058. Wasting Energy

tldr: the effects of existence


I wonder what people think about when they picture their childhood. I can’t remember really having one. Not much of a social life, not much of a personal one either. I woke up, went to school, worked in the library during lunch and recess, went home, and did it again.

I know I had interests. I read through Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Magic Tree House (in order!). I watched shows I arguably shouldn’t have at that age, like House M.D., and Criminal Minds. I had a personality– I’m certain of it. But when I think back to that age, that time between kindergarten and high school, I just feel like I was floating. I existed, for no one but myself, and that was enough.

I was a shadow. I never asked for much; I didn’t feel the need to. My shoes wore down until they were in tatters, and I wore the same hand-me-down clothing for years on end (though granted, I didn’t hit a true growth spurt until high school). I remember these bits and pieces, these snapshots of a life that has led to Me, but I can’t remember what I was like.

I can’t even look at photos to jog my memory. I hated my photo being taken, and I hated my inability to smile for photos, and I hated this feeling of hate for myself. So I refused to be photographed, and I became a shadow. Something there, certainly present most of the time, but deformed. Unrecognizable. Not even to myself, then and now.

I wonder if this is a result of being transgender, neurodivergent, or low income.

Probably some mixture of the three, like most parts of my life. But if I had to guess, I’d bet that being trans played the largest role in this experience. Because when I came out as gender queer, I started seeing myself for the first time. It was like playing a video game where you customize your character, and now I felt like I had the power to control myself. Who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do. Except, when I think back to this massive sense of change, I don’t feel like any major outward change really occurred.

In Spring 2020, I wrote the following on my experience as a trans person:

It seemed like my parents were super confused when I came out– not because they didn’t "see it coming"– but rather because much didn't change for me? Because at the point I came out, I already found clothes that made me feel comfortable, and I dyed my hair pink, and I painted my nails. They were confused that one of the biggest aspects of coming out for me was a change in name and pronouns as opposed to clothing and cosmetics. I did what I wanted.

So like, half of my (semi-)confidence comes from knowing that I've found what I personally like.
-Paige, 4/16/2020

Nothing major changed outwardly, at least not for a while until my hair grew out and I started on HRT. But inwardly, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I like.

So much so, that I started identifying as asexual. I was really confused as to whether the qualities in other people that I found appealing were actually attractive to me, or if I just wanted to have that quality. It’s the classic trans saying “I don’t know if I want to be them or be with them.” So I decided not to ‘waste’ the energy on trying to figure out this distinction, and instead used the energy on trying to understand who I was, or at the very least, who I wanted to be.

But what power do I actually have over my identity? What aspects of my life are actually within my control? Especially when so many of those aspects are affected by some of the most random of variables: other people.


There is control in being reserved, but there is also control in trying to affect how others perceive you. The latter requires more effort to some extent, but this was an effort I wanted to put into myself and my self image after I came out.

I wanted to be confident. The sort of person who seems to know who they are and what they stand for. The type of person who sees something wrong and can say so, and the type of person to say when there is something they like. It has always been (mildly) easy for me to call out people for their bullshit, but if this is the only type of interaction you have with people it is easy to be perceived as negative. And it’s even easier to feel negative. I wanted to change this, and I remember particularly liking this set of dialogue from The Magicians:

“I like your sweater.
“Are you saying that to be cruel?”
“No. I like your sweater. I saw no reason not to share.”

-The Magicians, Season 1 Episode 11: Remedial Battle Magic

So, I started complimenting people I saw in my day-to-day. “I like your shoes” and “your hair is really cool.” After all, why not walk around giving compliments to people with aesthetics you like. I think it made those people mildly happier, if perhaps for a short amount of time, and it made *me* feel happier.

But I wonder if it comes off as reactionary.
I hate when people view me as lacking self control.

I liked being reserved because it made me seem mature. I wanted people to treat me as an adult, and being constantly quiet does a pretty fucking good job of achieving that. Nothing says having the maturity of an adult better than having the loneliness of one. But those few moments I broke– the times when my anger or sadness seeped through and I became seen as something akin to a human– the more I was treated like a child. What a terrible way for a child to be treated.

So I still practice self control. On the things I feel strongly about, I speak out. I will tell other undergraduates they are being assholes talking about “how easy calculus is” or “how they are taking 20 classes no problem”. And I will equally tell people when I think they are being really good friends, or when I’m really proud of the things they’ve achieved.

But I still hold back.

Because not every feeling needs to be shared, and not every thought that crosses my mind deserves to be placed on a pedestal of social media. Especially when they are thoughts or feelings on things that are arguably not my business but someone else’s. So what do I do? I hand over control to that person.

