an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
an open space for youth writing & mental health discussion
Words. Words have always fascinated me. The way they flow, the way they sound, the way they look. Everything about them captivates me and intrigues me into wanting more. Words can build statues out of sentences, or they can create people out of paragraphs. Infeasible concepts that everyone says is just fantasy can come to life with the click of my keyboard. Anything can become possible. The whole world is at my hands when I have words.
You sigh as you hop into your bed, and think about how, after a long day of Zoom classes, you have to stare at your computer screen some more as you write college essays. On top of homework, chores, and other responsibilities at home, you also have to figure out how to write 500 words about why you want to move from the temperate Bay Area to plow through six feet of snow to attend class at the University of Michigan. You want to just write, “Because I want a college education and I want to make money when I grow up,” but you know you can’t write that, because you’ve put in too many hours and you’re too close to the end to let your frustration show now.
[Content warning: eating disorders]
I had been staring at the yogurt for over an hour. The bowl was filled to the brim and sat a few inches in front of me on my desk. It was taunting me. I could imagine closing my eyes and sliding a heaping spoonful of that thick, cool, creamy yogurt onto my tongue. I giddily anticipated the way it would melt away in my mouth, slip down my throat, and land into my empty waiting belly; my stomach growled in anticipation.
But my arms were paralyzed. I couldn’t lift my hand and reach for the spoon. There was an angry voice in my head louder than the quiet pleading of my empty stomach.
Words hold power. And words of power often begin at an individual's roots - heritage, ancestry, descendance. Yet there is an irony in that the same words that hold power, if not clear and obvious, can be rendered useless.
As an adolescent, ‘identity’ was a word that lingered with me. It’s important. Being true to yourself was emphasised and hammered into me - and those around me. A true emphasis on striving to become a name with a face, not a face within the crowd. Yet each time I'd write down ‘Who am I?’, unending blue lines stared back at me.
I was neither fair or dark - somewhere in between. Born and bred on Australian land and soil, yet on my back lay the weight of distant, cross cultural ancestry. My father's side is a clash of European and Aboriginal descent, my mother, Maori and Maltese.
They call us visionaries. Sorcerers who tailor statues with a flourish of the hands, weavers who stitch dreams with gold gossamer thread, virtuosos who sleep in the skies and marry the clouds. They call us adventurers. Voyagers who foray through unmapped territory and chart the paths for others on crisp scrolls. Daredevils who juggle knives and speak in tongues of flame. They call us nonconformists. Rebels who cannot be bound by ropes, chains, or promises.
The way you cut your meat reflects the way you live –Confucius
If Confucius was right, then my mother lived delicately, treading a tightrope as thin as the slices of her twice cooked pork.
When she ate her first American hamburger, she had complained. “Ai ya. Why is the meat so big and thick? Where is the Americans’ refinery? With a hulking piece of meat like this no wonder they all in debt. Americans cannot save.
On the other side of my tiny town is one of the most well respected poetry presses in the country. I have been told I have what it takes to make it all the way, the whole seventeen blocks. But seventeen years have come and gone. And even the three blocks to the grocery store feel like an odyssey of epic proportions.
It’s funny how we measure life in blocks. We turn even the most mundane measurements into vertical distances, towers and poems. Civilization has always been very dense. Ancient Ur was only .27 square miles. And stacked precariously high, the Encyclopedia Britannica occupies less than one square foot.
[Content warning: strong language, discusses suicide]
The day is the 7th of December, 2020. Finally the last year of Trump’s presidency, maybe the beginning of his autocracy. The year is nearly finished and Christ(mas) is coming soon.
When America was born, the founding fathers made it clear that "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I used to be afraid of scarring.
My mom always told me not to pick at my pimples because that would only leave scars in the future, when my acne subsided. What she meant was that even though my face was less-than-presentable now, I could save my future self from having a permanently below-average face, riddled with scars.
She made it seem as if scarring was the worse thing that could happen, worse than my current state of acne—which had occupied both my cheeks, my forehead, and sometimes the tip of my nose, like it was the only the it wanted the world to see—because scarring was permanent. Because my future self would regret the mistakes my past self made. Because somehow, for some reason, my future self would be more fragile than my current self—and wouldn’t be able to bear having these scars on her face, even though my current self had to carry the weight of having more than 30 marks on her face that screamed “ugly” and “unworthy” to society.
