A few weeks ago, Louis CK was on Conan.
He went on another historically epic rant (this time about the toxic repercussions of technology) that everyone should watch, but what really stayed with me was something he touches on while describing why we as a society compulsively check our phones:
“The thing is, that you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That is what the phones are taking away, the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. You know how, underneath everything in your life, there’s that thing, that forever empty? Just that knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone; it’s down there. And sometimes when things clear away, you’re in your car and you start going, ‘Oh no, here it comes. I’m alone.’ It starts to visit on you, this sadness. Life is tremendously sad just by being in it. That’s why we text and drive.”
That forever empty.
I can feel it when I’m brave enough to look for it.
But one of the greatest gifts stand-up comedy ever gave me was the realization that it is a universally shared aspect of the human condition. We’ve all got some emptiness, whether we admit it or not.
Which is why I find it crazy to see some of the reactions stemming from Donald Glover’s recent Instagram confession.
For those who don’t know Mr. Glover and who are too lazy to Wikipedia him, he is a Tisch-graduated actor/rapper most famous for his writing on 30 Rock, for his role as Troy Barnes on the eternally-underappreciated Community, and for his hip-hop alter ego Childish Gambino. However, recently he decided to leave Community, with many (myself included) speculating that he was choosing to focus on his music career. It made a lot of TV fans upset, but it also made sense…sort of.
Now, with these handwritten notes, we see, and remember, that nothing is ever that simple. Donald gave us a chance to know, really, how he was feeling. Over the course of five notecards, he shared something that was appropriately written on pieces of Residence Inn stationary that read “Ideas Worth Saving” in the corner.
Which means nobody gets it.
Donald Glover casually blew through his 20’s in front of us to become the respected star he is today. In that time, he’s matured from a talent to a true artist, and a major part of that is his ability to recognize “the forever empty” in him. Nihilism is a stepping stone to enlightenment. The first step is admitting there’s a problem.
So why are we so quick to judge someone who is admitting very real, very understandable, and at their core, very base fears that every sane person should feel every now and then?
“I’m scared I’ll never reach my potential.”?
“I hate caring what people think.”?
“I’m afraid she’s still in love w/ that dude.”?
These are the shitty parts of living that are so natural they might as well be a side effect of breathing.
I mean, we do enough to shun and stigmatize those with serious mental health disorders already. Can we please not ostracize the courageously sane ones too? It takes balls to admit to yourself that you’re terrified, and it takes freaking grapefruits to admit it to the world, especially if you’re a celebrity.
People are concerned because they misread these scattered thoughts as complaints or laments, but they’re neither of those things. They are simply honest descriptions of how Donald felt at the time. And they might not be bright, but they’re cathartic. Those concerned for Donald forget that one of the last lines of his final notecard reads, underlined, “You’re always allowed to be better.”
The forever empty will always be there, but that’s okay. Because we all feel it. And when more and more of us can admit that to each other, the better we’re all going to feel.
As Louis CK said:
“Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments…I have happy feelings after feeling sad. Because when you’re feeling sad, your body has antibodies. It has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness; and it was a trip.”