tldr: subtle, yet undeniable
Another Tech article (with commentary at the end)!
Some words make me smile at how perfectly they capture the essence of the world in a single breath. Crisp. The crisp air makes every breath feel sharp and intense.
It isn’t windy — wind refuses to be disregarded. To be ignored. Crisp air is still, but it pushes back. It forces you to solemnly remember Newton’s Laws of Motion as you move about the world and only settles when you’re at rest. This air stays with you; you can almost feel the tension release from your skin when you go back indoors. To some extent, it’s relieving to feel something more than the numbness of the cold. Something more than the absence of feeling. But with this relief comes the world as it is: no filters, no anesthesia. The crispness of your life, and the tension that comes with it.
Last year was the first time I truly felt this. I was staying in New York with friends and embraced this sort of weather. I became semi-known as the person who doesn’t get cold, like an eighth-grade boy who woefully wishes to prove his masculinity, wearing gym shorts and a tank top in 30-degree weather and swearing that he isn’t cold. But the difference is that I get cold. I just don’t feel it.
Crisp air makes my skin feel endless, unable to tell where my body ends and harsh reality begins. All I can notice are my fingertips. Which seems weird. When you’re cold, your body moves blood away from your extremities to conserve heat. You would think that, given this is the case, I would notice my heart beating, or my lungs taking in the air. But I don’t.
All I can notice are my fingertips.
Normally, I feel everything.
The pain of my backpack pressing down on my shoulders, and the pain of knowing that I chose this bag because it was smaller. The sharp jab of “Who takes the elevator to go to the second floor?” The aching of joints with the slightest of movements, and my legs swinging clumsily forward as I move about.
I escape some of these feelings with music — music that has the energy I don’t. This way, walking turns into a sort of dance, stumbling through the motions. Sheila Black said it best in her poem “What You Mourn”:
the body, which made walking difficult
and running practically impossible,
except as a kind of dance, a sideways looping
like someone about to fall
I am in pain; I feel everything.
Normally, I carry this pain with me everywhere I go. But with the crisp air, I feel refreshingly numb. Every gasp of air breathes life into my lungs, and every step is filled with purpose. And I know, when I go inside, it’ll be over; the facade will drop and I will be reminded of my painful mortality. But this is one feeling that I can choose to ignore.
For the briefest moment in time, I will be here. Alone with my thoughts, and my fingertips, and a smile slowly forming as I am reminded how perfectly some words capture the essence of the world with a single intense breath.
This piece (found here) also had art done by one Gloria Lin, which I really like.
This article originally appeared in The Tech, issue 30 volume 141. It may be freely distributed electronically as long as it includes this notice but cannot be reprinted without the express written permission of The Tech. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for additional details.
I gave a monologue of this article at The MIT Monologues. The MIT Monologues, originally The Vagina Monologues, is a performance done every year by MIT affiliates on gender, gender expression, sex, etc (generally by non cisgender men). The Vagina Monologues used to have pieces from the famous book of the same name as well as some student work on the topic of gender (specifically non-men) and it’s role in our lives. Now, it is purely student written contributions from over the years. I am proud to say that I wrote the piece I gave in this year’s performance.
After one of the few group rehearsals, a friend messaged me on Discord, asking how the piece was related to gender.
I do have an honest response to this, but I first want to air some frustration with this question. I spent a lot of time debating whether I should join the Monologues. I liked the work they were doing and wanted to contribute some of my experiences as well as a transgender woman. In fact, I spent the first few months staring at a document that failed to thrive trying to put into words my resentment at the MIT math department for being so equally welcoming and discomforting. I didn’t want to give a speech about being transgender, at least not last year. But I felt like I had to. How else could I join otherwise? What other experiences did I have to share on the basis of gender and body expression?
After trying so long to write this piece I didn’t want to give, didn’t want to have to give just to be a part of the Monologues, I realized that I didn’t have to. There are a lot of experiences that intersect with gender and bodies and other ideas in the show. So, one night at Next House, I grabbed my laptop, sat outside in the freezing weather, and wrote what came to mind. And thirty minutes later (plus some major editing), I had ‘Crisp’.
That being said, I did try and answer her question:
How does it relate to sex/gender?
It is generally getter to assume someone is coming from a genuine and kind place when approaching questions like this, especially as a trans person.
Sometimes, I hate my skin. It can feel like my body is trapping me. The stretch marks on every crease, the pain in every muscle. I found that I didn’t always feel this way though. “Crisp air makes my skin feel endless, unable to tell where my body ends and harsh reality begins.” I don’t want to feel nothing. I still feel connected to myself– to “my fingertips”. But it is still freeing to, for the 10-15 minutes between overheated MIT facilities, feel everything yet feel nothing.
Growing up with pain, I associated a lot of it with masculinity. It would hardly ever get cold in Fresno, but even I knew the boys who refused to wear anything but gym shorts and tank tops past Thanksgiving. They always seemed so proud of themselves.
I didn’t really feel cold then either. I also felt really good about myself, in a similar way to the boys. But this was different; I felt less pain. I felt numb. I felt good. This wasn’t a normal reaction, as far as I can tell. At the very least this wasn’t like these boys liked the cold. But I didn’t want to be like them. So, I would put on my headphones, and block the world out.
In its own way, music too is like the cold. Every step can feel right and in time. I think this is why I like dancing and school so much. There is a structure. There is a path to take and if you’re on it– if you’re really on the path– most of the time you will know. I like feeling that certainty when I can find it. But my disability made it really hard to find this certainty.
In eighth grade, I went on independent study. Before I chose to do so, I was spending nearly every other day at home. I couldn’t manage my pain. But I could manage my work. Which is why, when I essentially begged for accommodations, the school denied it. Turns out, you can’t be disabled if you have good grades. So, I left, which is probably one of the most painful experiences I have ever had. And yet, in the same way, just as freeing.
These concepts: disability, gender, school, and music, all share some commonalities in a way I found interesting to try and put down onto paper. It made me feel more comfortable with the confusing duality of the thoughts.
Being transgender made me really uncomfortable and confused about my perception and expression of pain. It is a subtle point. One that I didn’t really drive home in the article because I didn’t need to. It was there, for me. And that was enough, until I felt like I needed to explain it to someone.
Now, I feel like I get to share it with you all. I do like this aspect of the piece. In some ways, I do wish I had made it a bit more clear. But weave together these already difficult thoughts can be really difficult to make cohesive in a way that feels complete. This is why the piece ‘Giant’ jumps around time so much. In fact, ‘Giant‘ is an evolved version of the monologue I initially tried to write.
I hope next year I can give another monologue about being transgender. I don’t quite know what I would talk about though. Maybe I would present ‘Giant’, but who’s to say. I no longer feel like I need to have a monologue on being transgender to be a part of the MIT Monologues. I get to.
Side note: likely one more Tech article I will post in the next 24 hours, and then to some fully new content! It has been fun posting regularly again, even if some of it is reused.
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