Illustration by Jennifer Martin

Through Being Cool by Jamie L. Rotante

I’m not cool. I’ve never been. Deep down I still have faith that I one day may be, but I’m decidedly uncool through and through. This doesn’t bother me.

Or, I should say, this no longer bothers me. Okay, maybe it only kind of no longer bothers me.

We’re all works in progress from the minute we’re born, until the day we die.

I’m happy with where I am in my life, and who I am (flaws and all). There’s still a lot of work that has to be done, because as people we’re all works in progress from the minute we’re born, until the day we die. No one is perfect; the self-work is only complete when we decide we no longer want to evolve, maybe because we’re happy where we are, maybe as some sort of fatal flaw that sends all of humanity back a few paces (as we’ve seen happening again and again in these recent years).

Regardless, who we once were doesn’t have to define who we are now. The experiences we had, the things we’ve done and said, and the beliefs we once held can shape us, for sure, but they don’t have to be permanent marks on us—instead they’re just penciled doodles and scribbles that can be inked upon to create something better. The tattoos of our pasts can be blasted over, if we so choose. 

So if I believe that to be true, then why the hell do I get so paranoid about people finding out how much of a loser I used to be?

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a neurotic, shy-until-I’m-borderline-annoying person who stumbles over her words and often doesn’t know what to do with her hands. I worry about everything, I overthink, I never know when to leave, and I seldom know how to fit in. I’ve written enough articles to cover this.

And who I used to be?… Ignoring most kids shows and trends to instead memorize episodes of The Dick Van Dyke show.

And who I used to be? A neurotic, shy child with an overprotective family. Granddaughter of the lunch lady. A Chuckie Finster-like fear of constant impending doom. Scolding other kids for liking Marilyn Manson. Listening to 1940s big band music. Ignoring most kids shows and trends to instead memorize episodes of The Dick Van Dyke show. Perpetually afraid of authority, trying to stay on the right side of the law at all times. An old, awkward soul. A girl who spent her first week of high school carrying around the hardcover oversized Live from New York book celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Saturday Night Live like it was the Bible (it pretty much was, to me at least), hoping that it would strike up a good conversation with someone. (It did—but mostly it just got people asking me why I would read a book that size.) 

The friends I made were all a little offbeat, all in their own unique ways. I still cherish those friendships, those people who looked past my quirks (or didn’t and instead were drawn to them) and embraced me for who I was. Those I’m still friends with, and those I’m not.

And yet, I still worry that if I meet someone who knows people who knew me back then—no matter who I am or what I do now—they’ll never shake those old views of me. “You’re friends with Jamie? The girl who used to pick at her scalp and collect her dandruff?” “Oh, you hang out with Jamie, the girl who convinced herself she had a blinking disorder and then couldn’t stop blinking because she thought her eyes would stay stuck open forever if she didn’t?” “You know Jamie, the girl who was afraid to walk down the steps by herself because she was afraid she’d fall and die?” “Jamie, the girl who cried every single day in the first grade because she missed her mom?” “Jamie, the girl whose lasting legacy in the yearbook was just a line that said, ‘Remember when Jamie spoke? We don’t.’”

Yeah, it doesn’t take a professional to see that a lot of what I did then was less of being uncool and more so just a collection of nervous habits and neuroses. But tell that to a group of ten- to fourteen-year-olds.

It’s also more likely than not that all of those attributes and moments I dwell on have mostly been forgotten by those who knew me. Most of them probably chalked them up to just the weird things and phases kids go through. Some of them probably even had their own that I didn’t notice. And those who would hold those attributes against me? Why the hell should I care what they think of me, now or ever?

And yet, the worry that I’m a fraud, a dweeb posing as someone marginally cool until the truth comes out, still plagues me. Maybe it’s just that insecurity I’ve had since childhood. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because if I think people don’t remember me as I once was, it’s because they just don’t remember me at all. Being forgotten has always been a fate worse than death for me.

Maybe that’s why I’m here to remind you, or inform you, as who I once was. And, to a certain degree, who I still am.

The amount of energy put into apathy is, quite frankly, exhausting.

Some say self-deprecating humor is a defense mechanism. I can’t disagree. If anyone’s going to make fun of me, they better at least let me do it first. But it’s not necessarily a way of kicking myself down—it’s a way of acknowledging who I am and owning it. I’ve got no use for trying to appear aloof, to seem like the coolest person in the room. I know I’m not, and the amount of energy put into apathy is, quite frankly, exhausting. I’d rather you know the real me, laugh with me, and use my time and energy into creating a good vibe and a welcoming atmosphere. I could stress about the things people could say about me, or I could say them myself, and do the one thing that really only matters to me: make someone laugh.

But please, for the love of god, laugh at my jokes.