I say something along the lines of “Do you want someone to listen or someone to help problem solve, because I can do either but I want to know how best to support you.” Or, if I can’t clearly help their situation, I say “I don’t know if I can help you figure out what you’re going through, but I’m here if you’d like me to be.” 

This part of me, perhaps, is more neurodivergent. The inability to tell how best to help someone, and the anxiety over helping them wrong. But I know that I hate when people try to support me in their way when sometimes this does more harm than good. I know that I would like the control over how others help me, so I give my friends that choice of how they’d like to be treated.

I think this gives them some more control. But it inherently takes away some of the control from myself. (Maybe there’s a Conservation of Control Law like Conservation of Energy.) In cases like the above, when it isn’t important for me to be in control, that is power I am more than willing to give up. But sometimes, it is arguably important for me to have some self preservation, and I don’t know where to strike that balance.


Sometime in high school, a classmate of mine was talking to a close friend. The classmate was worrying about whether or not I liked her, to which my friend responded “Not in a rude way, but Paige doesn’t think about you.”

I heard this story years after the fact, and frankly, I think it’s accurate. Even now it feels odd to think that this classmate worried about what I thought about them. Or, if they were worried, why wouldn’t they have just told me? I would’ve happily told her I didn’t find her unpleasant at all. And Then I would be cognizant of the fact that she was worried and I could start putting in some nontrivial amount of effort to help ease her uncertainty of this fact. But that’s not what happened. I wasn’t thinking about her, and up until I heard this story, I hadn’t been either.

I spend a lot of time anxious over situations like this. Ones where my actions have an impact I can’t control or even begin to comprehend/see. What would I do differently if I knew? Would anything change? Nothing’s changed since I found out, so it seems like the end result was inevitable. Except my reality has changed. Now I’m thinking about her. Now I’m thinking about the effects that seemingly inconsequential actions have. Especially when it comes to concepts I struggle the most with: emotions and inevitability.

I stopped talking to my grandparents a few years ago. They just, didn’t see that ‘love’ for me is different than it is for them. They couldn’t accept that, and I could accept that they couldn’t, so I stopped talking to them.

My type of love is like a sappy Tumblr post. It’s in someone knowing your exact coffee order. It’s telling someone to be safe on their drive home, insisting you text them when you get to your destination. It’s in knowing when someone wants to be alone, and knowing when they don’t– even if they don’t tell you.

Most importantly, to me, love is not deterministic. It isn’t inherited through the mere existence of common genetics. In fact, it’s more common, I think, for love to spring up in friendships and people you feel like you can depend on. Not because you’re related to them, but because they’re there for you.

And my grandparents weren’t. And they couldn’t see that. And I had my own little disconnected graph of friends back home who gave me my own family tree of support and acceptance and love.

So when my grandma called last year, insisting that I tell her why I didn’t talk to her anymore, I didn’t know what to do. At the time it felt like there were two options. Either tell her, or don’t. I didn’t think it would affect me any more than that– in the end I would still not be talking to her. To me, it felt inconsequential. But I didn’t know what effect the truth would have on her. Either I tell her, she feels sad, and dies, or I don’t tell her, she feels sad, and dies. So which is the better option when in the end it doesn’t seem to matter?

I spent a while thinking about this (about the length of time it takes one to eat dinner at New Vassar), and then I said fuck it. I called her to tell her the truth.

Yes, telling her felt inconsequential to me, but thinking and debating about how she would feel as a result of telling her didn’t. This stress was real, and present, and so I called her. It was self preservation.

She wanted the truth.
So I told her.
And she still couldn’t see it.

I laid it out before her. I told her the various ways she had hurt me, and tried to explain how my brain works differently than hers. The more I talked to her the more angry I felt, and the more memories I had hidden away popped up. And her response, after I told her everything?

“So do you not want me to be your grandma?”
I hung up.
She couldn’t see me for who I am. And I was going to stop trying to help her see me.

It was inconsequential. It was self preservation. But what if, it wasn’t?

In the end, I told myself it didn’t matter. But that day, I felt a part of my identity start to crumble a bit more. A pillar of my identity just becoming that much more structurally unsound: my ethnicity. I’m half Japanese on that grandparent’s side and I rejected them. I chose to stop accepting their bullshit, and move on. I had already done the same a few years prior with my noncustodial parent. But with nearly no contact with anyone on that side of the family, do I really belong? I’m half Japanese but without the massive line of cousins and loved ones to send and receive cards for. Now, that part of me feels empty. I’m half of a person. I hope this is better for my mental health, but I worry that parts of myself will just keep breaking off like this. Until I’m nothing. Until, I’m a shadow. Deformed. Unrecognizable.

