Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gambino Speaks the Truth (On Donald Glover, Allie Brosh, and the Endless Weirdness of Life)

I must have been living under a rock to just today stumble across Donald Glover’s Instagram controversy – two weeks ago, he took pictures of seven handwritten notes detailing all manner of his insecurities and posted them online.  No, that’s not right.  He posted six notes about his insecurities, and then he posted a seventh that summed it all up with a few statements of hope, including this gem:

You’re always allowed to be better.  You’re always allowed to grow up.  If you want.”

Preach it, son.

In the hyperscrutinized world of Celebrities on the Internet, this episode has been labeled everything from "worrisome” to proof of depression.  Actually, I believe in less-hysterical circles we refer to this process as “journaling,” (i.e., writing out of a bunch of shit and then ending it on a lofty note of existentialism to make yourself feel better).

The concern generated by this fit of honesty struck a chord with me.  A few months ago, I was wailing to a friend about how I felt like all I’d been doing my adult life was working my ass off and I didn’t have anything to show for it.  (A fairly typical – if moderately theatrical – reaction to this stage of adulthood, I believe.)  It was a “feel my pain” kind of talk (drink up, me hearties, yo ho!).  I was taken by surprise, then, when she reacted by suggesting I look into depression medication.

“But I’m not depressed,” was my subdued protest.

Another topic blanketing the interwebs recently has been the release of Allie Brosh’s book.  Allie is the creator of the staggeringly popular Hyperbole and a Half blog, which has, among other things, captured the symptoms and fallout of depression in a beautifully candid way.  I read of her battles with depression with open fascination – there was so little in what she wrote that I could relate to. Even on my lowest of days, I have never come close to the feelings of mind-numbing deadness that she described.

To tell the truth, on my lowest of days, I often take out a pen and grab a notebook from my bookshelf. I write out my insecurities.  And then I end on a lofty note of existentialism to make myself feel better.

It is a much-written-about topic that we live in an age (and society) that ruthlessly pushes the notion of “happiness.”  We’re all supposed to be happy all the time, and if we’re not we're led to believe that means we’re not doing something right.  As proof of this, we look to celebrities, to our Facebook friends, to self-help authors, all of whom are constantly reminding us how much goddamn happiness they have in their lives and how much we’re missing out on while we're over here in the corner experiencing other feelings.

I, myself, spent much of the 2012 calendar year espousing the glories of my personal happiness right here on this blog. In fact, despite all the whining I've done recently, I’m still pretty fucking happy.  I have a good life.  I know it.  But happiness isn’t a static state of being that, once reached, exists indefinitely.  It’s ephemeral.  It’s elusive.  The mere act of living is hard and sad sometimes and there’s no way around it.  If you are alive, things will sometimes look down.  Depression, of the true clinical variety, is something beyond that, very different than what I experience when I hit what I like to call “rough patches” and, I suspect, different than what Donald Glover was getting at when he expressed his fear that the world might find out what he masturbates to.

Except the A.K.A. Childish Gambino is not like the rest of us.  He is not me, a nobody, or Allie, who despite her fervid audience is still a blogger and thus A Real Person.  He is famous; he has recognition and royalties and record deals.  He has the sorts of things that the rest of us think would make us happy if only we had those things.  And then he had the audacity to go on Instagram to reveal that despite that, despite having all of those things, he still has roughly the exact same insecurities as every other 30-year-old male on the planet.

What's wrong with him?  The world wants to know, because the world finds it easier to put a label on him than to confront the idea that maybe what this really reveals is that all of us lowly plebeians down here are pursuing the wrong goals when it comes to fulfillment, and that every single one of us is Just A Person after all.  

Gambino was forced to acknowledge the controversy publicly, of course.  When he did, he assured us that no, he is not having a personality crisis.

"I'm just being alive," he said.

That, right there, is it.  Preach it, son.


  1. With the risk of repeating myself: you're awesome and I love you :)

    What's wrong with him? The world wants to know, because the world finds it easier to put a label on him than to confront the idea that maybe what this really reveals is that all of us lowly plebeians down here are pursuing the wrong goals when it comes to fulfillment, and that every single one of us is Just A Person after all. <3

    And also, that e-mail I owe you since like forever... Soon. Promise! Soon!!

    1. No worries (or hurries!) on the e-mail; Lord knows it'll take me forever an a day to get back to you! :D And I'm very glad you agree with me on this one!!!! It seems like half of our lives these days are taken up with trying to present ourselves in a certain light, both in person and online. I have a lot of respect for anyone who is brave enough to be honest...and OF COURSE he was rewarded in his honesty by having his words manufactured into a "controversy." :-/ Oh, the internet...

  2. Thanks for the link to that "hyperbole"-blog :)

    and I have no idea what else to say ... besides: I guess sometimes people are too quick to call someone depressed and on the other hand for those who really are it is a taboo to even say it, as people will look at you like you are an alien.

    Annie Sasha

    1. Very, very true. No one can ever really know what's going on inside another person...

      And you're welcome for the link. :) I know a lot of people who are obsessed with that blog!!

    2. Me being one of them? ;) I am would happily describe myself as obsessed with her blog and the posts on depression in particular!! Very honest and insightful. And little to no bullshit. I like it. I have a copy of her book in my possession now...

      I can't remember if I was a part of the depression conversation you mentioned at the beginning of your post. That's awful, isn't it? :( If I were, I hope I didn't make you feel like I was forcing you into a diagnosis, and an inaccurate one at that.

      To give it a more positive outlook, perhaps your friend was just trying to let you know that it would be ok if you were depressed (and ok if you're not)? I definitely get that it did not come across that way. But it is nice to think that maybe, slowly, we are becoming more open and accepting as a society to having these discussions about depression and mental illness.

      But, it also has to be said, I tend to reach and to squint and to struggle REALLY HARD sometimes to find the tiniest glimmer of something useful or positive. And I also find it damned annoying at times. Heh.

    3. It was not you, Kathryn! Not even close. :) No worries!

      I wholeheartedly agree that making depression a topic that is okay to talk about is a great advance that we've had in recent years, and a lot of credit for that has to go to the internet and bloggers like Allie who are brave enough to be completely honest about their lives. (Well, okay, and also to the pharmaceutical industry, but I'm not going to be that cynical today!) And within the umbrella of mental illness, though I think we have a long way to go, I do think that progress is being made in seeing it for what it is, and not blaming/ostracizing the affected person. I mean, people get sick!

      The flip side of that is rushing to diagnosis when there's nothing more wrong than life simply being life, and I guess in my case, already being annoyed with certain things going on, it seemed like an exasperating added burden to divert the conversation away from what I wanted to talk about and onto an issue of health. And because we always tend to read things through the lens of our own experience, suddenly I was empathizing with other people left and right! But as always, you bring up a good point about the nature of the motivation there. :)

      For as long as I've known you, you've been the perfect Devil's Advocate, Kathryn!!! You always make me used to be more about Buffy than psychology, but nonetheless! You very often see things that I don't. :)