It's taken twenty springs and autumns, and I've only now come to accept it. I am an absent-minded pessimist who lets sadness seep in every now and then, but actively tries not to bring it up in conversation. The walk we took after our evening class, I don't recall the name of your new basketball team or what I said when you told me your dog was sick. I remember the crackle of leaves underneath our boots, the out-of-ordinary red of your nose, and the shock of your frost-bitten fingertips touching my forehead to release the stress creases. I won't remember the road we need to take but I remember the sequence of songs we need to play along a car ride. I can lie still beneath the open sky and engage in hour long games of pareidolia - a candy floss machine that poofs up a high necked poodle or a distorted pineapple formed of panicky clouds. Nothing cancels pessimism like escapism.
A year ago, I thought the world was ending. Anguish tainted every waking moment a bitingly toxic shade of green, as that of the sky when a tornado brews. It was inescapable; no matter any temporary joy, a hint of chartreuse always remained.
That's how heartbreak works, after all, infiltrating every last nook and cranny with a noxious smoke that slowly eats away at already chipped paint covering up everything you've avoided confronting. The varnish always cracks. The lies, the secrets, the insecurities, everything always seeps out like pus from a septic wound eventually.
[Content warning: depression, disordered eating.]
She didn’t like paint. She didn’t like how the colored pigments stuck to her skin and dried on her ripped jeans in sticky hard lumps. It’s like another layer of skin, she would say to me and I would agree cringing at the thought. The last thing I needed was another shell suffocating me.
Perhaps it was our mutual hatred for colored resin that brought us together, or maybe the fact that both of us needed a partner to navigate the stormy waters of freshman year. Whichever it was, it didn’t matter. What mattered was she was like me.
three ghosts inhabit this house, drifting along the concrete floors. we sway when the wind breaks in, shifting closer but never together. sometimes, i place my hand on the cracked walls of this house and feel for an absent pulse. sometimes, i wish we were a home. sometimes, i let the wind carry me along, coursing through the aged bitterness saturated in the air. my feet have never known solid ground, but i'm okay with that, just as long as i keep floating. the harshest reality only comes if i ever fall.
Joy: a feeling of great pleasure or happiness. Alternatively: a chemical reaction. Alternatively: a necessary survival instinct. Also: yellow stains on glaring white teeth, gregarious roaring in a public place, the tickle that runs down your hand when you enter somewhere great.
Depression: feelings of severe despondency and dejection. Alternatively: a chemical reaction. Alternatively: a necessary survival instinct. Seen in: written-journals collecting dust, a letter never sent, the drop in my heart when I realize I no longer love.
Sometimes I tell myself I’m crazy; and perhaps I am. Perhaps everything is all in my head. Nothing is real anymore, no, it never was. Just made- up feelings in a made-up world to press the feeling of happiness into my gossamer heart.
Perhaps the craziness comes from my relentless hold. I believe that, too, sometimes. I am unhealthy to myself, my hands are getting tired of holding, and I see it with my eyes as the rope grows thinner and weaker but in hopes that something, anything, will come back, my fingers grip a little harder until they are blue and unfeeling, and I see this only helps my struggle.
Written in the style of Lorrie Moore.
When you’re in first grade, your mom will tell you to pick an instrument. “To be a well rounded person, you shouldn’t just be good at school, you should have skills in other areas of life too," your mom will say. You will only be, like, six or seven years old, so you won’t really get it. You’ll just shrug your shoulders and hope that being a well rounded person doesn’t include playing sports too. Off the top of your head, you pick the violin because you don’t want to play something you have to blow into.
I never really saw the stars, or the universe at all. Just because it was covered by darkness and fear. With its horrible sight of evil, it changed. And when I said it changed, my friend, it did. Because of hope and the lightness that came back. I wanted to wash all the sickness and make it clean again. With its white and beautiful colors of light, humanity began reassuring that everything is going to be okay again. It took one day at a time to remove all the darkness because there was a lot of it. But if we have hope in it. We will make it go away much faster. We want to make this thing go away. On the 365th day, it was gone, the darkness was gone and everything evil was gone. If that darkness ever comes back, we will come together as one and we will fight it away. But on that night we saw the stars and the universe again. It was magnificent. The glittery and the white stars that shimmer with happiness and excitement. With the universe, we saw the wonderful white and greyish moon that glistens in the sky. And the sky was amazing and it was a navy blue color with the white and puffy clouds. That was the day we saw the stars and the universe again.
I always wonder what it is like to be someone else. I was always a quiet kid, someone who didn’t talk much and preferred a book over people. Until now.
I guess being mute was boring after a while. Sure, I wasn’t completely mute, I still talked, but it seemed like the world hated me. Remember that feeling when everyone in your class got ice cream and you didn’t? It kind of feels like that. I was left out.
