Wednesday, December 11, 2013

There's Something Wrong with Donald Glover, and That's OK.

I listened to Donald Glover's new Childish Gambino album "Because The Internet" yesterday. There's some stuff I really liked. There's some stuff I didn't. I'm not going to attempt to judge whether I think it's good or not because I got the impression he didn't make it for us. He made it for himself.

The album is constructed almost like a bunch of EPs strung together, each having its own tone and topics. As you progress deeper into the tracklist, the mood becomes darker and the verses shorter. For me it felt less like a man trying to create for the audience's enjoyment and more like a man trying to capture his emotions in music. A lot of people may not say there's a difference between those two things, but there is. The creation of art is necessarily a self-aware process. You are creating it to be consumed. You just have to decide who your audience is.

I still think we're Glover's audience on this album. He's just not trying to entertain us. He's trying to connect with us. As he's always done, he's using his abilities with music and the written word to reach, he's just doing so on a different level than before because of how his life has changed.

It's well known that he left his beloved role as Troy Barnes on "Community." It's an action that's confusing from a distance, but makes more sense upon a detailed look. Recently, Glover released pictures of a series of handwritten notes on Instagram. Some of his statements are pretty innocuous. Others are revealing.
I didn't leave Community to rap. I don't wanna rap. I wanted to be on my own. 
I've been sick this year. I've seen a bunch of people die this year. This is the first time I've felt helpless. But I'm not on that.
I feel like I'm letting everyone down.
I'm afraid people hate who I really am.
I'm afraid I hate who I really am.
 And (underline his)
I got really lost last year.
But I can't be lonely tho.
Cause we're all here.
We're all stuck here.
I wanted to make something that says, no matter how bad you fuck up, or mistakes you've made during the year, your life, your eternity. You're always allowed to be better. You're always allowed to grow up. If you want.
These admissions, mixed in with insecurities about his parents, relationship, and future, point to a deep-seated loneliness that stems from feeling unimportant/invisible. I know because I've been there. I struggle with it every day. The first excerpt reveals what triggered these feelings. The second demonstrates how he's taking them out on himself. The third reveals why he's taking them out on himself. He doesn't think he has a right to say there's something wrong with him because "we're all the same."

Unfortunately, the feedback Glover is receiving is only going to reinforce this idea he holds. The first comment on the article I linked to has 56 likes and normalizes Glover's experiences:
This is heartbreaking. If it's possible though, I love and respect Donald Glover even more because of it. He has written down and shared things that most of us are afraid to even admit to ourselves.
The older I become the more I hesitate to say what I feel and go through is what most people feel and go through. I'm not in other people's heads. I have no way of knowing their experiences. I'm sure other people have similar experiences to mine or Glover's, but I've learned the more I said they did, the more harm I caused to myself.

By repeating these are the "things most of us are afraid to even admit to ourselves," I made myself feel as if I didn't have a right to complain that I felt invisible, which made me feel even more invisible.

Random commenters on the internet certainly aren't the only people trumpeting this normalization either. ThinkProgress has an article titled "Is Donald Glover Cracking Up? Or Having A Normal Reaction To The Pressures Of Fame And Being 30?" The author writes:
But what’s struck me most about the messages that he posted isn’t anything Glover is feeling in particular. It’s how confusing it is to watch a star act like an actual person in public.
We’ve become so used to unnaturalness, or to a studied facade of naturalness, that when we encounter the real thing in all of its contradictory insecurity, we mistake it for evidence of serious problems, rather than a healthy processing of legitimately complex emotions.
No wonder Glover’s openness is so confusing. But as he put it to People, “If I’m depressed, everybody’s depressed. I don’t think those feelings are that different from what everybody’s feeling. Most people just don’t tell everybody.” The real difference is that most of us don’t have so many people to tell, and so little expectation of being rationally understood.
The Glover quote the author uses further reinforce his unwillingness to assert his unique life experience. The unspoken conclusion in it is "these depressed feelings are normal, this is what the human condition is." This notion comes from a culture that says what Glover is feeling and doing is "acting like an actual person" and "a healthy processing of legitimately complex emotions."

The problem, as the author suggests, isn't that people are telling him he has a serious problem. It's that they're telling him he doesn't have one so he isn't actually "processing...legitimately complex emotions" in a healthy way. That message is why he has "so little expectation of being rationally understood." He's repeatedly being told what he's feeling isn't a big deal to the point that his only choice is to attempt to rationalize it away as "normal" by saying things like "I can't be lonely tho. Cause we're all here."

We're not all there. Even though there's overlap between what I've experienced and he's experienced, I'm not even there. I identify with him to a degree, which is how I know and accept he's struggling with something unique that runs deeper than this past year.

On his 2011 album Camp, he included a a spoken word story following the last track on the album "That Power."  In it he recounts being 13 and revealing his feelings to a girl on the bus ride back from camp. He mistakenly says the word "destiny" and falls asleep. When he wakes, the girl is gone. Some other girls are laughing. One comes up to him and says "destiny." Obviously, he's hurt. What's revealing though is how he copes with the pain.
This isn’t a story about how girls are evil or how love is bad, this is a story about how I learned something and I’m not saying this thing is true or not, I’m just saying it’s what I learned. I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody. So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always. Everybody can’t turn around and tell everybody, everybody already knows, I told them.
While there's a logic in his attempt at self-protection, there's also a much more damaging flaw. Glover has taken away his own right to an identity. Rather than saying he made a mistake in trusting the girl and would choose who he trusted more carefully in the future, he decided he was just going to tell everyone about himself always, basically blurring any line between "me" and "them" in his mind.

Basically, he decided the way to make sure he never felt that pain again was to make his private self belong to the public. Except the self isn't a public property. Trying to make the choices that are necessarily yours belong to everyone else only denies the self, harms it, and distances it from everyone else--bringing about feelings of invisibility and loneliness. I know.

The bus story resonated with me deeply. I too was publicly made to feel ashamed and embarrassed for liking girls in Middle School, as if I had no choice in who I liked and would one day end up with. The difference is, I retreated inward, denying other people the chance to know me--the opposite of his choice, though no less lonely.

Glover concludes the story with an even more revealing admission about the source of his pain:
I wish I could say this was a story about how I got on the bus a boy and got off a man more cynical, hardened, and mature and shit. But that’s not true. The truth is I got on the bus a boy. And I never got off the bus. I still haven’t.
I speak from personal experience when I say, let's not underplay and marginalize this man's struggles as if they're fine. There's something wrong with Donald Glover, and that's OK because he 's finally starting to accept it and try to get off the bus.

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