Originally published August 12, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.
I have a thing for “cool people,” and I have a specific image of what “cool people” are like. They’re bohemian and iconoclastic. They challenge our ideas of what’s normal and beautiful and good. They read Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg and D. H. Lawrence, Dostoevsky and Eastern-bloc writers I’ve never heard of, and if they’re exceptionally cool, Zora Neale Hurston and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They like Picasso and surrealism and dark things. They’re edgy. They’re avante garde, artistic, brilliant, and discerning. They like Lennon more than McCartney, but they like early, little-known blues musicians even more than that. Their humor is filled with unexpected observations, unique word choices, and original twists of phrase.
I’m drawn to these people, but they also intimidate me—because, of course, I’m not that cool. An adolescent at heart, I periodically think, “I should be more like them. I should read edgy literature and see art films and try to make my mark and be an explorer of the outside and a pusher of boundaries.” Instead, I read Jane Austen and Harry Potter. I seek out stories of good triumphing over evil and love conquering all. And I gravitate to the bright, happy, sparkling play of colors that Claude Monet saw in hay bales and bowls of grapes. Once, I was given a literal pair of rose-colored glasses: I loved them.
Cool people sing with honest understanding of the tragedy and physicality of the human condition; I write with hopeful idealism of the interconnections between people and the unity of the universe. They explore the aesthetics of decay and the things you can see in the dark; I seek out the sun and the spring green of new leaves. Cool people are edgy and challenging; I am reassuring and hopeful.
But here’s the truth: What the cool people I’m thinking of really have in common—what’s at root, beneath their arcane tastes—is a commitment to authenticity, truth, and honesty. They are themselves rather than some societal version of normal and good. They see people honestly rather than idealistically or cynically. At their best, they identify with and embrace the real—even the real that is dark, negative, and decaying; even human imperfection; even the tragic.
What really makes cool people cool is not their taste in art, literature, film, or music, or even their attraction to themes of darkness, weakness, and tragedy. What really makes them cool is deeper than that: their commitment to truth and authenticity in themselves and to empathetic and raw honesty in their perceptions of others.
And that’s what I take in. That’s what I try to imitate. What’s cool is being who you really are, even if part of who you are borders on someone else’s idea of schmaltzy, naive, or pedestrian. None of those one-sided judgments matter. What matters is expressing your truth, your reality, your unique mind, self, perceptions, and feelings, and bringing that out into the great mix of ingredients that makes up the shifting soup of creative expression.