The trick to being cool is realizing that there is no trick.
I felt it building in me for a few weeks actually, like an exhaust fume squeezing its way in between my organs, running from head to stomach to feet then all the way back to head. Headaches. Queasiness. A desire to run out of the room. Back to queasiness. And then back to headaches. Repeat. But I’m positive that the sentiment wasn’t originally meant for her. I suspect that it was meant, instead, for the planet. But she just kept talking about how I’m only engaging my emotions on an intellectual level.
And I sat there silently thinking, “Well of course I’m only engaging my emotions on an intellectual level. Why the hell would I want to swim through how badly I feel right now?”
It doesn’t help to disengage from what’s going on, she said.
Saying that you’re angry and then burying that reality under sarcasm, or intelligent arguments, or whatever you can to keep yourself from being vulnerable is not the way forward, she insisted.
You have to go through it, she asserted.
And then I said it:
“You know what, fuck you!”
I said “fuck you!” to my therapist. I mean, I said it with tears in my eyes and she seemed to take it in stride and, honestly, it felt kind of good to get it off my chest. But guilt was also molten steel pouring over me in the moment. It sounds silly but I feel bad that I was so impolite. About two months prior I had started group therapy for male childhood sexual abuse survivors and I remember telling my therapist that during the first group session, the woman who runs it gave each of us stress balls to squeeze. She gave us these cute, squishy, smiley-faced little gifts to help us through this difficult process.
“How did that work for you?” my therapist asked.
“I wanted to throw it at her,” I admitted.
My therapist said she understood and that it was a good decision not to bloody someone’s nose with a squishy smiley face. “Why didn’t you do it?” she then asked.
“It would have been impolite,” I answered.
“It would have been more than that,” she said.
It would have been. And I would have felt guilty about that too. But, really, I just didn’t want to be impolite. My manners mean a lot to me. Probably because I look at my emotions intellectually instead of trying to feel them sometimes, but keeping my composure makes me feel like I’m bigger than the monsoon of bullshit that is trying to knock me off my feet … even when I’m not … even when I really need a hand.
Welcome to the School of Cool
One day, as a kid, there was this other boy from my neighborhood who wanted to fight me. He never told me this but he was standing two feet away when his friend shared this information. “Yo, Quentin, ’Tommy’ wants to fight you,” he said.
I stood there, looked at Tommy and his friend equally, and said, “So?”
I wasn’t going to move. Tommy could have lunged at me at any moment. But he didn’t do anything. And then his friend just burst into laughter while I went back to playing basketball. The insult was implied. Tommy and I never liked each other and he wanted to fuck me up.
“So?” I said, because he was welcomed to try. I wasn’t fazed by his emotions or his faith in his ability to fuck me up, not even to the point of feeling any need to acknowledge them. I was telling the boy to go fuck himself without breaking any written rules regarding politeness. And that speaks to the heart of what’s really on my mind: I like being polite because sometimes that shit is cool.
Questlove of the Roots had written articles on vulture.com about how hip-hop has failed black America. In his most recent installment, he talked about “cool.” A friend I used to go bar hopping with said to me a few times that I was good competition for him because I had “that black man cool.” Truthfully, I knew what he meant but I didn’t at the same time. When it came to women, I just talked a lot of shit. And that worked well enough for me. Talking shit and being “cool” are often joined at the hip. Ask Muhammad Ali. Ask Richard Pryor. Or, at least, ask Questlove since he mentioned both of them in the article.
“Let’s go back to the word: cool,” Questlove writes. “Cool doesn’t mean a lack of temperature, exactly. It doesn’t mean low affect or indifference. It means cool heat, intensity held in check by reserves of self-possession. Cool is social engagement masquerading as a kind of disengagement. As a result, in any display of cool, there is a slight hint of threat. What if the mask is lifted and the heat released? That threat can be physical or sexual or intellectual, but it’s always felt.”
My Therapist Is Cool …
While crying and after telling my therapist to go fuck herself, I eventually confessed to her that I was afraid that I was going to die poor and alone, disappointed and as a disappointment. And to this bone-deep existential fear, amplified by recent challenges that have inspired me to behold the endless sky and imagine brown raindrops falling toward my face while I whisper, “Oh, look, it’s bullshit season;” my therapist replies that this is not the end, that there is a reason to have hope for the future, and that I should continue going through.
It makes me laugh a little bit.
I belch “Fuck you!” at my therapist and she essentially replies with …
“Hey, just be cool.”