God is silent. Even as I scream my prayers into the heavens, only darkness answers. His silence coats my veins in wax and seals away my spirit. If the number of my sins rival the stars, why will he not count them? He is silent. If I am to be bound by wax it will be by my own crest - I refuse to sacrifice my own feeling for the will of a silent God.
Perhaps my prayers can’t be answered. Perhaps I am to be content in His image.
I will keep inking the paper that has been presented before me until I have nothing to extract, until I have nothing. But there is everything to write, everything to know, and beyond that is what is yet to befall upon many of us in the midst of this pandemic. The deeply-rooted issue has regressed for the umpteenth time and its reactions have surpassed its limit, its patience, to the nth degree. History is repeating itself in the open, as a maddeningly viralized dimension of America has resurfaced. This year is a year we did not ask for. This year is a retelling of what should remain in the past, but has progressed and persevered to the point that society is actually moving backward. This year is an affirmation of how pronounced the problem is, and many have failed to acknowledge it actively.
“George Floy(D) unrest: Pol(I)ce out in force in major cities to tamp down on riots as curfews take effect” - Fox News “Riots, looting after George Flord death could deal fatal blow to businesses reeling from (V)(I)rus outbreak” - Fox Business “Protests Over George Floyd (D)(E)ath( )Block (T)raffic, Reac(H) Trump Tower” - The N(E)w York Ti(M)es( ) “A(M)erican carnage: These aren’t pr(O)tests - they’(R)(E) riots.( )Someone must en(D) the lawlessness” -USA TODAY “R(I)ots against police (V)(I)olence aren’t the an(S)wer” – Vox “Reth(I)nking the Ri(O)ts” - The Chicago Maroo(N) “Troubling( )videos capture L.A. police violence a(M)id prot(E)sts” - Los (A)ngeles Times “State, federal age(N)t(S) investigating( )‘violent extre(M)ists’ c(O)nnected to Austin p(R)ot(E)sts” - KXAN( ) “(M)ass pr(O)tests a(N)d mayh(E)m continue into a sixth night; thousands nationwide are arrested during weekend” - Washington Post “Wh(Y)( )Violent Protests Work”
Before I realized it, tears flowed out of my eyes like water pouring from an open faucet. The sound of the salty liquid hitting the wood played a more beautiful symphony than my frozen fingers could at that point. The notes that I had played over and over again for the past three months were suddenly not just lifeless black dots on lines. They made sense to me. They spoke to me. I dropped to my knees in agony and cried for all that I had been holding onto for the last three years.
Our first formal introduction was just a few months after I immigrated to Canada. Being in a foreign country surrounded by problems that I didn't understand and didn't know how to solve was trapping brightness and creativity inside of me. I held it up from the case and carefully examined its intricate wooden structure. With a pluck of my finger against its metal string, a note bounced out. It was not at all beautiful - perhaps it could even be considered a horrible sound - but it brought out something that I had longed for in the gloomy days that seemed to follow me around. Violin. That's what they told me it was. And it was one of the first English words I learned since coming to Canada.
Rupi Kaur, a Punjabi-born Canadian poet, writer, illustrator and performer, has become the most ‘Instagrammable’ sensation; she is followed by Ariana Grande on instagram, has had Sam Smith tattoo some of her work onto his arm and has appeared on the front page of the Cosmopolitan. She has graced the covers of the Canadian press as she was seen to be endorsing Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh a candidate running for Prime Minister in Canada.
Although her work seems to be at all-time high, she alongside other people of ethnicity, has suffered her fair share of challenges, suffering backlash from the media for her work. In 2014 Kaur released her self-produced poetry book ‘Milk and Honey.' Although it had sold over 2.5 million copies in 25 languages and spent 77 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller List, she received lots of criticism for her work.
Some days, I like to lose myself.
Drift between the corners of others’ minds. Hoping to get a slow artificial faint to act as a getaway from the aching of my own mind.
I watched a girl sitting alone on the bus, happiness obvious on her face while she held her phone; a boy searching for his love in a city, but not doing what he wanted; there was family spending time together, but with each member thinking of his own personal life.
We are all so close that we can feel our breaths crossing, colliding in the air.
Have we ever noticed how unaware we are? Have we ever seen the ghosts behind people's eyes?
We're moving between the people in the crowd, touching but not connecting.
We don’t realize that we're all just background noise to each other's lives.
A few years ago, I saw a Ted Talk by John Green. I didn't know much about him at the time, but his message of how learning is the meaning of life resonated with me. He talked about how YouTube is a good platform for learning things, if you know where to look. This brought out the excitement for learning new things that I had felt as a child when I watched movies and TV and absorbed things from them.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.