I am not a cool girl. And I mean that in the most straightforward possible way. This isn’t some ham-fisted attempt at the lack of self-awareness (or an expertly feigned semblance thereof) most inherently cool people will exhibit, inevitably serving to heighten their level of effortless je-ne-said quoi. I have zero of that going on unfortunately. No quoi whatsoever. Perhaps because of this, the cool girl has always fascinated me and I know I’m not alone in this. After all, if everyone could figure it out, would anyone be cool anymore?
Catching them in their natural habitat is always intriguing. While seated at a coffee shop, absorbed in my kindle, I might spy one. She’ll breeze in, probably just from some fabulous-yet-understated party, which didn’t wrap up until the wee hours. It probably took place in a loft, or some distressed-chic warehouse, in a mildly dodgy neighbourhood. Just dodgy enough to be impressive.
She’ll look perfectly disheveled only somehow – not. Her pixie, which she cut at home, herself, looks facile but perfect – or if not, it’s the very unkemptness of it, which makes it so. Her makeup is minimal, but expert – the kind of subtly un-made-up make look that makes clueless guys so certain that “all women look better without makeup.” She’ll be smoking a cigarette – something you’d never do because you want to live a long, healthy, pain-free life, but goddamit, you wish you were cool enough to not care. She will have a lovely figure, but will have never set foot in a gym or been caught in the throes of any form of exercise routine. The word routine is her enemy.
Her clothes will look inexpensive – they will hint at having been selected with great care and cultivated interest, from some obscure vintage store, coveted by other cool people who know about it because they’re also cool. They will cost roughly $900. Not including shoes.
She will have money, but the origins of it will always be hazy and vague. She might mention something about having sold a painting, in an offhand kind of way. You will never find out whether or not this is true.
Her job will be either equally vague, or so insanely amazing you won’t be able to stand it. If it’s the latter, she’ll be as blasé as possible about it. You’ll wonder how she got such an incredible job, but you’ll never ask, and she’ll never offer an explanation. The secret ways of cool people will remain their own.
She may be gay, or straight, or anything in between, but her partner will always be obscenely attractive to you, no matter your own sexual orientation, in an equally cool, offbeat kind of way. Perhaps you’ll get to watch them, uninterrupted, for a significant stretch of time, observing their behavior in the wild. Then they’ll leave, and all the air in the room will seem to have gone with them. You will want desperately to bottle even the tiniest smidgen of what they have – to save your mystery for a rainy day, just when you need it most. The sight of them and the intoxication of their presence will stay with you for hours, perhaps even days. You will want what they have – what they are – so badly you can taste it.
It took me some time to understand just how draining this constant desire to be one of the cool girls actually was, especially when it was so far from resembling any behavior that came naturally to me. It’s little wonder though – as soon as you are old enough to understand what “cool” is (and when it really gets important) it’s all anyone seems to want to be. From the age of ten or eleven, we have it drilled into our heads that cool rules – and it’s everywhere. In the celebrities we admire, the advertising that blares at us from countless venues each and every day, magnifying our insecurities a thousand fold, and the media we have shoved down our throats constantly. To be cool, blasé is a must. You can’t care too much or if you do, you can’t let on.
I’ve never been good at this. In fact, I am the opposite of good at this. I care desperately about a great number of things, quite a few of which I probably shouldn’t. I care about how I look – I have to care, I feel. I’m not one of those girls who will roll out of bed and look perfect. My hair will resemble a yield sign if I do. That messy, oh-so-stylishly-undone look has fascinated me for years for that very reason – it is so alien to the entire reality of my existence that I can’t help but be impressed by those that pull it off.
I care deeply about so much in life, and I realize that makes me desperately uncool, and it probably always has. When I was in high school, I cared very much about jazz, and opera, and soul music, which, I was made to understand very clearly, was the opposite of cool. I cared very much about school, and getting good grades – again, not so cool. I cared about my health – after watching a girl in my school die of melanoma at the age of 16, sunscreen, already a necessity due to my translucently pale skin, became something I was militant about. If it was possible, I became even paler, at a time when blonde bronzed goddesses were the top of the pop charts – the epitome of cool and desirable.
I care too much, and that isn’t cool. I was made to understand this, unequivocally, in high school. I’m sure this happened to many of you.
It only really became clear many years later how wrong that is. As you learn after escaping high school, the cool people are the ones we dream of being, the ones we emulate, the ones we lust after, but they’re not the ones who make the world go around. Judging by the way our global media, advertising and entertainment fields function, you would think that was the case. But we all know who really gets shit done. It’s the kids mercilessly picked on in high school, the kids who thought physics, math, economics or the arts were insanely cool and intriguing – the kind that cared so deeply about these things that decided, while pouring over the wonders they’d found, that spoke to them in a way nothing else had, that they would dedicate their lives to learning more. They’re the ones the media teaches us to deride. And that is, frankly, a travesty.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t align myself with this particular group of movers or shakers. I don’t think very much of anything I do contributes to making the world go round, but I do feel a kinship with them as someone who knows what it’s like to care very desperately about things, and to have it be made very clear that my natural inclinations are far from desirable. Case in point – I am at home writing this alone in my sweatpants with my dog on a Friday night. I turned down plans in order to do this. It’s one of those things I care about.
Why is it so deeply uncool to care? Particularly since most sensible adult people recognise on a fundamental level that caring about things in general is good? If we didn’t care about our relationships, our finances, our health, our families – or, you know, about the world at large, like all things that are uncared for, these things would start to fall into disrepair. And for obvious reasons, on a personal and global scale, that would be rather bad.
My question is why? Why do we continue to venerate vapidity and ambivalence and ridicule those who do, in fact, care? We all know how important it is, so what gives? How did the cool kids wind up with all the glory?
I say care. Care deeply about whatever it is you choose. I don’t care what it is. Care about makeup, care about neuropsych, care about the violin, care about learning Aramaic, care about making the world a better place, care about the food you make, the information you consume, care about how you choose to spend your time, care even if it would be far easier not to, care even if it brings you to tears sometimes. But don’t be afraid to admit it, and don’t ever let the world make you feel that ambivalence is desirable – because it will try.
I am not a cool girl. What I am is a girl who cares deeply and passionately about many, many things. I care so much – about my future, about my boyfriend, about whether I’m contributing to society as much as I could, about my thighs, about the world, about my clothes, about my purpose. But it’s important to me. All of it.
And for the time in…well, ever. I’m totally and completely cool with that. So while I watch the cool girl saunter out, carried by the wind towards her next impossibly cool adventure, I turn my eyes back to my work.
Because I’ve got a deadline and I don’t care to miss it.