We are alive
We are the youth
Cloaked in the mistake of time,
Falling for false promises
And every world we find
Yet still afraid to climb mountains.
A thousand doors ago, when I was a lonely kid, in a house in the summertime with four garages, I lay on the lawn at night for as long as I could remember. Clover wrinkling over me, my mother’s window a funnel of golden heat running out. My father’s window, half shut, an eye where sleepers pass and boards of the house were smooth and white and waxed. I told the stars my questions and thought God could really see the heat and the painted light, elbow, knees, all my dreams, wishing me goodnight.
Youth are the future of society, they tell us. This is the time of your life, so don’t waste your youth. Live it up. At the same time, youth receive no freedom. Half this period in life is spent in depression. No rights, still controlled by parents as if you were a ten-year-old. Days are spent after school and homework, lying in bed, scrolling through your phone and yearning to travel the world. We go on Netflix and search for another A24 indie coming-of-age movie or blast songs through our headphones which make us feel like the main character in our own movies. But this dream isn’t feeling so sweet and all our wildest aspirations lay a figment of our imaginations. We know that reality is filled with strife. Let go of the dreams and be realistic, they order us.
Youth are infantilised. Stripped of rights and expected to follow their elder’s every word. Sure, when you are a child, it makes sense. You can’t make decisions for yourself. But when you’re in your late teens, it stops making sense. Suddenly, you have the mental capacity to make decisions for yourself, but legally you don’t receive the provisions to be able to do so. Disregarding your physical maturity, they proceed to treat you like a child – dependent and a financial burden. Curfews, rules, and more laws we have to follow. The adults in our life spell out what they want us to do, and we have to follow it “because they said so”, and the law agrees. Through the usage of rules and regulations, youth are tamed. They are punished for violating norms. This is how indoctrination works. When you are under the total control of someone else, they drill garbage through your developing brain and make you into their robots. Struggle all you want but there’s no purpose. You are a caged elephant.
Words rattle my skull
Like wasps on a windowpane.
Glass vibrations echo,
I cannot make a sound, in a sky so clear
I cannot trust my own vision.
At the same time, we’re fed images of a fetishised youth on screen every day. Whether it’s teenage movies, YA romance novels, or even songs about youth rebellion, ‘adolescence’ has been transformed into a product to be consumed. We all subconsciously realise such depictions of teenagehood are unrealistic, despite this, we gobble it up. Young people are more interesting. Young people have more life. Young people lead movements. Young people set the trends. Young people are productive and innovative members of this capitalist society. Young people, young people, young people. We are tricked into thinking that those in power think we are important.
We feel terrible about our mundane lives because we could not live up to the rebellious teenage dreams of modern folklore. After all, all we see on the news nowadays are representations of successful young people. A 14-year-old becomes a chess grandmaster, a 10-year-old discovers the secret to purified water in villages, another youth activist finds a nonprofit organisation, a teenager wins a nation poet fellowship, and of course the thousands of “Forbes Under 30” lists. We’re being conditioned to grind, grind, grind. Beat the pack. DO something. Be different from the rest. And you need to do all this as quickly as you can or else you won’t be an exceptional youth. No one wants to be a disappointment. Never mind giving yourself space to grow up normally. No. You need to be the best of the best. A shining star like no other!
We sat there smoking cigarettes at 5 in the morning.
A hundred sleek crows on the powerlines, the Virginia sun a sack of cornmeal.
You’re a dust-breather, star-eater, a poet with vicious hands.
I want no more than this — the wind’s kiss and the nightfall over me.
Still, I am not enough, only a speck in the sand.
Not the gifted talent I was meant to be.
The youth is like a fountain everyone drinks out of. They praise us for being bright little minds and the image of beauty and progressiveness. However, when has a young person ever been taken seriously or listened to? None of our demands is implemented or considered. Powerless youth and wasting away their innocence trying to beg for more in this life, and they are ignored. A larger society fetishises young people and then steals rights from us. We are like circus animals. Use, flaunt and then throw away. Instead of listening to what youth are saying, we focus more on the fact that they are young. This rotten, bottomless, ageist pit is a place where people slowly lose their worth as they grow older. And yet it’s the older people who get more rights. Contradiction upon contradiction makes my brain go fuzzy. We are supposed to establish a career in youth but by the time our brains are developed enough to make mature decisions we’re old and it doesn’t matter anymore. What is a person supposed to do? None of this makes any sense.
18 means the age of adulthood. People yearn to reach this number one day if they’re under this age. People who are 18, however, yearn for their childhood nostalgia. Nobody is satisfied, and thus is stuck in a liminal space, in the mirage of another period of their lives. At this point, all I yearn for is a real youth voice. Real material rights and accommodations. I don’t wish to be praised for being young, I want to be given resources in order to thrive later in life. Genuine youth liberation means youth get a voice, fundamental rights, control and consent over their lives while acknowledging that we’re young, stupid, and might need some help sometimes as we fall face-first into the ground. If only the grown-ups understood what nuance was, we could all coexist.
Teach me, I beg.
Of what? asks the summertime breeze in the flower field.
Of how the world works
Of how to create light
Of how to survive
Of how to be independent.
I am not a youthful angel to be admired.
I am a human.
Give me what I need.
You can’t enjoy your life now if you’re always living in the future.
By Eshal Zahur
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