A long time ago, I wrote a thing. I wish I still had it, but it’s gone the way of so many things I’ve lost over the years through a dozen moves and spontaneous purges of stuff.
It was probably terrible, but I still remember the way I felt when I wrote it. I was hopelessly in love with a guy I couldn’t ever be with, and I was trying desperately to capture and explain those aching feelings. At the same time I was attempting to analyze what made him so unattainable. He was so much “cooler” than me. Why was that?
My older and wiser self understands that asking that question and trying to get at the root of it, is in and of itself what made me “uncool”. My infatuation with him and his nature and what made him tick absolutely put me at a “coolness” disadvantage, though I don’t think he ever truly knew how I felt. It was impossible for me to reach him. In a last ditch effort to capture some part of him, I tried to kiss him once. He pushed me away. A smart move on his part, but one that I was not used to and which cut me deeply. Still smarts. I can’t believe I even just told you that.
Anyway, the thing I wrote found me sitting at the top of an imaginary skateboard ramp in an abandoned skatepark in the very early hours of the morning. Faintly, far away, the magical clack-clack, clack-clack sound of someone skating down a sidewalk set the melancholy mood. Then I bared my soul and described all the things about skateboarders, like this guy my heart was breaking for, that made my whole soul hemorrhage desire and envy.
Because it does. Skateboarders in particular, more than snowboarders, surfers, BMXers and mountain bikers combined, have my heart by its balls, so to speak. It comes back to my absolute and fatal weakness for confidence. Skaters have more than most. Have you seen the incredible things they do? You know how many times they have to smash into the ground before they land one single trick? Slamming into the pavement repeatedly from four wheels is brave and humbling, landing a trick is empowering, and all of it gives you a shit-ton of confidence when doing easier stuff like, well, walking around. Or living your life in general.
Here’s a summary what I’ve learned about being “cool” through pure anthropological analysis and the wisdom that comes with age.
WISDOM THAT COMES WITH AGE: It’s all total bullshit. Just get on with your life.
ANTROPOLOGICAL ANALYSIS: Autonomy is almost always cool. Being your authentic self can be cool, but rarely is that the only thing you should bring to the table. Being good at something that your chosen clique relates to can get you partway there, at least. For example, I couldn’t skateboard. I tried, believe me. I don’t have the guts to fall on pavement repeatedly, despite my best efforts to maim myself early on. But I snowboarded and got to be pretty good at it for a girl in the late 80’s/early 90’s. There were very few women doing it, and the guys I rode with set the bar high for me, so I was perceived to be a decent snowboarder regardless of gender. I took risks, and those risks were rewarded with a kind of unspoken status.
This status meant I was tacitly allowed to don the uniform of skateboard and snowboard shirts, hoodies and baggy pants without coming off as a total poser. The old adage “dress for the job you want, not the one you have” holds true with every clique, I’ve found. An added bonus: way more boys would talk to me than would talk to most of the hot girls in short skirts and crop tops. I was approachable and could be a good friend first and foremost, which made for some of the best relationships I’ve ever had. Keep that in mind, girls, the next time you feel the need to shave up to your crotch and beyond. A Thrasher sweatshirt and some Limpies is all it takes to bring most of the boys to the yard. Or at least it worked in 1990.
All of this behavior is known in biology and anthropology as “costly signaling”, where “expensive and often seemingly wasteful behavioral or morphological signals are designed to convey honest information benefiting both signaler and observer.” Think plumage on a peacock for an evolutionary example of costly signaling. The tail is a bit of a drag to haul around, but it literally gets you the cutest chicks. I talked the talk and walked the walk. I took the appropriate status-earning risks: the biggest jumps, the mosh pit, the keg stands, the uninhibited sex. I had a fuck-you attitude. I also genuinely LOVED all of those things.
So why wasn’t I cool enough to fit in?
My downfall was that I was a bit of an asshole and I lacked innate confidence in myself. I drank way too much alcohol to be a cool kid, being a party girl painted me a fuckup of whom others were wary. Nobody likes the person who’s first to the bar and last to go home and whose behavior is questionable and unpredictable in between. I also wasn’t cool on my own merit. I was a follower, pulled by the tides of others and always, in the famous words of The Cure: “jumping someone else’s train.” I’m still a bit of a chameleon, always doing my best to be what I think people want me to be. It’s a fucked up habit instilled by my parents that actually does wonders for me professionally. I’m really brilliant at being all things to all people; I was once told I had a “special way with older white men” which disgusts me to my core but is stupidly true.
The flip side of the coin is that the skateboarding community talks a big game about inclusivity, while simultaneously keeping themselves highly exclusive. It seems that every documentary I watch about skateboarding has a segment in it where legends talk about how inclusive the scene is, how anyone of any ability is accepted, and how skateboarders perceive themselves as this group of outsiders and misfits who automatically welcome anyone into the fold. It’s not true. I’ve seen skaters be merciless in their poor treatment of other people, especially non-skaters. A lot of skateboarders are total dicks, believe me.
If you don’t believe me (and that’s absolutely your prerogative) spend a few hours at the skatepark and watch how the really good skaters treat the newbies, anyone who wears a helmet, the girls who go there to watch, or anyone else who isn’t skating. Every time I see girls hanging out at a skatepark without a skateboard, tittering at the boys, I just want to tell them to go home and find their self-respect. Jesus, don’t be like me at that age. It’s so frustrating.
There are exceptions to every rule, of course, and I know I’m generalizing terribly. There were always people in the skateboarding community along the way who were really good friends and were always nice to me. The rest sort of tolerated me as a satellite. Sometimes I was dating one of their friends. Sometimes I feel like it was just too much trouble for them to tell me to go away. Sometimes they actually did tell me to go away, and that obviously hurt.
What’s changed most over the years is that I’m more inclusive than I used to be. I welcome you and your shitty snowboarding skills. I welcome your half-assed skating. Fucking huge kudos to you for doing either of those things, especially if you’re my age. It’s definitely badass to go big and do awesome tricks, but the true badassery, in my opinion, lies with the folks who are mediocre at this shit and still do it out of pure and genuine love.
I also no longer care if you don’t skate or snowboard. Do we share a love of punk and metal? Cool! Do you want to go for a bike ride after we hit the gym and run 5 miles? I’m totally down! Do you knit on the weekends and listen almost exclusively to Irish jigs? Let’s hang out!
Are you a dick? Fuck off.
I’m significantly less of an asshole now. I don’t drink anymore. I still love to snowboard. In truth, I kind of enjoy the fact that I can wear business attire to a meeting, change in a bathroom stall and go to a hardcore show, then shred on the weekends. I’ve learned to accept my fucked up people-pleasing habit as a bit of a superpower, and I’m learning to control it so it doesn’t control me. But it means I still sometimes lack the confidence to be true to myself, and that is even now a source of shame.
If there’s one lesson that the kids should take away from this utterly inane and overthought post, it’s that the thing that will make them the most cool is if they genuinely don’t care how cool they are. You do you, my friend, no matter what. Easier said than done, I know, especially when you look up to people and want to fit in with them. Just know that it gets easier with time, and in the meantime you should just have fun, no matter what that means to you. And don’t be an asshole like me.
The best part about getting older is that I just don’t care so much what anyone thinks of me anymore. It’s OK with me if you think I’m a loser, if you think the fact that I quilt or draw things badly is stupid, or if you think my federal job makes me a tool of the establishment. My other hobbies fulfill something in my soul. My federal job means I can afford snowboards and lift tickets. And the fact that I don’t care what you think about my coolness buys me about 10% more cool.
Which I don’t care about.