Learning to Undress






At this moment in my life, being a college student plays a major role in my identity. Throughout my first year of college, I discovered the power in being vulnerable. It has allowed me to find friends to love and more to appreciate in the world. Existing with an emotional vulnerability is almost, if not more daunting than being physically vulnerable. To be comfortably vulnerable is to be comfortable with uncertainty. Many things worth having in life are filled with uncertainty: love, joy, and creativity. In this past year, I've grown in so many ways. I wouldn't be where I am today or who I am today without learning to undress and expose myself to everything the world has to offer.

By Kimiko Okumura

Lithium's Monthly Inspiration

Lithium contributors were inspired by music and culture this month.

MUSIC

Paramore
“Paramore's new song, "Hard Times," inspired me this month, but I think the band inspired me the most. I've been a big fan of Paramore [for awhile], especially when I was in my emo phase. I've seen the band grow from punk to alternative. I read an article on how the guitarist in Paramore (and other members) wanted to quit the band many times. He talked about how it was so difficult for him to carry on with the drama and quarrels, but he stayed and now they have another album on the way. For the last 13 years, they've gone through many adversities as a band, and they still don't know where they're headed, but they continue to make music they love. I'm inspired with how they move past the fights and tears, prioritizing their music and, most importantly, their passion.”
- Faith Sumastre

Real Estate
“Even though the band's new album. In Mind, was released in March, I’ve really only gotten into it this month. The smooth vocals and dreamy sounds that populate every song on the album have become the soundtrack to my last few months of school. From doing homework in my room to driving around with my friends, this album inspires me to stay calm, be happy, and patiently wait for summer vacation.”
- Kate Hunker


Gorillaz
“The new Gorillaz album, Humanz, was also a huge inspo. If you saw my self-portrait in this month's issue, the multi-colored sunglasses were based off of Noodle on the album cover, and their upbeat songs were on replay while I was drawing my piece.”
- Daisy Acosta

Sundara Karma
“I attended a concert where I was able to see a really amazing British indie band, Sundara Karma, perform live. They were spectacular and had an amazing stage presence. I met each member, and I was even able to talk about politics and the global issues currently taking place. That really inspired me because what they're doing as performers is so amazing, touring the world while still keeping track of events and being humble.  They continue to make me reminisce about the great time I had!”
- Jada Moore


PHOTOGRAPHERS ( Inspiration and text by Julia Fletcher)

@baohngo
Bao is an artist working in NYC. Her portraits definitely give off Petra Collins vibes-- they're so dreamy and have a soft glow to them.

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Photo Credits: @baohngo on Instagram

@mayabeano
Maya is a Cambridge, UK-based photographer shooting with 35mm film. Her portraits of friends, double exposures, and landscapes offer a deep sense of nostalgia.

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Photo Credits: @mayabeano on Instagram

@abbeysacksart
Abbey is a photographer and filmmaker who explores and celebrates female identities through her work. In her new short film, she captures 18 video portraits of different women in ways that they feel comfortable.

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Photo Credits: @abbetsacksart on Instagram

CULTURE & ARTS

The Infinity Mirrors Exhibit
“This month, experiencing new art inspired me. Art and music really have continued to amaze and inspire me. I had the opportunity to attend Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors exhibit, and I was really taken aback by how enchanting it was to [experience] the pure enchantment of spectacular-ness of being in a room full of mirrors. The experience takes you away for a moment!”
- Jada Moore

Ballet
“When I was stuck in a state of boredom a few weeks ago, I spontaneously bought tickets for a ballet production at an arts center in my city. I hadn’t been to the ballet for a few years, and I was instantly taken aback by [the grace] of the dancers and how the beautiful their costumes are. I left the theater feeling inspired to maintain the poise of the ballerinas, and also, to dance around in my room that night.”
-Kate Hunker

Comfort Food
“My inspiration this month was the comfort food my mom brought me: conchas (a sweet bread pastry) and Jumex mango juice. They're both popular in the Latino community and eating them really made me think about how much I love my culture.”  

