i most decidedly wasn’t cool.
i was small, scrawny. little pasty white boy with a high-pitched voice and a penchant for saying odd things at the wrong time. we didn’t own a television. i liked books and teddy bears and make believe games with knights and dragons.
the closest boy who lived near me and i were the best of friends, thick as thieves, until one day he was cool and i was not.
at recess if i couldn’t find someone to play with i would choose to stand by myself and keep my own company. they worried about that and sent me to the school psychologist and made me stay inside and invite my classmates to play board games with me. they had to say yes, i’m sure of it, and we were all awkward inside. not cool. not cool.
cool was always having a seat at just the right lunch table. cool was always having a group of friends to play with at recess and on play dates. cool was playing sports and actually enjoying it. cool was having god-gifted good looks, social grace, physical coordination, a quick wit.
social class worked its way into cool in inexplicable, confusing, implicit, difficult-to-discern but completely present ways. cool was having a mom and dad who worked from home and could pick you up from school and give you all the right snacks. cool was a preppy wardrobe, the right sneakers, ever-changing accessories agreed on by secret cool cabals.
cool was better or worse and i was worse. cool was in or out and i was out. cool was us or them and i was them.
the cool vacuum stayed with me through middle school and most of high school. chess wasn’t cool. debate team wasn’t cool. chorus wasn’t cool.
ap english, my favorite class, wasn’t cool, except maybe if you managed to bullshit some clever things inspired by skimming sparknotes in lieu of reading the actual fucking book.
not having a girlfriend wasn’t cool, until i eventually had one, but, bless her sweetest heart…
when i started smoking pot that made me ever slightly cooler because suddenly i had a group of friends to hang out with. and that was as cool as i got in high school. doing lights for theater plays still wasn’t cool. not having a car, hating taking the school bus, and choosing to walk home instead still wasn’t cool.
skipping out on sports and instead doing mandatory gym class still wasn’t cool. preferring browsing the stacks at the library to attending house parties still wasn’t cool.
the thing is, as an adult, you get to make your own cool. you get to choose your own friends, live your own life. and let me tell you, in my life, where i make the rules, i am the coolest cat around.
being passionate about your hobbies is cool. asking good questions is cool. reading books is cool. taking notes is cool.
thinking of projects and then doing them is cool. getting shit you care about done is cool. collaborating with people is cool.
making art is cool. making your own music is cool. writing essays and blog posts and fiction is cool. having a really funky website that’s perfectly tailored to all of your interests and has all your ideas on it is cool.
meditation is cool. psychotherapy is cool. journaling is cool. self-therapy techniques are cool. taking care of your body is cool. having good boundaries and respecting others is cool. being a good friend is cool. always having an eloquent, accurate, encouraging compliment at the ready is cool. building community is cool. caring about the world is cool. choosing kindness is cool.
i want to reparent my younger self and tell him, hey, i see you. you are fucking cool. you are incredible. these kids don’t know what’s up. i know it sucks now, i’m so sorry, but the good news is that it’s going to get so much better.
don’t worry about your body, about being small and awkward and everything. you’ll get bigger and handsomer and stronger and more fluid and graceful. you’ll start to love exercise and movement because you’ll find movement forms you actually like, like bodyweight training and tai chi and even dance. (crazy, i know, right?)
don’t worry about hanging out at the playground. your body and your life and the whole world will be a playground. and you’ll get to hang out at the coolest playground-library-school-workplace that ever existed in human history—the internet. it’s open 24/7, and you can spend time there whenever you want, doing projects and learning and playing with really cool people from all over the world!
don’t worry about making friends, you’ll end up with very cool friends, more than you know what to do with. you’ll travel the world and, thanks to the internet, have friends to hang out with in every major city and part of the world. when you go somewhere you’ve never been they’ll already know you and love you and want to spend time with you and you’ll have crazy conversations about obscure topics that you’re wildly fascinated by and you’ll never forget a moment of it.
don’t worry about the ladies, you’ll be hot as an adult guy. women you’re drawn to will find you attractive and interesting and kind and want to spend time with you and be in relationships with you. it’ll all work out in the end, more or less.
i want to hijack the symbols of conventional cool and convert them into symbols of the cool i want to see in the world. muscle shirts, baseball caps. dance parties. music videos. deep house and trance. tattoos. it’s all fair game.
ideally, being cool is less about status and “better than” or “worse than”—as it was for us as children—and more about having found ourselves, our people, our place in the world.
cool is just shorthand for “embodying positive qualities you resonate with so that others you like can find you too and you all can be happy being friends and building community together for fun and benefit.”
cool is a virtue if you define it as the brilliant shine of a life well lived, a smile on the face of excellence.
in this way, everyone deserves to feel, to be cool.
what does cool mean to you? what do you find cool?
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