Monday, September 22, 2014

On Being Cool

This blog title is a lie.

I am probably the un-coolest person in the world. I'm not thin, wealthy, blond, in a prestigious job, a stay-at-home-mom (yeah yeah yeah whatever), or in a beautiful home. My calling at church is low-key (Relief Society Meeting Coordinator -that's Homemaking to you old folks) and my husband and I aren't part of the cool people group who get invited to parties or weekend vacations. My extended family is all broken up so there are no cool sibling stories to share (want to hear about my homeless sister who's made some really interesting choices?) Nope. It's just little ol' me.

What's really sad is how much time I've wasted in my life chasing the dream of coolness. (Like most of us.)

The first time I remember trying to be cool was at a party my parents threw when I was little - maybe four years old. I was standing in a group of adults and they all laughed. And then I laughed because they did. Then they all REALLY laughed. Immediately I asked my mom why they laughed and she explained to me that the adults laughed because I did. That didn't make any sense. I didn't understand WHY they laughed in the first place. It was the first time I realized a certain je ne sais quois was missing from my brain. I didn't understand how to be part of the cool crowd then and it didn't get any better.

I was Hermione before she was
What followed were years of trying to fit in and be someone people admired. To do that, I talked faster, laughed louder and generally tried to one-up everyone around me. You asked a question in class and I got all Hermione-like with trying to answer. And it wouldn't be just any old answer. No, it would use a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed and that was of considerable size, extent, or intensity. Or to say it differently: big words. And I didn't understand the stunned silence that followed nor why the teacher picked another student's simple (dumb) answer over mine.

In high school I had a wonderful group of friends who put up with my cravings for attention as kindly as possible, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that when the group eventually split into two-friend pairs, I was odd man out. 

One day at BYU changed my life. Of course, it is one of those stories that makes you cringe, but those are the best stories because of the effect they have on the story's protagonist.

I had finally decided to major in art - a decision that my parents shook their heads at, but which they had little say in because I was paying for my own education, not they. I hadn't decided on my focus in art and was dabbling in ceramics one semester. It was THE place to be - all of my best art buddies were in the class and the certain something that I felt when I was with them made me feel like the world was my oyster and I had made it.

At one point during the semester, we had to talk about our pieces to the entire class. I had no idea what I was doing in that class, or any class, to be honest, so had no idea what I was going to say. I listened to the other students and was amazed at the deep philosophy they spouted when they talked about their methods and design choices. They used certain words that I noticed the teacher liked - "vessel", "quality of line", "movement", etc. It was my turn and I did my best to emulate their words, putting all the emotion I could into explaining why I'd chosen to use a criss-crossing quality of line all over my cylindrical "vessel" which symbolized ---- My teacher abruptly got up and interrupted my explanation. I had no idea what she was saying because the blood pounded in my ears as I sat down. I knew, I suddenly KNEW why she'd interrupted me. I was full of baloney.

I've never forgotten the embarrassment I felt that day, but it did not make me bitter. I put the experience in a pot in the back of my mind where it has simmered for years. The fumes from the pot have subtly influenced my actions over the years, causing me to consider my words more thoughtfully and ask myself if I'm being honest or a show-off. Am I being myself? After all, there's only one me and I have something to offer that no one else has.

I'd like to say I've become a different person since that day in ceramics Hell- that I'm confident in myself. The truth is that I'm no more confident now than I was as a child. I STILL have no idea what is cool. On the other hand, I've let the words about being true to myself sink in. They're not in very deep, but I think about them more often. What do I have to offer the world that only *I* can offer?

So far I've come up with: quirky sense of humor, the ability to see things other people don't/can't/won't, an unhealthy inclination towards certain profane words (they make me giggle uncontrollably), a tinge of the wide-eyed childlike exuberance and joy that I've always had (but must control because my library doesn't approve of happy), a deep self-awareness (with baffling blindness about some things), and a distinct, unutterable knowledge that I am known by my Heavenly Father.

How about that? A God knows me (and you). And when I remember that, I wonder what He wants me to do while down here on earth. And then I think about all that time I spend/spent/spend chasing coolness - a determination of my worth by other people, maybe a mirroring of the light of others. But when I focus on that, I completely ignore the light that I generate all on my own. A light that no one else can make but me.

Matthew 5:16 says, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

So the choice seems to be: 1) Focus on coolness and chase the light of others or 2) focus on the light within myself and let it shine forth for a greater good.

Well... I'm not very good at it yet, but it seems an admirable path. Here I go...

I took this cool picture


  1. It is a mystery to me why 'being cool' nowadays is synonymous with being HOT. I do believe that moderation in all things is the better plan.

  2. You've always been cool to me, Heather. It wasn't the pretentious and predictable cool that the 'cool' kids had. It was and still is a unique kinda cool that only you possess. Your strength, creativity, silliness, wry wit, faithful friendship and dazzling smile are the best, most valuable and most lasting sorts of cool. :)