I have spent the greater half of my 20s trying to figure out the je ne sais quoi that defines what it means to be “cool.” I know that runs counter to what it means to have je ne sais quoi, but I also refuse to believe that I can’t figure it out. At 22, I called it swag and believed we all had it. At 24, when I learned we don’t, I demanded that you could fake it until you made it — just wear leather jackets and sunglasses and ripped blue jeans until the cows come home.
At 25, I realized that you can only fake it for so long, and thus changed my thesis. Instead of trying to become cool, I would publicly announce the difference between “cool” and “effortless” and haphazardly dub myself the latter.
Now, at 28, I wonder why I cared so much about this worshipped (but somewhat unimpressive) four-letter word. Is “cool” the best we’ve got?
Frankly, I’ve never actually self-identified as cool (no “cool” person would ever spend so much time and so many words trying to weasel their way into it). I have wanted to, I have tried to (see above) but I consistently land on a singular reality: I am not cool. Not the way I have heretofore known it, at least.
But hey, that’s okay. Because what even *is* cool? And when did we (sorry, am I projecting?) become so obsessed with identifying as cool?
For as long as I’ve carried the word around, I’ve associated it with models off-duty wearing leather jackets and smoking the kinds of cigarettes that don’t kill you (I mean, they do, but cool people are too cool to care for nonsense like that). I see soft eyelids and a relaxed jaw and a sort of nonchalance which I have never maintained. But that’s just it — I’m associating the word with a visualization that is not necessarily reflective of the de facto definition.
My best friend Google imparts the following: to be cool as an adjective is to be “fashionably attractive or impressive.” Of course, what it means to be “fashionably attractive” changes as frequently as one blinks. It’s a consistently mutable state. So how is it that for as long as I’ve chased cool, I have thought to myself that I need a leather jacket and ripped jeans? I guess I was just trying to get in character. That by wearing the clothes, I’d become the thing. BUT GUESS WHAT? I am who I am and who I am is neurotic, multiple layers, afraid to die from tobacco, a lot of bright colors. My jaw is permanently stiff. I’m a maximalist! There’s a pineapple stitched into the back of one of my coats and my eyelids are only ever soft when I’m asleep.
All the refined and simple stuff that makes someone look cool? I can’t handle it. And all the characteristics that actually make them cool are the precise reason I’m not it.
But here’s my question: How can one possibly force themselves to be laid back? That concept is at complete odds with being laid back. What I have to do, obviously, is accept that I am how I am. Appreciate that for its inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies — the good and the bad. Feel comfortable divorcing myself from the prospect of becoming anything but who I am. Maybe then I’ll hit my “flow,” as the yoga community might call it. Wouldn’t that be cool?
(Sorry, I had to.)
Photos by Krista Anna Lewis.