In Search of Softness

By Claire Larson

Photograph by Nina Tanujaya

Fall 2021 / Winter 202 Issue

Being heavy-handed is a trait I’ve carried with me since the first grade. While learning print and cursive, I did my best to stay inside the lines of the practice sheets and made sure the tops of my lowercase letters did not break the blue dotted dividing line. The pulpy practice paper that smelled of wood and was as soft as a crepe, would tear as I wrote and erased. The lead from my pencil was always extra dark, it smeared on the page from my hand, dragging as I wrote. My grip was too hard then, and still is with every task I perform. Whisking, tracing, brushing, scratching. Objects like toothbrushes and cutting boards become casualties by my own hands. When I write now, voices reverberate from my memory of teachers instructing me to lighten my touch, reminding me the paper never did anything wrong. Take the pressure off. Softer.

In searching for softness I’ve trained my eye to catch it in the wild. I see it in the way hands can rest on a tabletop or dangle freely from a bedside while someone sleeps. I find it in fields where tall wheat glows in the sunshine, rolling in waves as the air breathes it to life. It is found in the way people in love create their own atmosphere, leaning their bodies towards each other while chatting and waiting for coffees to go. 

Alone is when I think about my softness most; wondering if a stranger were to see me in private moments, what their opinion would be. How I look in a mirror. How my jaw and chin set while I mindlessly watch television. How my body rests through an intentionally selected gauzy curtain as I sleep under white sheets and how my hair splays on my many pillows. Eventually, these thoughts turn to white noise as my focus numbs.

My study of softness has caused hyper self-awareness. I make myself seem softer through imitation. I’ve trained my footsteps to be light on the balls of my feet, to avoid disrupting the natural rhythm of sounds in any environment, envisioning crystal clear melodies rather than harsh dissonance. To prevent any kind of confrontation between friends, I often coddle, conceding before anyone could ever claim I am too rough. I make adjustments to posture, how much space I occupy in a room, the volume of my voice. It is in energy and capital used to blur edges and imperfections to give an impression of being untouched but touchable. This affectation of softness is not radical but rather a placeholder for an authentic existence that feels out of reach.

At some point, something clicked into place. It found me on a late Wednesday night in the bathtub as I folded and twisted my limbs to soak one section of myself at a time until all of me had been below the surface of the water. Lavender and rosebuds spun through milky water while I alternated between reading and staring at the ceiling. A pinky petal relaxed and rested on a part of my belly that wasn’t submerged. 

Softness has always existed and I’m discovering moments I couldn’t have expected, like the way my baby niece grabs my jewelry when it’s my turn to sing her to sleep. And when I say thank you in earnest to a compliment from a stranger. And the way my shoulders fall when I see a perfect shade of blue that is vibrant but so deep it engulfs me, as if that is the true color that runs through my veins.

Claire Larson is a Midwest native but can currently be found in Denver and on the internet @clairefromiowa.