How to be cool: an essay for my brother Mitchell Sawchuk

If the line between genius and madness is thin, I would argue that the distinction between cool and uncool is a real eye-squinter.  Being cool is a lot like NOT going offside in hockey; and about as easy to explain.

To be “Cool” you want to be the first person to do something, like bringing the puck across your opponents blue line before the rest of your teammates cross said line.  Or, you want to be right behind the person who’s stick handling the puck, while acting like you know what’s happening, or what’s going to happen next, (when you really don’t).  Keep in mind that if you get too close and skate over the metaphorical “cool blue line” too soon, ahead of the person with the “cool puck” everybody stops and looks at you funny.   That’s offside, man.  

If you -by chance- are the pioneer of a fashion, sound, idea or movement, which is to carry the “cool puck”, you want to lead at the right pace.  It’s your responsibility to charge toward the net.  But don’t deviate from that plan at the last moment.  Don’t change your mind based on new information, experiences or advice.  In that moment you are no longer able to think for yourself.  It’s too late for you to be an original.  Your destiny is to be what others want and or expect of you.  You’re not a person – you’re cool.

When the coolness of others depends on you, you’re no longer an individual.  So there you are, doing something you may no longer believe in because you have to lead others based on their expectation of you.  See how thin the line is?   This is where the similarities between being cool and not going off side in hockey stop.

In hockey, the idea is to score goals.  Putting the puck in the net is how a team wins.  In hockey, when you score, everybody hugs and celebrates and high-fives and pats each others bums.  There is a clear and definable goal.

In the pursuit of cool however, you follow trends (the guy or girl with the” cool puck”) even if you don’t fully understand why,  then when that movement “scores” (whatever that means), cool people gather around the net looking at each other trying to understand what just happened: “What did we score?”  “Did I score, or was that you?” Being cool includes a lot of clueless celebrating.

Calculating the cadence to being cool (whatever that is) is something I’ve been working on my entire life.  Maybe you are too.  Maybe you’ve subconsciously, or on purpose,  gotten a haircut that society deemed “cool”, maybe you drink a brand of beer, drive a brand of car, or use a vocabulary that brings you admiration from a peer group who’s idea of “cool” you’ve actively or passively embraced.  And it’s OK if you dobecause we all do in a way.  We’re all human.  So how do you become cool?

Some people think they know the secret to being cool.  They say all you have to do is not try.  People who think that are wrong.  Believe me:  Mick Jagger, Justin Bieber and your-favorite-fill-in-the-blank celebrity/musician/actress/politician/activist/hero, etc are all trying to be cool.  The difference is they don’t CARE if you think their cool IS cool or not.  In fact, the thought likely doesn’t even cross their minds.  After they do something they think is cool, they stop thinking about it.  Doing what they think is cool is cool enough.  Then they do something else cool, while a lot of us write essays about it.

My brother Mitchell Sawchuk has been defining cool as long as I’ve known him.  It takes a brave man to boast that he plans to wear a suit and tie to a cruise ships safety demo –  it takes a cool guy to actually do it.  And more importantly: to not care what anybody else thinks, even if that somebody else is the trained safety professional politely asking you to keep it down during the demo.  Mitchell saved a few bucks on his high school grad jacket when he bought it second-hand, he thought that was cool.  He didn’t care if it did, and still does, have another person’s name on it (a girl’s name at that).

There are two types of people in the world: those who labor over what it means to be cool, and those who  do stuff they think is cool without hesitation.  It’s just another thing my brother and I will never have in common.



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