Tag Archives: Anna Deveare Smith

A Definite Lack of Cool

Still reading Anna Deveare Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist.  I intersperse it between other reading, allowing my subconscious mind to digest and process the information in its own time.

Today, I read an amazing quote from her March 2003 letter entitled “Urgency:”

Don’t even bother coming out onstage–or doing anything in the realm of artistic communication–if you don’t have a sense of urgency.  Nothing is cool here.

Smith in the next chapter discusses “The Death of Cool:”

So the death of cool…would do what?  It would probably bring more tones, more color, more emotion, more love, more raw spirit, more argument, more energy.  More authenticity?  More compassion?  More laughter?  More tears?  More open hearts?

Try it.  Be uncool.  As uncool as you can possibly be….Be hot.

These words were a revelation to me.  In my youth, I was as far from cool as I could be.  I didn’t eat the right foods, follow the right musicians, wear the right clothes, or lust after the right celebrities (or gender, for that matter).  I laughed too loudly, argued too fervently, and imagined too wildly for most of my peers.

I was a geek, a nerd, an oddball, a wierdo, and a spaz.

Somewhere along the line, I learned to conform.  I learned to fit in…to a certain degree.  Enough to keep a job.  Enough to avoid controversy.  Enough to get by.

But that conformity came at a price.  With conformity, I wrapped up my energies and passions and enthusiams, making them user-friendly and as inoffensive as possible.  I buffered the world against my “uncoolness,” which probably made a lot of people much more comfortable around me.

But I died a little, too.  That part of me who went wild with enthusiasm over Broadway musicals, worried passionately about the plight of the sea mammals, she kind of took a back seat to the me who could create excellent spreadsheets and write great business correspondence.

But I only died a little, and it seems a ghost of that person still mucks about inside me.

Because when it comes to science, I’m uncool.

When it comes to politics, I’m uncool.

When it comes to music and art and literature, I’m uncool.

When it comes to Doctor Who, I’m totally uncool.

And at the ripe old age of 47, I think I’m coming full circle with my geekiness.

At the risk of being absurd, I believe embracing my lack of cool might be the coolest thing I’ve ever done…

Peace to you–




Anna Deveare Smith has been showing up a lot in my sphere these days.  It started with a review I read of her book, Letters to  A Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts for Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind.

It’s not often I get teary-eyed at work, but the excerps from the book had me sniffling at my desk several minutes after break ended.

Smith showed up again in my Facebook newsfeed, when my darling and insanely talented friend, Monique M. Jones, posted a link to another passage from the book.

At this point, I had an empty Kleenex box and a burning desire to own this book.  Fast forward twelve hours, and my partner Fey had surprised me with the Kindle version.

A single passage in her introduction did it for me, because it pretty much voices what I’ve been feeling all my life:

I am addressing you if you are interested in change, in social change, and if you see yourself, potentially, as one of the guardians of the human spirit.  In fact, I’m not just addressing you; I am calling you out–asking you to make yourself visible.  We need you here!

In this world, it is no longer enough to just live day to day, guided by marketing, public opinion, and the status quo.  We live in a crowded, noisy, disheartened world.  Those of us called to change have to be awake.  We have to be authentic.  We cannot just phone in our lives, waiting for other people to fix things.

We are those people we’re waiting for, or at least we need to be those people.  We have to be the ones who are asking the hard questions, telling the truth, finding the solutions.

Dear heavens, we are THE GROWN-UPS now!

I know you may not want to hear this.  I don’t really relish admitting that I’m a member of that oft-maligned and rarely appreciated group.  I cherish my immaturity and all the wacky complications involved with that trait.

But I also know that I am present here in this place, in this time, and I’m called to do something to make a change.

Anna Deveare Smith gets it, and she’s put it down on paper.  I can’t read her book quickly–there is too much crammed in to every page for me to process in a hurry.  I am sure I will come back to it over and over during the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I ask you–are you awake?  Are you called?  Do you want to make the world a better place?

Because the time for idle spirits is long, long past.

Peace to you–Deb

P.S.  You know the drill–share if you care!