Being cool is part of my job.
Hold on, bear with me. I’m not being a smart aleck or attempting to make anyone feel uncool. I’m serious. I proposed this column a couple of years ago because men with a pronounced sense of style and also men who openly love cats are relatively rare. It’s made a good platform to write about topics such as cat care, fashion, gender roles, celebrity, metaphysics, sex, event planning as they relate to living with cats.
Today I further explore the notion of cool by asking what exactly is cool? In June I’ll give a talk on this topic at CatConLA, which I’ve written about before. How to be a cool cat guy is worthwhile for this space, and it’s worth asking you. Is cool about products and trends? Looks and money? Brushes with fame? Or is cool something you earn? Does it include your attitude, and how you treat others? Does it carry some responsibility, some humility?
I present my trifecta of cool — the Three C’s, as it were.
The first C is clothing, which also includes other aspects of style, because style informs coolness for sure. Clothing is a remarkable way to express yourself. As I wrote last year, whether I’m planning an outfit for my own wedding or for digging up my front yard, I choose clothes appropriate in look and functionality. No matter what the circumstance, I want my outfit to include forethought — not look like an afterthought. So much of men’s fashion is deplorably dull today because lots of men openly embrace total ignorance of clothes, color, and coordination. That’s not cool in my world. You have to take chances and be willing to fail. Eventually, you’ll learn what works for you. Looking good doesn’t have to be expensive. I get a lot of basic components on sale or secondhand, then I dress them up with accessories such as shoes, hats, and ties.
Let’s consider cats: Must a cool cat guy incorporate cat themes? You can, but you’re not obligated to. A ton of cat-themed fashion exists, some of which I like — and some of which I dislike. Look around, try some things, and you’ll find your way. For example, if your sensibilities lean toward Neil Gaiman or Dylan Moran, you probably don’t want that neon-green “MEOW!” baseball cap. Maybe instead you’d prefer some two-tone cat cuff-links.
The next C stands for confidence. You need it because clothing and accessories go only so far. It’s a rare but memorable individual — Tom Waits comes to mind — who can look fabulous in absolutely anything he wears. This is confidence in action. Consider also Bill Murray — half the time you see him he looks like he slept in his clothes and just woke up, but he definitely exudes confidence and cool. (While I could find no evidence online that Murray has lived with cats or has backed any cat-rescue efforts, he did use self-hypnosis to conquer a cat allergy so he could spend time on a movie set with a cat in the film St. Vincent. Also, Murray did do the voice of Garfield in Garfield: The Movie, but he explained he did that only because he thought the screenwriter was someone else.)
When you’re confident, people like to be around you. It makes them more confident, and it lightens the overall mood. If you try to look good and build your confidence each day, this becomes your norm. Eventually you can walk into a place for the first time and own it — or be able to laugh at yourself if you get upstaged. Why? Confidence is also cool-headed: It doesn’t so much kill self-consciousness as it gives it a playful punch on the chin.
Confidence lets cats into your persona. It lets you express your love for cats without being defensive or tentative. It gives you the strength to admit you don’t know everything. It fosters curiosity, and the willingness to learn more about adoption, shelters, food, health — and also uncomfortable things such as overpopulation and abuse.
Don’t confuse confidence with zealotry, though. Forcing your opinion on everyone is neither confident nor cool. Zealotry repels people, and that’s bad for any cause. Also don’t confuse confidence with social status. Don’t measure your self-worth by your brushes with celebrity. Pushy name-droppers might get their photos taken with famous people and cats, but if that’s all they have, it’s meaningless. A cool, confident cat guy draws people toward him through his own energy and actions. Celebrities like him for who he is, not who he can manipulate.
The cool cat guy is willing to listen. He can patiently educate a friend who just adopted kittens about spay/neuter, and also counsel a friend who’s frustrated by the behavior of a new romantic partner’s cat. Confidence is being able to admit you were wrong, and to try things you’d never considered. I gave my cat a Tarot reading, for example. I was prepared for comedy — but I got a big surprise.
The third C is for compassion, the ability to see beyond yourself. Compassion lets you do what’s right for its own sake, not for what you’ll get in return. Compassion is choosing humility over hubris. It’s knowing that you always have more to learn. Writing Cat Dandy has led me to explore my relationship with Thomas more deeply than any cat before him. I’ve found that this interspecies connection touches a universal mystery bigger than we can comprehend. Compassion lets you feel tiny in the face of this mystery while confidence makes you feel bigger than life. It’s no paradox.
Compassion is being cool toward cats. You play with your cat regularly because you see play as pure joy, not a chore. Regardless of what it is, you do something for cats who don’t have homes. If you can’t volunteer at a shelter, maybe you occasionally donate a sack of cat food — and ask what else you might do. Compassion isn’t always easy — maybe you have to determine whether it’s time to end the life of your cat who’s in bad health. But compassion makes you stronger, and it extends to people. You try to be understanding and kind even in the face of hostility. You do your best to be a bridge between people and cats.
If you make all these efforts you’ll look good, feel good about yourself, and make others feel good when you’re around. That’s what I call cool.
CatConLA is Saturday and Sunday, June 6 and 7. I’ll be there with Lil Bub and her “dude” Mike Bridavsky, Simon Tofield of Simon’s Cat fame, and Will Braden, creator of Henri Le Chat Noir, among others. Tickets are available here.
How do you define cool? What does it take to be a cool cat guy?
Cat Dandy salutes all the cool cat guys out there who came before him:
About Keith Bowers: This broad-shouldered, bald-headed, leather-clad motorcyclist also has passions for sharp clothing, silver accessories, great writing, the arts, and cats. This career journalist loves painting, sculpting, photographing, and getting on stage. He once was called “a high-powered mutant,” which also describes his cat, Thomas. He is senior editor at Catster.