- Daisy Acosta

By Kate Hunker

It's A Dangerous Place When There's No Space to Cry





These self-portraits are based on the idea of black women and their lack of space to actually feel, to cry, and to be vulnerable without the world dehumanizing or fetishizing black women. 

I believe these photos are what define me, seeing as they show my presence in spaces where I could not express my feelings because I felt unwanted. Rather, I actually find spaces where people are receptive to my feelings as a black woman and want to understand. These ideals are important not only for myself but also for my growth mentally and emotionally. 

By Regina Zehner

Sunny Sides Turn Red


 Warning: This story contains derogatory terms and frequent examples of racism. While I do not agree with the ideals that are expressed in this story, to leave racism out would be the equivalent of saying that it never happened.

I would like to preface this by mentioning that I was not yet born when the 1992 L.A. Riots took place, and this story is the product of hours of research on the subject. This is also one of many perspectives on the L.A. Riots and I do not intend to speak for anyone who was present at the time it happened.
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When I was eleven, my cousin Bo went to go live in the states. This was in the summer of 1984. I remember how it happened. When he walked into the house that day, I felt my lungs collapsing for some odd reason. Bo was the best thing the world had to offer (aside from Grandma’s hot noodles after a long day), and suddenly, he was gone. My uncle drove him out to the airport that night, and when the sun came up, Bo was somewhere over the big blue ocean next door.

I lived with my grandparents at the time, so it was always early mornings and daily walks to the market. I liked to think that I was on top of the world back then, but I had better years to come. I just didn’t know it yet. I didn’t anticipate them coming so soon, though.

Exactly one year after Bo left, when I was twelve, Grandma sat me down after dinner, and I felt my lungs collapse the same way they did when Bo told us he was leaving. I was 13 at the time. I didn’t get why my grandparents wanted me to leave so badly, but I get it now. They were running out of time, and they didn’t want me to be there when the bombs went off.

I was gone before morning, with a suitcase that only carried the things that mattered. With a heavy heart, I said goodbye to humid Shanghai summers and was greeted by sunny Los Angeles. The first thing Bo told me when he picked me up was that Los Angeles was always sunny. I didn’t believe him back then, but he was right. Bo had lots to say that day, but I don’t think I paid much attention. I remember looking at all the people of Los Angeles out the window of Bo’s car. It was all so colorful. Shanghai was all foggy yellow.

I don’t know what I expected from it all, but the first few months in Los Angeles were the hardest. My broken English gave me unwanted looks in the grocery store. I tried my best, but I don’t think it mattered to the boy who called me “chink” on my first day of school in the states. Frankly, I don’t think it mattered to anyone else either.

We didn’t celebrate Christmas back in Shanghai, but Bo did. He called all his friends over, and for a moment, it seemed like maybe Los Angeles was going to be alright. That’s when Bo gave me a camera. I didn’t understand how much it cost, but I think it drained his wallet. The Christmas of 1985 was my first, and it was one of the best. On New Year's Eve, Bo and I went to go watch the fireworks from the hills. As they went off, I held my breath, put my finger on the shutter and captured the first memory of 1986.

When I met Emily Cheong, we were both 13. She was full of this passion and anger that I could never understand. Back then, I think she could have slapped me in the face, and I would have let her. Not because I liked getting slapped, but because Emily Cheong deserved to slap at least one person in her lifetime. Emily was a worn veteran of all things Los Angeles; she knew every inch like it was the back of her own hand.

We met in February of 1986, in the grocery store four blocks down from Bo’s place. Bo and I always went to the same grocery store. He said it was because it was close, but that day, I figured out we went there because they were people like us. Immigrants. No immigrant wanted to shop at a white person’s store. Emily had leaned across the counter and stared at me for a good minute before deciding we’d be friends. It happened just like that.

