I’m not really a cool guy. Never have been, at least not in the way most people mean it. I’ve made my peace with it, but I used to try very, very hard to be cool. I usually failed quite spectacularly. Even if I managed to get one aspect of coolness correct, my inherit (weird? goofy? just not like anybody else?) nature had a way of spoiling it in ways that would have been obvious to anybody but me.
Middle school is when it seems to become much more important to be cool or fit in. You suddenly started being judged by how you looked, how you dressed, how you talked, who you talked to, who talked to you, and how you were doing in school (this last one had different criteria based on what type of social group you ended up in). I never had a chance. That did not stop me from trying. Trying and failing. Epically.
I almost pulled it off in seventh grade, but then the whole S.A.L. thing happened, so that was the end of that. But it was not the end of me trying to be cool. I started planning. I realized I would be going to a different high school than most of the other kids at my middle school thanks to an odd quirk of zoning in Clarksville at the time. I was with one group for elementary, a mostly different group for middle, and then back with most of the ones from elementary for high school (don’t worry, it’s hurts my head as well).
I decided to craft a new persona over the summer between eighth and ninth grade. It had worked for me before. Besides, people changed over the summer all the time (usually it was a girl who suddenly hit puberty then got a lot more attention when school started back). Of course, this is where things went wrong.
There are choices that face all of us. Often, a choice also decides how we are perceived. How cool we are, if you will. That summer I joined the marching band. Of course, any fellow band geek will tell you that marching band is cool, and it is. It’s hard work and rewarding (our band won more often than the football team). The problem, a large group of people have been brainwashed into believed being in band is not cool. What can you do?
Circumstance (and usually it was at my own hand) also removed the possibility of being cool: I get a driver’s license (cool). My first car is a station wagon with fake wood exterior paneling (not cool). Everybody knows my nickname (pretty cool, I’m known). It’s the nickname I got saddled with in middle school (nope, no cool). I upgrade my ride to a ’65 convertible Mustang (so cool). I put a portable CD player in the back seat and played the soundtrack to Little Mermaid (my current friends in 2010 are now pretending not to know me). I even once one a big essay contest and got to go to Washington, D.C. At the time I thought I would have a chance to be cool in the group of winners. Turns out I was the biggest geek on two Greyhound buses full of essay writing winners. Again, I never had a chance.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I began to have an epiphany. I became aware of what was painfully obvious to everyone around me. The first part of that epiphany was: I am never going to be cool and fit in. This had occurred to me before, but I always thought I was on the cusp of overcoming whatever was holding me back. The second part of the epiphany was that I was what was holding me back. For the most part, it was not outside forces, it was just me being who I am and acting in a way that was natural (for me anyway). The third, and most important, part of that epiphany: I no longer cared. I knew I would never be cool and fit in so I stopped trying (strangely, this makes some people think I’m cool).
I embraced not being cool in a way I never had. It was glorious. I was free from seeking that I would never find (at least not without losing who I am in the process). It even freed my from caring too much about what others thought. So what if I knew the lyrics to several Disney songs? So what if I don’t dress quite right? I like me, and I’m not terribly concerned if you don’t (though I still really want to be liked, it’s a trap I haven’t worked my way out of yet).
Now when anyone calls me a dork, a nerd, a geek, weird, an idiot, or all of the above; when they say I’m strange, or weird, odd, abnormal; when they say they don’t want me around, or drag up my past; whatever they say, whatever they come up with to point out I don;t fit in, I am ready. I look them right in the eye, smile knowingly, and nod as I reply, “Yeah, I’m cool like that.”