Tabada: Dispensable


SUMMERS when A. came to live with us were good ones for my sister and I. Younger than I but older than my sister, A. was a perfect fit.

But as kooky as she was about playing and chattering with us, A. loved Math, too. Studying in an upland public school in the southwest of Cebu, A. welcomed the workbooks we passed on to her at the end of the school year.

While we thought Math matched summer the way “bagoong (fermented fish)” complemented ice cream, A. answered the computation exercises with a gusto that awed.

Saying the books would be used by her younger siblings and even teachers, A. avoided marking the books’ pages. A. sewed together the unused leaves of our discarded notebooks and made another notebook, where she worked on the computations.

Paper is a material we take for granted as always being there, disposable because replaceable. Yet, while I was browsing in a bookstore, two women walked in and inquired about planners, only to be informed that none was carried by the store this year.

In previous years, the display of paper journals began as early as December. Like wall and desk calendars, perhaps diaries are phased out, their commercial value fading with the rise of technology, the replacement of eminently more desirable gadgets, and shifting trends in consumption.

The year 2020 left a host of casualties, with planners one of the hardest hit. With work, studies, worship, malling and other social activities suspended, what was there to plan, tick off, or reschedule after months and months of a pandemic of drudging sameness?

A few days ago, I watched the digital story of a friend who celebrated her unboxing of a planner. She even crowed about the free pencils received from the online seller. Another friend posted the printed designs adorning a desk calendar. These are former students, now colleagues, whose love for print I am familiar with.

The journals I kept in 2020 are sliced through with a wide track of unsullied paper, not just marking the days and months bled dry by state-mandated community quarantine but also stretches of instances left blank by self-imposed isolation.

At the rims of these blank troughs are my scribblings. Before knowing mechanical print, paper knew the slopes of a writing tool held by a person following thoughts half-glimpsed in a trail of lines and slopes.

By practicing penmanship, I found my way through last year. One’s cursive, like paper, seems always to be there until it’s not.

A. showed a long time ago what it took to renew and repurpose. Here’s hoping that, with this year’s journals, my writing hand will remember.


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