I found out that her family was from Korea, she only liked blue candy, she only drank Coke out of the glass bottles, and she only ever hung out with Adelae Brown... that is, until she met me. From then on, it was us three against the world.

I should tell you about Adelae Brown. She was nearly six feet tall, full of rage, and for some reason, she was always in trouble at school. I didn’t figure out why until the day I saw it happen.

Adelae always said she hated the white boys. Emily and I agreed (with the exception of Ryan, Bo’s boyfriend or something). On March 3, 1986, we all developed an even stronger disgust for them. As we walked out of school that day, a group of them surrounded us, and then one of them called Adelae something I can’t repeat. And then she punched him. She caught him off guard with a solid left hook is what she did. She did that. I couldn’t do that. That was the day I found out that Adelae Brown was a force to be reckoned with.

That summer was the most golden of summers. I turned 14 in June. June 18th, to be precise. The smell of popcorn and movie theaters, the sound of Ryan and Bo laughing when Emily burped her way through "Happy Birthday" and the feeling of being okay. The sound of my camera shutter and the way Adelae smiled for the first time. It was a good day, I thought back then. I still think it was the best day.

Bo said we were nearly inseparable, and he was right. Bo and Ryan and Emily and Adelae and I. We were taking on the world. Over the years we grew closer and closer. Those years were good times, sprinkled with a little bit of bittersweet and a few sad moments. There were sad times, but those were the good years.

Grandpa died in the fall of 1987 when I was 15, and shortly after, so did Grandma. Bo and I flew back to Shanghai for the funeral, but whatever pain we felt didn’t last as long as we thought it would. Later, in the spring of 1988, Ryan proposed to Bo. I'd never seen Bo so happy. They spent a long time figuring out what to do, and it was rough for all of us. Ryan lived on the other side of Los Angeles, the side with all the big houses and long driveways.

In the end, Ryan left whatever familiarity he had at home and figured he’d brave the waters of the life that Bo and I lived. It stayed like that for a while. Times were good. They stayed good.

When I turned 17, Ryan bought me a new camera - I think it was a DSLR fresh off the line, and I think his uncle ran a factory somewhere out there. I never figured it out. Ryan had his connections.

The spring of 1991 was when everything started to get worse. I was seventeen going on eighteen. It started in March when we found out what happened at a grocery store a little less than a mile away. A Korean store owner had shot a black girl in the back of the head.

I couldn’t tell you how bad it was when Adelae, Emily, and I hung out after that. Nobody said anything, but it was there. I knew it was there. You could tell from the small things, and you didn’t even need to look too hard. Adelae would always walk behind Emily, and whenever we stepped inside Emily’s store, Adelae would hang outside.

It got bad pretty quick. It all happened over the course of one week. If there was a word that summed it all up . . . it was gook. Adelae called Emily a gook, and that was all it took to tear apart what Bo and Ryan called the three musketeers. I don’t have the heart to tell you the whole thing, but it happened, and I wish it didn’t, but it did.

A little over a year later, I saw what I like to call the near-end-of-the-world. Less than an hour after the Rodney King trial, the Cheong family’s store was vandalized, and I wish “vandalize” was a word that could do what happened justice. When the first brick came flying through the window, Emily found a real reason to really hate Adelae. The Cheongs couldn’t live above their trashed grocery store, so Bo sent Ryan out to get a few sleeping bags and enough food to feed an army. Our home became everyone’s home that night.

Bo wouldn’t let Emily and I leave the house, but before it was morning, he’d leave with Emily’s dad, leaving her mom and Ryan behind to watch us. I was too busy thinking about the next broken window to care about it.

The next day, Bo came back with a bullet in his leg. We watched as Emily’s mom pulled it out with the hands of a doctor who couldn’t go to work. Those were the darkest of days.


But I still remember the bright ones. I still look at the people of Los Angeles with awe. It’s all so colorful. Shanghai was all foggy yellow.

