For most of my life, I have been obsessed with two things: looking cool, and never, ever getting caught trying to look cool.
I’ve gotten away with it more than you’d think (though less than I’d have liked), and it’s made life easier in at least as many ways as it’s complicated it.
Here’s the thing, though—it, more than any other thing or series of things I have done, has been exhausting. At some point, when I have the distance and the perspective to provide meaningful information, I will share the stories of Trying to Be Cool, and Doing It Sometimes, and Failing Miserably at Other Times, and all the rest. Really, there are bits and pieces of these stories studded throughout the pages of this blog, if you know how to look for them. I am learning this, too—how to look for them.
But lo, a simple illustration: because of this insatiable need to look cool, I have bought a lot of dumb things. And I mean a LOT of dumb things. I did this even more a couple of decades ago, when I was truly miserable in my job and life and desperately using retail therapy to try to plug those leaks as well; I still remember the horrible, sick feeling that came over me in the mid/late ’90s, when I got around to shredding old credit card statements from the late ’80s. (And that’s just from the stuff you can put on credit cards, if you know what I’m sayin’.)
Right now, for a variety of reasons born of good intentions that have resulted in hampered cash flow, I am restricting spending to essentials. Or “essentials”, because really, how do you justify gasoline and fancy groceries and a stupid-expensive cell phone plan and these three URLs because you have wanted them for sooooo long and all the rest of it as “essentials” when you have your very own water coming out of your very own pipes—hot and cold and running—and there are people on the very same planet walking 12 miles barefoot each way for maybe—if they’re lucky—a pail of murky, questionable liquid one could only call “water” out of perverseness. You don’t, that’s how. You appreciate the hell out of your glorious, luxurious, convenience-filled life, and try to be a good steward of the considerable resources you remain blessed with even during what 1980’s, fat-cat you would dub “lean times.”
Which is exactly what I’ve been doing. And, surprise!, this feels utterly fantastic, both because MATURITY and also because I really, really appreciate the things I do still spend money on.
But because I am an American softie, doomed to be among the first down in our upcoming zombie apocalypse, I still get a little twitchy sometimes. Not about big, scary potential outcomes, real or imagined, but stupid crap like “What will I wear to that party?” or “What will I get so-and-so for their birthday?” or “Why the $@% do these %@!) ear buds from !#$))! Apple fall out of my gigantic Dumbo flappers no matter how hard I squish them in there??” (You can see why I get a charge out of those rare moments when MATURITY.)
And then, I let it go. Because whatever. Because it’s unbecoming and ungenerous and ridiculous. Because it’s enough that I have a nice, safe apartment and plenty to eat and read, and fine friends to hang out with, and a mostly healthy body to get me around to places, and doctors to take care of me when my health goes south.
And more times than not, answers just show up now, with no effort on my part: I remember how these shoes I never wear anymore because of all the walking I do now may not be good for walking, but kick ass with these jeans and that shirt that’s in the Goodwill pile but hasn’t made it there yet. (Sorry, Goodwill. I’ll send something else.) Or the perfect inexpensive gift will fall from the sky, on a “sale” cloud.
Or a nutty, out-of-the-blue though: “I wonder if it would help to turn the ear buds around and drape the cords over my gigantic, Dumbo flappers?” And because the need to enjoy my 4- and 6- and 10-mile walks with my current podcast obsession overrides the desire to look cool and/or the desire to part with dollars, I do it, and dad-gum it if figuring out a workaround that costs me exactly nothing doesn’t make me feel 10x more ingenious and foxy and, yes, COOL, than getting a pair of those hand-carved wood ear buds or noise-canceling audiophile ear buds or any other goddamn ear buds ever could. Even though I am 100% sure I look like a nut job, walking around with my ear buds in backwards.
Don’t get me wrong: I am definitely looking forward to the day when, once again, I have money to throw at problems. Options are fantastic, and there are many, many problems (and awesome, fun, ingenious solutions to them) that it would be fun to throw money at.
But I’m no longer under the illusion that I can buy my way to cool, or even that I would if I could. I am not yet at that place where I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, but I think I can see the road signs from here.
And that’s more than good enough. That, I am also starting to see, is everything.