thought I cannot ferret out after so many rereading, and so on and so forth.

Yet, middle age has slowed me down, too, to appreciate more the turning of a book’s last page. Instead of a fiesta, I gladly settle for siesta, grateful already when I finish a chapter or two before dozing off.

The book I chose to wait with on that evening vigil was VJ Campilan’s “All My Lonely Islands”.

It is a book set in the Global South: Batanes, Manila, Bangladesh. It is written by a Filipina. And while reading the novel in the company of other women checking their phones while waiting for their partners, I discovered that the narrator is named Crisanta, my sister’s namesake.

As a nod to my younger reading self, I am still curious about the world I have always enjoyed.


(mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ 09173226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu January 14, 2019 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”