“It was like descending from a utopia to…” I tried to explain my first impression of New Haven to my dinner companion, but I paused to think of the right word. “A dystopia!” he quipped. “No hard feelings. You are allowed to say that here.”
I laughed. But the word was not dystopia. It was too strong a word for me, while dystopia was still the everyday, lived experience of too many people. The word I was searching for was cold. The constant need to shield oneself with unflattering layers of wool, the timidity of social conventions alien to your own, the disillusionment from what I had expected this place to be: a clean slate from the cultural and personal baggage which burdened me.
On my first days here, I resorted to musicals for solace. I chanced upon Heathers, the story of an overachieving high school senior who steps by accident into the sensational world of the three Heathers. The musical owes its popularity, I think, to its brutal honesty about the dark corners of adolescence. It opens hard discussions about hierarchy, sexuality, and suicide. But in the musical’s surreal representation of the Heathers’ world, I find the cold and hard reality that the transience of today’s visual media, though having crawled into every small interval of our life, doesn’t have the patience to capture.
We have become addicted to satiating our taste buds with new and unusual flavors that modern society has to offer, yet in the meantime, we have also become desensitized to the little and metaphorical twists and turns of life. We have become cold, and have gotten used to feeling cold. Why wouldn’t we? Cold is our most primitive sensation, written into us when we were first exposed to it with bare, just-born skin. As we grow up, that vulnerability remains in us and manifests itself when we feel helpless, when we are alone, or when our emotions wrestle with our reason, unconvinced that spring will come. When that coldness begins to encroach upon our happiest memories, life can become a convoluted mystery.
We don’t often get to solve that mystery. It is that “thing with feathers, That perches in the soul—and sings the tune without the words—and never stops—at all,” as Emily Dickinson put it. We are occupied by our academic and social obligations during the day, illusioned and disillusioned. But at night, we still have the living spirits from centuries of literature, art, music, and film—and our loved ones—to talk about that mystery with us, if we so choose. (It is also fun to think about those dead authors of your readings, when you realize they were probably equally confused, could find no satisfying answers from their forebears, so ended up writing treatises of their own.) Drenched in the cold November rain, I try to hold the candle of those treasured moments of human experience, which gives me light and warmth. Life: perhaps it is possible to love you completely without complete understanding, after all.
“We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors…
this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.”
From the third movement of Vivaldi’s Winter