No blank pages

“I miss the smell of a still-hot-just-delivered broadsheet. I miss the enticing sound one creates in turning its pages. I miss holding history with my hands. I miss the old days… but I know I will return someday.”

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“FILIPINOS ARE not a reading people, and despite the compulsory course on the life and works of Rizal today, from the elementary to the university levels, it is accepted that the ‘Noli me Tangere’ and ‘El Filibusterismo’ are highly regarded but seldom read (if not totally ignored). Therefore one asks; how can unread novels exert any influence?” – Ambeth Ocampo, Rizal without the Overcoat

Each of us has his own and distinct passion. It is something that drives our soul because of excitement and extreme joy and so the body follows. It is not just a pastime. It is a craft that helps us understand our inner being and the world outside and vibrantly live with it.   My passion for reading started in 6th grade when this young, shy, Most Behave Awardee, had a conversation with the class valedictorian. I asked her I could join her on her way home one sunny afternoon. Our classmates teased us but I was glad she didn’t mind them.

“How did you do that? How can you share the things and stories you mentioned in our English class?”

“It’s because I read books and articles in broadsheets.” Her answer pinched a deep scar in my heart. On that moment, I saw myself added to the reading population.

They say, by reading books and newspapers you will be a listener, a traveler, and a fan. And then, it occurred to me that for the past nine years, I have been exploring not through an epoxy-coated wooden boat or oil-powered vehicle but by flipping through the pages of the books and dailies that I can and sometimes cannot relate with; mustering every word for my curiosity’s satisfaction. I have been stolen from reality and taken to a different dimension. I have been spoken to, directly, by different authors and thinkers. I have been a fan not just by the senators, congressmen, environmentalists, leftists, rightists, MMDA officers, engineers and technicians but of the common, complex, rare, and sometimes out-of-this world characters created by the minds of the so-called ‘writers’. I remember Nancy Malone’s book, “Walking a Literary Labyrinth”, where she talked about reading as an act of meditation; how imagination allows the mind to grow after a process.

I enjoy reading different book series. One of which is Youngblood, originally published in Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Opinion section. This is not your usual material for twenties and teens. Only the best articles with the most relevant topics will be chosen by the committee and be published. Different youth experiences are voiced out in this column, unveiling stories about life and love. Everything under the sun, created by the young minds of this country, is shared and pointed out. Its counterpart, Highblood, is also featured in PDI.

One of our literature mammoths, Jose Rizal, brought a different perspective in me in our college subject Rizal’s Life, Works, and Letters. It is not just because he made two illustrious novels (Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo), but because it took me a while to research new facts about his life. Has everything about him been shared and written? We consider him our national hero. Poets address him as the “greatest man in the brown race.” He made me realize that nationalism is not limited to dying for your country. What’s important is how you lived your life to influence the succeeding generations even after you’re long gone. One of which, is giving value to your own roots. And because of this, I met Ambeth Ocampo, the former Chairman of the National Historical Commission. It did not happen personally. I chanced upon his article in PDI, “Looking Back”, and it was the start.

In 2007, with the help of my mom’s friend, a retired U.S. army soldier, I got an access to copies of different newspapers. Every day, I would cut articles from the first page all the way to the last page of the newspaper. I would write the publish date in red caption. I kept everything in a long, red clear book. Never did I realize that I would, one day, call myself a collector. In an inventory I made two weeks ago, I have a total of 567 newspaper articles, excerpts and clippings by different columnists from different broadsheets. Some of my favorites are Michael Tan’s “Pinoy Kasi”, Conrado de Quiros’s “There’s The Rub”, Patricia Evangelista’s “Method to Madness”, Neal Cruz’s “As I See It”, Rina Jimenez David’s “At Large”, Juan Mercado’s “Viewpoint”, and Amando Doronilla’s “Analysis”. Raul Pangalangan, who took over as the Publisher of Philippine Daily Inquirer after the passing of Isagani Yambot last year, is also included in my list. His column then tackled important issues like national stability and interpretations of law.

One of those who influenced me to accept, nurture, and love this craft was my friend, a staffer of the official student publication of the university I attended years back. She spent time for it despite of majoring in a technical course, which was an unusual feat. Not many engineering and technology students have a room for art and literature in their hearts. We love numbers, figures, and mathematics – that was the hollow block we shared. There were days when we talked about anything we fancied; from the blue sky she saw on her way home from a vacation, the formation of clouds on a Saturday morning, the heavy rains brought by the Low Pressure Area, the devastation of a Super Typhoon to low-lying areas in the provinces, up to the latest book she has read. Truly, things are best done when shared.

Also in college, for 2 months, my mentor asked and advised me to spend at least 2 hours after class, to read old piles of articles in the library in preparation for my public speaking competitions. Those were some of the most creative periods of my life.

To keep up with technology, I left my conventional, old-fashioned way of collecting articles and news stories. As the saying goes, “When a door closes, a new window opens.” News and media organizations have embarked and embraced the current technology, by putting up their own websites. Today, you do not have to buy a newspaper to be updated with what is going on at the other side of the country and of the world. Information is readily available through the internet. And they are no longer limited with printed texts but supported with HD videos and photos. They are real-time and interactive and in a sense, exciting and challenging.

I miss the smell of a still-hot-just-delivered broadsheet. I miss the enticing sound one creates in turning its pages. I miss holding history with my hands. I miss the old days… but I know I will return someday. It is not the newsprint that changed me but the stories.

In the future, at the right age, I will tell my children this secret that I kept for eight years; introduce them these dignified people and show them my no blank pages treasure.

Imagine that.

Author: Benre J. Zenarosa

Benre J. Zenarosa is a Lasallian Scholarum Award-winning essayist from Manila, Philippines. He loves writing stories and letters in his head while riding a jam-packed train on his way to work.

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