COMFORTABLY NUMB: AN AMNESTY ON COOL

Enough with the hiding your real self behind your artfully composed selfies. It’s time to call an amnesty on cool, says Comfortably Numb columnist Kate Atkinson.

 

I want to declare an amnesty on modern cool – realizing this is one of the most uncool statements I could write, and more than aware that several people will probably be cringing reading this. If you are, call me anti-millennial and grind away. But if you’d have hoped we’d left it behind in high school, it seems like “cool” is an extremely contagious epidemic no thanks to the digital revolution.

What exactly is cool anyway? It’s an intangible phenomena that you can’t really touch, a state of being that defines the way you walk and talk, what you wear, the music you listen to, where you’re eating, and whether something is on trend – that is, worthy of likes on Instagram. It’s visceral. You can just feel it. And when it comes to true self-expression, I have to say, the modern version is a straight-jacket.

I also want to preface this story with the fact that while, yes, I do have tattoos, by no means am I an expert on cool. I was on the debating team at school – enough said. But I have got up close and personal enough with this insidious contagion to know how it works, and the more I examine its motives, it’s beginning to feel like cool is the root of an identity crisis that’s plaguing our generation.

A girlfriend put it perfectly when I asked what it means to be cool: “it’s the desire to be accepted, the need for validation, the urge to seem radical, despite longing to fit in.” And so it goes. Oh, the dichotomy of being human. Our narcissistic tendencies AND our insecurities are fuelled by cool, especially at a time when platforms for inclusion and exclusion are at an all time high.

Are you aspiring to be an “influencer?” This breed is all about being seen and accepted, “liked” on the interweb. For them, Instagram is basically a digi-friendly version of the high school cheerleading team. Things are sold to us now by “seeding” them with cool people. Brands, celebrities, and destinations are made by their manufactured “cool factor.” What I want to know is, what happened to under-the-radar cool of yesteryear?

In his 2013 book “The Cool School”Glenn O’Brien talks about the new tastemakers. But his cool  “squad” were, put simply, incredibly creative weirdos. Homeless Jazz beatniks, bohos and roaming beat poets. Anyone who made people uncomfortable basically. Something tells me that they wouldn’t be invited to Kim and Kanye’s dinner party.

We live in an age of such style over substance that it’s incredibly hard to rage against the machine and do your own thing. In fact, a study commissioned by smartphone maker HTC late last year revealed that 52% of the approximately 1000 Brits surveyed admitted to posting images of possessions and items with an intention of making their “friends” jealous. What the hey?

Wasn’t this cool thing supposed to be people going against the grain? Rather than just sticking up photo-shopped images captioned: “I ate, I pooped, I wore Celine!” Now pardon my French, but WTF? If this isn’t numbing what’s going on in our down and dirty daily human reality, I don’t know what is.

Because cool these days is about hiding the “sad” half of your life and projecting the best bits. Ambivalence is also key – pretending not to care, even (especially) if you do. Which is basically saying to your soul that your true hopes and aspirations count for nothing unless they fit with whatever’s trending this month. And yet, as the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character puts it in cult classic Almost Famous: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

A moment please to consider this: when the cool castles in the sky come crashing down around you and you’re left with the reality of your life, who out of your carefully curated online “tribe” will actually be there to help cushion the fall? Because what you’re really doing when you shield the real you with a glossy veneer of cool, is construct a bulletproof force field that deflects true intimacy.

So beside a total social media detox and cancelling our memberships to Soho House, how can we wake up from this aspirational bullshit existence that we’re creating for ourselves? By taking the time to get conscious to how we while away our days, and creating meaning in every interaction. By walking our talk, with our roots firmly entrenched in reality.

It sounds so obvious, but social media is the great distractor when it comes to following your own expressive intuition….and it’s there for seeking approval when you do actually create something. The old greats weren’t preoccupied with showcasing their creativity, they just did it.

It’s a mythic delusion and a safety net to communicate and earn accolades in this way – as well as a way to mask what’s actually going on. Surely giving away change on the subway is also worth a few “likes” – so why aren’t we posting on Instagram about that? “Saw a nice guy dish out change today on the subway – what a dude!” Shouldn’t he be the real “influencer?”

These stories DO come up on social media – and when they do it’s meaningful, the positive slant on modern technology. But too often, they’re engulfed in a stream of exclusivity: “I ate this, my bae wears that” – with resulting countless digital high fives and @s to follow.

I know my feed rarely delves beyond the aesthetics. And yes, fashion week happens, and friends stay in epic mansions. There are days at the beach with the clearest water ever. Again, I am not counting myself out of ANY of this malarchy, I am as partial to a well-posed selfie as the rest of us. But the lack of reality is what’s wrong with this whole picture, and it’s beginning to be all I can see.

Can’t somebody invent “Unstagram” for the days you’re feeling a bit off? For when you get dumped, you spent the last two days in tracksuit from Target, or you have an embarrassing medical problem?

Because you know what’s really cool? Being real. Not some projection of me me, me, me, I’m so fabulous, watch me eat, watch me sleep! Watch me break my arm! Look at me tagging historical references to show how tapped in and culturally aware I am.

