Monday, September 19, 2005

From Cover to Cover by TM Gege C. Sugue

(Toastmasters Speech Number One – Icebreaker, Unedited Version)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Fellow Toastmasters, aside from God and my husband, there are two other great loves of my life.

One love is reading.

The other is traveling.

To me, reading is the same thing as traveling; except I can do it white staying glued to a chair, or more often to my bed. Plus, it costs me much less. Reading transports me to places, exposes me to different cultures, and never leaves me unchanged.

Friends, this is one favorite read. Blindness by Nobel Peace prize winner, Jose Saramao. I like it because of the literary style. Saramago has been compared to Kafka, but to me he has a style uniquely his own. In this novel, he never uses proper names to identify the characters. He uses descriptors like “the man with the eyepatch”, “the girl with insomnia”, “the woman with dark glasses”, or “the son of the woman with the dark glasses”. Yet the quality and richness of the narrative never suffers.

What I like best about this book is the premise itself.

It starts with the experience of a man suddenly losing his sense of sight. Suddenly all he could see was a sea of white. Imagine his shock. Imagine his confusion. Imagine his fear. How could he find his way back home? How could he be seeing one minute, and be blind the next?

And all around the city, different people were experiencing the same phenomenon.

That is how the story starts. This is a story of an epidemic of blindness.

Close your eyes for a moment and open your mind –- imagine an epidemic of blindness. I could be standing here and suddenly, I’m blind. Tomorrow, all of you in this room will go blind. The day after, all the people in your household will be blind as well.

Imagine an epidemic of blindness in your home, in your town, in this country, in the world.

Imagine the chaos. Imagine the accidents. Imagine the hysteria. Imagine what the government would do. Imagine how good people would go mad. Imagine how already evil people would get even more vile.

Imagining is the best thing about reading. It’s never just about the words and the lines we read. It’s what goes on between the lines. It’s what goes on in between your ears. Reading makes you imagine, makes you think. It expands mind, heart, soul, and spirit. Reading adds drama to my life.

My life is not all that dramatic. I would not call it boring since there is always something new and exciting happening. But the basic plot is hardly worthy of submission to Charo Santo or Mel Tiango for dramatization on TV. My childhood was as typical as typical could be. Middle class family. My parents were both Certified Public Accountants, loving, responsible, conservative folks who did not have substance or physical abuse issues. My life revolved around school and home. It was pretty mundane.

The greatest adventures of my childhood were spent with a redheaded 18-year-old girl called Nancy. Nancy Drew solved mysteries. I solved math problems. Nancy Drew was an only child. I was number 2 of 7. Nancy Drew lived an exciting life. She traveled to Cairo and London, Bangkok, Hollow Oak, and Larkspur lane. With Nancy Drew, I’ve gone skiing, I’ve ridden in a stagecoach, driven a convertible. With Nancy Drew, I’ve joined the circus, gone camping, gone on a quest for a missing map, and solved the mystery of the fire dragon.

From Nancy Drew, I made a huge leap to Harold Robbins. Harold Robbins was my first sex education teacher. My mother tried to hide her Robbins books, but remember that I was Nancy Drew. I was a sleuth. I could find things that are hidden. And I could hide things so that they could not be found.

Eventually, I realized I was too young for Harold Robbins. So I calibrated by reading the more age-appropriate Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High series. I was reading P.S. I Love You when I had my first boyfriend at the age of 15, a couple of years before college. For the first time, my reading material and my real life were running parallel.

You would think that loving books as I did, I would have taken up journalism in college. I almost did, but my mom gave me what seemed then like wise advice – “Anak, walang pera sa journalism.” And to a teenager who wanted to have the latest fashions, Sperry Topsiders and penny loafers, not having money was a very bad thing. So I chose architecture, and then shifted to Clothing Technology, which brought me to a career in fashion. For 10 years of my life, I was so involved in work that I hardly had time to read. I read fashion books.

Then I traded fashion books for books like this. This Herb Bible and all my other books on cooking and home decorating signified my maturing into a spouse and home manager, my evolution into a domestic diva. Yes I was, and still am, a Martha Stewart wannabe. As a Mrs., I relished the joys of being a housewife, cooking puttanesca and making pannacotta. The homemaker in me, however, hardly stayed home. Most of the time, my husband and I were off to some place we have not yet been.

And that brings me to another favorite book. Lonely Planet – where my two great loves, reading and traveling, collide. It gives me boundless joy to explore this amazing country of 7,100 islands. I brought this book along with me to Pagudpod, Palawan, Boracay, Bohol, Rizal and even to forgotten corners of Manila. This book will continue to travel with me to other places I still long to visit – Batanes, Camiguin, Surigao.

In the meantime, however, Philippine island hopping has to wait as I take a momentary exile in a totally different land, a land whose language, culture, and flavors are so unique, so exotic, so rich that not even Lonely Planet Vietnam can capture its spirit.

Vietnam is an amazingly beautiful country, but for somebody far from home, away from family, friends, everyone and everything comfortable, it was also a land of darkness. Hanoi is almost always overcast. The gray of the skies manage to seep into my soul. And it was so spiritually dark for me.

Again, it is a book that turned my life around. And this is the greatest book of all. This is not my regular bible. My regular bible is bigger, heavier, and much dirtier with scribbles and highlights, frayed on the edges, and some pages torn off the spine. But whether it is the old bible, or this new, hip, metal-encased version, the words inside are the same words of non-negotiable truth straight from God’s lips to my hungry heart.

This book contains God’s love letters to me. This book revives my soul, gives joy to my heart, and gives light to my eyes. This book heals. This book saves. This book guides. This book comforts me. This book is alive.

Yes, books are my life. And this particular book is my life.

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