Death of a bookworm
Reading has always been my first love, and I say this literally. I had my first kiss with a book named “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.” It was a sing-along book about alphabet letters climbing up a coconut tree, and I loved it so much that I apparently hugged it tight and pressed my lips against its multicolored cover. I still have the entire lyrics memorized to this day.
Books were my oxygen growing up, and you would have been hard-pressed to find me walking around without my nose buried in its musty pages. It was cute and “intellectual” when I was a kid, but soon, well-meaning people would advise me to go out more and not be shy. It took nearly a decade for me to get the hint, but I am glad I finally did.
There was a whole world of people out there, and I was lucky to gain like-minded friends that I could freely share my interests with. We would talk about classmates and crushes at one moment, then philosophize about the meaning of life with all the seriousness and worldly wisdom of a bunch of 15-year-olds. We would swap book recommendations until even I had trouble keeping up with my ever-growing reading list.
My grades were lackluster and even worrisome at certain points. But I soon discovered that I enjoyed math, and by putting enough effort, I could even excel in it. By the time I had to fill up college applications, I had found some measure of success in math competitions. Majoring in mathematics seemed to be the most practical first choice, with literature as a far second.
College happened; change happened. I made a new set of friends who would rather write equations than essays. I came to terms with how many different types of mathematics exist to occupy our weekly course schedule. Life grew busy, and there were countless Netflix series to binge on and Instagram feeds to scroll with the remaining free time.
When my younger sister mentioned going to the Manila International Book Fair with friends, I realized that I could not remember the last time I read a book. My four-year-old self would have been heartbroken. But as a college overachiever, the number of days before I enter the “real world” weighed heavier and heavier on my mind.
Together with many of my fellow would-be-graduates, we stressed over our thesis and GPA. We beefed up on online courses and certificates to boost our credentials and hone our technical skills. We scrambled for internships to prove ourselves to future employers. And in our hustle-obsessed society, I don’t dare deny the necessity of this preparation to be able to stand out.
I was thriving, but I was tired. Being surrounded by equally drained peers was small comfort. I talked to schoolmates who used to moonlight as bookworms, film geeks, music lovers, and art enthusiasts. We would wistfully reminisce about the freedom of high school while complaining about the lack of time and the unending academic requirements.
Organization recruitment week rolled around, an annual opportunity for overcommitted students to pick up yet another responsibility. We affectionately call those who eagerly sign up as students taking up “BS Org, major in extracurriculars.”
Cue me. I scanned through the list of virtual application forms, considering whether I should apply for student council or similar leadership positions. I noticed a call for literary section writers. Not for the official university publication, but for a much smaller college journal. They had a surprisingly active Facebook page for a student organization I never knew existed. I applied. It was the first thing I did in a while that wasn’t driven by the unease of impending graduation.
The online form was casual and informal, as if it was written by someone who simply wanted to get to know you better as a friend. I managed to dig up some old poems and school essays to attach as sample works. I hit it off with an interviewer whose first words were along the lines of “Hey, I haven’t seen a math person around here before.”
Politics and poetry intertwined in an organization that held true to its catchphrase, “We cover everything.” Writing voluntary pieces became a reprieve whenever the world of numbers felt suffocating rather than comforting. Gathering and structuring my thoughts about sociopolitical issues and personal advocacies would remind me that I have so much more to offer the world than my degree or major.
I no longer mourn the death of the philosophizing bookworm. I haven’t quite said goodbye to the college workaholic. I am still getting to know the casual writer. But above all, I look forward to the birth of who I will become.
Shamira Liao, 20, is a fourth-year actuarial science major at the University of Santo Tomas. She loves numbers and letters equally, but loves her family more.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.