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  • Writer's pictureMatt Pipes

The Trap of "Cool"

The Danger in Some Things is Much More Difficult to See Than Others

Concepts distilled

  • The subjective definition of “cool” is a bit of a fallacy, something to challenge within yourself. In today’s post I go through what being “cool” was to me, and the moment I learned I was living in that fallacy.

  • Learn to be uncool. Dance in the rain, yell at the top of your lungs in the middle of the street, leap over cracks and other obstacles. Laugh loudly, cry deeply.

  • Being “cool” can be stifling your artistic spirit. Artistically it kept me chained to what I thought was “cool” or ONLY to what I would see other actors doing. I never allowed myself to create anything unique, because that, subconsciously, was against my limiting “cool” beliefs.

  • The spotlight effect: the psychological phenomenon by which people tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are

  • What does “cool” mean to you? Is it a limiting belief?

  • The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life." — Confucius


When I was younger maybe in my early teens, I had a friend just a couple houses down. I can’t remember exactly how I met him, I just know that we both loved to skateboard, and that’s what centered around our friendship. This person was a couple of years older than me, it definitely sparked a necessity to hang out with people who were older than me, wise, or what I thought was wise. During the summertime, I of course had many free hours in a day, and I was somewhat conscious enough not to be spending that time on video games. My friend, (I’ll call him Tom) and I would skateboard all day. From morning to night. He already knew a bunch of tricks, I had a pop shove, and ollie, and I could do a “cool” board pick-up trick with my feet where I’d pop the tail and balance the end of the board on the top of my shoe, then lift my knee up to collect the board. Long breaks would be accompanied by sandwiches with cold cuts and mayo, no lettuce, obviously, too “cool” for that. I had this massive 2-gallon jug that I would fill to the brim with water and ice, and we’d take turns drinking from it.

One night skateboarding, I was practicing my kick-flip, He was working on a fakey heel flip. I always thought Tom was so “cool”. He sported a massively popular, at the time, Bieber haircut. He was supposedly very impressive with the ladies, at least from his own stories, had his own car at the time, and would constantly be tinkering with it. I thought he was so “cool”. While we were taking a break, I passed my ice-cold water to him and asked, “How are you so ‘cool?’” He looked at me, glanced down at my tube socks, and replied, “You really want to know?” Anything this person was about to say I was willing to do. I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, I do, I feel like I’m not ‘cool’, especially at school, people don’t really take me seriously.” Tom couldn’t help but laugh, ‘’Well of course they’re not going to take you seriously if you’re wearing Tube socks.” He continued. Here’s How to Be “Cool” by Tom who’s name isn’t really Tom;

  • No tube socks, at least mid-shin high and lower, ankle socks are best.

  • Boxers, not briefs.

  • “Cool” people don’t really speak out. They remain quiet and cunning.

  • Proper posture and walking with a purpose. No hopping, skipping, jumping, bouncing, walking smooth.

  • He also tried to teach me how to whistle loudly, though I never, even to this day, could do it.

  • Skateboarding was “cool”, so just keep skateboarding.

  • How to spit in a single glob as opposed to shotgun spitting.

  • How to eat sunflower seeds. Tactic: Shove a bunch of S.F. Seed shells in your mouth, transfer them to your preferred cheek, then pick one shell at a time from the cheek. Position shell in between teeth, thin sides resting on upper and lower molars, the side with no seeds in it. Bite down, crack the shell, and search the rubble for the seed. Once you have enjoyed the seed, spit out the shell. But don’t spit it out like that, you kinda just blow it out of your mouth with a burst of air. Now make it look natural.

Jeez, being “cool” is complicated.

I was jotting mental notes down, learning the algorithm on how to be “cool”. Our session ended with my mother calling me in for dinner. Once at the dinner table, I asked my parents for two things right away: I needed boxers, and I needed ankle socks. A lot changed very quickly after that. I became quieter, I appeared way smarter than I actually was, I walked real smooth, had great posture, and could spit at the baseball field. I do eat my sunflower seeds one at a time though… like a sane person. So I did it. I was “cool”

A lot of these tools and tactics were pretty innocent at the time, I just never expected the underlying danger that accompanied a pursuit like this one. One of the tactics that festered into something dangerous very quickly was, don’t speak up. Remain quiet and cunning, look smarter than you are. I would NEVER ask questions. If I did, I risked looking like an idiot. So I’d sit in classes for the rest of my life and I still do this a bit, letting the things I don’t know pass me by, feeling at risk of being “uncool”

The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life." — Confucius

Throughout college I remained “cool” now I’m an artist too, and there are some real “cool” artists out there.

