Monday, May 18, 2009

On Being Cool

Many years ago, I was driving my Wrangler around on a gray Seattle summer day, the kind of day where it's just warm enough to have the top down, if you have a convertible, if the heat is on full blast and your muscles are buff enough to keep your body temperature up with relative ease, and it may be gray but it is not raining and therefore you are PUTTING THE TOP DOWN.

Anyway, I was driving north on 99 about to enter Fife, and there was a girl ahead of me in a much older Jeep with the soft top down, her hair up in buns to avoid getting knotted by the wind, sunglasses on although it wasn't that sunny. She had some kind of smiley face sticker on her bumper and I pulled up next to her and waved enthusiastically. She looked over at me, eyebrows raised, and I practically dislocated my shoulder leaning across my Wrangler and rolling down the passenger side window as fast as I could. "Nice car!" I shouted.

She nodded politely, and gave me a half smile, and then the light turned green and she went straight and I took a left. She was obviously not the kind of girl who dug instant warmth from strangers, and we were not going to have a Moment.

And surprisingly enough, that was fine with me. I already knew by that time--and I have been reminded over and over again since--that girls who really are Very Cool don't often have time for Moments.

It's hard, being Cool, and being a Girl. I've met some Very Cool Girls in my time. Not the kind of girl that tries to substitute Attitude for Aptitude--those girls are a waste of space. I'm talking actually cool girls--girls that are, say, UFC fighters. Girls that ride motorcycles or drive sports cars. Girls that are firefighters or snipers or routinely summit Mt. Rainier. Classical musicians. Enterpreneurs. Rock Stars. Women that teach kickboxing for a living. Girls that do something dangerous on a daily basis, that could kill them or cause financial ruin, not just their own but the financial ruin of others as well. Girls that take huge risks. Girls who base their entire lives on a skill that requires daily practice, daily heartache, daily bruises, daily mental breakdowns. THAT is cool.

And surprisingly enough, girls who do that don't have a lot of time for, say, TV shows. Gossip mags. Long dinners with friends. Going out to the clubs three nights a week, or indeed one night a week. Whatever. They're not often in situations in which they need to make polite conversation with strangers, and so they're not in practice, and so they don't. It's one of the great paradoxes of life: those who actually DO something cool are actually the least likely to talk in any group setting. It's always the girl who drops four wine glasses and gets mascara in her eye on a daily basis that grabs the floor to talk about the fascinating daily anecdote from her paper-pushing job, while the girl who just hiked across Peru with only a sherpa for company sits quietly with her whiskey and coke.

There's a lot to explore here: how girls (and people in general) who make a living in a very specialized field have a very specialized view of strangers, namely, that a girl who routinely summits Mt. Rainier already has a group of friends in her climbing team, and her survival depends on being able to trust the team around her implicitly, and therefore may be rightly suspicious of instant warmth from a person she doesn't know. And a girl whose idea of big excitement for the day consists of an overflowing coffee pot is easily able to create instant warmth, because the word "trust" has no meaning for her beyond the obvious rules of life, that a complete stranger will not attempt to, say, punch her in the mouth. (Although that could happen, especially to her.)

Not to mention there is the issue of how best to balance living your life with HAVING a life, at least in which the definition of "having a life" means "going to parties". Which may not be the actual definition of "having a life", but is certainly a solid definition practiced by many. A boy and I were talking about this recently: he wants to be a millionaire by the time he is thirty, and he's exploring various ways to do that, but all those ways take time. And energy. And he wants to have a life as well, because even if he becomes a millionaire at thirty, where's the guarantee that he won't die at thirty-one?

Readers: thoughts? How do you balance the pursuit of amazing things with having a life? Am I alone in thinking that it doesn't make sense to put off "having a life" in order to work?

1 comment:

T-town Girl said...

People who are very successful at what they do and still manage to have a life are often only able to achieve that balance because what they do IS their life, or at least a significant portion of it. Personally, I do not think there is any good reason to put off “having a life” whatever that may mean to you.
Also there are no true Sherpas in Peru.