December 7, 2012
First, watch this spoken word poem and TED talk, titled “If I Should Have A Daughter,” by the ever-lovely Miss Sarah Kay.
Sarah talks about that urge in all of us to walk through this life with our forearms up around our faces, raised in defense, blocking whatever the world throws at us, seeming unfazed and undaunted by our churning stomachs and quivering bottom lips. That urge to be, in a word, cool.
I say it is an urge in all of us because I believe this “cool thing” is a very natural and primal reaction: in order to survive this world, there are times when you need to protect yourself. Of course there is the need to physically protect oneself but far more often we engage ourselves in the process of protecting ourselves emotionally.* We weave intricate narratives to either isolate or associate ourselves; we hide away our aspirations in the fear that they might not come true or that they will come true or that someone we love might not believe in that dream too; we act care-less about where we invest our time and energy (aka OUR LIVES) in case the resolution we seek isn’t the resolution we gain; and on and on. It, this cool thing, is a major part of the human experience.
*I say this while recognizing that I am speaking of a highly privileged group, myself included, who generally do not have to encounter violence or the threat of violence on a regular basis.
Without getting into a debate about nature v. nurture, I want to recognize that there are a myriad actors and agents informing and defining one’s propensity to engage in “being cool” on a regular basis – or not. Some of us have grown up in environments where the disengaged facade was needed in order to just get through the day; others of us were fortunate to have the proverbial stars align. Some of this is genes, some is who we’ve had around us, some is physical, some is just luck. Again, this is a debate for another time but I do have to say that, as an adopted kid, I am a firm believer in that I am downright, inexplicably lucky.
I also believe that I am, by and large, one who chafes against the little thing inside of me that tells me – sometimes screams at me – to be cool. We are just not at all comfortable around each other. Every day that I can muster the courage, I live with my hands open and my eyes wide, Sarah Kay (poetically) puts it. Sherman Alexie, one of my very favorite authors, writes this about a mother character in one of his short stories (paraphrasing because I can’t find the page right now; will re-read + update): “My mother trusts people, genuinely trusts them. But they usually don’t come through for her. And every time this happens, she acts surprised and hurt, as though she never expected it to happen.” This may not entirely be me (or at least how I aspire to live) but it is certainly in close proximity.
My natural tendency is to become consumed by whatever it is in which I am investing my time and energy. Frank and Shelley, and I am sure my teachers, coaches, etc., all have stories that can attest to this statement. I think my friends and colleagues can sense it, too. Not to blow this up as something that is always a good or healthy or balanced thing: I really, really fucking care about what happens to those people, places, spaces, ideas.
Now, this can at times get me in trouble, to varying degrees. When I am self-righteous in what I deem to be the “best resolution” and then that resolution doesn’t happen, I get myself in the most trouble. You can throw a million different euphemisms on it: persistent, dogged, dedicated, stubborn, driven. But when it comes down to it, I really need to work on letting go and not clinging to my ideal-world resolutions because, even if I want them so badly, they might not work out. And sometimes there will be no way for me to “cool” myself out of the situation. Sometimes I just care too fucking much.
Because I walk through life with arms open and eyes wide, I give to my heart so many intense and deeply fulfilling experiences and relationships; I am grateful. I also give my heart a fair amount of intense and deeply painful experiences; I am working on being grateful. I am not, nor have I ever been, “good” at this whole cool thing. Maybe one day I will be. But I really hope not.