I Just Wanted to Be Cool

I just wanted to be cool.

Now that I am approaching 58, perhaps as a result of my many years of psychotherapy or perhaps by grace of my living with someone who tells me every day he loves me very much, I feel about as cool as I need to be. Which is to say that I no longer really feel I need to be cool. And, I don’t think cool is the essence of what I was longing for – for decades. No. What I needed all along those decades of desperation (and depression), and what I indeed feel now, at long last, is a sense of connection. Today, above all, I feel a deepening and widening sense of connection with myself – or more accurately, with the parts of myself that I tried to bury or hide from for so long, because THEY were not cool. Rage, sadness, loneliness and shame.

Cool is in the eyes of the beholder – admirers, those who are envious. I was one of those who was envious. I wanted to be like one of the cool people, one of the A-list, one of the admired. And so I would imitate, or more like it, I would try to imitate – naturally without believing in myself in the process. What I believed instead was that I was a wanna-be, a fraud. While I really wanted to be a part of the crowd, in reality, I felt apart from the crowd, even if I was in their midst, and surrounded by them, and doing stuff with them, and dating them, and even sleeping with them. I felt apart. And in essence, I was apart, but not from them. I was apart from myself. I harbored a deep-seated feeling that I was not worthy, that I was not really particularly likeable, much less loveable.

At base, I did not love myself. I did not treat myself with dignity and respect. I thought of myself with contempt for not being everything I thought I needed to be in order to merit my own esteem. I was ashamed of myself for not being perfect – or rather, for being imperfect in too many ways.

The cool people weren’t perfect. But I discounted their flaws as inconsequential. They were still cool. I believed my flaws were too many, too overwhelming – and as a result, I didn’t feel at ease in their presence. I always felt out-of-place – pretending as if I were, when inside I was telling myself I wasn’t. Trying too hard to fit in while feeling inside that I just didn’t belong. And not being able to figure out why, but instead feeling badly about myself for feeling badly about myself. Ugh, it was quicksand.

Recommended Reading:

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

On Surfing

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I stayed out of the water for three months after my near drowning in Costa Rica. It was at a reef break a mile offshore in 9 foot waves – waves that jacked up quickly and broke unpredictably left and right just as fast. The boat had to stay a quarter of a mile away in order not to risk getting swamped by the swell. I got caught on the inside after the first of a short interval 3 wave set – no sooner had I popped up from the second wave that I was hammered by the third and held down for as long as I had ever been held down.  I can remember saying to myself as I was churned underwater, “go with the flow, relax, stay calm.” And I did go with the flow. I did relax. I did stay calm. And then I didn’t. I couldn’t any longer. No air. Instead, I thrashed to get to the surface, pushing to get my head out of the water. Back on my board, breathing again, I had nothing left. Or at least I felt I had nothing left. Nothing left to get me over the oncoming swells and back to the boat – which looked so very far away – and with no one to come to my aid. Evidently I made it. But the eventuality of my getting back to the boat was not obvious to me at the time. I was terrified for my life. Terrified.

I got back in the water at home in Santa Cruz for the first time earlier this week and stayed for 15 minutes. I went back for a 20-minute session yesterday. First wave was great. Nice smooth drop-in on a 3-footer and a ride down the line. As I paddled back out, I turtled my board to get beyond a breaking wave, but the force of the lip smashed the board against my forehead and I came up hurt and dazed.

Surfing is not a sport for the delicate. Nor is it a sport for those unwilling to own the collection of scars that will be acquired through an inevitable sequence of slices and slams. And it’s not necessarily a sport for the self-professed or closeted masochist, either. But regardless the slings and arrows of my outrageous fortunes on the water, I do go back. I paddle out for another wave, another ride, another rush, and invariably another encounter with reckless abandon.

Most days I do stay away.

But some days, some days, I have the best waves ever!

There’s a swell today. It looked big this morning. Maybe it’ll be a little more forgiving this afternoon.