One of the Cool Kids

drinking water

When I was at school, I never wanted to be one of the cool kids. I simply didn’t care. I had my group of friends, and that was enough. We were the ones who hung out in the library or raced straight to the computer labs at lunch. We were the ones who did the after school activities like building Lego robots or doing advanced maths. On our last day at school, when the graduating class is allowed to get away with pranks, we were the ones putting up signs on the water fountains saying “Beware of Dihydrogen Monoxide contamination!”

Sure, there were the people I admired–authors, artists, and so on–but it was more that I appreciated their work than the actual person. But I can confidently say that no, I never truly felt any compulsion to change who I was and what I loved because I wanted to impress someone or be friends with them.

At least, I could until this week.

For the first time, I’ve been at the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne, one of the biggest writing festivals in Australia. The presenters are amazing, inspiring people who’ve done very cool stuff. And I had the chance to talk with some of them when I attended the artists’ party held on one of the nights. (I bought a VIP pass that got me into a lot of exclusive events, huzzah!)

There were two panellists I absolutely loved, who were at a masterclass on writing in the digital space. One of them was Katie Williams, a rather well-known Australian games journalist whose articles I’ve read and loved to bits. The other is Harry Lee, an indie developer who’s done some incredible, boundary-pushing work not only in the indie gaming field, but also in the space where digital and reality merge. [Author note: his website and Twitter are currently down.]

I found myself talking to Katie Williams beyond the typical “I love your stuff” small talk. And while we were chatting, who should come along but Harry Lee–who, as it turned out, is good friends with Katie. Somehow our conversation went onto books (thank you Patrick Rothfuss for being an awesome conversation starter) and then on to other things.

I was part of the conversation as they discussed all the things going on in their life, as friends do. They commented on the results of Harry’s crazy Twitter experiment, where he let his followers choose one of two of his things to destroy–for example, one of his awards or a beloved stuffed dog. It eventually culminated in a choice between the next ten years of his work, or his right eardrum.

We discussed (okay, they discussed and I listened with very occasional interjections) how horrible people could be online, both their hearing issues, people who’d mutilated themselves for the sake of art or to make a statement, the kind of dark horror games they liked and had been playing recently–both digitally and in real life.

And that was the first time I thought, I want to be accepted by these people. I wish I was the kind of person who could do edgy things, who enjoyed horror and the darker, twisted side of things. I wish I had things to talk about that they would find cool.

For the record, I only like horror when it’s on my TV, and anything dark and twisted depresses me too much for me to enjoy it. I get enough engagement on the terrible state of the world through the news, through my Facebook feed, through dealing with the injustices around me. I like my entertainment to be hopeful and eventually uplifting. I certainly don’t have the guts to do anything edgy, either–I hit my limit saying stupid things in public or driving on the opposite side of the road.

But damn if I didn’t want to be different, so I could have more interesting conversations with them. I was ashamed of my milquetoast interests and opinions, ashamed of not liking the dark and the twisted. Harry was partially deaf at the event because of his Twitter experiments, and I was even ashamed of my perceived cowardice in knowing I could never mutilate myself for my art.

At the end of the night, they asked for my Twitter handle. I couldn’t believe it. Of course they could have it. Then we went our separate ways.

I kid you not, I was checking my Twitter every few minutes to see if they’d added me yet. I checked it again first thing in the morning. I got impatient and added Katie, and discovered to my great dismay that Harry’s Twitter account had disappeared.

It wasn’t until I’d calmed down and reflected on it that I realised how much my behaviour disturbed me. Not because I was a stalker (if either of you are reading this, I’m not, I swear!) but because I was clamouring for the personal validation of two people I’d only met briefly. Granted, they are incredible people, but even so, it’s not as though we’d worked together or spent a lot of time getting to know each other.

For the first time in my life, I really wanted to be like the cool kids. And for the first time, I felt ashamed of who I was, who I’d chosen to be–for no better reason than the fact that I didn’t quite fit in.

I can’t say that I’ve found a neat solution, or a true acceptance of who I am at this point. All I can say is that I’m making a point to ask how much of what I want is me wanting to fit in, and how much is something that I truly want to do for myself. If I want to choose to be a true, milquetoast me instead of an edgy façade, I’ll have to make a point to deliberately choose it over and over as more of these cool kids come my way.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring Aussie author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

Photo by Darwin Bell, via Flickr


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