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when you're uncool

when you’re uncool

When I tell people I have a sister, I’m asked to describe her. My answer has always been: “she’s the cool one”. It may surprise her to know that, but it’s the truth. In my eyes, my sister has always embodied cool. She is forthright, fashionable, beautiful and strong.

As I have gone through life, my definition of ‘cool’ has morphed and mutated but now it seems to be nearly full circle. Here’s my nostalgic walk through my Safi-dictionary definitions.

1980s.
I live in The Gambia and Bangladesh. All around me is proof that nature rules all and that humans are struggling to get it right. Cool walks in the skin of Virginia McKenna, Gerald Durrell, Will Travers, Audrey Hepburn and Margot Fonteyn. Cool to these childish eyes are those who speak out, live with love and IN nature or their art. They are not the most traditionally beautiful of people, but all the most beautiful of souls to me. There is no distinction between hero and cool people.

On a less lofty level, cool is my sister and the rest of the kids who fly back into the tropics from the UK for the longer school holidays. They bring with them fashion, music and a language of slang that I barely understand. They seem other worldly, strong, independent and free.

1990s.
I’m back in the UK, entrenched into the teenage years. Cool has also been reduced to the playground level, split between those who I perceive as cool and those labelled cool by the majority.It all seems a little more elusive. I don’t buy into the Hollywood icons shoved into our faces somehow, valuing names instead like Anita Roddick. Addding to the list, David Attenbrough comes into view but then also the likes of Mario Testino and Kate Moss, Mandela and Paul Simon. ‘Cool’ is now also about knowing. Knowing your world inside out and back to front and how to play it. Be it in nature or in the cut-throat fashion world, being at the top of your game is what is most seductive to this teen as she eyes adulthood. Suddenly heroic and cool are split, I don’t need to love the person, just what they do and how they do that aspect of their life.

2000s.
My education years, of university and of teaching and of learning a new life. The biggest decade to date. And is it telling that I can’t list my epitomes of cool? I understand less and less of whom popular society nudge forward as ‘cool’ – the views are fractured and dysfunctional. Instead I can point to a plethora of people who came into view but never achieved ‘hero of cool’ in this brain of mine. From Jensen Button to Kelly Slater, from Saba Douglas-Hamilton to Dan Snow, Eva Cassidy to Shara Worden… and now the pattern becomes clear. I understand what it is to me and why I can’t isolate it anymore.

‘Cool’ for me has never been about fitting in, being part of the cool crowd. I’ve never valued that and, whilst that caused me anguish as a child, now I love that truth. I know now that ‘cool’ to me has always reflected that which I value most but fear I lack. I value understanding the world in which we live but fear I know too little to help it in any meaningful way. I value understanding your own body both under stress and at rest, but fear I am too lazy to channel it into practice. I value expression of yourself creatively in sound and movement, speaking out without fear, something I work to master.

Today, though I am tired and vulnerable, I vow to one day be my own ‘cool’, understanding the ebb and flow in that very word..

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