The Terror Of Being Mediocre

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There’s a Donald Glover line I like on his first album, Culdesac.

I have a lot of opinions on Donald Glover- who once owned me on Twitter with a single emoji (trying to find this to link it)- but my fascination and frustration with him correlates with how exactly he resonated with sixteen year old me. 

But! We’re getting ahead of ourselves, and into a different article I may or may not write. This, though, is about one line he has, a line I’ve adored and misheard. 

“I’d rather die than be average, and chances are I might.”

See, that line is a typical, relatable boast and fear. “I’d rather die than be average,” is a bodacious ambition coupled with a fearful narcissism (again, sixteen year-old me) that we’ve seen before.

However, I heard-

“I’d rather die than be average, and chances are I might (die).”

As the far more terrifying and revealing . 

“I’d rather die than be average, and chances are I might (be average.)”

***

Death, to a rapper or artist, is not a unique conceit. It’s lost power with repetition, echoed for emotional shorthand throughout mediums. 

We see people die on television all the time. But do we see them be average? The closest we might have is Girls, and even that’s a narrow and specific portrayal of an aspirational average. And, again, think about the response the average provokes- think-pieces, praise, rage, fascination, spite, mockery and awe.

How dare we see the average in ourselves echoed out? We want the exceptional – crimes, explosions, hunks babes, chases and fights. Even when the average is presented to us, it’s through a hazy prism of hope. Zooey Deschanel is an unlucky clutz! Just like you! You’re Zooey Deschanel! Way to go! You made it!

And yet, you’re not.

You’re unsure, and you feel the edge of your failures, uneven on your soul like acne. You see them in the mirror you breeze past. You feel them in every plan that fizzles, every concession that bends your back to a world stronger than your hope.

The gravity of the average has a tyranny, and it will humble you are. The bigger your hopes, the heavier will you creak to earth, learning that your novel “wasn’t a fit” for [redacted] or that, two paragraphs of praise later, [redacted].com “regrets to inform you…” until you learn that entitlement isn’t the same as ambition and wanting isn’t the same as earning. 

After all, what’s more average than fearing your averageness?

What’s more basic than hating the basic? 

***

There are protections, of course. Delusions we yield to. We borrow success on the credit of our dreams- when this works out, that validation will reward this futility- and we keep pushing that hope into a desperate future that splinters every year past twenty. But all that does is extend the addiction of hope onto shakier ground.

And we play because the alternative is so much worse.

Who among us has the courage to accept the impossible and inevitable truth of their own failure? To own it and parade it? To concede to that itching, aching doubt and face the oblivion of our own true selves?

Nobody, that’s who. Least of all me.

The chafing energy of fighting your weakness and fighting for your desire is the energy that churns America. It’s what keeps the light on and what pays for New York: monetized, futile ambition, hopes eroded by the waves of time. 

“I’d rather die than be average, and chances are I might,” is a scary, poignant line because it barks the stance of the universal ego – our uniqueness, our superiority – to contrast the lingering doubt we all have inside us. 

We will all die. But how much worse to be average- and how much scarier to know the chance that we might be.

***

If 90% of people die in a zombie apocalypse, you are nine times more likely to die than survive. 

You don’t consider that, though. When planning your Walking Dead situation, you’re confident that you can make it – oblivious, of course, to the others who think that, the others who’ll reside in that 90% as well – and you never stop to consider that you’re not special.

The math is obvious. But we, as humans, have an uncanny knack to live beyond statistics. Facts can bend and even snap if that’s what it takes to support what we think and feel. And, just like the above, we feel that we’re special. 

Chances are we aren’t. 

The average is average. That’s where the world comes from. It’s the cruel, unblinking fact of math wrapped up in the word- average – that reminds us: it’s average to be average.

We’re bound to the gravity of our inevitable blandness. We dream up theoretical hopes of the future to distance ourselves from the bland, pedestrian present.

You can choose to fight against the numbers, of course. To impose your will, your specialness unto the world. But that’s the attitude of the gambler. You’d be a fool to believe, truly believe you could beat Vegas- what makes your soul so unique as to escape fate?

You’re average.

But it’s (link to second article) not all bad. TC mark

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