Melissa Broder gets real in a new book of confessional essays, on everything from anxiety to internet addiction.
When Melissa Broder answers my call, at her home in Venice, California, she tells me she's in the bathtub. I tell her that's luxurious and she tells me that I wouldn't say that if I actually saw her bathtub. Broder is known for her poetry, but since last year, when she started coming out slowly — "in three phases," she says — as the author of the cult Twitter account @SoSadToday, things started to change. Though she still writes poetry — her fourth collection, Last Sext, is out later this year — she has now published a book of personal essays inspired by her Twitter account. If you're not on Twitter: @SoSadToday is a feed of morbidly depressive but comically self-aware missives sent out into the void that somehow also hit way too close to home. A sampling: "walk into the club already crying," "i want to be invisible but also hot," "i am the cheese you binge eat in private while thinking about your fractured adolescence."
Though anyone can relate to the tweets — or, at least, laugh at them — Broder was scared to come out. "It's the only secret I ever kept and there's something about complete anonymity that makes you feel less self-conscious. I was sure everyone was going to hate me," she explains. But so far, So Sad Today has received only support and praise. "It would have been easy for Broder to stay anonymous and simply publish a book of @SoSadToday's most popular tweets," wrote Vanity Fair's Bryn Lovitt, "but instead, she chose to challenge herself in what turned out to be a triumph of unsettlingly relatable prose."
The So Sad Today book isn't a light read. The confessional essays come after years of deep reflection and healing for Broder. They cover topics from vomit fetish to anxiety, illness, and internet addiction. Her writing, though, feels like a friend reaching out and saying "Hey, me too."
We talked to Broder about the Internet, her writing rituals, and surviving.
There's a lot of emphasis in the book on the body, and how you want to control it. In your poetry, it seems as though you're moving beyond the boundaries of the body. Nothing seems to be affected by time.
A couple of years ago, I became very adverse to anything disposable in my poetry and it might just be me being a little pretentious piece of shit but it's my art. Anyway, I just don't want any pop culture in there. I don't want it to be disposable — so many things feel disposable now. At the same time, I love the disposable too, so with the essays, I felt like I could get into that, but I think the poetry is wish fulfillment — I get to create a world and escape into it whereas with the essays, I can tell you more about why I want to escape. The reason why I've been drawn to writing is the ability to create another world that I can move into. There's something about creating that just saves me because it's something I can still hope for. No one can take that away from me because it's mine.
Is your @SoSadToday voice different from your writing voice?
@SoSadToday was an attempt for me to be okay. It's so funny that I called the account "So Sad Today" when my depression doesn't even manifest itself as sadness. I think I was feeling a lot of sadness when I started the account in addition to other things. My anxiety attacks had me feeling down. And just dealing with this other cycle of them had me sad, but the depression itself doesn't always manifest as sadness, it's more terror for me. If I were going to start the account now, I would call it "So Scared Today." My anxiety is an active thing and it's definitely become a coping mechanism for my depression and sadness — especially when I don't want to feel it. Fear feels more true to me but I think that underneath that fear is a deep well of sadness.
And because the account was anonymous for so long, the book was an attempt at unmaksing myself a little bit. There are things I really feel in the world that I can't express amongst friends or even with a lover. I'm not at ease when I'm supposed to be. As revealing as the book is, there's still so much within me that you can't touch and I wouldn't let anyone see. I definitely got close with the book, but there are things that just… I mean I'm always changing. We're always changing and we're not even aware of it yet — there are fears and doubts in our subconscious and new layers of defense mechanisms, so I think that the book got closer to being less glib and more real. Even so, the book is still probably another layer of persona.
Right. We're always connecting with the public versions of ourselves anyway.
In a way, we each have a public self for our self. Is our self-image — even if we never voice it or discuss it — who we really are? I mean, in order to function in this society, you have to put on a mask.
Do you ever feel like you need to live up to your online persona?
I feel like all my life — no matter what I am, or how I present myself, or the situation — I'm always going to feel like I'm not enough.
When you were searching for The Answer and struggling with sobriety, how were you trying to make sense of everything around you?
This is very embarrassing, but when I first started getting into alcohol and drugs and getting fucked up all the time, I thought I was Jim Morrison reincarnated for a couple weeks, which is so stupid. First of all, I'm nothing like Jim Morrison and second of all, I wouldn't want to be him. But I guess that with him and certain existential philosophers and some of the Beat poets — a lot of bros! — they were my first taste of "Do you know the truth?" They were something I could latch onto. So I was convinced that someone like Jim would understand and then I quickly got over that. Thank God.
When I was on psychedelics, that was my exploration of getting closer to the truth, but not being able to articulate it. I understood that we are all one and everything kind of looks like a videogame. If I don't know the truth, I understand that there are multiple layers of reality and that I've only seen one of them thus far and that's really intense. Maybe I can't see it all. In the stages of late-term addiction, it stopped being this beautiful quest for knowledge and it became a quest to repair myself.
When you were revisiting these scenes of your life, did anything surprise you?
It's funny, I didn't write that much about my distant past. I think most of the book took place within the last 10-15 years, so there was less about childhood. I do a lot of work — it takes a lot of sailors to keep this ship afloat — therapy, psychiatrists, and other forms of recovery work, so I think that I'm pretty self-aware. It's not that I lack self-awareness, but that I lack self-esteem so there wasn't anything that came as a total shock to me.
I mean, you're great at surviving and sometimes it's hard to look back and say "I did that."
Totally. I think that the thing I've had to survive is myself and my own wiring. I have met the enemy and it is me. So it's this continual destruction and rebirth.
Like a phoenix.
Like a phoenix, baby.
Text Sara Black McCulloch
Image courtesy Grand Central Publishing