Friday, April 14, 2017

BE COOL


I’ve been mulling over something for the last few days. I am not a New York City nostalgist. By any means. I think it’s weird to want to live in the past. When you begin to stagnate or worse, look backward, you tend to become either rigidly complacent or an ideologue. Not my thing. I’ve always been attuned to the forward momentum of things, which is what brought me to New York and to working at culture magazines in the first place. While my growth and maturation make trendy things and youth culture much less interesting to me now than they were in my teens and 20s, I still find forward momentum—in all areas, but the particularly forward momentum of creativity, discernment and thought—to be what inspires me most.

The one thing I will say about New York right now is this: it is losing cool factor. Rapidly. This could be seen as a global phenomenon, with the rise of internet culture and the demise of true subculture. But I’m not sure about that. I think there is still cool to be found in this world. But New York is really getting tough on cool. People don’t act cool. Their voices don’t sound cool. Their choices, sartorial and otherwise, don’t exemplify cool. When they try to be cool, I get the feeling of someone who has grudgingly put on the “cool” hat, but who would rather be wearing athleisure.

And I say this as someone who openly engages in things I consider very uncool! I am spiritual, and the aesthetic of American New Thought spirituality is deeply uncool. It’s like a rainbow fairy crystal. I also do yoga, which has basically the same terrible aesthetic. In the past, my two sports of choice were horseback riding and wing chun kung fu, both of which I consider very cool. They are both intense, creative, intellectual and dangerous—you can get badly hurt doing both of them. Horseback riding is inherently chic—you get to wear chic clothing and chic boots and a chic cap while doing it. You carry a chic little crop. Even the horse looks chic, in a bondage kind of way. Kung fu may not be quite as outwardly chic, but it’s still quite cool in a wild, street way. I always thought of yoga as something I would NEVER do, purely based on the aesthetic. Which I hate. Fortunately, as I grew older, I realized that some things were worth doing even if you didn’t think they were very cool-looking. And it’s nice to do an activity where you don’t get hurt.

So aesthetic should not dictate everything. By any means. You get into weird, potentially vapid territory when that happens. However, it seems most people in New York now are A-OK with almost all things not being cool, and definitely not being cool-looking. New York just feels like marketing to me now. Everything feels like SoulCycle—spandex pants, safety, and someone yelling at you to feel bad/good. When you look at the people who are really thriving right now: these people may call themselves an old-school term like writer, curator, etc.—but what they really are is marketers. I don’t hate money and I don’t think it’s inherently evil. I think it’s useful, and I’ve bought many things I like to wear and read with it. But I remember Dave Hickey’s treatise on smart money and dumb money in relation to the art world. There is just so much dumb, empty money in New York right now. And it’s turning culture into nothing more than a Hot List that ticks all the right boxes. There's no place for enchantment. It's all metrics. 

Can we stop with the marketing (outside the realm of actual marketing)? Can the truly cool people try to be nice to each other and support each other again? Please? Because I really need that right now. I'm serious.

I will tell you something I’ve learned many times over living here: most people do not belong in New York. I don’t have parents. I’ve been totally on my own, here, since age seventeen. I’ve been financially in dire straights, with NO ONE to turn to, many times. While outwardly I think I have a relatively mild demeanor, inwardly I’m a very tough person. I've had many beautiful experiences here, and some really awful ones. I wouldn’t want someone else to live my life, just as I would not want to live someone else’s life. But my life, and my personality: that’s New York City. For better or worse. When I walk the streets of New York, sometimes I feel like a territorial little feline, like, “This is my city.”

And anyone who thinks they do belong here should be here. But for those who don’t really feel like they belong here, or for those who think that they’ve conquered New York because they’ve made friends or money here: you are not New York. Not yet. New York is always good to people—at first. It's a playground. But everyone has the moment where what they’ve been doing—their cute little game—doesn’t work for them anymore. That’s when you understand if you belong here. And I don’t say that as a “hardened” New Yorker. I say that as a softened New Yorker, who has been made to swallow her pride until she realized that it was only pride that masked her from her true self. I feel like I’ve married New York, for better or for worse—and it's a relationship that functions mostly because of how true it has made me to myself. I don’t know if I will always live here, but I know I made a commitment to something here. When other people go "home" for the holidays: this is my home. So please: try to be cool.