2019 was a year of a lot of pain, hope, and transition for me. My time on Medium has been an anchor during this time, and increasingly, I’ve found myself drawn towards vulnerable and personal testimonials, stories unique to a single person, that no one else could have written. While some value universality, I value authenticity most, and in a way I can’t describe too well, these three stories from some of my most respected writers on Medium capture the essence of the writer I’m trying to become, of the stories that resonate the most with me.
All three of these articles of 2019, I believe, are underappreciated for their boldness, vulnerability, and quality. The three of my own are also not my most popular ones, but they’re the ones I felt the proudest of and got the most out of writing. As such, I hope my voice here will give more attention to these necessary reads:
Kristi Keller — “24 hours with a fugitive”
Kristi opens up this painful article beautifully, not revealing who “he” is right away. It is a story of mental illness, addiction, and incarceration, but it is also one of family, and the bonds that tie us to love unconditionally no matter the circumstances.
In the article, Kristi reveals that the person at the heart of the article was her son, when she writes that “he called to wish me a happy mother’s day.” She goes on to express her concern that he was okay, that he was clean, that he was safe. Two weeks missing, her son called to ask Kristi if he could sleep at her place, and she obliged. Even though he had a federal warrant for his arrest, and was 12 hours away, she obliged.
She reveals that her son was in the process of detoxing, and during his two weeks as a fugitive, he hadn’t been clean.
“The system doesn’t provide any kind of comfort or care during drug detox,” Kristi writes. “They just offer a blank jail cell and hope for the best.”
She goes on to talk about her son’s paranoia at conspiracy theories of everything in sight. With a tone of pain and love simultaneously, Kristi brilliantly shares some of her most painful life experiences as a plea for reform for the criminal justice system’s handling of mental illness and addiction. Of her son, she says these lines that stay with me:
“The only thing I can ever do is let him know that he’s loved in spite of his life choices.”
Nikki Kay — “I Denied My Teenage Pregnancy”
At the time, I was almost certain that Nikki’s story of her 14-year-old teenage pregnancy would make it big. It was so honest, so strong, and so difficult to be vulnerable and lay out on the page that I thought it was a surefire shot to be selected for a Humans Parts weekend writing prompt. Well, Medium certainly does work in mysterious ways, but that didn’t change my opinion of Nikki’s piece.
She starts off the article talking about an experience puking in the driveway as the sign that her mother knew she was pregnant, and the immediate fears and challenges of dealing with her mother and family with the knowledge. For Nikki, teenage pregnancy was something that couldn’t possibly happen, as she was one of the smartest kids in her freshman class, and had an adamant goal to leave her constraining town:
“I would be one of the lucky ones.
Having a baby would ruin all that.
I couldn’t be pregnant.”
Nikki goes on to talk about the shame that accompanied not feeling like she could talk about her situation to anyone — especially her parents. “And so I dealt with it by not dealing with it,” She wrote. A clearly tough article to write, I will just share one of the most valuable lessons for herself as a parent:
“What I can do, though, as a parent to two little girls and a mentor for many more, is to be sure my house is a place where these little girls can speak, even when it feels like the hardest thing they’ll ever do.”
Erik Brown — “How Do You Fit 30 Years In A Moment?”
I’m a big fan of Erik’s work and his ability to take valuable life lessons away from an abundant knowledge of history. This article, however, was a lot more personal. It opens immediately with the experience of the death of his father. A nurse called him downstairs and Erik found his father staring into space, and in that moment, when the nurse asked if he had anything to say to his father, he had nothing to say.
Erik goes on to elaborate on his relationship with his father. The two of them never communicated well, and his father would often devote most of his time to work. Even as they got older, Erik says that “our means of conversation were often silence,” even long drives together. As he got older, he conjectures about whether his skill at being comfortable with silence makes people think he is a good listener.
Once he got older, his father wanted him to be a full employee at the business, but Erik chose to go to college, much to his father’s dismay.
“I would once tell him that I wouldn’t want to be like him. The silence would now be filled with a resentment on both our ends,” Erik wrote. Once the business started really struggling, Erik found that his disdain for working at the business grew exponentially. The two of them would get into screaming matches.
The last third of the article goes into the now part of the story, and the words he would have had for his father. Erik notes that his father was right about a lot of things, and despite his efforts to be different, he ended up very much the same as him.
I can tell how hard it was for Erik to write this article about his father and the moment where he had nothing but silence to say to his dying father. With a tinge of regret, Erik reflects on that moment and their overall relationship for a must-read to any Medium reader.
