Two weeks after my second dose of vaccine, my then ten-month-old baby and I retreated to Incheon, my hometown in South Korea, reluctantly leaving my husband in London. Just that day, the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast released an episode about the Delta variant catastrophe in India. Crouching on the edge of the aisle seat on a plane with one hand tightly on the torso of the sleeping baby, I wrote in my Notes app, breathing hard in a mask: when will the pandemic be a word from the past?
The question remains in empty schools and offices; cafes and restaurants where people immediately put on a mask after a quick bite and sip, exchanging glances of noonchi; one’s studio apartment in the city that no one visits. There’s tension. Distance and loneliness. Lethargy. And the numbness that even keeps us from feeling all those. Lately, we are too occupied to consider the myriads of our inner realm while paying full attention to a few exteriors of our body since the covid outbreak: hands, noses and talking mouths.
In this issue, I wanted to provide a chance to think about a topic that is exceptionally timely yet has been missed a while: mental health. Team Nabillera has introduced poems, short stories, and a webtoon to readers for the first time. Things may have lifted a little since the covid outbreak, but the compulsion for boundaries is so hard-wired in our brain it leaves all too little room to care what we are genuinely living for; we don’t live for eternity. We live for happiness, seeking significance in relationship, whether it is with others or with one’s self.
Indeed, mental health can’t be discussed without relationships. In the last scene of Jang Hee-won’s short story “At the Beginning of the Blizzard”, which we have featured in this issue, the narrator/protagonist ‘I’ is deeply saddened by her close friend Yeojeong’s death. There was nothing she could do when a sudden storm hit Yeojeong’s car, but guilt persists in the narrator’s mind. The narrator suffers from the question of ‘what if’, thinking that she should have joined Yeojeong’s spontaneous road trip. In her imagination, she sees a vision as follows: “I would recline the seat … massage my calves, and ask Yeojeong, “Aren’t you tired from walking too much?” and would raise my head to look at her face.”
The face is a recurring motif in the other writings in this issue. Park Joon, the poet and essayist, sees his loved one–presumably deceased– in dreams. It’s not always that he can see their face because their back is often “turned, or stand-alone in a distant field,” but sometimes, if lucky, the two “face each other and even have a conversation.” Then he asks without getting an answer: ”How’s life? How’s death?” The scenes made me consider the definition of loss, which seems to have changed throughout the pandemic.
There is a piece featured in a more positive, comprehensive tone. The Webtoonist Seobam diagnoses contemporary South Korean society where the old and the new are in constant conflict. Her observation on women’s rights and relationships–often with self or close people such as family– tells us how vulnerability can turn into power to nourish one’s self-identity. Readers who want to know about mental health in the specific context of South Korea would enjoy her drawings.
This issue would not have been able to be out without the invaluable work of the contributors. Taking over the magazine after the former Editor-in-Chief Suhyun Ahn, who consolidated Nabillera from scratch, I have learned the beauty of collaboration. I thank everyone who was always there when I faced small and big hurdles. Together, we made it.
Summer 2021’s Authors
Ahn Joo Cheol, Im Sol-A, Jang Hee Won, Kim Hee Joon, Lee Seo Hyun (SeoBam), Park Joon, Song Ji Hyun
Summer 2021’s Contributors
Content Adviser and Web Design
Suhyun J. Ahn
*All texts and images were used with permission or brought from the Creative Commons.