  • Brad Pitt is “cool”

  • Harrison Ford is “cool”

  • Samuel Jackson is “cool”

  • Sean Connery and Daniel Craig are “cool”

  • Paul Newman

  • Robert De Niro

  • James Dean

All male actors that I had watched and I had admired. I based myself around these individuals, around movies I had watched, and about concepts steeped in the media. I played this weird game for a long time, playing with how people saw me, my status, wants, needs, and desires, I became hyperaware of people around me. I think I was also finding a strange bit of contradiction to “cool” and kindness. In some dangerous circles being unkind is considered “cool.” I assure you I quickly escaped groups like that, not without a little internal damage. There are some funny things your brain goes through while developing; right, wrong, “cool,” “uncool,” social circles, angst, and learning how you take up space. It was only in my second year of acting that someone important to me granted me a way out.

I remember it like this, during class after one of our acting exercises we were sitting with our chairs forming a circle to discuss an acting exercise we had just performed. Some things were coming up for me, or rather, nothing was coming up at all and had been for a while. I was stifling myself. I felt, for a long time like a robot. My college roommate even called me a robot. Within the exercises I was either forcing something to occur, or, when something appeared I would only feel it for a second and that feeling would quickly dissipate. My urges to yell, scream, cry, or have an outburst of laughter would be quickly extinguished. I was feeling really frustrated, and in my reflection, I explained how I am usually at a conscious distance from myself, looking at my every action. My relation to the room, the people, and most importantly to authority. The quick planning revolving around the cause and effect of a particular feeling, and my desire to control that feeling. My teacher was spot on and must have figured me out through my rant, because when I was finally done (basically) venting he put down his iced coffee and said “Stop being ‘cool!’ Fuck being ‘cool.’” That was all I remember, that was all I needed, it was the start. I know we went deeper into the topic of “cool”, but that first deliberate challenge of my belief was the spark. My teacher offered their hand to me in support of escaping the fallacy that I had created about being “cool.”

Unfortunately, I can’t relate to you that I’ve been able to completely come out of this weird fallacy of being “cool,” but I’ve gotten a lot better. I now ask a lot more questions, I like to laugh a lot louder than I used to and cry deeply. Sometimes when I’m walking, I like to find a bit of a different way to do so, whether that’s jumping on any raised platforms, or copying someone else’s walk. It may be an endless pursuit in the unlearning of what “cool” is in this society. The work that I have been able to do has been able to allow me a much deeper enjoyment of life, my art, my friends, and the nature of the earth. The more I think about it the more I realize that my subjective definition of “cool” was antithetical to “play.”

Being “cool” is one of the many things I’m still recovering from.

Art Collection

Burning - MOVIE 2018 Directed by Lee Chang-dong - Based on a Haruki Murakami Short story, this incredible mystery does a great job of depicting a feeling of anxiety through unknowns. Which is why I love Murakami, creating a justified feeling of… “how?” I highly encourage a watch.

The Sheltering Sky - SONG. Album: 1996 by Ryuichi Sakamoto - who also wrote the score to The Revenant Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. This song had a great deal of contrast throughout its arch. It’s beautiful for imaginative stories or real-time reflections. Especially the point of stories that are heightened moments such as departures, heartbreaks, rain, penultimate decisions, and dangerous travel.

The Moth Radio Hour: Location, Location, Location - PODCAST A story about a family and their rollerskating rink, and the power of community. That description won’t do it justice. This is a highly encouraged suggestion. They do a series of separate stories revolving around the topic, so it’s about a 10-minute standalone story, and it’s the very first in the lineup. All the other ones are also very good.

Thank you!

Thank you so much for reading! Next, it’s your turn! What were some things in the past that folks or society told you, and was there a moment you realized it wasn’t serving you anymore? If so, what change did you make?

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