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A Portrait of Youth: Masks, Mistakes, and Mental Illness, Pt. 4

What is it about being young that prompts us to pretend we are something we are not? What is it about youth that makes the allure of mistakes almost seductive?

It is in our youth that we discover the dark side of humanity. As children we are blissfully unaware of all the different forms of pain and suffering humanity is prone to losing themselves in; but past puberty and angst, we discover the worlds of depression and anxiety that envelop us into their bosom, as if they had been awaiting to embrace us. It is in these primal years of adulthood that for the first time we are aware of life’s most gruelling elements — and due to our naivete, we assume it will last forever. We do not have the wisdom of adults in their later years, and we no longer can cling to the innocence of our childhood. Thus we are left in a limbo, where things go wrong and all we want to do is hide, because we firmly believe that what breaks will be broken forever.

It is in this series that I will examine from hindsight what it feels like to be trapped in this narrow perception of youth, through six poems that I wrote when I was younger. I aim to explore their causes and implications, from the perspective of the (relative) lucidity that I have now, having grown away from the hurt that infuses their words. And perhaps, in doing so, I can provide closure to both my past, and the past of anyone who has suffered from the "disease" of being young.

The following poem was written in the fall of 2016; it was a time in my life in which my future felt hidden behind a dense fog of uncertainty, and as a result my present felt imminent and tempting, as if there were some sort of enigmatic unpredictability hidden in the current moment that I could use to convince myself my life held purpose — if only the kind that thrills in worshipping the unexpected over the routine. I had a friend at the time with whom I shared this sort of frivolity over life’s endeavours, being consistently caught up in the intoxicating grip of the now: without heeding any warning as to what would become of us if we were never to plan on becoming anything. 

Life does not hand out guidelines or blueprints; one has to make them in one’s own time — but such a time is not caught in the present as much as it is in the composition of one’s past and the vision of one’s future. One cannot become something without knowing what they’ve been and what they seek to become. To be stripped of both past and future willingly is a luxury only permitted for the youth, and it was a luxury I clinged to for quite some time before finally realizing the chaotic excitements of the present weren’t enough for me. By then, I had already gotten into school and the future very quickly became my new fascination — I learned to separate myself from the me that was so careless in his temporal perceptions. 

Looking back at this poem brings me a sort of nostalgic wistfulness to recognize the flippancy with which I viewed my hopes and dreams, too inebriated by my transient distractions to recognize that what I truly sought all along was permanence. And what I mean by permanence is the connection of past and future held together by the current existence of the presence: it all becomes one, a narrative that exists to justify its own purpose. And so when I mention what I’ve forgotten in my past in this poem, you’ll find it’s no surprise that I found those very things lying in my future.



Jagged Jigsaw


We glitter like gargoyles in a midnight rain, 

grazed by the meek light of endless stars. 

Your skin grates against mine, 

like the frail friction of tessellating textiles, 

pixelated in our near-sight eyes 

for our styrofoam minds to process. 

We're a mannequin menagerie, 

in exhibit for the exiled, 

the cumbersome crumbs 

of society searching for empathy. 

We are the vestigial vessels of equipoise, 

a mirage worthy of martyrdom; 

we are the converging coherence 

of coinciding heartbeats, 

in essence incessant, 

singing with superbly superfluous fluidity, 

in this pageantry of chagrined souls and sunken hopes. 


We wreck a china shop like a couple of bored bulls, 

and we walk out, the soles of our feet 

decorated with shards of glass egg shells. 

You see visions of our shattered futures, 

and you smile at the bitter revelation, 

and your eyes twinkle tales of reckless joy, 

reveling in the pressing precipice of calamity. 

I wish we wouldn't taunt our hopes into submission, 

cornered to rot so we may feel no blows 

of startling disappointment. 

Pointless, the cruelty we embrace, 

the ambiguity we chase. 

Too often we neglect, 

too often we reject, 

afraid to connect with the perfect, 

afraid of the burning truth we'd find 

if we were to reflect and dissect our moves and motives. 


I've forgotten what I once knew so well. 

It was something that meant everything to me, 

a feeling, a motion, colors and shapes, 

flavors, scents, sounds and waves 

all absorbed into my being 

in a ritual of euphoric creation--

scrapped into a physical euphemistic despair, 

slipping from memory hence. 

It's the root of suffering we share, 

attempting to recover, 

or at the very least recall that which we have lost. 


It grows smoother, 

this puzzle we play, 

as we file down its sharp corners 

and shave off its extremities. 

maybe someday we could crack 

this jigsaw and find our way back to our roots, 

poking their heads up from the distant horizon. 

but you never did believe in a successful journey. 

and after all we've been through, 

i guess you've convinced me 

to share that lack of belief with you.

Anthony Herman

Helsinki '23

I am a half American half Finnish student studying English in Helsinki University. I've always been a creative type, and my main passion in life is writing. I've been writing actively for seven years, and I write poetry, prose, and drama. I am also very active in theatre: I produce, direct, and act. My other hobbies include painting horribly and singing musical numbers in the shower.
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