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#22 kewwwwlllll girrrrrrl!
I do not understand the assignment.
Hello my friends,
I hope this week has been good to you.
SIL is SILin’ all the way to the bank as per usual!
This one was particularly hard because I’ve felt super un-juiced despite being in what I know to be a juicy time; second summer + normalcy novelty + being the oldest (read: most confident and knowing) I’ve ever been and the youngest I’ll ever been = JUICY. And yet, I’m having nighttime anxiety and feeling jittery and also, a little teary and SAD GIRL.
Anyway, I’ve been working on this piece for way too long. I don’t feel super jazzed about the subject matter, but it’s probably probing a part of myself I struggle with the most. My vanity and the way I’ve simultaneously sneered at and shrewdly studied coolness.
I hope you enjoy!
And hey, if you need me, call me twice.
Recently I was walking along a street in Collingwood. And as I’m wont to do when I see something cute, I stopped to take a photo. What was it? I don’t recall, maybe a dusky rose hanging over a fence or a pair of angel wings sticking out of a bin.
I stepped out on the curb and I guess I must have been crouching in an Attenborough-esque way, a slightly bent knee, a squint. A car drove past, and from its open window came the high-pitched, strangled voice of a man making fun, “kewwwwlllll girrrrrrl!” he crooned across the traffic. Sing song and mocking.
My heart folded in on itself, my cheeks burned, and I laughed, out of shame and disbelief and a bit of shit, yeah ok. Read to filth.
This story is funny to relay, and relay it I have. The people I love now say “keeewwwl girllll”, I assume whenever they think I think I’m cool, in that way people who love each other have of making sure no one gets a big head.
A message I sent to my housemate moments after the curb-side dressing down.
I’ve also started going back into The Office. Which is to say, I am stepping out into a world that feels more real and more “regular” than it has in two years. I have to wear clothes with buttons!
The feeling can be described by three words: back to normal. Workers, like ants, returning to the CBD to fill the sandwich shops and juice bars again. Women in stark white runners, with their heels poking out of their bags. Throngs of people in bars, damply pressing against each other.
And me, having no idea who I am in the context of the world anymore, sartorially or emotionally, or in any way really. Am I the kind of honest and self-assured person who tells people how I feel? Or am I “wholesome”? Am I someone who wears frilled shirts that I found in the op shop? Or do I wear hoodies with the words Crawling Death scrawled across them? All of these questions are asking the same thing. Am I cool? Or am I me?
The overlap in the Venn diagram of these events; being teased by a strange man as he drove by me, and my inability to draw a line around my identity as an individual human in the vast outside world, is me thinking about the concept of coolness. My notable lack of it and whether it’s worth having in the first place. It’s a social and cultural currency we talk about often and it’s both fickle and weirdly unrelenting.
Tragically, hipster jeans are now cool (again). But only if you have the kind of flat, taught pre-teen stomach that makes them remotely wearable. OR the heroic ability to ignore thin culture and show your soft belly to the world, which is the coolest.
Caps that advertise places you’ve never been or never want to go, particularly obscure American towns like Fresno, are cool. But only if you’re the kind of person who acts like you’re not wearing a hat with the name of a place you’ve never been to emblazoned across it.
Listening to acid jazz is cool, being quiet and also searingly funny is cool, acting like you don’t give a fuck (whether you do or not) is cool, uploading blurry photos of a hamburger you ate as part of a photo dump on your Instagram profile is very fucking cool. Jennifer Lawrence is cool.
Take this with a grain of salt of course, because this is all from the person who wore poo brown flares for the entirety of 2001. The very same person who started a club called The Bug Club in grade 2, where I “rescued” innocent, perfectly healthy bugs and kept them in my tiny plastic bug catcher until they perished. Even the other 8-year old’s, not typically purveyors of cool, knew I was a lost cause. In year 11 the boys called me mutant, that’s a little bleak, but I presume they could see in me a steadfast dorkiness that needed to be called out, like a heretic or a witch. SHE IS NOT COOL.
I went to Golden Plains once and hated it because I was cold and scared of drugs and couldn’t work out the festival attire, an ironic 1980’s turquoise power suit was what I needed, but a very earnest bodycon mini skirt from Supré is what I had.
And now as an adult, when coolness barely matters at all, because you realise no one really cares about you that much, it seems limp and pointless. Like an unnecessary appendage. And yet, here I am studying its architecture, perhaps more than ever.
I’m not the only millennial hungering for some kind of definition of cool to hang my outmoded hat on. A recent article in The Cut entitled ‘A Vibe Shift is Coming, Will Any of us Survive It?’ speaks to the collective angst around what constitutes cool these days.
It’s clear that a few things have compounded to bring us to the edge of a new era: gen z have come of age AND the world has spent two years inside. It compounds again when you think about gen z coming of age during two years spent inside. Like all youth since the dawn of time, these young people are the harbingers of the new cool and the petri dish of their evolution is powerful and specific. Tik Tok and posting black squares to your grid as protest and the word slay.
As for the millennial fixation with defining the trends of a youth culture we’re ageing out of, I can only speak for myself when I say that entering a pandemic in my late 20’s and emerging from it in my early 30s’ feels seismic and confusing.
On Friday night I went to review a music gig for the first time ever. It was fun and new and also a little bit sad, because I should have probably done that when I was 24. Instead, I spent the entirety of my 20’s in my own little prison of self-doubt. The whole world was Golden Plains, and I was cold and afraid of drugs in perpetuity.
At the gig I swayed next to the barricade, and aside from taking notes in my phone about BENEE’s honeyed voice, her charming between-song chat and her long shiny black hair, I’m embarrassed to admit that I spent a lot of time observing people’s clothes. The dad in the flannel shirt and a flat cap, with his 10-year-old daughter atop his shoulders. The millennials, in their straight leg jeans and sensible Vejas. And the people in their early 20’s, with their vapes, oversized tees and fanny packs. BENEE herself wore shiny tracksuit pants, an awkward length t shirt that stopped just where her pants began (a 2001 vibe!) and a knitted bucket cap. I could tell that she was very cool but I also thought she looked like she was going for a walk around the block. And that’s when I realised. I personally will not survive this vibe shift.
I’ve been confusing 2 years of wearing only active wear with the hard, sour tasting truth of my own slow and certain march toward death. It is not so much my reemergence into a world that spins madly on that has thrown me, it is more that I am getting older. Too old to care. And instead of the realisation being a wholly sad one, I’ve found it uniquely freeing.
I can finally abandon the pursuit of coolness (we all know the point of coolness is that you don’t need to pursue it anyway), and just be me, which is to say, I can continue wearing high waisted jeans and frilly op shop shirts and thinking of comebacks 2 days after a conversation has happened.
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