To be cool

I met someone unbearably cool on Thursday night. She had dyed silver hair with purple streaks framing her lovely face. She was middle aged, perfect smile wrinkles around her eyes. She had a bass guitar strapped to her back. She oversaw a software development team and she knew my friend because she also plays ice hockey. She was in an adult rock band.

In my twenties, I deliberately cultivated certain skills that I believed were critical to becoming the kind of person I wanted to be as an adult. These skills included kissing, playing pool well, drinking whiskey on the rocks, cooking, writing, fearlessly (and indulgently) following my heart, working on the craft of repartee and generally doing things I had a sense women weren’t supposed to do (like driving taxis). Many of these skills have stayed with me, some have dropped away. I now suck at playing pool: I used to carry a roll of quarters in my purse. For a moment I could, from time to time, put sexist presumptuous persons in their places. At least with cue in hand.

In my thirties, I decided that making lists and having top tens was a bit silly. Life was nuanced and complex. I was satisfied with whom I had become. (Perhaps I grew complacent, or smug, or just plain happy.) I had certain goals in mind, but they were focused on scholarship, writing, and my romantic life. They were not about the craft of becoming. I know what I look like and how I present, and I suspect what people think when they behold me. “A very nice, conservative lady” as one of my former clients put it.

On Thursday, Purple Streaks reminded me that there are choices to be made. I am faced with the becoming of middle age. And questions about coolness. Hipness is out of reach (and, honestly, not exactly desirable). I have some culture. I have opinions of taste. I have a sense of being worldly. I don’t want to be cool to others, but I wouldn’t mind being cool to myself. That’s a kind of cool worth working toward, and my reach needs exceed my grasp if I wish to keep growing. Plots and lists are to be made.

Salmon

I lived in New York City, Manhattan–so I’d get those spiffy envelopes that said it: New York New York, for five years right after college. I moved to Philly more than a decade ago, but when it came time for my 30th birthday, I had my party in New York City. This was an act of nostalgia for my twenties and an act of love towards the city. I’m facing the next turning of the decade, and I’m headed back to New York. I don’t know what that means. Maybe it means I’m salmon swimming upstream to the watering places that shaped a younger me. I’m going to spend a celebratory weekend, and will make a symbolic stop at my once glamorous watering holes, The Algonquin and the Royalton for one cocktail each. I was so excited to walk in Dorothy Parker’s steps when I was young.

New York still feels incredibly familiar but strange. Manhattan doesn’t need me, it has its own thing going and I haven’t been written into that story. I no longer belong to the New York City timeline. I get occasional glimpses of the city’s evolution. My weekend jaunts are little postcards from the future to my current self which holds the old Manhattan in its mind. In the early 90s, Manhattan still had a kind of wild rugged energy in places, and now the whole of it feels like a polished grand dame to me. Maybe it’s because I’m older and I gravitate to quieter scenes.

Anyway, salmon, swimming upstream, not to spawn but to witness, maybe catch a glimpse of myself rounding the corner. Who’s doing the gazing and who’s being beheld is the mystery.