Your own skin
So, you’re 17 and wrapping up high school, which is in fact a theater school. I know things are weird right now. You’ve literally (in some bizarre theater cruel joke and cliché) been cast as the backend of the cow in Gypsy the musical (well done on declining that, I know standing up for yourself isn’t your strong suit at this point). You’ve recently dyed your hair jet black and feel super hot about it (this was questionable, but you do you), and like the previous three years, you feel completely unauthorized to call yourself an artist or even live in your own skin for that matter.
You feel completely “uncool” and one of your greatest worries in life is that you’re too normal and are destined to stay that way — never being “unique” or “special” (all words you have given value to as accolades). People will later coin your worry into a succinct term: “basic.” You worry you’re basic.
It’s weird isn’t it, being so uncomfortable in your own skin? Well, I have unfortunate news for you, it’s gonna be like this for a while. Going to NYU (yes, you got in, you can unclench now) will only make things worse. The girls will have messier bed head and smoke cigarettes and give zero fucks (FYI, they give all the fucks). Everyone will seem bored and you’ll seem eager and talk way too fast and bounce a little too much when you walk. And still, you will feel like a total sham. That will be worst than all in college. You’ll feel you have no place going after your dreams, that you are not “edgy” enough or “raw.” Your life experiences will not have left you cut up to the point you feel you need to really make something special. (Don’t worry girl, you’ll get it all, it’s coming to you).
Most of all, you look to everyone else for information on how to be “cool.” Let me just help you out: the answer is NOT at American Apparel. Step away from that store. Just trust me. You make music now. Good for you for stumbling upon something that really fills you, even though your need to seem cool is ruining every good idea you have and song you write (someone will break your heart and that will change, you’ll also start listening to Goldfrapp. Just go buy the record now and save us some time). You’re making bits and pieces and giving them to people, asking for critique before even figuring out what you think for yourself.
This is your struggle as an artist. This will be your struggle. Some people have talent and know who they are. Some people get lucky. Everyone’s fight is different. Yours is to stop striving to create things that other people define as cool. Yours is to stop trying to make things that are perceived as edgy or dark, because there are just so many more possibilities than that.
You’ll start to make slivers of things that you really like and have to move far away from home, and be completely on your own to figure out why you like the things you like. (This will look like a bit of a shit show, but I promise it’s a gift).
Eventually you will learn that you were cool the whole time. You will learn you were always an artist. You will explore a lot of different routes before you figure it out and you will listen to so many people — too many people — before you decide to listen to yourself. But you will one day decide that your opinion on what you make matters more than anyone’s.
You will define “cool” for yourself. You will slip into your own skin and it will feel better than anything and the things you create when that happens will not be quantified by being cool or uncool, they will just look and sound exactly like you. And that will feel so, so amazing.
And then, you will live in that space. Making things you think are the absolute coolest and will look to create a space for other people to find what that means to them as well. Your fight will turn into something else, as it always does. You’ll probably always be a little worried you’re basic. You’re not sure if you think being basic is so bad, and you know you shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s all about how you define those terms for yourself.
So listen: go see Gypsy the musical, don’t be bitter you got cast in that weird part — it was the first of a few defining moments where you said “no.” And your obsession with being cool will rage on for a while, so strap in for that. All I can say is that eventually it won’t even be about being cool anymore. It’ll be about creating things that you absolutely love, that you believe in and hope other people will believe in too. And that will matter more. That is what you will come to define as “supercool.”