Meet Chill Girl.
She was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but she’s very well traveled. She’s road tripped from Colorado to California and has friends in London, Spain and South Africa who frequently ask her to stay. She’s easily known and quickly adored.
She’s both intellectual and witty — her intellect only sharpened by her wit, and her wit no less biting for her intellect. She’s rich with hobbies: the best chess player in any room but also an award-winning pole vaulter. Be it the learning of physics or French, she isn’t bound by human limits. When she is called at graduation (somewhere between Gilmore and Glass), she crosses the stage toward her diploma, and her bright future, of what? It doesn’t matter. She’s certainly not as worried about it as you are. Instead, she’s present in the moment, happily eating the small ceremonial sandwiches and drinking the pink lemonade.
She is crafty and graceful and perfectly self-fulfilled. She is also a fantasy, an invented concept introduced to me by my cousin Laura while I was struggling to prepare for an interview: “What’s my greatest weakness? I didn’t know how to read an analog clock until I was 13. Does that count?”
It didn’t count. It was probably irrelevant to the position I was applying for and would be troubling for any potential employer to learn. In moments such as these, Chill Girl is very helpful.
She is the perfect embodiment of every desired characteristic, an all-knowing presence that makes seamlessly good decisions. More specifically, because she lives in a fourth dimension that is simultaneously present and past, she has already done the right thing. Chill Girl taught herself how to read an analog clock in kindergarten and would naturally assume the perfect self-deprecation when talking about her weaknesses. She’s an attractive concept, ready to bend and stretch to fit her imaginer’s fancy.
To me, she’s effortlessly on time but forgiven when she’s late. She’s fluent in Elvish and has finished “Finnegans Wake.” She’s full of measured intention and near-misadventure (all the better for the stories she can tell) — some combination of my Aunt Eleanor’s cat and Tom Petty’s “American Girl.”
And so I quickly welcomed Chill Girl into my life. It’s easy to use her as a crutch, to guide me through situations that catch me out of my depth. Every time I do something regrettable, she gains a new characteristic by acting out its opposite. This is Chill Girl’s strength: She makes light of my misgivings by growing effortlessly in their wake and informing a new way to traverse my familiar path.
It definitely doesn’t feel very “chill” to be approaching a vast unknown without an inkling of a plan. So What Would Chill Girl Do?
While my fears are overwhelming, she has inhuman abilities to live in the moment and learn from where she is rather than worry about where she’s going. This is a helpful start. But the inhuman-ness of this ability is what I have found to be the most helpful of her characteristics. While her persistent calm is enviable, its presence doesn’t allow me to be her. She can grow to be increasingly shiny, but I remain too close to my own anxieties to feel polished by her lessons.
Last week, I thought I came within an inch of meeting her. I was walking down the stairs into the Downtown Berkeley BART station when she passed me to my left, expertly carrying her road bike by its neck so that the back wheel rounded every step while the front one was arrested by her grip. She was wearing short, blue-suede boots and a plain-colored baseball cap that tucked her hair away from her eyes. Through the canvas of her bag, I could see that she was carrying a book called “Camping, Wilderness and Survival” and a bag of Philz coffee beans.
Waiting at the platform for her city-bound train, she was finishing a bag of baby carrots (crunchier, I swear, than any I’ve heard before). The doors slid open, and just before she wheeled her bike inside, she crumpled up the plastic bag and threw it firmly on the ground.
My conception of her had shattered before the bag hit the floor. Maybe I don’t know her personally, but I know for sure that Chill Girl doesn’t litter. And while I was disappointed (even heartbroken, maybe), I was also a bit relieved. I believe that this particular experience embodies the most important of Chill Girl’s defining pillars: that she does not exist.
There are many reasons she can’t exist (I’m certain it’s impossible for someone who spends that much time in the garden to have such clean nails) and a number of reasons she shouldn’t, either.
Because of her fiction, Chill Girl works like synecdoche — lots of appealing scraps to form a whole. Her intellect is present and important, but general, while her quirky hobbies and impossible cool rise to the forefront. She is neatly composed of qualities that most of us consider secondary to the person we expect to become.
In throwing away the idea that she is an idea to be achieved, I have realized Chill Girl’s true potential: From her fourth dimension, she can help us realize that the doubt we fear and the behaviors we admire are part of the same whole.
Maybe our hobbies aren’t as many or as excellently performed, but they’re ours. They are informed completely by the individuals underneath them who, in our real world, get to have the human depth that Chill Girl will always lack. While she is only a patchwork of perfect ideals, we get to bring the intentions of these ideals to bear, from practice into purpose and meaning.
Imagine a wholly unworried life. You’d find time to go to the beach every day and see beauty in the traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. But where would passion or pride come from if everything were always just “chill”?
A well-worn acquaintance of Chill Girl, I remain unpolished by comparison. But I have grown to feel perversely encouraged by the enormous doubt that makes us so distinct from one another.
Coming to terms with this doubt can mean operating in extremes. Lows will always feel low. But the height of my human extremities might have the power to show me a place where the future looks clear, cast in a light that can come only when fantasies are separated from delusions, genuine fear from reckless excitement.
Could Chill Girl do that?
I doubt it.
Alastair Boone writes the Thursday column on constructive uncertainty. Contact her at [email protected].