Cool and the Gang

Mood: Daydreamy
Drinking: Sweet Green Tea

I’m really not all that cool. There have been a few people, recently, who seem to think I register rather high scores on the coolness meter, but they would be very mistaken.

It’s true that I have hidden sometimes behind a shiny cool veneer, but it’s just for show. The slickness is only skin deep, and it doesn’t last long. Peel it away and you’d find a bona fide dork hiding beneath.

I’m fine with it. Having accepted my innate lack of cool, I’m much more at ease than I used to be, back when I thought coolness actually counted for something. Back when I thought I might be able to do more than fake it.

In high school (because that’s where it really gets embedded, doesn’t it?), I was well known for my lack of anything even remotely resembling cool. I had the wrong clothes (from second-hand stores), the wrong hair (bangs weren’t poofy enough), the wrong hobbies (I rode horses instead of boys), the wrong attitude (I turned term papers in early), the wrong everything. But the beauty of it was that back then, I was too clueless to care.

I spent most of my time daydreaming about being an Olympic-level equestrian, flying over fences on my thoroughbred steed. (In reality, my “steed” was a second-rate Quarter Horse named Fantasia with blue eyes and a penchant for biting.) When I wasn’t thinking up four-legged fantasies, I was hiding up on the roof by the chimney or behind the big chair in the living room, nose buried in a book, ignoring my mother calling me to dinner.

I spent so many hours reading, my mom called me “Bookworm”, although she said it with equal parts pride and exasperation. When my sister and I were little tots, mom was the one who took us on weekly trips to the Dixon Public Library. We would fill up an apple box with books, only to return the next week and exchange them for more. By the time I hit junior high, I was sure that I had read every single book in the children’s section at least twice. So I moved upstairs to the big “adult” books.

I got good grades, I studied hard, I won essay-writing and speech-giving contests, and I never went on any dates. By the time I graduated high school at age 17 (wearing tafetta and green eyeshadow), it was just starting to dawn on me that maybe I should be paying a little bit of attention to boys. Or my hair. Or something besides my horse. (What is it about girls and horses, anyway?)

I made a little progress in college. Mastered the art of mascara. Purchased my first pair of non-hand-me-down jeans (at WalMart). Actually ventured out to a bar once in awhile. But I stuck to my tried-and-true formula: Keep your head down, study hard, get good grades, graduate. I did manage to move on from horses to boys, but I was extremely gunshy. There was a boy in my poetry class who asked me out for “coffee” so we could talk about “poetry”, but I was so scared of the prospect of sitting across the table from a guy I didn’t know, alone (horrors!), that I turned him down and scurried away, hair in my face and eyes on the ground. (I can’t remember his name, but always wonder what would have happened if I had said yes.)

I could take you through the whole excruciating evolution from farm girl to gothling to potty-mouthed poet, but the point is… (what is the point? I thought I was going to write a post about kids today and how they don’t read enough books, but now I’m stuck on the cool train.) The point is that I’m not cool.

Cool is the girls who could flirt effortlessly. The girls who knew how to french inhale. The girls who giggled at my granny panties because they had been wearing leopard-print thongs since sixth grade. The girls who shaved their eyebrows off and then drew them back on, flawlessly,with charcoal pencils. Cool is equal parts confidence and cruelty, beauty and bully, rebellion and reason. Cool is completely put together without giving a shit. Effortless perfection. Brazen misdirection.

Cool is the people I was fascinated by but couldn’t stand: the cheerleaders, the mall rats, the guitar players, and Linda Mocklin, who won every trophy at every horse show, her dark hair perfectly in place, while I trotted behind, sweaty and disheveled, hoping Fantasia wouldn’t buck me off this time.

Cool is the people I wanted to be: the purple-haired punks, the waifish ballet dancers, the girl at the Green Mill Slam who recited her poem, eyes closed, two perfect nipples poking through her threadbare white tank top, and Star Le, who always looked like a diminuitive goddess come down to earth, her ink black hair falling just so, dainty wrists bent at all the right angles, her porcelain skin glowing against the dark.

I have gotten lucky and fooled a few people along the way, although the deception is no longer premeditated. But I’m really, really, really not cool. I’m a nerd. A dork. A misfit. A wallflower… I love to dance, but prefer long nights at home reading a book. I love to get dressed up, but I never look perfect. I love to buck fashion trends and do my own thing, but I leave no Gwennabes in my wake. I love to write, but have no bestsellers. I love to rebel, but start no revolutions. I love to smoke, but I never inhale.

You can only be cool if you’re not really trying. You can only be cool if you don’t really care.

And though I don’t try, and I don’t care, and so for the first time have an actual shot at it, being cool is no longer relevant. I’ve discovered something far better and more satisfying…

Just being me.

-Lo, who attended high school football games to stare at the cheerleaders.