a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
The 2018 World Happiness Report named Costa Rica the happiest country in Latin America - not all that surprising when Costa Rica has for years topped global happiness rankings, alongside the usual Scandinavian suspects of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The same year, though, the UN Development Program named Costa Rica one of only three Latin American countries that has seen a rise in economic inequality since 2000. In 2018, the income of the richest 20 percent of Costa Rica's population was 19 times higher than that of the poorest 20 percent. Currently, around 38 percent of Costa Rica's total income goes to the top 10 percent of the population, leaving around 20 percent of the population in utter poverty.
“The rise of voluntourism, where people vacation to underdeveloped places for community service, is harmful to the very societies it is meant to help.”
It sounds heartless and cold to argue that millions in desolate poverty should be cut off from international aid. What is the point of a free market system that generates floods of wealth and innovation, if it does not wash over every corner of the earth?
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a parent. Imagine that you’re pushing your child in a stroller down the sidewalk. Now, imagine a man you’ve never seen before approaches you and your child. You have never met this man before. In fact, you have never even seen this man before, nor have you ever heard his voice, but he approaches you. He points to your child and says, “Your child is disgusting and sinful and broken, and I am the only one who can fix it. All you have to do is worship me and do everything I say. And if you don’t, I will burn you and your child alive.” How would you react in that situation? Would you agree to worship him and do everything he says? Would you turn and run in the opposite direction? Would you call the police?
dust is what we all become.
rain falls and mist rises, ice stands firm, but the atoms cling together resiliently as they're made to shift and stretch and mold into being. they drown in each other. dust is what they all become-- bits and remnants, flakes of substance. particles can swirl in wind and breath and they are free, afloat, individual. they bend the rays of sun that crawl into bedrooms, hanging heavily in the still air. they skate over silently beating hearts and sticky fingerprints on glass. they escape through the most minuscule passageways.
[Content warning: rape and abuse]
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The water plops against the side of the bathtub again and again and again until the noise is nothing but an absent, muffled droning in my ear. The silence in my sauna seemed to strip my clothes away before I did, luring me into this tub where my tears can disintegrate into nothingness. Mere additions to a larger homologous model in which I can sink and burn and dissolve.
Sel sent me a postcard from Paris, made a phone call from Montevideo, and mailed a package from Nepal.
I wrote back to her - my fingers wrapped tightly around the wooden colored pencils she sent me last summer, the ones engraved with poorly translated Romanian phrases in gold.
Time and again I find myself fascinated by the falsehood of memory. It seems that each detail of the past is blurred and indistinct in my mind, without a solid form to cling to, regardless of my continued determination to take a particular moment and press it precisely into the various folds of my brain.
thirteen. your street is one of the longest in the heights, but my parents take a different route this time and pretend it’s any shorter. we turn the corner your house sits on, smooth-blue and gated, and i see a flash of your loose grey dress caught in the dimness of early evening. the sky is a little lighter than your house, giving me just enough to watch your bare feet play lightly over the street and your tan fingers raise a camera to your eye. in this moment, i don’t want to go on your lake trip or even go into your house. i could sit here and watch the way you move when you think i’m not looking, the way you carry yourself like your camera solidifies your spine, all weekend long. we are a secret, but right now i let myself stare. you really are beautiful.
Lost rabbits wander aimlessly, towards an end with no resolution.
This I am sure of.
Moon child. That is what I am; that is what you are. Someone who reflects the light of a higher order and glows so brilliantly it must be false; someone who takes and takes and takes and shines, who forces others to gaze up at them and attain a desire they had never once seen possible.
And there is a field before you, a field filled with fog, and it is day. You cannot see any further than a step before eternity melts into an indecipherable, tangled web of droplets too small to inspect, each one a possibility you may miss. And with you are many other moon children, side by side, facing straight ahead with chins up and doubt in their eyes, and it is day and it is foggy and you have nothing to reflect.
The sun is gone.
What do you do?
Let’s start with the black dress.
The lady at the checkout turned it upside down as she tried to remove the security tag pinned through the bowed collar while checking for the final time, “You like the style? Is this the right size for you?” I nodded. I did like the dress. It was one of those rare ones that fitted my small waist perfectly. It was one of those that fitted my very own, strict criteria - not too bright, not too ostentatious with pearls or glitters, and not above the knee.
A human being is like a plant, my grandmother has always told me. The root of a plant is thick and runs deep into the ground. Peony, for example, has a root of almost six inches. Unpleasantly looking its roots may be, they are something that peony flowers can never detach themselves from. Thankfully nature has evolved itself to present only the flower’s prosperous outlook to the world that, unless excavated by a botanist or a gardener, the tedious roots will never be revealed to the eye. My grandma insisted that plants never lose connection with their roots, no matter how tall they grow, and no matter how far their seed flies. From the frailest flowers to the grandest trees, nothing can survive without being nourished and stabilized by the root, unwavering in any weather.
[Content warning: psychotic episode]
That freckly Californian grass wheezed up bees. Outside my Jewish day school, hundreds of those striped scoundrels swarmed the sky lupines and kindergarteners alike, stirring the chaos of blooming youth. “They’re harmless alone,” Ms. Julia repeated every morning, as if our chattering ears were present. It was spring: the season of basketball, avocados, anxious tantrums, Passover, and gaga pits. Life was pollinating.
Perfection: the state of being absolutely flawless, completely without blemish, 100-percent perfect. Coming from the Latin verb perficere, which means “to do completely.” A pretty common word in the contemporary world, one that is no longer used solely in the extreme, literal sense, as nothing is ever really perfect. I say it when I finish setting the table. Or when I pull a batch of fresh-baked cupcakes out of the oven. Or when I am putting together a particularly dashing outfit for school. I use this word even though I am fully aware that none of these things—the table, the cupcakes, the outfit—is truly perfect.