By Cath Lei

Am I Religious Enough?


I had just ended fourth grade when my parents decided to move our family to a new city. As a ten-year-old, the thought of moving across the country took up residence in my mind as a magical, gleaming adventure. The prospect of moving to a new school, making new friends, and fitting in only occupied a space in the very back of my mind, filed under “No Big Deal.” What really mattered was that things were changing. In every Disney Channel movie that I had seen, all of the best stories started with a moving van.

My parents decided to enroll my brother and I into a Catholic school at the beginning of our move, as they had heard from friends and family that the education in my city’s Catholic School Board was better than that of the Public Board. Soon, I was thrust into a school that at first did not seem much different from the one that I had once known, just with more religion classes and a prayer at the beginning of every morning. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the four gospels; I had made a few friends and had managed to find my place within the fifth-grade social hierarchy.

Sixth grade was when things started to shift for me. One of my best friends, Amanda*, was very religious and invited me to attend the Friday night youth group that was held at her church. Not wanting to disappoint her, I agreed to go. At the beginning of the session, everything was fine. The younger kids ran wild through the empty church playing tag, while the older kids sat down in the paisley-printed, overstuffed chairs of the common room and played cards around a small wooden table. I was having a better time than I had expected, and I had even been introduced to some of Amanda’s friends, although I neglected to tell them, or anyone at the church, that I wasn’t a member of the Catholic club.

The youth group coordinator called a meeting to talk about the “topic of the day.” As we all sat in a group (some of us on the rough carpet, some of us in those crazy paisley chairs) and began to talk about God, I instantly felt left out in the same way that I did during religion class at school. Trapped, unknowledgeable, an outsider. At every mention of Jesus, and with every bible reference, I began to draw further into myself, and a feeling of dread began to take form in the pit of my stomach. Would these people still like me if they knew I wasn’t Catholic?  The discussion seemed to drag on for hours, and each time someone spoke and shared their opinion with the group, I felt as though I had nothing to say, nothing to contribute. At the end of the conversation, the youth group coordinator asked us to end with a prayer. Each child in the group made the sign of the cross while I tried my hardest to copy them and hope that I was doing it right. I listened silently, with closed lips pressed hard together, while everyone else mouthed the words to the prayer. In the space of an hour, I had gone from laughing with new friends to wondering if I would ever belong.

After that night, I continued to faithfully attend youth group every Friday. At this point, I hardly went because I wanted to, I went because it felt necessary. To be more clear, I felt like I needed to be Catholic. That first night at youth group had caused a flip in my mind; almost out of the blue, I thought that if I wanted teachers to like me, if I wanted more friends, if I wanted to be perfect, I would have to be Catholic. I remember spending evenings tirelessly researching books of the Bible, trying to memorize names and contents so I could participate in youth group discussions. I prayed most nights to a god who I had never truly known, and would sometimes lay in my room at night crying because I truly thought that if I wasn’t Catholic, I would go to hell. But all of this paled in comparison to the fact that I wholeheartedly believed I would never fit in unless my own religion coincided with that of my classmates. For almost a year, I was hopelessly grasping to become someone that I would never be, to be a part of a religion that deep down, I didn’t really understand, and didn’t actually want to join.

Around the summer before seventh grade, Amanda stopped going to youth group, and eventually, following her lead, I did too. There really is no climactic end to my “obsession” with being Catholic. The more months that were put between me and youth group, the weaker the desire to be anyone but myself became. I stopped asking myself whether I was religious enough, and started asking myself whether or not being religious was something that was right for me. I made my decision fairly quickly. I am not religious, and certainly not Catholic. 

Even though I don’t follow a religion myself, religion is something that continues to fascinate me to this day. I find myself completely astounded at the devotion and traditions that exist across all religions. Although I look back at my grade six views on religion with a touch of sadness, one good thing has come from it. I am still part of my city’s Catholic School Board, but at last, and not without struggle, I am completely content with my lack of religion.