As for myself, I reflect on 2019 and my own writing looking back on how much I was able to grow. I started out the year probably with the same voice I had, but was more passive and restrictive in what I chose to write about. I was scared to take on anything controversial. I was scared to take on anything too ambitious and avoided a lot of hard topics for pieces I knew I wouldn’t get harsh feedback for and everyone would agree with.
That isn’t a bad thing because if you had been in my position and lived my life the past two years, you would have known that was just where I was. Some of these were rich, powerful, and very emotional pieces. I have always taken heed of the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald that, to this day, I keep as my phone background and e-mail signature quote:
“Sometimes, being kind is more important than to be right. Many times what people need is not a brilliant mind that speaks but a special heart that listens.”
I still endeavor to be the special heart that listens, and my experiences talking with friends and conversing about our struggles, to the ones working on a Helpline or Crisis Text Line, it is still a priority for me to speak less and listen more, to be kind rather than to be right.
It isn’t that I have less of a filter now and “I could care less of what anyone thinks of me,” but I grew emboldened by a change of environment and a strengthening of my faith to use my voice in service of conversations that I felt weren’t being had and needed to be had.
2019 was the hardest year of my life, by far. I was tried in the most excruciating emotional and social circumstances I could have ever imagined. There were days I was so beaten and downtrodden that I felt like Lee Chandler in “Manchester by the Sea,” like there was no hope and I wouldn’t make it to the end. But God and a lot of great people saved me and I come to the end of the year nothing but gratitude at how lucky and fortunate I’ve been. Because of the challenges I’ve been through, I feel like God has strengthened me and my faith to deal with anything.
Here were three of those articles that were hard and personal to write, where I hesitated to even pitch the article or press the “publish” button. These were not my biggest money-earners. I pour my heart and soul into all my articles and it was hard to only choose three, but here were three that jumped out to me:
“I’m Complicit In Racism Against Asians”
I’m Complicit In Racism Against Asians
Because divisions within the Asian community are so much more consuming
This was the first article where I seriously tackled my identity as an Asian-American and some of the racist jokes and cultural issues that Asians and Asian-Americans face. I talk about how racial slurs and comments about Asians don’t really bother me, and why, and delve into some of my thoughts on the complexities behind internalized racism, complicity, and divisions among minorities.
Again, it was the first time I seriously tackled my relationship with race. I wouldn’t have written this article at any earlier point of my life, noting and disclaiming my own biases, despite being a product of ultra-woke liberal university culture. I believe this article lacked a little focus because of its raw and personal nature, but it’s one of my proudest of 2019.
“I’m complicit in racism against Asians because I believe that change has to come from within the community, not from outsiders who haven’t experienced what it’s like in our neck of the woods,” I wrote. “Yes, the question of where are you really from still stings a little but, but pales in comparison to the challenges and questions we face within our community on a daily basis.”
“There’s Always Something Behind An Addiction”
I wrote about addiction a lot prior, with each article a stepping stone to this one. This one was the most personal, and it led me to acknowledge that I’m an addict, and I will always be an addict, because some wounds in my family and in my life are just too deep to fix right now.
I tackle my own and my family’s relationship to addiction in this article, and examine addiction as a symptom rather than cause of deeper problems in a lot of anecdotal cases of myself and people I know. Sometimes, addictions are distractions “from a deeply-rooted, traumatic issue, until they become so out of control that they’re the solution.” In the article, I urge people to find the “why” behind any addictions they face, and not just put a metaphorical band-aid over something that needs surgery.
“There Is Humor In Everything, Even Life’s Darkest Moments”
There Is Humor In Everything, Even Life’s Darkest Moments
The day before I took my MCAT, I chose to not study (as is smart) and just watch movies and catch up on all the movies…
This was my favorite article that I wrote in 2019 — I don’t know why, but the articles I mentioned before taught me to have hope in life’s darkest moments but there’s also humor in life’s darkest moments. There’s no situation that’s so bad that you can’t laugh about it — and you might want to laugh precisely because a situation is so bad.
I then do some research and explore link between tragedy and comedy. Of course, we don’t choose suffering as their primary route laughter, but humor is sometimes out best course of hope.
That’s a wrap to 2019. It was a year with the full gamut of experiences and emotions, intensified to a very large degree. 2020 will build on it.
This article was written in response to Top 3’s New Year writing prompt:
What are the top 3 stories YOU’VE PUBLISHED this year, and your top 3 posted by OTHER WRITERS? If you haven’t published on Medium, then feel free to just post your top 3 for other writers!