“Does she even speak?” the kids nearby whisper to each other thinking that I can’t hear them. Or maybe they want me to hear. To respond and yell right up in their faces. To get offended and run out the door, slamming it on the way out. However, I won’t. I will continue to sit down and stay quiet, pretending I never heard a word.
This morning is typical. My alarm goes off at six-thirty, doenjang-jjigae for breakfast at six-fifty, and I’m out the door and in my mom’s minivan by seven-fifteen. My mom, who drives me to school every morning, is busy texting her friends on kakaotalk with a big smile. While her fingertips fly across the screen, creating tick noises that fill the car, I wonder how nice it would feel to be appreciated.
Last night I woke suddenly, startled awake by some small sound. I lay there, half asleep and frightened, thinking that perhaps it had nothing at all, but a tiny crackling noise said otherwise. It was something else that made me pause—a human sound, a quick intake of breath. God, my doctors said I was just being anxious and was stuck in Maladaptive Daydreaming again. It was another word of delusion—they said I was sick. But why, in the silences and muffled wind sounds, could I imagine each gesture and caress that I knew was taking place?
Our palms lie against our heart and every heartbeat resonates and pleads to beat free of its cage. Through the rough wind the flag undulates and the red, white, and blue’s merge in their own cacophony. A thousand miles away, another flag of different colors, and another beat of different hearts echo through the sky. The words they sing along to are different, but the actions are the same. Yet in our society, the waves of inequality have risen to such a level that we are ignoring our similarities and straying far away from the shores of peace. These deeds belie the true meaning of life.
I gripped my microphone in my right hand and looked into the crowd to see all eyes on me. I watch the countdown, five seconds left. To my right, my dad has his hands on the keyboard and gives me a nod of assurance. The lights go dark. Three, two, one. The first C chord is played and the drum beat begins. I close my eyes and all nerves wash away as the music flows through my ears.
My first encounter with music was in the womb. The fetal stage has more influence on one’s language and listening skills than expected. This is when we learn to differentiate familiar and unfamiliar sounds. The high plasticity of the brain allows us to form neural pathways before we even take our first breath (Schreiber). My strongest neural pathway was developed from my mother being repeatedly exposed to music during pregnancy.
\ ˈgrās \
Origins: Middle English: via Old French from Latin gratia, from gratus ‘pleasing, thankful’; related to grateful.
Fluffy cotton balls have stopped dripping from above and retreated to the sides for the sun to shine. The tiny puddle of fresh rainwater in the middle of the unevenly paved path reduces to a darkened patch on the cement, leaving behind only an earthy scent that permeates the air. Stripped of its bath, the snail draws its head up in slow motion, scoliosis cured. Antennae perking straight up, he scans the gigantic world around him like a lighthouse looking for a lost ship in the blue abyss. Except the snail is lost in the lethal dosage of a sunbath. To the left, the snail picks up the quiet odor of a friend. The safest way home is to trail a road already taken.
My life can be described as an indescribable monotony. Each day I wake up and leave my soft bed (my sleep never lasts long enough.) Each day I do tasks that seem to regenerate. Each day I take a nap at 3:00 p.m. Each day I engage in simple and meaningless conversations. Each day I eat, but I retain no sustenance. Each day. Each day bleeds into the other like the blood coursing through my veins, traveling to my heart and my lungs and my brain.
[content warning: eating disorder]
I am imperfect, and the stretch marks on my thighs are constant reminders of that. Jagged, thick lines permeated my legs, and kept me locked up in a cage of my insecurities. I am imperfect, and I would die to be otherwise.
Growing up mixed is a blessing and a curse, because where I've benefited from rich culture, and fascinating histories, I’m burdened with the expectations of beauty from two sides. When you're a kid, you aren’t conscious of the fact of your imperfections. There’s an innocence of childhood that’s lost when you grow up, and that’s hard to get back once it’s taken.
I think the moment it fell apart was when I realised there was no God. And if there was a God, he died the moment Cain’s stone hit Abel’s head. He’s all knowing, so merciful. I can (and I do) write essays and essays on the glory of God. I’ll see him in hell though, even in his misery, I’ll see him relish in the splendor of his capabilities. God, if you’re so great, why do you need to be worshipped? My mother says God doesn’t need us, we need him. But the creator of the universe, He (capital ‘H’ in ‘He,’ always a capital ‘H’) who made us, made us to need him, so doesn’t he need us too? I have no one to turn to when my forehead burns up and palms get sweaty, no one but him. If God’s real, that one thing, that need to be needed, makes me want to be his friend. Is there no one left on earth?
Every winter break, our family would go back to Korea. We never missed a winter trip there, and we would always visit Grandma’s house a few kilometers south of Seoul.
A few years ago, we arrived at Incheon after a four-hour flight from Manila. The December evening in Korea rested just over zero degrees, just some clouds floating by in the sky. The air was dry, my nose slightly hurting from the cold. I wore a thick sweater and some gloves. I had changed into these clothes during the flight, from a short-sleeved shirt to a long-sleeved one
Across my grandma’s house is Manseok Park, where, every morning, butterflies would circle the hedge bush that flanked the gardened paths. I would go there every other day to walk around the park reservoir and I would always hear the ducks quacking on the water surface. Often, I would see joggers along the pathway and office workers spending their lunchtime by the waterfront. Boxwood and bunchberry surround the outer ring of the path. Some daisies sprout out of the bushes, around which a lone butterfly circles.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.
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