Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Curse of Longing to be Cool

It feels like it been part of me as long as I can remember – a yearning to be cool.

I'm a younger sibling, so when I was a kid, it was my big sister who was the epitome of cool for me. She was so cool. The way she dressed, the things she said and did. So cool. I always felt like the geeky, gawky little sister. Blushing around my sister's cool friends. Stammering. 

I was a brainiac in school – so, not cool there. In high school, I hung out in the band room and floated between cliques. People liked to copy my Poly Sci notes, but they didn't often invite me to their parties. And when they did, I rarely went. No car. No boyfriend-with-a-car. Living in the middle of nowhere. Didn't drink, smoke or do drugs. Not cool.

When I went to university, I found my people. My residence house (which had had trouble with wild, drunken parties the year before), was packed with scholarship students in an attempt to improve house behaviour. We became a strange family of geeks and nerds, getting high GPAs, having deep conversations at three in the morning and eschewing coolness. (At the same time that we blushed and stammered around anyone we thought was cool).

I never mastered cool. Never even got so I could simulate it. Somewhere along the way I learned that it is just not me. I'm not myself when I'm trying to be cool. I'm the big, open-hearted, sloppy, emotional, vulnerable, messy geek type and I always will be.

Funny that I wound up in a business that loves coolness. We love the artists who are so well put together. The shiny people. The ones who seems impervious to the hurts of the world, even if they sometimes write songs about them. The invincible people we can dream about being.

As I think about going to Nova Scotia Music Week today, my longing to be cool is fully alive. I would like for all the people I've met before to remember who I am. I would like to be the person everybody knows, to have tons of cool conversations with cool people. But I know that's not what will happen. I'll be a pretty anonymous 41-year-old woman. I'll see a few friends and have great conversations with them. A couple of people will tell me they've heard my new record, and that they like it. But mostly, I'll float around, watching and listening to the cool people. I'll think about who we might book for the coming season of the Little River Folk Society. I'll think about my community and all the different ways we build that together. I'll meditate on the coolness that seems just out of reach for me. And I'll think about how happy I am to be alive and absolutely myself, with no need to compromise that for any reason. And maybe I'll write a song about it.


  1. See, I have a slightly different perspective. Not necessarily an opposing one, but one I hope is worth mentioning.

    I too was the longing-to-be-cool type. And I remember this other girl I met in high school who was also longing to be cool. She was ... hmm.. right out there. I loved her. She blew into my slightly depressed, bored as hell, yearning for a soulmate world when I was 15. She seemed - to my adolescent self - to represent the epitome of cool because she didn't appear to be longing for it like I was, endlessly comparing herself to everyone and coming up short every time. She appeared so OK with her smartness, genuinely enjoying her own tastes, relishing in the absurd, not caring a whit about what others were doing/how they dressed/ parties they got sick drinking at... and she made me feel like it was OK not to aspire to these things.

    She also introduced me to real fucking music. I heard things I didn't know existed. She laid the foundation for all my musical adventures afterward, teaching me about alt and retro, lo-fi and hi-test. She told me great stories and loaned me great books. She inspired me to get the hell out of our town instead of sit there just wishing it was different there. She planted a seed of hope that I would find others like me and like her "out there". She was so very cool. She clearly had no idea how much others aspired to be as cool as she was.

    So, you know... as usual, the lesson for me is that there are multiple things going on at the same time, at any moment, as contradictory as can be. For example, this person I speak of is still cooler than cool and clearly doesn't know it. She still inspires me to listen to my passion and do what makes me happy instead of wishing for something else. She's incredible. She's better than cool.

    1. JVK, Thank you so much for this! You've totally made me cry (in the good way). It's true that Cool is a perception and wrapped up in so many things that we think about ourselves and others. I wanted to be as cool as you! I remember YOU turning me on to awesome music, (giving me wicked mixed tapes that I still have all these years later), challenging me about the things I thought and being totally envious of your wicked sense of style and devil-may-care attitude.

      It kind of makes me think about this old Jules Feiffer cartoon and laugh (second cartoon on the page at this link:

      Thank you for reminding me that it's all relative and much resides in the eye of the beholder. I truly believe the important things are integrity and authenticity. Much more important than recognition or renown (or money, as nice as a little money would sometimes be.) As I struggle to continue to be truly myself, I love knowing that someone I admire as much as you is fighting similar fights. So beautifully. So much better than cool.

      Big hugs to you. xoxoxo!

    2. Hello Alex,
      Cool is definitely in the eye of the beholder... My longing for cool was being a "wanna bee" musician the way music just pours out of someone like it is just how they breathe....
      Lowering the ballad bucket into their whole being and bringing out words never spoken before to reveal truth hidden from our Kraft dinner world.
      Now that is cool... my drum is still vibrating from the times I had the honour to play along side you and watch you lower your bucket!!!
      Your definition of cool ... now thats cool..
      Love Elaine oxo