By Kate Hunker

My Weird Body: In Two Parts

Note: This article was composed to honour Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome awareness month in May.




PART I: COLOR

As a kid, there was always a facet of me that was pure speculation for others.

What are those red marks on your arms? How did you get them? Are you okay? Can I write on you? Can I sign my name?

As a teenager, the speculation is still present, but no longer pure. It has turned into a tainted concern.

Whoa, are you okay? Look at your neck. Do you need to check a mirror? Are you allergic to something? Hey . . . you have those red marks on you. What is wrong with you?



Well, there is a lot wrong with me, but my skin is not one for the list. It does not look like it though. It looks like there is something gravely wrong, as though I need medical help. Allow me to defend myself.

I have dermatographia. You have probably never heard of it. It is an extremely rare skin condition, and I am repeatedly told by my doctors that only about 5-10% of the world has it. Plainly, the word means “skin writing.” It is a direct translation from New Latin. “Dermato-” means “skin”, and “graphy” roughly means to create or record something. Hence, the skin condition seems pretty interesting. And it is. 

Mayo Clinic summarizes it best. “When people who have dermatographia lightly scratch their skin,” the page states, “the scratches redden into a raised wheal similar to hives. These marks usually disappear within 30 minutes.”



This means any time I scratch or itch myself, red markings will temporarily imprint themselves on my skin. This also means that, yes, you can write your name on my skin with your fingernails. And yes, it will show up for a while.

On nearly every medical page discussing dermatographia, the authors constantly reassure the reader that the condition is not harmful. From personal experience, however, I attest to that. My body will itch from the inside out if I do not take a certain allergy medication every 24 hours. It is incredibly irritating and hindering to go around without my medication, and I genuinely will be driven insane if I skip it more than once. My medication for dermatographia is a life necessity.




That said, dermatographia has always been a cool party trick of mine. When I explain my condition to people, everyone goes around autographing my body with their fingernails and uninked pens, watching red signatures arise from my skin. It is really neat. I just wonder what will happen if I ever get a tattoo.

PART II: SHAPE

Speaking of party tricks, here is a more dangerous one I tend to toss around.




I know, I know. How can it even be humanly possible for skin to stretch like that? Well, this answer will have a bit more simplification than the previous one.

I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). There are several different types of EDS, but I have the hypermobility type, currently stylized as hEDS.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the following are some of the major clinical characteristics: soft and mildly hyperextensible skin, joint instability, bone density, chronic pain, cardiovascular problems, and psychiatric problems.

The above listed are the characteristics I fall under, but feel free to check out this page to learn even more of the diagnostic criteria. 



In order to be diagnosed with hEDS, I had to partake in a quick diagnostic evaluation system known as the Beighton scale. Below are a few images depicting some requirements I had to fulfill to fit under the criterion for hEDS.




Luckily, I can say I have the least severe of the EDS types, and I am very grateful for that. But no matter which type one may fall under, there are a lot of genetic side effects that stem from the syndrome.

EDS acts as the primary culprit of my psychological troubles, difficulty exercising, joint and bone problems, as well as yet another party trick to show off at the flick of a wrist-- literally.



A lot of different people struggle with a lot of different physical tribulations on the daily, no matter how obscure or well-known the physicalities may be. Often, these physical trials result in negative psychological repercussions for the person diagnosed. It is out of our control.

I consider myself lucky to grapple with the more mild conditions out there (albeit, I have a lot of them. This is not the half of it!). Yet still, my dermatographia and hEDS require me to pay extra careful attention to my body and its needs, as these little known “party tricks” cause me to spiral on the daily.


I encourage you to take that extra step in physically and mentally taking care of the people around you. You do not know what lifelong struggles they fight every day, and how hard it may have even been to get out of bed in the morning. Life is hard enough as it is, so it is worth making the day worthwhile for everyone you meet. 



By Danielle Leard