06/27/2014 02:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What It Takes to Keep Your Cool

I looked forward to the day when I could finally say I knew what it takes to be cool. I couldn't fathom it would be something that would disappoint me. That maybe I wouldn't want to be cool. But I don't. I can't.

I mean, being cool, having status -- that's what we're supposed to want after watching movies and television shows about parties that don't happen within a fifty-mile radius. No, when you're a small town kid, being cosmopolitan, cultured, that all seems cool. But, see, that's not what being cool is really about. You don't need to speak three languages or wear Michael Kors to get envious glares. Nah, just throw on some shades and sit back while I share with you what being cool is all about.

Cool is not giving a shit.

Millennials, I'm talking to a generation that's obsessed with being cool. A generation where "no f*cks given" is not an irregularity but a mantra. Where student debt is put on the credit card because a university degree is a right, not a luxury -- but we still have to pay for it. Where sweating only comes from popping mollies.

It's not that wanting to be cool wasn't a problem in previous generations -- people are wired to desire social acceptance and even superiority -- but we're all able to be cool (good selfie lighting and clever puns permitting). Perhaps the accessibility of being cool makes it that much more seductive -- the ultimate fulfillment of the American Dream. Our immigrant ancestors couldn't have fathomed that their progeny would not only ascend in wealth and education, but they wouldn't have to even worry about such things. They wouldn't have to worry about anything.

I should know, because this fantasy was as much mine as anyone else's. I thought being cool was one thing in Louisiana and another in New York, but they were really just the same.

Being cool is being able to laugh at others, but not yourself. Being cool is knowing what's happening around you, but only being interested if it's someone else's business. Being cool is knowing people who smoke cigarettes and apathetically joke about cancer. It's not real to them. Nothing is.


My entire existence was centered around being cool and fitting in, but I couldn't talk my way there when all that came out were questions.

Showing interest in someone isn't cool. Being friendly isn't cool -- because you've obviously got nothing to lose. Wanting something more with someone -- something more than "talking," which it barely even is -- isn't cool. Like, don't do anything to make anyone think you care about anything. Got it? Cool.

And those Northern kids I grew up being jealous of? The ones I met in Cuba showed me that being cool was talking about yourself, working for a non-profit and coming to Cuba because it was "cool." Tell me, what was so cool about going to Cuba? Was it having enough money to shield yourself from the reality of a blockade you're never going to vote out of existence? Or was it the notion that the Cuban way would never permanently be yours?

Cool was caring about the world's problems without actually living them. It's sad, seeing walls come down after swirls of mojitos and salsa moves. And after lightly chatting about our experiences, those kids never called us up. Seeing detached coolness slapped on privileged kids made me lose mine.

I tried so damn hard to be cool, but I never succeeded. And maybe that was a good thing.

I'm vexed. I'm frustrated. I let things get to me, get me riled up, get me feeling pretty hot. I tried not getting upset with a dysfunctional government. I watched friends avoid me when I protested the 2013 government shutdown on campus because standing up for something isn't cool.

It's really not cool to talk about racism or sexism or any other ism affecting society. It's not cool to try to fix those things. And really, do you want everyone to know how vulnerable you are?

So activism isn't cool. Being political isn't cool. Nah, because when you read about the privatization of prisons or the meager wage Americans live on, it's not cool to talk about what might upset a delicate Sunday brunch. When you realize you participate in a system that is hurting people -- well, it's not a good way to keep your cool, man.

Cool allows a detachment from reality. An otherworldly existence that says, "Unlike you, those things are so far removed from my reality that I don't care."

It's really easy to be cool with the kids I meet. To wait for a lull in a conversation to pull out our phones to show that we don't acknowledge awkward silences. To avoid following news organizations on Twitter. To Snapchat on the Greek bus without wondering what possesses the bus driver to drive for six hours straight, something you would know if you ever asked.

To shield ourselves from the reality that others experience. To have the luxury to not care about others.

That's cool, man. Really, that's some icy, frozen stuff right there.

Being cool allows one to construct a persona that loses touch with the real world. I'm only as cool as my latest Facebook status about the highlights of my day. As intentional and poised as my last selfie.

So when people tell me they think I'm cool now, I have to check myself. Make sure that I'm in touch with reality -- my reality, which is outside of my air conditioned home.

Ignoring messages makes me that much cooler, but in a place that praises the busy and avoids the awkwardness that is life, I don't want to be cool.

We drive our cars with hollow, manufactured beats blasting from our speakers. The EDM echo howls with a loneliness we can't articulate. Something to fill the emptiness that hides behind shades that betray nothing.

Go on, fill yourself with the drug you can afford. Anything to keep your cool.