Are we really this dumb? Is there no end to our ridiculous need for validation? This is the worst kind of cool that there is, and what’s more, this culture of exclusion is not social by any means. It’s actually scientifically proven to be making people chronically depressed.

So in a recent discussion with a friend on a rather significant life choice that involved making a potentially un-cool move, when she advised me to: “Fuck cool” – I decided I whole-heartedly concur.

NOT by Ernest Hemmingway

You are not your age,

Nor the size of clothes you wear,

You are not a weight,

Or the color of your hair.

You are not your name,

Or the dimples in your cheeks,

You are all the books you read,

And all the words you speak,

You are your croaky morning voice,

And the smiles you try to hide,

You’re the sweetness in your laughter,

And every tear you’ve cried,

You’re the songs you sing so loudly,

When you know you’re all alone,

You’re the places that you’ve been to,

And the one that you call home,

You’re the things that you believe in,

And the people that you love,

You’re the photos in your bedroom,

And the future you dream of,

You’re made of so much beauty,

But it seems that you forgot,

When you decided that you were defined,

By all the things you’re not.

HOLY F*CK: CAN CASUAL SEX BE SPIRITUAL?

In the second installment of her column Holy F*ck, Alexandra Roxo questions if modern-day hookup culture can co-exist with a Numi gal’s desire for conscious dating and sex…

As I sat next to my two friends Malia and Loulou watching Marianne Williamson speak to a crowded LA auditorium, I slumped further and further down in my chair as she discussed that which had been keeping me busy post breakup for nearly nine months…CASUAL SEX. Her words: “When a man puts anything in any of your orifices he has unspoken claim on you”, stung me. And to add insult to injury she went on to state: “Some Buddhist teachings say after sex the energy of the other person doesn’t leave your aura for seven years.”

Shit. My aura was starting to feel real crowded.

Not to mention that on my way to see Marianne talk I had casually mentioned to my new friends how I had recently had phenomenal sex in the back of a Prius under the Hollywood sign with a TV actor in an open relationship after drinks at the Soho House. (#Cliché.) I laughed about it, but now I felt a little uneasy…

Last year when I broke up with my girlfriend of nearly two years and decided to try dating dudes again, I had a period of being “free.” Meaning I hit Tinder hard. I was still meditating. Practicing affirmations. Reading Marianne and Louise Hay. But I was also determined to learn how to have casual sex in a casual way. Remember the “Sex and the City” episode where Carrie tries to have sex like men and can’t? That was me.

But there I was on Tinder, wondering: is conscious dating and/or sex even possible through online apps? Can you explore deep sexual bliss with a stranger you drunk swiped on? In fact, can you explore sexual bliss with a stranger at all?

Obviously sex and religion is a whole big Pandora’s box I will not attempt to open, except to say that I do have massive PTSD from spending too many hours at “youth camp” where I was saved/told I was a sinner for being a sexual being. I’ve been healing from that for years as a non-religious “spiritual person,” but still many of the same judgements and questions continue to come up. Is casual sex an obstacle towards enlightenment or can it be an aid?

My friend Karley (a.k.a. Slutever) who is a sex writer and creative collaborator, turned me on to Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, who did a rad TED talk on how casual sex can be super healthy, which inspired me. In the last year I decided to fully commit myself to this quest. Oddly (or not – cause the Universe knows what it’s doing) I attracted quite a few “spiritual” dudes down for the cause. According to Dr. Zhana, healthy casual sex must be sober (at least pretty sober) and feel authentic to you. Once alcohol, drugs, and sadness enter, then it’s a whole ‘nother thing. Thing is, I couldn’t seem to get naked with a stranger without at least three drinks. (If this isn’t a sign I dunno what is!)

Then I started seeing someone. I thought maybe this was gonna be someone I would partner with for a long time. We meditated together. We have the same agents. We write and direct comedy. It seemed perfect. And it was – but only on paper. In person we didn’t get along and never laughed. So cut to the breakup, and the same night that a friend asked me to go a “very progressive” sex party. She said I could just watch and that it was going to be a great experience etc…I mean…how could I turn that down?

So in my fragile, broken state I put on a tight black dress and lipstick and got myself into an Uber, and embarrassingly sang the Weeknd’s “Hills” to the driver getting into my “empowered single woman” space, i.e. hot mess space. When I arrived at the sex party I stood on the sidelines until a man with a top knot and a jar of organic coconut oil offered me a Thai Massage. This seemed harmless enough. But then again I was drinking large amounts of Patron. And nothing under the influence of tequila is harmless.

As I was being twisted into yoga poses I heard strange gurgling sounds. When I opened my eyes I saw the woman next to me was double deep throating. I was shocked, and took another deep sip of tequila. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against deep throating – it was just that in my vulnerable state, it was all too much for me. It just didn’t feel like my truth.