I told myself there were two roads before me (insert Robert Frost quote here and vague interpretation). I told myself that at the end of the day I would still end up in the same place: where the sidewalk ends. So I chose not to make the decision. I gave her the choice. Which is funny. I decided not to choose. But I was talking to someone the other day, and they posed the following hypothetical to me:

Them: Suppose I asked you to leave me alone and give me some time to read my book. How would you feel?

Me: I would feel mildly sad, but I would let you get on with your reading and leave.

Them: How would you interpret my request?

Me: I would think you were angry or frustrated with me to some extent, but it doesn’t matter. In the end you would be reading, and in the end I would be leaving, and life would keep moving forward ultimately unchanged. As my friend said, "Not to be rude, but Paige doesn't think about you."

Them: I don’t think that’s true.

Me: How so?

Them: I think you feeling my potential frustration or anger would have some effect. It might be something that weighs on your mind, or that you worry about the next time you see me. But I cautiously and optimistically hope that how I feel, and how you interpret other people’s feelings, has some effect. I hope that my feelings have some weight.

Me: Oh. Hmm.

People have a profound impact on our lives. Their existence, or lack thereof, in your life, means something. And sure, if I skip far enough ahead in this story that is my life, it might not matter. My job will be to be dead and nothing more. But, for the shortest amount of time, I believe people’s finite existence means something. At least it should.

But what if their existence means something bad or hurtful in your life? What does one do then? For me, the common decision has been to let them fuck right off into their own little corner of the universe and to move on with my life. Is this self preservation? Cutting people off like this? Telling myself that the relationship would end up here one way or the other? Is it a way of giving myself back some of the power in a relationship where I feel so powerless?

That’s what it is.
My grandma made me feel helpless.

She made me feel like I had no control over the love I choose to accept, and the love I choose to give. She had this power over me, but I had the self control to move on. Neither seems to be the perfect option, but humans are imperfect. And I don’t want to feel helpless in my own life. So maybe I was choosing to jump to the worst possible conclusion and acted rashly, but in this case, I think I was taking care of myself and taking some control back.

Self. Control. Preservation.

I don’t think in the end I would’ve done anything different. Maybe that’s just something I’m telling myself though. I don’t know. I at least choose to believe that in the end I wouldn’t have done anything different.

And that’s control.

With this control, however, comes the responsibility to be reflective. People in powerful positions need to be able to admit their own faults. People with power don’t (or shouldn’t) have the privilege of simply just existing for themselves when their power affects others. If it didn’t, I don’t think they would truly be powerful.

And if, after writing this entire blog post, I felt like I had mistreated my grandma, or the numerous other people that come to mind when I think about this topic, I would reach back out to them right now and admit to my mistake. But I don’t think I was in the wrong.

I just needed some time to think through this. To think through the effects of existence.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

3 thoughts on “058. Wasting Energy

  1. I wonder if this is a result of being transgender, neurodivergent, or low income. » lol the first four paragraphs describe my childhood as well despite me being not trans, probably neurotypical, and of middle class 😛 (not trying to imply that what you wrote was incorrect; i just thought this was funny)

    So when my grandma called last year, insisting that I tell her why I didn’t talk to her anymore » oof yeah. i have pretty bad relationships with most of my extended family but i think i have been fortunate that there is a large language gap so i have been able to avoid this kind of confrontation. it sounds rough though 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol I’m sure there’s lots of reasons to feel like this in your childhood, not the least of which being that it was in fact nearly 15 years ago, which is a super weird feeling. I can’t even remember what I did in the past 24 hrs. I think there’s a lot of funny things like this with identity. I think to some extent a lot of people attribute qualities in their life to the parts of their identity they most relate with, tho it’s interesting to hear people of different backgrounds with the same exact experience. Do you think there’s a reason the first four paragraphs reflect your childhood, if you don’t mind me asking?

      It was kind of rough. If anything it was interesting to think about in regards to how others affect my self identity. For instance, there’s a common transphobic belief/saying that “if it’s your Actual identity, then you shouldn’t mind that I’m being transphobic, it won’t change your identity”. And yet, people using the wrong pronouns for you Feels bad. Idk. It’s like, self identity is for The Self, but others have such a huge role in that. It’s interesting to see that play out and to think through what these concepts might truly be getting at.


      1. Do you think there’s a reason the first four paragraphs reflect your childhood » it has been too long so i honestly have no idea why lol. my best guess is something along the lines of a) general shyness b) having been raised to very aggressively save $ and avoid non-essentials

        Liked by 1 person

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