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Raise Your Hand If You Think You’re Cool

tuenight cool penny wrenn coolness quotient

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If charged with the task to assess, based on a scale of one to 10, how cool people think I am, I’d say I’m a 6.25. I’m neither un-cool nor super-cool. In fact, I’m barely cool-adjacent.

On the first day of ninth grade, I took the liberty assigning a (moderate) coolness quotient to myself. My own self-ranking put me modestly above the kids who scavenged for recognition and markedly below the ones who seemed to always hover in the uppermost echelons of the lunchroom pecking order.

Suffice to say that when I was in high school, I never once sat at the cool kids’ table. I didn’t even deign to sit at the table next to the cool kids’ table. No, I made a beeline for the table next to the table next to the cool kid’s table.

Granted, my faulty memory could be inaccurately reporting my cafeteria habits of yore. And if so, then I’m sure that one of my Facebook friends from The Graduating Class of 1995 at Manheim Township will swiftly post a correction on my page. (Besides, who knows; there may have been a lunch period or two when, for whatever reason, I ended up sitting next to Jen Snavely or Emily Good or one of the other members of my school’s “in” crowd, a group that my best friend Lauren nicknamed “the funky bunch.” (Yes, Lauren was briefly a Marky Mark fan.)

[pullquote]Makes you wonder what ends up having the biggest impression: How cool we think we are or how cool other people think we are.[/pullquote]

Incidentally, I am friendly with both Emily and Jen in my adult social-media life. I get the sense that neither of them felt as patently cool during their youth as their lunch table status seemed to convey. And if either woman ever expresses her dubiousness about the adolescent prestige that she may or not have had, it doesn’t sound like cheap, overly punctuated (Who me?!? Popular?!? Please!!! ) faux modesty.

Makes you wonder what ends up having the biggest impression: How cool we think we are or how cool other people think we are. Not that I’d want to enter that debate. Most disputes about what-matters-most are just vain attempts to answer someone else’s rhetorical question, but that question isn’t rhetorical because it’s unanswerable. Rather, it’s what I like to call an alternately and infinitely answerable question, with the infinite part (for right now and for ever more) and the alternate part (switching off and on, first being one way and then another) making its topic especially tricky to contain.

In these competitive times of ours where getting triple-digit likes on a Facebook post can give you a false sense of self-importance for the day, there are no trickier questions than these coolness conundrums:

Am I cool?

Do other people think I’m cool?

Do I care what other people think?

Do I care, or should I care about my personal coolness factor, whether it’s ranked by me or someone else?”

Just when I think my personal measure of my own coolness trumps all, I catch myself comparing the number of likes that my new profile picture received compared to someone else’s. And just when I think other people’s measure of my coolness doesn’t mean squat, I publicly relish when my Facebook post is shared by multiple friends.

People don’t typically say, outright, “You’re cool.” But my friend Atiya told me as much not too long ago. And she was serious when she said. In fact, she was earnest.

I’ve never believed myself to be categorically cool, but little of my personal angst has had much to do with any inner haggling over whether or not other people think I am. Still, I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to receive Atiya’s “you’re cool” endorsement.

It’s rarely a good idea to judge one’s current self while wearing high-school era goggles, yet many of us are still donning our out-of-date, single-lens “who’s at the cool kids table?” spectacles. But those glasses weren’t even helpful to us as teenagers, so no wonder they’re a fruitless lens through which to clearly see our adult self. (If only optometrists wrote prescriptions for mental bifocals to help us bring our adolescent blind spots into focus.)

Consider the old 80s flick Can’t Buy Me Love. Money bought Patrick Dempsey popularity and for a while that popularity also brought coolness, but then both the popularity and coolness went to his head, he continued being popular, but he quickly stopped being cool.

And whether you’re a former funky bunch-er from your alma mater or a someone who was never in the in-crowd or wherever you stood on the coolness spectrum, you still might not have been as cool or uncool as you thought.

Who knows if there’s a way to be a good judge of one’s own coolness. I do, however, know this: Everyone’s already got it to some degree — even if they haven’t found the place that recognizes said degree.

And have you ever noticed that when you stop being one kind of cool, you somehow manage to become another? Maybe our coolness factor doesn’t increase in value. But at least our coolness multiplies before it dies.

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Penny Wrenn

Penny Wrenn is a Harlem-based writer who was raised in Lancaster, PA. (Right? Can't you just see the From Amish Country to the Apollo memoir now?) Penny's work has appeared in Esquire; Essence; Glamour; Marie Claire; O, The Oprah Magazine and Redbook, among other publications. She writes a weekly (or twice weekly or, sometimes, thrice weekly column, "Penny For Your Thoughts" for MadameNoire). And, by the way, she doesn't usually use the word "thrice" in conversation.

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