I like to think that I’m “sexually progressive,” and open, and sex positive. I think I said yes to at least 2 out of 5 threesomes last year…but maybe that’s just not me anymore. Not my authentic truth now. Though, at this party I kept downing tequila hoping to “make it my truth,” and the next thing I knew I was laying in some couple’s arms, naked. I still have no idea how I made it home, though I did get a text from the wife who is a yoga teacher inviting me to class and telling me: “Congrats on no longer being vanilla!” If she only knew…

The next day I decided to stop drinking. To stop smoking weed. And to stop having casual sex. At least for now. Because none of it seemed to be serving my highest good anymore. (Did it ever?) I had put so much pressure on myself to “be free” and have fun, but the truth was I was covering up loneliness and a feeling of separation from Source.

I can see that my true freedom now lies in healing my wounds, in meditation, and safe self exploration. But my fear was…does this make me…boring?! (Um, if anybody’s watched Be Here Nowish season two I basically wrote a character that I have become! Yoga pants and celibacy!) But you know what: I don’t give a f*ck about becoming boring. I haven’t drank or done drugs in over a month, and I’ve danced, laughed, and sung a ton recently, and felt myself surrounded by beauty and magic.

I’ve also just come off a 3-day meditation retreat where I chanted and sat in a circle for three eight hour stretches with amazing humans deep in spiritual search, which is something I’ve been actively in, off and on, for the last 15 years. I realized how sometimes I veer so far from this part of myself, and thank GODDESS something always brings me back. This time in the form of a best friend who I’ve known for 14 years, Rebecca, beckoning me to Berkeley. And hours of meditation and chanting and crying and healing brought me back, yet again, to myself. The self who is held by Source, and doesn’t need to be held by random strangers.

The truth is, as much as I want to believe in the glories of casual sex, I don’t think it brings me personally closer towards Bliss, Peace, and Spirit. If it works for you then that’s beautiful and more power to ya. For me, I hope and think that having sex with someone I love deeply in a soul partner way will do that.

Until then I’ll go back to what I’ve been doing more of what I’ve loved since I was 19 years old…chanting my kundalini mantras, singing Steve Winwood’s Higher Love at the top of my lungs, making Shiva+Shakti cosmic union collages and altars, getting high off raw chocolate, and doing my girl Elyssa’s soul mate manifesting meditation.

Alexandra Roxo is an LA based filmmaker and actress who is currently developing a holistic coaching business. She has a company called Purple Milk that makes all kinds of fun stuff including the popular web series Be Here Nowish. Follow her on Insta here and read her past Numinous articles on Now Age love and sex here

MY MYSTICAL WEEK: EMAIL APNOEA, THE FLEXI FOOD, AND MY FAVORITE NEW THING

Another week without WiFi, and have I been suffering email apnoea too?

I heard the term “email apnoea.” If “sleep apnoea” occurs when the airflow becomes obstructed during the night, email apnoea is when your inbox makes you so tense, you forget to breathe. I was catching up with my friend Fran at Soho House in London, and she was telling me she’d been feeling so close to burn out, she was concerned it was affecting her health (duh, yeah) – triggered by the realization that her email apnoea was getting out of hand. Something I’d been experiencing myself, having spent the past two weeks living in a house with no WiFi. I mean Jeez, can you imagine?! My email sessions – a check-in at Starbucks here, an hour in an internet café there – have felt like an adrenalin-fuelled race against time.

Fran and I were actually at a talk by naturopath Dr Nigma Talib on how to eat for burn out. Top take-aways: no sugar, protect your sleep like it knows where the bodies are burried, eat regular meals, take B vitamins, Magnesium, and Rhodiola (Nigma’s favorite herb for fighting fatigue). Not exactly stuff we haven’t heard before, and actually I prefer Fran’s solution – a temporary move to Berlin! My brother lives in the German city, and I’ve seen first hand how the slower pace of life and more HUMAN approach to work (i.e. unlike our iPhones, there’s literally only so much our brains can process in a day), means people (how radical) actually have time to breathe.

I met the Flexi Foodie. A.k.a. Julie Montagu, the yogi and plant-based food author (whose book, Superfoods, will be out in the US next month), and star of that Bravo show Ladies of London – about American expats infiltrating the British socialite set. Based on the latter, I’m ashamed to say I had a few judgements about Julie before we met. After all, anyone who goes the reality TV route is a wannabe Kim Kardashian, right? Uhhh, SO wrong.

Julie might have married into the British aristocracy, but her story is one of throat-choking triumph over tragedy (plus she’d come straight from teaching a hot yoga class and ordered a white wine spritzer to re-hydrate, love it.) Julie got into yoga when her husband Luke suffered severe withdrawal coming off mis-prescribed anti-depressants – symptoms of which he still experiences daily, SEVEN YEARS LATER. You can read the full story when I write it up for November’s issue of Red Magazine, but, hello Numis, yet ANOTHER message to meditate before you medicate.

I bought the raddest sweatshirt. When I first heard about the label Aries Arise, obviously I was obsessed. I even interviewed the designers for the site – and then, I didn’t hear much about them. Until I swung by Liberty department store and found this baby! Emblazoned with yin-yang symbol, a little sequinned alien face, an awakened evil eye…and basically made by Aries, for an Aries like me.

New. Favorite. Thing to wear 24-7.

Aries Arise sweatshirt, £111, Goodhood